person smiling during job interview
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When it comes to job interviews, preparation is key. But not just for the candidate—it’s equally important for the person on the other side of the table (or, erm, the screen).

From your point of view as the interviewer, this conversation is your chance to determine whether an applicant is qualified for the position and would work well with your team and your company in general. In short: Is this the right hire?! And you can really only find out if you know the right questions to ask an interviewee.

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So what should you be sure to ask? Here are 26 actually enlightening interview questions (beyond “tell me about yourself”) to try out in your next sit-down with a potential employee.

Questions that gauge their interest and understanding

You want to hire someone who actually wants this gig, right? These interview questions will help you figure out if the candidate really understands the job they’re applying for, took the time to do their research, and is excited to join your team and company.

What one skill makes you the most qualified for this position?

In any interview, your focus first and foremost is to find someone who possesses the right qualifications.

That’s why a question like this one is so important. Not only do you get to hear more detail about what that candidate considers to be their core competencies, but it’s also a chance to confirm that they have an appropriate understanding of what the role entails. For example, if they tout a skill that’s impressive but totally irrelevant, that’s a red flag that you’re not on the same page about the major duties of the job.

What excites you most about this position?

Skills can be taught, but here’s one thing that can’t be: enthusiasm. When an interviewee is truly excited about an opportunity, that typically translates into excellent work and greater longevity with your company.

Ask that potential employee about what initially attracted them to the position. What makes them most excited about the prospect of working there? Doing so will once again confirm they grasp the duties of the role and give you a chance to figure out what aspects of the job interest them most.

If hired, what’s the first thing you would tackle in this position?

This is a great question to ask in a later interview round, when you’re choosing between the final candidates you’ve narrowed the field down to.

It’s effective for a few reasons: First, it’s yet another opportunity to confirm that the interviewee has the right understanding of the position. Secondly, it gives you the chance to understand their priorities. What do they believe is the most important and urgent part of the job? Last but not least, it helps you dig into the specifics of how that candidate would actually perform in the role.

Some additional questions that fall into this category are:

Questions that tell you about the candidate’s work history, plans, and values

The questions in this section will give you more information about the interviewee’s experiences, skills, and values, as well as who they are outside of work.

To date, what professional achievement are you most proud of?

Candidates show up to interviews with a goal of impressing you. So chances are, any applicant is ready and eager to share a few major accomplishments.

Asking the interviewee what they’re proudest of—whether it’s an award, a certification, or a big project that went exceptionally well—will give you a better sense of where their strengths really lie and what they believe really matters. Plus, this question offers the chance for the candidate to expand on something they feel good about—which, if it comes early in the conversation, can ease their nerves and help boost their confidence going into the rest of the interview.

Why are you leaving your current employer?

Nobody wants to seem like they’re bad-mouthing a previous boss or employer, which makes this one tricky for applicants to answer. However, posing this question will give you some greater insight into a person’s professional history—and help you identify any red flags (ahem, complaining endlessly about their boss, for example) that might indicate that this candidate isn’t the best one for the job.

What one skill would you like to improve and what’s your plan for doing so?

If you’ve previously been relying on that cliché “what’s your biggest weakness” question, give this one a try instead. Rather than asking an interviewee to point out their flaws and poke holes in their own candidacy, focus on areas of improvement. The second half of this question gives the applicant a chance to redeem themselves, so to speak, by explaining their action plan for continuing to grow and develop.

What do you like to do outside of work?

It’s important to remember that you’re hiring an entire person. You want someone who will be able to connect with you and your team—not a robot who is incapable of forging bonds, sharing interests, and building relationships. Keep in mind, this question isn’t a test where candidates try to match your interests; it’s an opportunity to learn more about who they are.

If you feel uncomfortable asking a question like this one during the more formal portion of the interview, work it into small talk before or after your sit-down. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with that candidate on a more personal level, while also getting a more holistic view of what makes them tick.

Some additional questions that fall into this category are:

SolStock/Getty Images
SolStock/Getty Images

Questions about how a candidate works and what it’d be like to work with them

These questions will help you imagine a candidate as a coworker. How do they work best? How do they react to the day-to-day situations and larger issues that can come up in every workplace?

Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge?

Behavioral interview questions like this are an effective way for you to gain a better understanding of how someone’s experience translates from paper to the real world.

This specific question is a popular one, and for good reason. Starting a new job isn’t a walk in the park. And even after a new employee is established, they’re bound to deal with some roadblocks every now and then—whether it’s a conflict within their team or a project they don’t quite know how to get started on. Getting a grasp on how a person copes with, tackles, and learns from difficult circumstances will give you a sense of how it might be to work with them when things get tough.

How would you describe your own work style?

While you don’t want to build a homogeneous team, you do need to make sure that everyone will be able to find a way to work smoothly together. For that reason, it’s important that you ask each candidate about their work style. Do they take a really collaborative approach or would they rather work independently? Do they perform well with a lot of direction or are they more of a self-starter?

What three words would you use to describe your ideal work environment?

In a similar vein, it’s smart to ask what a candidate prefers in terms of atmosphere to ensure you find someone who can not only survive—but thrive—in your workplace.

Perhaps the interviewee says they like a quieter environment that allows them to get in lots of heads-down work. If your office is extremely talkative and collaborative that could cause some friction. Or maybe they explain that they prefer a lot of structure and predictability—which could be tricky if there isn’t a lot of that at your laid-back startup.

For better or for worse, this question will help you determine whether or not that applicant would feel comfortable in the work environment you’ve already fostered.

Some additional questions that fall into this category are:

While the job seeker is on the far more nerve-wracking side of the table, job interviews are enough to inspire some anxiety in the interviewer as well. You’ll want to have some handy prompts in your back pocket that you can use to get the most valuable information out of a short conversation and ultimately find the very best candidate for that open job.

First time on the other side of the table or just want a few more pointers for conducting a kickass interview? Check out these articles for more advice:

Updated 1/28/2022