We use cookies on this site to enhance your user experience.
For a complete overview of all cookies used, please see our privacy policy.

9 Revealing Questions to Ask Job Applicants

Home  /  The PRES&S  /  
Business Advice
9 Revealing Questions to Ask Job Applicants

here are currently 11 million job openings in the U.S., which means businesses are all fighting to fill open positions from a shrinking talent pool. If you hire the wrong person to fill one of your openings, you can lose business and hurt your bottom line. Asking the right questions during the hiring process is the best way to make sure you’re hiring top-notch candidates.

“The ‘right questions’ will vary from company to company, and role to role. The best bet is to use open-ended questions that elicit answers that show what they’re thinking, as well as what they accomplished. These answers will give you a much better idea of their skills and experiences. Craft the questions in a way that keeps your company’s mission and values in mind.”
Chris Murdock, co-founder and chief sourcing officer at IQTalent

What Do You Want to Learn From Job Interview Questions?

Of course, asking questions is a surefire way to learn more about an applicant. It’s also, however, important to ask questions that clue you into the candidate on a deeper level. There are people who can “fake” their way through interviews by giving answers employers want to hear. However, if you ask certain revealing questions, you can avoid hiring the wrong person, based on how they perform in the interview.

“Employment interviews should help you determine four things, says Bill Catlette, an executive coach and HR professional at companies like FedEx and ADP. By virtue of their pace, preference, values and temperament, is this person a good fit for your workplace, regardless of capability? Can they do the job? Given a fair opportunity to do the job, will they? What’s their level of desire to do this job and to work here?”

9 Revealing Questions to Ask Your Next Job Prospect

"Revealing questions are fine for interviews, and indeed necessary,” says Catlette, also partner at leadership consultancy Contented Cows. “They’re made even better when the interviewer shows a willingness to be equally candid in return.”

Try out these nine questions during your next hiring interview, to help get a better idea on who you’re hiring.

1. Why do you want to work for our company?

Pay close attention to the answer here. This shows you a couple things: First, did they take the time to research your company online? You’d be surprised how many interviewees skip this step. Being prepared is a key part of every job, so if they start off by not doing their homework that could be a red flag.Their answer will also give you a hint as to whether they see this job as long-term or if they’re using you to fill in a gap until they take a job they really want. 

“What specific objective are they seeking to fulfill now,” Catlette says. “Is it just another gig, or something they can sink their teeth into? How does this new role fit into their life pattern or plan?” 
Bill Calette, partner at leadership consultancy Contented Cows

2. Tell me about a time when you faced a problem and how you overcame it. 

This is an open-ended question that gives you an idea of how they handle adversity. You’ll be able to review how the person handles pressure, negative feedback, problems and obstacles, while they develop creative solutions. When they respond, ask follow-up questions like: 

How did you feel when you realized there was a problem? 

What did you learn from dealing with this problem? 

What do you do differently now as a result of this problem? 

3. Who’s your biggest influence? 

“This is a great question if you're a company that values empathy and diversity of thought,” Murdock says. Here, you can find out a lot about the individual’s personality. For example, if they talk about an older, counselor figure, you might discern that they’ll welcome an experienced employee who can “show them the ropes.” 

If they mention someone in their peer group, they might like working in a pod of similar people. Either way, you want someone who’s both able and willing to work in a group and take direction when needed. 

4. If a customer came in with a complaint, how would you handle the situation? 

This is another question that gives you an idea of how well the person you’re interviewing can problem-solve on their and how they’d handle such a situation. This also gives you an idea of exactly how customer service oriented they are and how they’ll bring that to the job. 

“For customer-facing positions, I want to know more about how they perceive customers – what they have a right to expect in your shop and so on.”
Bill Calette, partner at leadership consultancy Contented Cows

5. What do you enjoy most in your life? What’s your passion?

A solid answer reveals that the person has an outlet for making themselves happy, which shows there’s a good chance they’ll be able to come into work with a more positive, enthusiastic attitude.

“If your company values a work/life balance, this question helps you understand the candidate’s work style. However, as a word of caution, this kind of question could ultimately lead to interviewers and hiring managers giving favor to people with similar interests, going against diversity.”
Chris Murdock, co-founder and chief sourcing officer at IQTalent.

6. What’s something you accomplished that you’re most proud of? 

The key to this question isn’t so much what they’re proud of, but how they express that pride. If they’re very passionate and explain in depth how they met this goal, they’re the right one for you. But if they state what the project or job was without any passion or elaboration, they might be showing you the same lackluster attitude they’ll bring to work.

“This question gives you an understanding of how the candidate defines success. However, I like to pair it with, ‘What’s your biggest failure or regret, and how did you handle it?”
Chris Murdock, co-founder and chief sourcing officer at IQTalent

7. What’s your biggest shortcoming on the job? 

Look for honesty here. If they can’t think of one area they fall short on, this may be a sign they’re “performing” to get the job or they aren’t honest about themselves. You want to learn how they respond to constructive criticism and if they’re proactive enough to make improvements.  

“I want to hear more about their perceived strengths and weaknesses, with some behaviorally-based augmentation to their answers. For example, be prepared with follow-up questions like, ‘Tell me about a time when…’"
- Bill Calette, partner at leadership consultancy Contented Cows

8. What would your former manager say is their favorite part of working with you, and what’s most challenging?

This answer reveals to you the applicant’s ability to self-reflect and to take accountability for growth, and to find the middle ground between confidence and arrogance. “I want to hear more qualitatively about how former bosses and co-workers perceived them,” Catlette says. 

A candidate may open up about a challenging trait or a place they fall short in their performance and tell you how they’re improving. A candidate who blames a company and boss for developmental challenges should raise your suspicions. 

“If answered in an honest and transparent way, the candidate can give insight into their self- awareness,” Murdock says.

9. If you don’t get this job, what’s your next move?

We bet this is a question your interviewees don’t get very often. Their responses can clue you in to how far they’ve planned or prepared past this interview or role. 

You might also learn if they’re interviewing for other positions, whether they get defensive at being caught off-guard, and how serious they are about finding a job that’s the right fit for them and their new employer.

Throw in Time for Them to Ask You Questions

You know that if you hire the wrong person, it can cost you time and money. However, if you make an effort to be more strategic with your interview questions, then you’re on the way to finding someone who will actually help your business grow. Part of that, however, is allowing the candidate to ask their own questions.

Catlette builds in short segments for the job candidate to pose questions at the very beginning, middle and end of the interview process, rather than as a “throwaway” time at the end. 

“My reputation as an employer is so important,” he says. “That’s why I want every single applicant to leave with a good taste in their mouth for our business, our people, and the way we treated them. Whether they come to work for us or not, I want them singing our praises to everyone they know.”

Dec 18, 2022
S&S Activewear