Hiring is hard. Finding good people is even harder.
Fear not! Whether you’re a hiring manager, a parent looking for a nanny, an entrepreneur searching for the right team, or a homeowner interviewing contractors, my goal is to give you the best interview questions and tips to finally hire the job candidate of your dreams.
In this guide, you’ll find:
- the 6 types of interview questions
- the best opening, closing, and skill-based questions, and more
- the 10 things you NEED to know before conducting an interview
Let’s dive in!
The 6 Types of Interview Questions
According to The Seek Group, there are 4 types of interview questions. I’ll add 2 essential categories to this list—openers and closers:
- Opening Questions. Opening questions are designed to lighten the mood and get to know a little about the interviewee’s personal life before diving into the serious questions.
- Motivation-Based Questions. Motivation-based questions aim to understand why a job candidate is applying and what they hope to gain from joining the company.
- Situational Questions. Situational questions place (often imaginary) scenarios for a job candidate to navigate through in order to see their problem-solving and analytical skills.
- Skills-Based Questions. Skills-based questions seek to uncover if a potential candidate has the necessary skills to take on the job position. These questions usually involve demonstrating technical or professional skills.
- Behavioral Questions. Behavioral questions aim to see how different candidates respond under different situations.
- Closing Questions. Closing questions are questions best left for the end of an interview.
Each of these 6 categories aims to bring forth new information that interviewers can learn about a potential new hire.
If you’re the hiring manager, I recommend picking at least one question from each category. And if you’re a job candidate, check out the recommended answer styles below:
Opening questions are a formal conversation starter. They lighten the mood and give an insight into a person’s personality. There are 4 reasons I love asking opening questions. They:
- start the interview without stressing the candidate out
- set a friendly yet professional tone and direction for the entire interview
- get a sample of a candidate’s soft skills
- allow me to get to know them personally before diving in professionally
Here are my favorite openers:
“What’s Your Personal Passion Project?”
I love to use this question as an opener because it gives a glimpse into a candidate’s personality:
- Are they travel lovers and open to new experiences?
- Are they daredevils who love to parachute and skydive?
- Are they more of the introverted type who loves reading or watching Netflix?
👍 Smart: “Oh, great question! I’m an avid reader and am reading an old classic—Odyssey, by Homer. It’s a long read but one that I had yet to dive into. I have a backlog of about 20 other books, and I aim to get them finished by the end of the year!”
Unique: “This might sound crazy, but I love to collect rocks! When I travel the world, I find the most unique, precious rocks and keep them in a little box at home. This is my way of keeping travel souvenirs!”
👎 Boring: “My personal passion project? I like to watch TV at home a lot.”
Passionless: “I don’t really have a passion…”
“Have You Ever Read a Book That Changed Your Life?”
I love this question because almost everyone has read a life-changing book that has motivated them, changed their way of thinking, or even made them successful. And if they don’t read? That’s a bad sign that they’re not a lifelong learner.
You might even be able to infer personality traits from the type of book they prefer—for example, one 2017 study showed that people who prefer:
- relationship books tend to be more open
- scientific books were less neurotic
- religious books were more conscientious
Skillful: “Of course! I just read a book related to this job position, actually. It taught me how different programming languages are going to be implemented in the future—and that’s why I would love to be a developer at this future-focused company!”
👎 Non-Reader: “Well—the last book I read was something about farm animals back in high school. I love animals, actually.”
“What’s Your Big 5 Personality?”
I typically have everyone we work with take our free Big 5 Personality Test before coming in, and we discuss it. You are welcome to use it for your new hires!
To take the free Big 5 Personality quiz, read more about it here or click the button below.
👍 Expert: “Ooh, I’m highly extroverted and open, but a little neurotic at times. I’m also very conscientious and agreeable. What about you?”
👍 Curious: “I’m not sure what the Big 5 Personality Quiz is, but I’d love to take it!”
👎 Arrogant: “Personality? Pfft, I’ve got THE. Best. Personality. Ever.”
“What Is Something That You Used to Believe, But No Longer Do?”
