How to Interview Like a Boss: A Guide To Better Job Candidate Interviews

  • Brace
  • May 28, 2019
  • 14 min

You can feel the stress in the air: the waiting, anticipating, reviewing your notes. This decision is important, it’ll change your future. And that’s not just what the job candidate feels, but the interviewer as well. But it doesn’t have to be like this. To make the right decision for your company and team, its essential to reduce stress by having good interview questions and strategies at hand. Read on to find interview insights, good interview questions, and key takeaways to help ask the right questions and choose the right candidates.

Expert Opinion: Job Interviews Are Important for Employer and Job Candidate

The competition for good talent is more intense than ever and the market for employees is shrinking. Both Claudio Fernández-Aráoz of Egon Zehnder and John Sullivan of San Francisco State University agree that, in these circumstances, good interviews are integral for companies to find and get skilled candidates. If an interview is old-fashioned, uncomfortable, or just plain bad employees will know both by their gut and by comparing with employer rating websites like If they don’t like what they see they can easily take their talents elsewhere. Interview’s today are not one-sided; the candidate gets an impression of the company as much as the interviewer feels out the candidate.

The Purpose of Good Interview Questions (A Hiring Manager’s POV)

What can companies and HR learn from job interviews? What should they be trying to find out? Too often, interviews enquire only the details of the interviewee’s background and experience. This is, of course, important, but what’s more, an interview also provides a company with a great opportunity to test how a candidate approaches tasks and thinks, and to sell themselves as a great place to work. Use the interview to ask questions that tease out not just what a candidate has done but what a candidate can do, as well as show what your company can do for them. After all, as John Sullivan notes, How do you hire a chef? Have them cook you a meal.

Purpose of Job Interviews

  • Determine personality and culture fit (check out the essential guide to culture fit here)
  • Find out how candidates work and think
  • Test potential employee’s skills (critical thinking, problem-solving, etc.)
  • Have candidates show real solutions to real problems
  • Show why the job and your company are right for the candidate

How to Prepare Job Candidate Interviews

Whether going into your first interview or as an experienced veteran, preparation is essential. Preparing your interview helps you ask the questions that matter, make a great impression, and reduce stress for yourself and your candidate. This, in turn, ensures that you get more honest and insightful answers, that you make a well-educated decision, and that your potential new employee is convinced that the job is right for them. Here are 3 key steps to prepare your interview to perfection.

Step 1: Decide the Type of Interviews & Interviewers Needed

Different candidates and jobs need different strategies (or even a combination). Sometimes it’s better to view all your possible employees in a group interview, while others are better one on one. Some decisions are better made in a committee or panel while others you have to make alone. Learning the different interview options and their strengths will help you prepare the right interview strategy to make the right decision.

  • Prescreen with telephone interviews

    Telephone interviews are a great way to narrow a field of candidates and find who truly fits the needs of the role. Interviewers should ask carefully considered questions that bring out details of a candidate’s resume, salary expectations, any employment gaps, and test their communication abilities.

  • One-on-one interviews

    A face to face interview is a tried, true, and effective method. They can be structured or unstructured and address behavioral and situational aspects (more on this later). One on one interviews are your go-to method and let interviewers get a feel for their candidate and give the potential employee a good impression of the job. This ensures a better fit for both sides.

  • Panel or committee interviews of job candidates

    Much like one on one interviews, panel interviews serve the same role of determining behavioral and situational abilities only with more (but not more than 5) interviewers to ask questions and decide. With more perspectives, there’s a better chance to find a good fit or spot issues. Panels are good for finding candidates that need to work with multiple teams or to counteract your own unconscious bias that influences your hiring.

  • Job candidate group interviews

    These are less common but involve one interviewer comparing many candidates at the same time. It may be easier to see which potential employees impress by having them perform next to each other. But be aware, this can also be distracting or misleading, as some candidates are simply more sociable than others. Make sure to have follow-up interviews to ensure you made the right choice.

Step 2: Find Good Interview Questions

The core of your interview is the questions you choose. These determine how candidates answer, what information and insights you can glean, and how potential employees feel about you and the job. No time to start slacking! Having the right mix of situational and behavioral questions, avoiding illegal subjects, and keeping the interest of your candidate can make or break the success of your final decision.

