How to Guide for Asking Questions in Candidate Interviews

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Nothing gets more back to HR basics than the interview. Interviewing was one of the first skills I perfected in my first HR role. It was also one of the most important jobs I had since I was responsible for screening potential candidates and being responsible for selecting new team members to join my company. Choose wisely and my hiring manager and boss was rewarded. I just never got the credit because it was their good instincts that led to the offer of my candidate. <insert sarcasm here> Choose wrongly, and I never lived those down. Bad hires seemed to haunt me forever which is why I quickly took to perfecting my own secret interview technique.

How to Guide for Asking Questions in Candidate Interviews

I try to keep interviews informal. That is my most crucial and fundamental piece of advice for figuring out how a candidate will feel and behave once they have been employed and the novelty has worn off. I want the applicant to be at ease and unnerved around me. I have no concerns about how they will respond to the interview’s pressure. Later, I can evaluate that. In order for them to share information that will enable me to decide whether they are the right fit for my company, I need them to believe that I am their friend and supporter.

Sometimes I shoot the breeze and just keep it cool for the first 5-10 minutes of an interview. I don’t want the interview to be formal whatsoever. I want them to think, “This HR lady is so cool. I bet I can voluntarily share with her almost anything.” Now, keep in mind there are certain things I can’t use in my deciding factor whether or not to hire a candidate. You can view a list of illegal interview questions by clicking here.

I’ve learned some intriguing information about candidates using this informal interviewing style, such as that they were going 600 miles away to live with their partner in three months or that he only needed $700 to pay for his speeding ticket and DUI. In the interview, the DUI suspect really had it together, and I’m very sure I would not have known otherwise. Since I didn’t want to rehire someone for the job in a few weeks, I passed on him. My first HR position was in retail, which was rife with drama and unusual but colorful characters. Sometimes I thought more like a therapist than an HR professional.

Interview Questions and Answers How to

One of the HR technology companies I consult with is 1 Page. They are a challenge based hiring proposal and idea platform which is very cool. At the moment, we are building a interview guide as a download among other resources for business leaders, recruiters and HR folks at small and growing companies. This first download is a list of interview questions and answers as well as a scoring card and notes to use during your candidate interviews. Admit it, that Word document you are probably using is so 1990. What you see below is a sneak peak into the top interview questions small teams and startups should be asking. Leave a comment below, and I’ll shoot you over a copy of the guide as soon as it becomes available in the next few weeks.

– Tell me about a time you dealt with a workplace situation or project that was stressful and required you to meet a tight deadline? How did you manage your time and work with others to finish the job on time?

– How do you approach managing multiple tasks, responsibilities and roles? What mistakes have you made and how have you set out to improve your efficiency and productivity?

– Tell me about a time accomplished a project with little or no direction. What challenges did you face and how did you ensure that you finished the project that met the standard of approval for your leadership team?

– At a startup or small business like ours, we wear many hats and take on new roles. How do you approach a new responsibility, job or task given to you by your boss or leadership team?

– What do you believe are the most important skill set for employees at a startup or small company? How do you make sure you are always learning and remain an asset to the team?

– If I hired you, how would you help elevate our product, brand or company revenue efforts? Where do you see yourself being the most successful at making an impact at our company?

– What does success look like for you as an individual and as a company? How do you believe that these are aligned and what can a company due to ensure that both the company and employee are engaged and productive?

– What’s one word that best describes you?

Leave a comment if you are interested in a copy of the interview scoring and question download. What’s your go to interview question? Please share and I’ll add a few to our new guide and the resource center we are building.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Patrick Molloy says

    Some great questions that I have used and some others that i’ll use in the future. I’d love to see your scoring system. The company I work for uses Knowledge, Ability and Personal Suitability competencies in our assessment. Post interview and all written assessments each competency is ranked 0-5, which provide a score on a matrix.

    Thanks for the quality content 🙂

  2. Karen Falconer says

    These are excellent – would love a copy of the interview questions when completed!

  3. Melissa Hoppes says

    Great questions. I’d like to receive a copy of the questions when it’s completed.

  4. Maryann hughes says

    Great interview questions that have been successfully tested by other are always welcome. Would find the scoring component you offered an deed plus. Thank you!

  5. Barbara Dammen says

    Our state government has a very structured hiring process. The interview is the most important part of this process. Good interview questions are essential. I would like to receive a copy of the questions and scoring.

  6. Shelly Soliz says

    Networking ability is a necessity for our new hires, so asking about their volunteer experience and success with a project in outside organizations can determine their ability to be successful in our organization.

  7. Melissa Tener-Holt says

    Great questions! I would definitely be interested in the interview scoring and question download. Thanks for always providing such great information for HR professionals!

  8. Nicole says

    These are great! I would love a copy of the interview questions too when available! Thx!

  9. Mark says

    Very good questions. It’s not always about the answer, but HOW it is answered. The most revealing question I use is, “What is your greatest weakness”. Of course I have to lead into that with, “What is your greatest strength in relation to this role”…, “and on the flip-side, …”

  10. Daisy says

    For the candidates’ sake, wished most interviewers would take your informal approach, and be “able to assess how the candidate will think and act after they’ve been hired”. Good strategy!

    Here’s one question you could entertain: “Why are your skills right for this position?”

  11. Jadee Bryant says

    We usually ask, “If your current supervisor were to give you a piece of advice for professional development, what do you think that might be?”

  12. Megan Midkiff says

    I’m of the same vein, with a casual, professional style to interviewing. I truly do want to be the candidate’s advocate and make them comfortable, in order to keep the doors of communication open and improve candidate experience. Thanks for this!

  13. Wendy Hutton says

    Great questions! I would definitely be interested in the interview scoring and question download.

  14. Gabriela says

    One of the questions I like to use is to ask them about their personal goal and how do they plan to achieve it. This would not only allow me to drift their focus away from the interview situation and get them relax, but would also give me insights into their personality and asses their fit into the role.

  15. Annette says

    Jessica, I agree these are great questions with multiple parts to weigh whether the candidate can follow several points at once; some I’ve used in various forms, and it’s a great reminder to freshen up. I would like to see the complete list of questions.

    • Jessica Miller-Merrell says

      Hi Annette,

      I’m working on putting together a resource section on a new version of If you subscribe to our email newsletter here, I will send out a note when it is all ready. Should be early to mid September.


  16. Richard Wilke says

    As a past small business owner I like your questions. As a person searching for a job and over 50, I would like to know how to beat the age discrimination process by HR specialist?


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