What to Ask When You’re Interviewing Someone

When you’re interviewing someone for a position, asking the right questions is just as important as recruiting the right candidates. We’ve talked a lot recently about what to do when you’re being interviewed, but here are the best questions to ask – and the best way to ask them – when you’re the one doing the interview. Where will you spend your time building the right team? Up front, selecting the right people? Or later, trying to transform the wrong ones? Here are the best questions to ask when you’re interviewing someone. Click To Tweet

How to Ask the Questions

First off, while it can be tempting to ask very specific questions to the job candidate, it’s always better to ask open-ended questions and wait for him or her to (hopefully) give you the answer that you’re looking for. Know your questions and your “listen fors” in advance, and don’t let the candidate coerce you into leading them in a certain direction.

The Three Best Questions to Ask in Any Interview

Plus one freebie, because you’re probably already asking it: at the beginning of the interview, ask them to tell you about their previous work – and then just let them talk. Then your next question should be…

What did you love most about your previous work? The answers that you’re listening for will depend on the role you’re looking to fill, but hearing what this person loves doing will provide you with amazing insight into where they will lean if they work at your organization. If she loves working directly with clients and helping to solve their problems, but the role she’s interviewing for has none of that – it’s probably not the right role for this candidate.

When you’re alone, what do you think about? This is a question that many candidates will ask for more explanation on – don’t give it to them. The most you should say is, “When you allow your mind to wander, what are you thinking about?” No matter the role, there are two answers that you’re listening for here: work, or family. The answer can be a more specific version of that – maybe it’s what he’s going to cook for dinner that week, or an email that he is going to send – but as long as it falls under one of those two umbrellas, you’ll know that this person has practical work orientation.

What is your greatest personal satisfaction? This one also has two very specific answers that you can listen for: you want the candidate to respond with a version of “Doing extraordinary work” or “Taking care of the people that I love.” If you are looking for a candidate who is going to do great work and be an exceptional employee (and I certainly hope that you are), my research shows that those are the two best answers to that question. If you’re looking for a candidate who is going to be an exceptional employee, here’s what you need to ask, and what they should be answering. Click To Tweet

The most important thing you can do in an interview is to ask open-ended questions – but the second most important thing you can do is simply listen to the candidate’s answer for clues about their personality and their past behavior.



  1. Lovely One September 5, 2018 at 5:03 AM - Reply

    For that ‘alone, mind-wandering’ question – are you implying that if the person thinks about work and/or family then they have a good orientation but if they are thinking about something else then their orientation might be off? I just can’t get my head around how their answers might be useful.

  2. Ken September 11, 2018 at 1:19 PM - Reply

    I assume all of these questions and best answers are to be construed to be restricted to the context of work. I wouldn’t want to hire someone so one-dimensional as to only think about work.

    • Meredith Bohling September 12, 2018 at 1:37 PM - Reply

      No, but the second question could be answered with work OR family, and the third question could be answered with “doing great work” or “taking care of the people I love.” So not entirely work-related (otherwise, we’d all just be hiring robots).

  3. Sara November 6, 2019 at 9:48 AM - Reply

    I shared this with our Talent team and they felt these questions can get into murky waters and could be construed as bias. Can you explain why knowing a candidates practical work orientation can help identify motivators or be good for the role?

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