The Top Interview Questions To Ask Any Candidate

Hiring the wrong person is costly for businesses. These costs come from lost wages, paying unemployment, taxes, and recruiters and trainers.

According to a 2016 SHRM report, the average cost per hire is $4,129. These costs grow with poor hiring practices. Improving both interview questions and interviewing techniques can reduce these costs.

To conduct a successful interview, you need to:

  • Ask the right types of interview questions
  • Know what a candidate’s answers say about them
  • Understand differences between the types of interviews
  • Recognize what questions not to ask in an interview

At Spark Hire, we are more than just a video interviewing platform. We have a passion for helping organizations and people from all backgrounds ask better interview questions. And better interview questions support better hiring outcomes.

We used our 5+ years in video interviewing and input from hundreds of hiring professionals to compile the best (and worst) interview questions to ask your candidates.

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Types of Interview Questions

To begin, there are a plethora of types of interview questions. Types of questions to consider for your interviews include:

Situational

A hypothetical situation is given for a candidate to solve. Situational questions are judged by how well a candidate reacts to complex information, their ability to resolve a problem, and arrive at solutions

Behavioral

Based on the premise that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior

Cultural Fit

Questions designed to determine whether a candidate will fit well within the organization’s culture

Technical

Questions that are specific to the role and its responsibilities

Skill Set

Require specific examples of a time a candidate demonstrated a particular attribute

Personality

Questions about work style and ethic, how a candidate handles stress and an employer’s expectations

Critical Thinking

Problem-solving questions where the thought process is likely more important than the answer to the problem. These questions are usually less job-specific than situational questions.

Business Skill

Demonstrates basic capacity and knowledge of business workings, can be company-specific

Soft Skills

Explores candidates' skills when interacting with others

An insightful interview will consist of a structured interview kit containing a mix of these types of interview questions.


To learn the questions that the top hiring experts are asking, download our eBook, The Go-To Guide for Perfect Interview Questions.

Good Interview Questions to Ask

Each interview question type has its own strengths and weaknesses.

For the purposes of helping you ask good interview questions, we’ve broken down three interview methods and outlined three good interview questions to ask for these types of interviews:

Interview Method:

Phone Interviews

Interview Method:

Video Interviews

Interview Method:

In-person Interviews

Interview Method:

Situational

Interview Method:

Behavioral

Interview Method:

Soft Skills

Phone Interview Questions

Most hiring pros are familiar with phone interviews, often called a phone screen. Phone interviews are the initial recruiting point-of-contact with a company. It occurs after a candidate applies for a position.

The best questions to use in phone interviews are off-the-cuff, factual questions.

The awkwardness of dead phone time can put gentle pressure on a candidate to answer quicker. Then, candidates answer with what first comes to their mind, which may be the most frank and honest displays of the interview process. For this reason, personality and skill set questions are good to ask during a phone screen.

Some good phone screen interview questions are:

  • What are you ideally looking for in your next position?
  • Why are you in the market for new opportunities?
  • What questions do you have about the interview/hiring process?

These phone interview questions help you and the candidate gather some background information.

Since the phone interview should be used to screen candidates, it is also a good time to ask specific questions about the candidate’s skill set and previous experience. If their qualifications aren’t a good fit for the job, it’s best not to move forward with them in your hiring process.


Video Interview Questions

Video interviews, Spark Hire’s specialty, are more insightful than a phone screen. This type of interview creates the opportunity to pick up on a candidate's nonverbal cues. These cues give a better sense of how a candidate presents themselves. Phone screens miss these details.

There are two main types of video interviews:

One-way video interview

an asynchronous video interview in which a candidate records video responses to interview questions on their own time (like a “selfie.”)

Live video interview

a real-time interview in which a candidate connects with a recruiter face-to-face via video.

Behavioral, cultural fit, technical, and business skill questions are best for one-way video interviews. These ‘higher-level’ questions take more thought than phone screen questions. Thus, candidates can be more articulate and use think time to compose their answer.

Good questions to ask in a one-way video interview include:

  • Tell us about a project/accomplishment you’re most proud of and why.
  • What is your ideal work environment?
  • What personality trait do you believe will help you most in this position?
  • Tell us about something you’re really good at and how you developed this skill set.

As live video interviews can serve as a replacement to an in-person interview, please refer to the next section for the best questions to ask.


Best In-person Interview Questions

In-person interviews are the most crucial and illustrative type of interview. Questions where the process to an answer is as important as the answer itself are best asked with a candidate in front of you. The best questions for in-person interviews are situational and critical thinking.