Job Interviewer Questions for situational & behavioral approaches

With even Google backing away from their “brainteaser” questions, the trend now in interviewing is focusing on a candidate’s potential, viability, and applicable skills. Doing this means finding the right mix of situational and behavioral questions. (If you’re completely at a loss, check out the complete list of good interview questions below.)

  • Situational questions mean asking candidates to solve a problem (either a real one in your company or a hypothetical one). This forces them to show how they apply their skills and their approach to problems and work.
  • Behavioral (or competency) questions mean asking candidates about their specific skills and qualities, usually through interviewing about past experiences.

These two question types complete each other as behavioral questions find what qualities a candidate has while situational questions show how they apply them. Check out the complete list of good interview questions below to find the right questions or inspiration for your interview.

(Legally) questionable interview questions

Some questions you shouldn’t ask, while others you simply can’t. And often, the two overlap. Many types of questions are illegal because they unfairly impact candidates based on age, gender, orientation, or ethnicity. It’s important to avoid these not only to give every candidate a fair chance, but also to make a good impression with candidates, spare the reputation of your company, and avoid any legal troubles.

Interview Questions to Avoid

  • What is your citizenship status?
  • Where is your accent from?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you belong to a church?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Are you married or do you have kids?
  • Have you had any illnesses in the past year?

And because it has no good answer, raises stress, and is ineffective

  • What’s your greatest weakness?

Step 3: Choose the Perfect Interview Location(s)

The atmosphere of an interview is more important than you might think. A location that is quiet and relaxed reduces stress in interviewee and interviewer alike leading to better, more honest interactions. Interview spots outside the office can give you a chance to see how candidates interact with different types of people and circumstances. Indeed, different locations can be better for different interview phases. For example, Inc. writer Jeff Haden suggests taking your final candidates for one last interview at dinner, golf, or something different related to your company culture. This lets you see a new side of them for a more complete picture.

Regardless of where you choose (and don’t be afraid to be creative), a good interview location…

  • … is quiet to allow conversation and concentration.
  • … has a relaxed atmosphere to counteract an already stressful situation.
  • … feels private enough to encourage honest interaction.
  • … says something about your company and company culture.
  • … helps candidates break out of the “interview mode” and be more natural.

A Hiring Manager’s Guide to Conducting Better Job Interviews

Once your questions are decided and preparation complete, it’s time to focus on the next essential step: How to conduct the interview. How do you steer the conversation? How should you present yourself? These considerations heavily influence the answers you get, as well as the interest good talent has in working for your company. We’ll break down the elements of a good interview to help you fine-tune your art.

  1. Use Good Body Language: How you present yourself dictates how your candidate will respond to you. Enter the room with confidence. Make sure to give a firm handshake (without going hulk on their hand) and always keep a friendly demeanor, consistent eye contact, and good posture. When done right, this shows confidence and interest on your side, encourages respect from the candidate, and builds a positive, respectful relationship.
  2. Frame Questions Open-Ended: During the interview, it’s essential to set up your questions in an open-ended manner. Open questions starting with “Please describe…,” “Why…,” or “Tell me about…” encourage candidates to express themselves and their views. This lets you better determine their cultural and position fit, not just a list of skills that result from close-ended questions.
  3. Use Follow-Up Questions: Occasionally ask follow-ups to show interest and give candidates a chance to explain their positions. This includes reflection questions such as “Your comment reminded me of…” or clarification questions like “You mentioned … Could you tell me more about it?” By engaging with the candidate and their answers, you learn more and the potential employee feels more appreciated and respected.
  4. Keep Control of the Interview: To get the most of an interview, you need to steer it where it needs to go. This is done by listening and asking good questions. Focus on what the candidate is saying and don’t be distracted. Once their answer is finished, then you can add a follow-up for more information, or move on to the next thing you want to know. Don’t forget to watch the candidate’s body language and expressions, too, as these can clue you in to interests and subjects that need attention.
  5. Check Your (Unconcious) Bias: Everyone one has it. And it can influence how you judge and treat a candidate. Make sure to write out a list of objective expected attributes necessary for the position to help you stay neutral. Panel interviews can also help bring multiple perspectives into play to ensure the right questions are asked and objectivity maintained. Even just reading a bit into the subject and being aware of your personal bias can sometimes be enough to work against it.

Checklist to Conduct Good Interviews as an Interviewer

… Plan your interview

  • … What type of interview do you need?
  • … How many?
  • … What questions to do you want to ask?
  • … Where should it take place?
  • … Have you scheduled enough time?