This question reveals a person’s self-awareness and potential life lessons learned in their life. Do they answer with a meaningful revelation? Or do they play it safe and respond with something generic?
👍 Insightful: “I used to be over controlling. I always micromanaged my team and made sure they were doing things my way. But I realized it was hurtful for my teammates. And I only did this because I truly knew I could do better—and I always have been a perfectionist at heart. But I learned that sometimes this isn’t great for being a team leader and that your teammates will feel burned out and overly stressed. So, I’ve struck a balance and now manage with a more laid-back but controlled approach.”
👎 Offensive: “I don’t believe in religion anymore.”
“If You Had to Pick Any Character in a Book, Movie, or TV Show Who Is Most Similar to You, Who Would You Choose? Why?”
This fun interview question is also a great conversation starter I use regularly. There might be some nonscientific insights into someone’s personality, depending on what character they choose, but this question is mostly for fun.
👍 Fun: “Ooh, great question! If I had to pick, I’d say the character I relate to the most is Harry Potter! I’ve always felt like the underdog with a lot of hardship in life. But in the end, I’m trying to save the world… one step at a time.”
👎 Serious: “Hmm, any character? Well, let me think about it for a bit…” *Spends the next 5 minutes thinking*
Motivation-based questions play a large part in predicting job satisfaction. These questions dig deep into why a candidate wants to be a part of the company. Is it because of the great opportunities? The work culture? The valuable experience? Or just for the money?
Ask these questions to see if a job candidate really wants to join the company—or if it’s just “another” job they’re applying for.
“Why Should We Hire You?”
This is a tough, on-the-spot question, and should be used to see how a potential new hire might react when under pressure. When interviewers ask this question, they really want to know:
- Why would a candidate be a good fit for this position?
- What makes them unique?
- Why are they the best person for this job?
- Why should the company hire them over everyone else?
👍 Grateful: “What a great question! I’m glad you asked. First of all… ”
👍 Rephrasing: “It sounds like you’re looking for someone who is great at digital marketing and knows their SEO and copywriting skills. Is that right?”
👍 Skillful: “This position requires me to generate as many sales as possible. And, luckily enough, I’ve successfully generated $100,000 in sales in my previous job in just one month, which makes me a perfect fit for this role.”
👎 Clueless: “I don’t know. My mom sent me here.”
👎 Hopeless: “Nobody else will take me—I’ve applied to at least 50 jobs already! Please take me in!”
👎 New: “I feel I’m the perfect candidate for the new engineering position here, even though I have no prior work experience.”
👎 Desperate: “I got bills to pay and three hungry mouths to feed.”
“Why Did You Apply For This Position?”
Interviewers might ask a candidate this question because they want to know if their interviewee is a great match. Do their current and future goals align with this job position? And has the candidate done their research on this job position?
👍 Rational: “This job is the logical next step for my career because it aligns with all the previous experience I have. Plus, it’s not so easy that my skills won’t be put to good use and not so challenging that I can’t learn along the way.”
👍 Enthusiastic: “This company is one of the best, and is a place where I have always wanted to work!”
👎 Needy: “I’ve got a mounting pile of debt and nobody to pay it, so I thought this job was appropriate.”
👎 Unspecific: “I like this job a lot! Really, any position I would be happy to get. I just really like this company, really.”
“What’s Your Expected Salary?”
The last thing you want is to fall in love with a candidate, only to find out you can’t afford their asking price. When negotiating a salary, look to see if their answer aligns with the salary you have in mind. If they did their research, they’ll likely quote a salary within the average range for your location.
👍 Accurate: “From the research I’ve done on this position, I think somewhere between $X-$XX is a fair amount.”
👍 Optimistic: “From the daily tasks you’ve described and the management responsibilities, I think $XX is an amount I’m comfortable with. This is truly a great opportunity, and I believe I can help this business succeed.”
👎 Demanding: “I think $XX is my number, non negotiable.”
“Is Your Work Personality Different From Your Home Personality or Your Social Personality? In What Ways?”
Maferima Touré-Tillery, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School, posted new research that showed that people who self-identify as having different “identities” may actually be less ethical than people who are more consistent in their life.