Any questions asked in a video interview would also work well in an in-person interview. Again, it is important to pay attention to more than the words a candidate says. Their nonverbal cues and mannerisms will show their confidence and feelings.

The best interview questions to ask in an in-person interview depend on which direction you choose to go with your interview. One can pick between situational, behavioral, or soft skill-focused questions.


Situational Interview Questions to Ask

A situational interview is one that focuses on situational interview questions. As discussed before, situational interview questions are hypothetical situations pitched to a candidate. How the candidate reacts, solves, and arrives at a solution are significant to the interviewer.

Questions to consider asking are:

  • How would you resolve a conflict between employees within your team? (Source: Robert Half)
  • A customer is walking in, the phone is ringing, and a co-worker needs help making a copy. Walk me through how you’d handle these competing needs for your attention.” (Source: Rikka Brandon)
  • If you know your boss is 100% wrong about something how would you handle it? (Source: Alison Doyle)
  • Team members you've been assigned to lead during a new project object to your vision and ideas for implementation. What specifically would you do to address their objections? (Source: CareerProfiles.info)
  • When a subordinate is performing below average, what specific steps do you take to correct the problem? (Source: CareerProfiles.info)

Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask

Behavioral interviews are like situational interviews, but focus more on a candidate's’ past experiences. For some, these interviews are the best way to tell how a candidate will react in the new work environment.

  • Tell me about a time you failed. (Source: BigInterview)
  • How would you prioritize multiple projects at a time? (Source: The Balance)
  • Describe a situation where you needed to persuade someone to accept your point of view or convince them to change something. (Source: Chuck Leddy)
  • Tell me about a time you were under a lot of pressure. What was going on, and how did you get through it? (Source: The Muse)
  • Describe a time when you were the resident technical expert. What did you do to make sure everyone was able to understand you? (Source: The Muse)
  • Tell me about a successful presentation you gave and why you think it was a hit. (Source: The Muse)
  • Give an example of a situation when you had to turn down a customer request for a good reason. How did you handle the case? (Source: Job-Interview-Site.com)
  • Ebook Teaser: Describe a situation in which you aspired to reach a goal. What obstacles did you confront along the way? What did you do to overcome them?

Soft Skills Interview Questions to Ask

A soft skills interview focuses on intangible and difficult-to-measure aspects of a candidate. These attributes include personality, work ethic, and outlook. This interview pairs well with a hard skills test to ensure a candidate will fit both company culture, and have success in the position.

  • How would you rank these qualities in order of importance: communication, collaboration, delegation, critical thinking, and organization? (Source: Donn LeVie Jr.)
  • Ebook Teaser: Have you ever seen anyone mistreated in the workplace? How did you handle the situation?
  • Describe a time when it was especially important to make a good impression on a client. How did you go about doing so? (Source: The Muse)
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation? (Source: The Muse)
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation? (Source: The Muse)
    • Bonus Follow-up Ebook Teaser Question: Explain a new idea to me. For example, take a complex process, product, or service in your current job and explain it to me so well that I could teach a class on it tomorrow.
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to ask for help? (Source: The Muse)

To learn the questions that the top hiring experts are asking, download our eBook, The Go-To Guide for Perfect Interview Questions.

Illegal Interview Questions

In the United States, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined inquiries during the interview process should only pertain to a candidate’s qualification for a position.

You should not ask interview questions about a candidate’s:

  • Race
  • Sex
  • National origin
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Color
  • Ancestry
  • Marital status and family situation
  • Disabilities

Best Interviewing Techniques

Making the right hire is also about conducting an interview to discover the most accurate information. Conducting an effective interview includes proper preparation, execution, and follow-up.

Interview Technique:

Pre-Interview Preparation

Interview Technique:

Tips for Conducting an Interview

Interview Technique:

Creating a Good Interview Environment

Interview Technique:

Best Ways to Document Interviews

Pre-Interview Preparation

Elements to prepare before doing an interview include:

  • Give feedback
  • Create a standard question list
  • Make a scorecard

When a position opens up, the hiring manager and recruiter must discuss its required skills and qualities. Identifying which characteristics are most important and which are optional help to create an accurate job post.

The accuracy of the job post will improve self-selection. This is when potential applicants ask themselves, “Is this something I can actually do?” before they apply. Self-selection improves the quality of an applicant pool even before screening.

Once a human resources professional and hiring manager agree on the skillset, they must determine the interview process. It must point to the applicants who will succeed with the metrics and culture of the open position. The process can include intelligence tests and job samples to provide more points of reference for the hiring decision.

