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What Interview Questions Reveal about the Interviewer

What Interview Questions Reveal about the Interviewer

By: Dona DeZube

Interview preparation most often focuses on the job requirements and the candidates.

Equally revealing are the interview questions that you choose to ask during the interview process. These questions often reveal something of your company culture, your management style and your perception of the job.

We asked interview experts to flip the most common interview questions and explain what they say to job seekers.

Consider these two interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time in which you helped others to succeed at a project.
  • Tell me about a time when you innovated at work.

“The first question lets the applicant know that the company cares about collaboration and teamwork, the second that the company cares about creativity and motivation,” says Professor Angelo Kinicki, an expert in organizational culture at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

  • Tell me about policies or standards you’ve developed.

This inquiry tells the candidate your company is inclusive and is interested in the value the candidate can add, Barry Drexler of Drexler Coaching, New York, an interview coach who estimates he interviewed 15,000 people during his 30-year career.

  • What procedures do you follow in your current position? Tell me about a time when you didn’t follow policy. What happened? How structured is your current workplace?

These types of interview questions tell the job candidate that you’re keen on structure, procedures and standards, Drexel says. They say you need someone who can follow instructions and comply with rules.

  • At your last employer, what was your biggest accomplishment?

Job seekers hear this interview question all the time. It doesn’t reveal much about your company, but your follow up questions will, says Paul Peterson, national talent resource manager for Grant Thornton LLP, Toronto.

If you ask about profits, rather than people, you’ll come across as a bottom-line driven company. Follow up questions that reference people who helped the applicant achieve their goal shows that you’re a team-oriented organization.

  • Tell me about yourself.

Perfunctory interview questions like this signal that you’re screening candidates before they’re passed on to a true decision-maker, says Gina DeLapa, a career counselor and president of Maestro Consulting Group LLC, San Diego.

When you include simple interview questions like this during an interview, you imply that you have the authority to turn a candidate away, but not to hire, she says.

  • What’s your vision? Where do you think our company should go in the future? How would you shape this role?

These types of interview questions signal that the job is strategic and likely high-level. “They show your company is interested in organic growth,” Drexler says.

  • Would you be okay after two or three years if you ended up in my job?

This shows that you’re secure in your role. You know you won’t be successful moving up if you don’t first hire someone who can take your place. It says you value ambition, Drexler says.

  • How many ping pong balls would it take to fill a 747 Jet?

If you’re conducting an interview for an analytical job, you’ll likely include this type of question.

If you want to show that you respect careful thinking and analysis, say nothing to fill the silence that often follows analytical interview questions. “You’re demonstrating you’re comfortable in your own element and you need someone who can think through an issue before jumping in,” Peterson says.

  • Are you willing to work overtime? Are you okay with being contacted in off hours?

This interview question alerts candidates to the fact that this isn’t a 9 to 5 position. “It’s a good question if the job requires extensive overtime,” Drexler says.

But, this question can also be a turn off, so don’t ask about overtime unless the job requires it.

  • How soon can you start?

“This could indicate a great opportunity -- or simply a crisis,” DeLapa says.

A smart candidate will wonder why the job is currently unfilled and listen for additional questions that convey opportunity or hint that you’re in crisis management mode. 

  • Tell me about ideas that you’ve generated and how you shared them. What do you contribute to your current team that’s added value?

This question says your company culture is collaborative -- people are willing to share ideas -- and the job requires teamwork, Drexler says.

  • What’s the biggest misconception that people have about you and why?

This is a “zinger” question that can throw people off, Peterson says. They show you’re looking for people who don’t mind being uncomfortable -- and that you value the ability to think on the fly.

  • How old are you?

When your question violates Federal or state laws, you and your organization come across as unsophisticated (not to mention biased, in a potentially actionable way), DeLapa says. Be sure you maintain a legal hiring process.

What’s the takeaway from all this analysis?

When conducting an interview, think about your interview questions from the job seeker's viewpoint. 

By considering your choice of interview questions before you conduct an interview, you'll be certain that your final list of questions accurately reflects the job opening, your company and your own management style.

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