In other words, if an employee views themselves as being totally different at home than at work, they may be more inclined to perform unethical behaviors. This is because they’re more easily able to detach from their work persona (unlike those with a consistent identity who view themselves the same everywhere they go).
👍 Genuine: “Honestly, I’m pretty much the same wherever I go. And I think that’s a good thing! I feel like I am an honest, hard worker, and even when at home, I try my best to stay fit and do the chores whenever I can. I’m also always learning and reading books, so that’s a plus. I manage to find a good work-life balance as well, so I don’t think I have to be 2 different people at all.”
👎 Unmotivated: “I would say yes. When at work, I try my best to get by. But when I go home, sometimes I’m just too tired. I don’t feel like working anymore!”
Pro Tip: Want to know the insider secrets of what a company is looking for? In this interview, I talked with Zach Suchin, entrepreneur, investor, and founder of Brand Knew, a creative agency and technology studio. Watch the video below to find out more about company culture and his favorite interview questions:
Situational questions are often questions that can’t be Googled beforehand, giving you an insight into a job candidate’s quick analytical skills. Since they have to think of an answer on the spot, situational questions show how a candidate might deal with potential problems they might face in the future.
“If You Suddenly Had 3 Deadlines to Finish in One Day, But Could Only Finish 2 of Them, What Would You Do?”
This question is designed to dig up how a job candidate would prioritize their tasks. Do they know how to prioritize? Can they section off their workday to accomplish these deadlines? Can they create mini goals to reach them?
👍 Strategic: “If I was running with a team, I would be able to prioritize tasks and delegate certain team members to tasks that were top priority. In my previous position, I actually had a similar scenario where we were about to launch a new product, but at the last minute, our packaging was found to be faulty. So right before the deadline, we spent hours fixing and refixing the package until it was right—and then we applied this to all our products. All in all, we barely made the deadline—but not without loads of effort and a ton of coffee!”
👎 Unrealistic: “I would work overtime to achieve all my deadlines, even if they were impossible to achieve!”
👎 Defeatist: “Well, if I can’t complete the deadlines, then I would just do the 2 and tell my boss that I couldn’t make the 3rd one.”
“How Do You Deal With Stressful Situations?”
We all face anxiety and stress at times—but how does a candidate deal with them? What you likely don’t want in a potential candidate is someone who handles stress poorly—this can be a sign that they may withdraw from inevitable work situations or crumble under pressure.
And you definitely don’t want someone who denies having stress. Even the most entry-level jobs come with stress on a regular basis. Look for coping techniques like:
- deep breathing exercises
- going for a walk
- hanging out with friends
- reading meaningful books
- practicing a hobby
👍 Proactive: “Sometimes I might get stressed, but I’ve learned to deal with that through my consistent yoga routine. Every morning and night, I do my daily yoga, and it refreshes me both physically and mentally. I’ve also stopped social media completely and gave up coffee, which helped reduce my stress a lot.”
👎 Ignorant: “I don’t have any stress at all! Life is a breeze.”
“Imagine You’re the Manager and Your New Subordinate Keeps Disrespecting You. What Would You Do?”
Is your job candidate applying for a management position? Even if they’re not, this question reveals their conflict-handling skills. It gives you a deeper insight into how they would deal with threats in the workplace.
👍 Calm: “I would keep track and write down all the incidents they have shown disrespect to me. Then, I would address their behavior in a formal meeting by having a 1-on-1. If the behavior continues, I would notify my boss through email with a record of these events.”
👎 Emotional: “He would be fired on the spot, no doubt.”
“What Are the Traits of Your Ideal Manager or Boss?”
This is a great question to ask any up-and-coming employee because it shows how good of a fit they would be in the company. If you’re the hiring manager or someone who’s going to be their future boss, their answer can spell out your future boss-employee relationship.
This question also shows how much guidance a potential employee might want. If their ideal manager is someone who gives detailed instructions and keeps constant watch over the team, they might need a lot of guidance. If their ideal manager is someone who is laid back and hands off, they might not be a good fit if your company culture is more high stress and deadline oriented.