Each job should have a unique set of questions to determine if an applicant is right for the position. These questions should align according to the interviewing method and type of question. This creates a standard interviewing experience on which to assess all applicants.

Evaluating applicants with a scorecard quantifies a candidate's answers to the job's questions. Their scores should reveal each candidate’s capacity in the job's required skills. By ranking each candidate’s skills, hiring can become more objective.

Understanding which required qualities, making standard question lists, and having a scorecard for each position are the best ways to prepare for an interview.


Tips for Conducting an Interview

Better preparation for an interview will bring better candidates for interviews. But all would be lost with a poor interviewing experience. Conducting an interview can also impact the accuracy of a hiring decision. So, it's also important use interviewing best practices.

During the interview, it is important to:

  • Put candidates at ease
  • Document the interview
  • Give feedback

Creating a Good Interview Environment

For an organization, an interview's purpose is to learn how well-equipped a candidate is to succeed in a position. Candidates use interviews to learn an organization's culture, and if the opportunity meets their expectations.

Despite this dual purpose, candidates feel interviewers have control over the interview. Being powerful comes with great responsibility, including one to put candidates at ease. To get the most accurate and genuine answers from a candidate, create a conversation. Asking question after question can stress candidates, making their responses more terse or flippant. This does not create a positive interviewing environment for a candidate.

Candidates will relax knowing they are being heard. Acknowledging their answers with more than a nod shows the interviewer is listening. By speaking to signal you were listening, a candidate may expand their answer. This allows the interviewer to learn more about a candidate’s skills.

Another way to put candidates at ease is to “flip the script”. Consider allowing a candidate to bookend your questions with their own. By giving candidates time to ask questions at the beginning of the interview, an interviewer shows their interest in a candidate’s thoughts as well as their own.


Best Ways to Document Interviews

During an interview, candidates may make memorable statements. An interviewer should not trust themselves to remember these statements. After a day full of interviewing and many memorable statements, some may have slipped away. To keep track of notable interactions from every interview, document them. Ideally, an interviewer should record every interview. Failing that, interviewers should take notes during and after each interview. Notes should denote impressions and thoughts of each candidate, as well as the conversation.

Paper notes are preferable to notes taken on a laptop or smartphone. These tools can put a physical and metaphorical barrier between interviewer and interviewee. If privacy of the notes is a concern, build time in the interviewing schedule for reflection and notes before the next interview.


Follow Up with Feedback

Last, interviewers should give candidates feedback and a prompt follow up. At the end of an interview, outline the next steps a candidate can expect. They will appreciate the evidence of a company's organization and clear deadlines. A clear schedule helps prevent candidates from inquiring about their application. This also prevents a rushed hiring decision.

While rejection is not pleasant, letting candidates know they will not be moving on is imperative. Rejection is another interaction with an organization's brand. Any interaction is an opportunity to create a positive brand impression.

Interview feedback should be:

  • Tactful and constructive
  • Truthful and specific
  • Balanced

By giving constructive feedback to candidates, rejection helps a candidate in interviews with other organizations in the future.

Presenting practical feedback prevents the souring of an organization’s recruiting image. It is a common belief that those looking for positions know other people looking for a new job. Job seekers also tend to network together and share experiences. This means word of a poor interview experience will spread. This experience may dissuade future applicants, shrinking an organization’s future candidate pool.

Another position may open up at a later date which plays more to an applicant's strengths. By providing feedback and a rejection letter, hiring professionals can leave the door open for an applicant to apply later.

By creating a calm interviewing environment, ensuring thorough documentation and providing feedback, candidates can leave an interview feeling positive about an organization, regardless of their future employment.


To learn the questions that the top hiring experts are asking, download our eBook, The Go-To Guide for Perfect Interview Questions.

Key Interview Question Takeaways

Matching interview questions to the appropriate interview method allows an organization to accurately understand their candidates. An organization can move the most qualified candidates further in the hiring process.

Knowing the required skills, an appropriate interview question list, and interview scorecard create more accurate candidate selection. This narrows the talent pool without much work for the organization.

Conducting a positive interview experience, documenting the interview, and giving feedback leaves candidates feeling good about an organization's recruitment.

Disclaimer: Please note while the preceding information is valid and valuable, it is not guaranteed accurate and legal in all corners of the globe due to varying employment laws and regulations. Please seek assistance from legal or governmental sources to ensure your interviewing practices abide by the laws in your area.

Download The Go-To Guide for Perfect Interview Questions

Learn what interview questions the top hiring experts are asking, why they are important, and how you can leverage them in your process. Download the eBook now!