How to Conduct an Interview: Questions to Ask

Manager conducting interview at table in office

Let’s face it, conducting an interview isn’t always fun and it doesn’t come all that naturally to many people — including hiring managers. Often interviewers are unarmed with the appropriate interview questions, unable to follow-up up on candidate responses, and unable to fill the void that often results when two strangers sit together for the first time.

But the stakes are exceptionally high when it comes to building your team and furthering your own success. That’s why, in addition to understanding the job market, it’s important to know how to conduct an interview the right way.

Here are a few simple tips that, when consistently applied, will help you identify candidates who are geared for progression in their careers and who can make an immediate contribution to your organization.

Understand What You’re Looking For

As you consider the questions you’ll ask for your next interview, what you’re really trying to get at is whether this person would be a good fit for your organization. Actually the process is fairly intuitive.

First, you’re trying to see if a candidate can self-assess and articulate how they could make a positive contribution to your organization by virtue of their emotional intelligence. Second, you’re looking for compatibility with communication skills and work styles. And third, you’re trying to determine the “candidate desire factor” which typically serves as the ultimate swing factor in determining whom to bring aboard.

Now, let’s break these concepts out a little further, with specific questions you can ask throughout the process.

1. Gauging the Candidate’s Level of Self-Awareness

As you try to determine a candidate’s awareness of themselves and how they fit into organizations, consider opening your interview with a question like:

  • Walk me through your progression in your career leading me up to your current role.

This is a good way to get a candidate’s job history as well as their view of their progression. Once you have their answer, follow up with questions such as:

  • How have you had to reinvent your job in light of your organization’s changing needs?
  • What makes you stand out among your peers?
  • What would your most respected critic say of your strengths, areas for development, and future potential in your field?

In addition to probing an individual’s assessment of themselves, you also want to ask questions about how they assess their organizations, with questions like:

  • How many employees does your company have?
  • What’s your organization’s annual revenue base?
  • How is your department structured in terms of reporting relationships?
  • How exactly does your company make money, and what are its two biggest expenses?

Depending on the level of the candidate you’re interviewing, their responses can provide excellent insights into their level of business acumen and self-awareness.

2. Looking for Compatibility, Not Just Likeability

We all tend to hire in our own image, but when it comes to how to conduct an interview, you need to look beyond immediate chemistry by asking questions such as:

  • How many hours a day do you find it necessary to work in order to get your job done?
  • How sensitive are you to accepting constructive criticism?
  • Describe the pace that you typically work in the office — moderate, fast, or hair-on-fire?
  • How much structure, direction, and feedback do you generally prefer on a day-to-day basis?
  • Do you generally ask for permission or forgiveness when making decisions?

Some natural follow-ups to these types of questions would be to inquire about specific examples. So, for example, a natural follow-up to the last question above would be:

  • Tell me about a time when you may not have erred on the side of caution when you should have.

These types of questions help you to better match an individual’s personal style to your department’s corporate culture. Without rounding out these questions, you could end up with someone who can do the job technically but who’s totally out of sync with the rest of your team.

3. Assessing the Candidate’s Desire Factor

There’s no excuse for candidates not having researched your company, its achievements, competitors, and challenges prior to an interview. Still, some will go out of their way to articulate their understanding of who you are and why they’re so excited about joining your firm.

What you’re really trying to get to here is whether the candidate wants “a job” or whether they want “this job”. Try questions like these to isolate those who are hungriest for the opportunity that you offer:

  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why would you want to work here?
  • In your mind, what makes us stand out from our competitors?
  • If you were to accept this position with us today, how would you explain that to a prospective employer five years from now?
  • How would this role with our company provide a link to your future career progression?

Understand Your Role in the Interview

How to conduct an interview well will always lie in your ability to avoid common hiring mistakes and to assess potential talent in the interview process. But keep in mind that more new hires fail due to personality-culture mismatch than technical skills mismatch. That’s why you need to keep a keen eye out for compatible styles in terms of communication, pace, constructive criticism, and work hour commitments in candidates’ responses.

When you’re figuring out how to interview a candidate, make sure you have a good balance between interviewing and educating. Follow the 80-20 paradigm, so that the candidate speaks for 80% of the time at the beginning of the interview, and you speak for 20% of the time after you’ve completed your initial round of interview question.

During your education period, always be willing to offer a good amount of career advice and direction. After all, every relationship gives us an opportunity to share our wealth of knowledge and experience with others: If you see the interview as an opportunity to give a gift to someone else — whether you hire them or not — you’ll find that the communication becomes a lot more natural and enjoyable.

More Questions About How to Conduct an Interview?

Interviews are definitely a challenge for candidates, but they’re just as challenging for the employer. You need to know the right questions to ask to find the job seeker that will best fit your needs. But there’s good news. Monster has decades of experience helping employers like you. With ongoing free access to the latest hiring resources, including recruiting tips, job market trends, and management strategies, we can help you get to your next terrific hire.