Essential questions to ask candidates at a job interview and how to assess their answers.

The end goal of a job interview is to identify the best possible candidate for the role. Achieving this aim becomes much easier if you know the best interview questions to ask and which answers to listen out for. Some of the best questions relate to candidates' skill sets, employment records and experience, but others concern their attitude, personality and career ambitions. You not only want to hire professionals who are technically sound, but those who are genuinely motivated to work for your organisation and build their career as part of your team.

By knowing the best questions to ask in an interview and seeing how candidates respond, you can gain the insights you need to judge each individual. Their answers will be revealing, showing them to be a potential match for your organisation or someone who is unsuitable. On some occasions, you may need to read between the lines a little to find out where a candidate is coming from. Taking time to prepare your interview questions, will increase your chances of identifying the most suitable candidate for the role.

Here is our selection of the best interview questions to ask a candidate during your recruitment process:

5 Interview questions to ask to learn more about the candidate

Whenever you interview a candidate for a new job, you need to ensure they can back up the claims they have made on their CV. This means asking them questions on both their current and previous roles, to learn more about what they have done and how they do it. Here are some interview questions to ask:

1. Tell me a little about yourself

Some candidates will tell you their entire life story, others will focus on one particular aspect and use it to pitch themselves to you. Look for candidates who can make points both profoundly and concisely, explaining how their interests, background or experiences are relevant to the job.

2. What do you know about the company?

At the very least, candidates should have carried out basic research about your organisation. After all, they have applied for a job with your business. But if they are serious about being selected, they should be able to do more than simply recite facts from your 'About Us' page. They should be able to talk about your mission, culture and values, and how they are eager to be part of what you do.

3. What are your main responsibilities in your current role?

Strong candidates will not just list what they do, they will explain how their role adds value to their team and company. They should offer insight into their specific skill set, and explain how this sets them apart from other members of their team.

4. What are your key strengths and weaknesses in the workplace?

Candidates should have plenty to talk about in terms of strengths, backing up their claims with evidence. They should also be able to turn any perceived weakness into a positive. This question can help to identify thoughtful, well-balanced candidates with a high level of self-awareness. This is often a great opportunity to ask questions around any interests or concerns you may have gathered from their CV.

5. Has your role changed since you took it on?

This question is an opportunity for candidates to show their innovative, creative side and how they have helped benefit the business. Those who have found solutions to the problems they encounter at work - and in doing so, added value - have an opportunity to show their ability and insight.

Best job interview questions for assessing candidates' knowledge

As an interviewer, you want to learn more about the candidate and find out their depth of understanding. Their CV should tell you whether they have the qualifications required for the job in question, but do they have the soft skills and practical expertise to actually deliver results? If they struggle to provide coherent, logical answers it could be a sign of interview nerves. But it might be the case that the candidate isn’t knowledgeable about the specific skills you are enquiring about.

Depending on the role you are recruiting for, you may also want to ask more general interview questions around the industry you operate in and their knowledge of it. This can help you learn more about each candidate's commercial skills, which are needed to make decisions, implement strategy, deal with clients and/or partners, and take on leadership responsibilities. Here are some examples:

How have the previous organisations you've worked for maintained a profitable margin?

Commercially-aware candidates will have insight into their organisation's business model, and be able to explain how it operates. If they're unable to answer this question confidently, it suggests they may not understand how their role integrates into the company.

How do you think [an industry development] will impact on your role?

The best candidates tend to be those who are genuinely interested in their work, and aware of what is happening in their relevant industry sector and business as a whole. They will read relevant reports and keep abreast of the latest developments. If candidates' lack awareness of major changes which will affect how they operate, it raises concerns about their overall commitment to their career.

Related: 10 situational interview questions you should be asking every candidate

5 interview questions for assessing a candidates' suitability

The questions you ask should also help to establish whether an interviewee will be a good fit for your organisation. A candidate may have a fantastic CV and be a proven performer, but are they going to be a good hire? You want to hire people who can work effectively with existing members of staff, helping to boost productivity and morale rather than hindering it. As an interviewer, you need to learn about the candidate's attitude and approach to work, and their strategy for delivering results. The best interview questions to ask for this, may include:

1. What will your skills and ideas bring to this company?

This question isn't just about skills, it's about where an employee fits into the organisation as a whole. What can they bring to the table that your organisation is lacking? Are they aware of where they would fit in, and where the boundaries of their role and authority exist?

2. Do you prefer to work on your own or as part of a team?

Few candidates will admit that they prefer to work in silo, knowing the value employers place on collaborative work. But if an employee says they are a team player, they need to provide examples of how working together is beneficial. They should be able to give case studies of effective collaborative work from their own experience.

3. How much direction and feedback do you need on a day-to-day basis?

The best candidates will position themselves as independent, mature professionals, who can work effectively without supervision but also respect authority and take direction. You don't want to employ mavericks who will just do their own thing, but equally, you can't hold employees' hands the whole time. You need someone between the two extremes.

4. What have been your biggest individual achievements in the workplace?

This question gives candidates another chance to provide evidence of the value they can add. Strong candidates will be able to offer facts and figures, detailing how much revenue they generated, or what efficiencies they achieved. They will be able to highlight both individual and team successes.

5. How do you hit deadlines and meet targets, particularly at peak times?

'Working quickly' is not necessarily the answer you want to hear. High-calibre professionals will know the value of managing their time effectively, prioritising tasks and, where necessary, to meet deadlines. Those who are committed to building a career with your organisation will do so willingly, focusing on delivering a quality end result as a priority.

Best interview questions to ask to find out a candidates' motivations and intentions

It's also important to assess each candidate's motives in applying for the job. You want to weed out the ones who are only interested in money, or see you as being a short-term stepping stone to advance their career. Professionals who genuinely want to work for you and develop in their role are likely to add greater value in the long term. They can help you build strong, sustainable teams which deliver consistent results and contribute to a healthier bottom line. Here are the best interview questions to ask someone about their career aspirations:

What attracted you to this role and our organisation?

This is another opportunity for candidates to prove they have the core skills you need and are a good cultural fit for the organisation. They should be able to say something more than 'it looks like an interesting job'.

How can our organisation help you achieve career progression?

Strong candidates will have a clear idea of how they want to develop and what they need to do to achieve their career goals. They should be able to identify scope for advancement, and potentially even quiz you on in-house opportunities. This will gather an idea as to whether or not they are a ‘job hopper’ and if they are going to use this job as a way to climb the ladder to progress their career.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

Candidates should have ambitions they can realistically achieve working for your organisation. It shows they are eager to develop but also level-headed - and a potential long-term option for your team. If candidates see your organisation as being a mere stepping stone to another job, they won't readily admit it. This is where your employers' intuition comes in handy.

The best interview questions help you to really get to know your candidate shortlist and whether they are suitable for your role. To find the right candidate, make sure you incorporate these into your interview format. Following on from your first interview, if you’re running a second round of interviews for your vacancy, here’s our selection of best second interview questions to ask candidates.