👍 Relating: “A great boss, to me, is someone who is clear in their direction and asks a lot of questions from their employees—just like you’ve been doing. I believe my ideal boss is someone who takes their employees’ opinions into account, although we might have disagreements, and that’s OK and expected at times. Oh, and a great sense of humor certainly helps!”
👎 Unrealistic: “My ideal boss is someone who doesn’t back down. They’re always courageous and willing to lead. They never take no for an answer. And they do things the right way 100% of the time.”
Skill-based questions are questions that uncover whether a candidate has the skills to take on the tasks at hand. For example, if Company X is hiring for a software-related field, they might ask a question about using a specific software tool.
Keep in mind that if a candidate does not meet the skill requirements, some companies prefer to hire based on fit rather than skill. They might believe it’s better to find someone who is motivated and eager to learn and train them up, rather than someone who is qualified but a bad fit for the company.
“I Would Love To Hear About Your Proudest Professional Moment.”
Think of this question as a glimpse into what the job candidate can accomplish at your company. Since you’re giving the candidate the green light to tell their most amazing story, expect an answer that might surprise you or make you like them even more.
If they tell their proudest moment, and you end up internally saying, “That’s it?” you might be telling yourself the same thing if you do end up hiring them.
👍 Detailed: “Just last year, my proudest moment was the launch event of our company’s newest fitness equipment. We (the marketing team) had 3 months to prepare, and although we were quite inexperienced, we tried everything—from handwritten sales letters, to phone calls, to even flying a sky-high banner on one of those airplanes throughout the city. And finally, when the launch day came, our hard work paid off—the fitness equipment sold out in under 2 hours, and we ended up selling over 1,000,000 units in the next 2 months alone!”
👎 Out-of-date: “About 10 years ago, I managed to work 30 hours a week while studying full time at college!”
👎 Blunt: “Just take a look on my CV—I wrote everything on there for you.”
👎 Overmodest: “My greatest achievement professionally was just getting hired. It was such a blessing to be able to work for a great company!”
“Why Are You Qualified For This Position?”
This straightforward question can uncover many things from a potential new-hire, such as:
- their current/previous work experience
- past accomplishments and how they relate to this job position
- relevant skills that might be transferable to this position
👍 Specific: “I believe I’m the most qualified for this position because I have dedicated 5 years in this industry. I’ve learned as much as I can on the job, and while away from work, I’ve attended weekly workshops to sharpen my skills. I’m a team player and also have experience managing teams. For example, in my last position I managed to be a part of a high-level clinical group while also managing a small team of nurses. At the end of this assignment, we saw patient satisfaction levels increase by 25%.”
👎 Generic: “I’m qualified for this position because I can offer the company the skills you need. Plus, I have experience in this field.”
“Describe a situation in which you led a team.”
Is the candidate a team player or a leader? In this case, we’re asking the candidate to show leadership. Some candidates may come off as overcontrolling or lacking in leadership qualities—look for the ones that showcase effective management and leadership skills.
Ideally, you’ll want to hear about a success story and not a big flop, and one from the workplace rather than in high school.
👍 Successful: “Oh! Great question. The last project I spearheaded was about half a year ago at my last job position. Our goal was to create a soundtrack for the upcoming game. This project was pretty big because we had 30 members all dedicated to the sound team, with me leading the project. After successfully laying out a plan, I delegated the appropriate tasks to showcase everyone’s strengths. We ran into slight trouble as a couple of our teammates had to re-record a couple songs due to technical difficulties, but I managed to find replacement musicians who could help fill in that lost time. In the end, the project was a success, and we managed to deliver the soundtrack with a couple days to spare!”
👎 Nostalgic: “Oh, back in my high school years, I was assigned a PowerPoint on World War II. My teammates pretty much did nothing, so I guess I was the leader?”
“What Are Your Biggest Strengths?”
This question can be broken down into 2 parts:
- Is the job candidate self-aware? Do they know their own strengths and what they excel in (if anything)?
- Can they align their own strengths with the company’s needs? Can their strengths shine in this job position?
