10 Must-Ask Interview Questions

Creating a set of must-ask interview questions is never easy. In 45 minutes, you have to get to know a candidate well enough to determine if she can perform a complex job, fit your company’s culture, and not flake out after you’ve spent all that time training her. Oh, and you have to do this for a dozen other candidates as well. No pressure.


The bad news: Failure happens. There’s no perfect set of interview questions to ensure you’ll find the perfect candidate with 100 percent accuracy, and improvisation is a useful interviewing skill worth developing. The good news: We’ve compiled a list of the 10 must-ask questions to help you recruit a successful candidate.

1. What Led You to Choose Your Major/Career?

This is a great question to kick-start an interview. It eases the candidate into the proceedings by focusing on something personal, yet job-related, to help him tackle the fears (and overall queasiness) that come with being interviewed. It also provides you with insight into his values, history, and goals.

2. How Would You Describe Your Ideal Work Environment?

The candidate won’t just be filling a position; she’ll be a coworker and a part of the company. How she answers this question will help you determine if she'll be a good fit for your company’s culture and whether that culture lines up with the types of working relationships she finds beneficial.

3. What Interests You About This Job? In What Ways Do You Think You Can Contribute?

Sometimes, the reality of the job and the candidate’s understanding of it can be wildly different. This question can help you figure out where those two ideals overlap. A candidate who understands the job well enough to name purposeful contributions is worth shortlisting. A candidate who only has a general understanding of the job, or whose understanding is way off, may not be the best fit.

4. What Did Your Coworkers Most Appreciate About You at Your Previous Job?

This is a good behavioral question to assess how the candidate views his value to coworkers, not to mention how he measures his success as an employee. For example, if he views past coworkers as appreciating his team-building skills, then chances are he’ll try to bring that skill set to your company. You can then measure how critical that skill set is.

5. How Do You Plan Objectives to Reach Your Goals? Describe a Specific Situation.

This situational question will tell you how the candidate organizes and plans her day. Don’t get too caught up in the details, though. Instead, ask yourself if the candidate’s approach matches the rhythm of the company and the demands of the position. 

6. Tell Me About a Time You Had to Make a Tough Decision. How Did It Work Out?

Any candidate you hire will need to make choices, and this STAR method question will help you evaluate decision-making skills. Consider the reasons for the choice and whether the thought process behind it was appropriate. Additionally, by asking him how it worked out, you get an opportunity to explore his problem-solving skills and how well he performs under pressure, both relevant skills for any future employee.

7. How Do You Grow Your Professional Skills and Knowledge?

Industries don’t stand still. They are constantly evolving, dying, and changing in ways that make the animal kingdom look like the easy setting. Anyone you hire today may not be up to snuff five years from now as the industry transforms. This question will help determine if the candidate is motivated to excel, not just in the position, but in the field, and if she has a plan to reach that goal.

8. How Would You Define Success for Your Career? What About Your Life?

Simply having an answer to this question can be enough to help you separate candidates who are looking to advance their careers and the company from those just looking for a job. Asking the candidate to define success in life will grant you further insights into his personality.

9. Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

Don’t think of this as a mere formality. It is an essential part of the interviewing process. If the candidate has specific questions about the job and the company, you can be sure she did her homework and is serious about the position. A candidate that asks vague questions or has no questions likely wasn’t paying attention. Not a good sign.

10. Think of a Topic You Enjoy and Know Well. Now, Please Explain It So I Can Understand It.

Hear us out. By having the candidate explain something to you, you can gauge a whole bunch of traits: her communication skills, what she enjoys, and how well she understands her own abilities. Granted, the topic may not have much to do with the job position, but the information you can glean around it can be incredibly valuable, making this an excellent, if odd, addition to your repertoire.

These 10 must-ask interview questions run the gamut from work experience to decision-making skills to seeing if a candidate’s behavior fits the company culture. They're also highly adaptable and can be changed on the fly to suit the position or candidate. When used together, they can offer you a comprehensive profile of the candidate’s skills and chances of success at your company, providing you with a solid foundation for any interview.

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