… Conduct your interview

  • … Make your candidate feel welcome and reduce stress
  • … Open with comfortable, conversational questions
  • … Be attentive, friendly, and respectful
  • … Listen completely then ask questions or follow-ups
  • … Pay attention to body language

… Close out your interview

  • … Create interest in your company if you think the candidate is a keeper
  • … Make time for questions from the candidate
  • … Explain the following steps of the interview process
  • … Walk the candidate to the door and thank them
  • … Make or check notes about the interview for later reference

23 Good Interview Questions For Job Candidates

#Interview QuestionValue and Function
1.What are the reasons you want to work for our company?Candidates’ answers reveal what drives them and let interviewers check for real passion and connection with the position.
2.Tell me about why you left your last job?The answer here shows what a candidate was missing and if your position and company can fill that need.
3.How did you work with your last manager? What was good and what could have been better?This response will help hiring managers find any potential conflicts and determine if a candidate fits the management structure.
4.If you had to choose one skill that makes you the most qualified for this position, what would it be and why?A candidate’s response will show interviewers how well the potential employee understands the position and what they can offer.
5.Tell me about the one work-related achievement you are most proud of?Seeing how a candidate defines success says a lot about what they will bring to a new role.
6.Tell me about the one work-related achievement you are most proud of?Seeing how a candidate defines success says a lot about what they will bring to a new role.
7.What was a great challenge you overcame and how did you do it?This shows work ethic, initiative, and creativity, all of which can factor into a decision for who fits a position best.
8.Can you describe your ideal work environment for me in 5 words?Hiring managers can see from this answer whether their workplace fits what a candidate desires.
9.Tell about the first thing you would address if you were hired for this position?This answer helps interviewers see how well candidates understand the offered role and the company while revealing details about their priorities.
10.Tell me about the skill you most want to improve and about your plans to achieve it?This answer shows a lot about a candidate’s ambitions and initiative, and if they are too big or small for the position.
11.Can your hobbies tell me something about you that your resume doesn’t?The answer will show what abilities the candidate has as well as how well they understand the position offered.
12.When did you set your goals sky-high and what can you tell me about it?Hiring managers can learn about a candidate’s ambitions and perhaps how they handle success or failure.
13.Sell our product and company to me as if I were a potential customer.This answer will help check orientation between what the company expects and what the candidate understands.
14.Sell our product and company to me as if I were a potential customer.This answer will help check orientation between what the company expects and what the candidate understands.
15.Tell me about a professional experience that you’d never want to do again.Hiring managers can tell from this answer whether there are possible conflicts with the candidate and the tasks of the offered position.
16.What’s something complicated that you understand and can explain to me in 4 sentences?With this answer, interviewers can test a candidate’s communication skills, as well as their passions and professional knowledge.
17.Tell me about the biggest mistake you’ve made.This shows how candidates handle stress and adversity, as well as revealing how they learn, adapt, and grow.
18.Who is a great inspiration for you and why?This question shows what work qualities candidates respect and if they fit with your company.
19.Tell me about a task that you could do every day and still enjoy.This answer shows hiring managers a glimpse of a candidate’s passions and helps them determine if they are fitting ones.
20.If you were an entrepreneur, what business would you start and why?With this question, interviewers can see what passions and motivations a candidate has and if they align with the company and position.
21.Do you have any questions for me? Good candidates should have questions to see if the job fits them as much as they fit the position.
22.Have you lived in another country? How did you handle this new environment?This answer reveals how employees adapt and integrate into new teams and environments.
23.You’ve been placed in charge of a 200-employee team as a supervisor. Managing such a team is difficult as you don’t have many resources or assistance. The CFO, however, believes the issues can be solved through better strategy. What would you do?This situational question addresses a specific role and company problem. The question and answer can be different based on your individual workplace but situational questions such as this will often reveal real-world methods your candidate uses and prefers.

Key Takeaways

  • An interview allows employers to not only find a good fitting candidate but also to see their work style and lets them promote their company to ensure good talent wants to work for them.
  • Open-ended and situational questions help ensure hiring managers get personal, valuable answers and not just a repetition of resume details.
  • Planning and preparing the interview is necessary for interviewers to reduce stress, get good results, and make quality decisions.
  • Different interview locations can produce different results and show different sides of a candidate.

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