👍 Confident: “Sales! I’ve always been good at selling—I was the top salesman in my previous job. Even all my friends say I can sell wood to a forest. To give you an example, I recently…”
👎 General: “I’m very smart! I like to use my intelligence to the fullest.”
👎 Off-Topic: “I’m a very nice person! People say I’m kind and generous.”
“What Would You Say Is Your Biggest Weakness?”
The aim of this question is to see if a job candidate ACTUALLY gives a real weakness, not a strength disguised as a weakness. The key is to see if the candidate comes up with a genuine, unique weakness and not a generic one.
👍 Confident: “My biggest weakness is that I always say yes to people. I know, it might seem good on paper—but I find myself constantly saying yes to things I don’t want to! For example, I’ve recently said yes to helping my cousin move and going to a party I didn’t want to attend. But I’m working on it by having a “tip jar” and tipping myself a dollar every time I say no to something I dread.”
👍 Honest: “To be honest, my biggest weakness might be that I haven’t had a full-time job in the past few years. I’ve been busy taking care of my family during this time. However, I’ve still been keeping up in the industry by self-learning and taking freelance gigs on the side, when I have the time.”
👎 Self-Defeating: “Well, I’m pretty bad at everything. Organizing, being on time, working hard…”
👎 Generic: “Sometimes I can be quiet, especially when I’m around others I don’t know. But I tend to open up once I get to know them better!”
👎 Avoidant: “My biggest weakness is puppies—GOSH I love those furry things!”
Behavioral interview questions are designed to reveal the true nature of a candidate’s personality, motivations, and values. Behavioral interview questions are used so both the candidate and interviewer have a more productive interaction.
“Tell Me About a Time You Took a Risk and It Succeeded.”
This question can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, the company might be looking for smart risk-takers. But they might just want someone who can accurately follow an already well-established system. Whatever the case, you probably want to look for a candidate who gives a rational response versus an employee who is simply reckless.
👍 Courageous: “A big risk I took recently that paid off was when I filed a formal report about my manager. I didn’t want to do it, but everybody on my team was afraid of her. She would go off on us and even yell at some points for any small mistake, and nobody dared to stand up to her. But I had to, or she would continue making everyone miserable. I filed a formal complaint, and, long story short, she suddenly became one of the nicest managers ever! It was an unexpected risk, but it paid off.”
👎 Off-Topic: “Well, the biggest risk I took was probably going skydiving. It was the scariest time of my life and I don’t think I’d ever do it again! I ended up hurling all over my skydiving instructor’s face… Oh, but I got a cool video from it! Wanna look?”
👎 Reckless: “Well, that one time I decided to interview a big CEO without my boss knowing—and it actually paid off—was definitely worth it.”
“Tell Me About a Time You Took a Risk and It Failed.”
Just like the above question, this question aims at digging deep—but this time, you’re looking to see if the candidate can take responsibility for their actions, if they learned from their mistakes, and what they did or can do in the future to improve their risk-taking behaviors.
👍 Honest: “As a newcomer to the job, I struggled with procrastination a lot. I knew what I had to do, but I kept falling behind deadlines and my work kept piling up. My team was affected because I was the squeeze in the sales pipeline. My manager took notice, and we had a tough 1-on-1. After discussing, I found out that the root cause of my procrastination was non-work related—I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep! As a single mother, I had to take care of 2 young kids, and so I hired a nanny, and now I have much more energy to tackle my day. I have now been consistently meeting my team’s deadlines, and my health has never been better!”
👎 Insignificant: “This one time, I had to be at a big meeting. I set my alarm and was sure to make it on time. However, right before the big meeting, my alarm didn’t go off! I saw that I was a whole minute late. I was lucky to get there on time.”
👎 Destructive: “My biggest failure was when I fat-fingered a number on our client’s spreadsheet. We ended up investing more money into this stock than he wanted, and it ended up costing him (and us) more than $1 million in losses.”
“Tell Me About Your Best and Worst Days at Work.”
This interview question from Chris O’Neill, CEO of Evernote, is a great way to gauge someone’s outlook and perspective.
I would recommend taking this a step further and thinking about what your ideal answer to this question is. If you were to ask your top performers this behavioral interview question, how would they answer? What examples would they give?
👍 Enthusiastic: “Oh, my absolute best day at work was when I was able to hit my project deadline that I’ve been working months to achieve! This was an absolute milestone and accomplishment for me because it showed me I had the perseverance to stick it through, and once the project was complete, it was even better than I hoped it would be!”
👍 Loving: “My absolute best day at work was when we celebrated the launch of our most recent product. Our team got together and sang karaoke and had the best night of dancing—it was just like a high school prom! But the best part was celebrating that big win with my coworkers—they really worked hard and we came a long way.”
👎 Selfish: “My best day at work was when I was nominated for president of the company. I knew I was meant for this position because I was the top performer at my company. And when I finally got it, I deserved it.”
Want more behavioral interview questions? Behavioral interview questions are my favorite, so I’ve come up with an in-depth article detailing the absolute BEST behavioral interview questions to ask. Read more here.
Closing questions, similar to opening questions, are there to lighten the atmosphere a bit and provide a chance for informal talk.
The key to closing questions is to keep them interesting and/or fun—remember, the first and last questions in an interview will be the ones that stand out.
“What Important Truth Do Very Few People Agree With You On?”
Peter Thiel, author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, says this is the #1 interview question he asks.
Because while this question might seem easy on the surface, it’s actually quite difficult because it causes the interviewee to confess something that’s unpopular. It requires a bit of courage and even showcases their creative thinking if answered properly.
👍 Scientific: “Most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more. Without technological change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.”
👎 Obvious: “The education system is broken and needs to be fixed.”
“What Did You Take Away From Our Meeting Today?”
This can be a hard question to answer, and most candidates might not expect this. Pay attention to what they focus on the most from the meeting—was it the knowledge they learned about the company? Was it the chance to meet the CEO or managers? Was there a highlight of the meeting they had in mind?
👍 Grateful: “Oh, gosh, I learned so much! From the positive, friendly company culture, to feeling even more confident that I can tackle this job position, and not to mention being able to finally meet you and the rest of the people behind the company—I’m so grateful to have been part of this amazing experience! Plus, after you mentioned ping-pong, I think I’m going to try getting into it again! Haha.”
👎 Overly Detailed: “Oh, I learned that the starting salary of this job is $60,000, there is a 90-day trial period, the company offers health and medical benefits, there is a pension plan, and the list goes on…”
“Do You Have Any Other Questions For Us?”
This is almost an essential question because it signals to the candidate that the interview is almost complete. Look for a candidate who has a thoughtful question or two prepared. And if their question was already answered during the interview, are they able to come up with any other questions on the spot?
If a candidate doesn’t have any questions to ask, this generally isn’t a good sign, as it could be because of a lack of preparation or interest.
👍 Eager: “Oh, yes! Could you share more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this position and what a typical day might look like?”
👍 Success-oriented: “What do you think is the most important indicator of success for this position?”
👍 Fun: “What is your favorite part about working for this company?”
👎 Disinterested: “Nope, that’s all I have!”
👎 Repeating: “Sorry; we mentioned it before, but could you go over the salary and benefits again?”
👎 Complicated: “What do you think are the 5 most important traits for this job, and could you give me an example of each?”
Here it is—the big question everyone knows is coming, but nobody really wants to answer… unless you’ve got the perfect answer to this question.
And let me tell you, this question is AMAZING to answer, once you know how to do it.
Luckily, through hundreds of trial-and-error interviews, I’ve come up with the perfect formula to leave people mentally saying, “Wow!” after they ask me this question.
Never get caught with a boring answer again—check out my video to find out my formula!
And while you’re at it, learn more in my article here.
Bonus: Interview Body Language
During an interview, what you DON’T say might be more important than what you do. Research shows that nonverbal communication accounts for a majority (about 65 to 90%) of the meaning conveyed in social interactions.
Watch this video for more body language tips, or check out our master guide on body language here:
Here’s the bottom line: Every question in your interview must count! With this list of 25 of my favorite questions, I truly hope you find your star candidate. For more interview tips, read on…