List of Job Interview Questions to Ask Applicants

Recruiting Guide Home > Chapter 10

50 Good Job Interview Questions to Ask Potential Employees

Screening for the right person for the job is always a challenge. You need someone not only qualified but with a passion for the work and a desire to serve. You do not always have the luxury of multiple interviews, following up with past employers, calling all character references, or reading through multi-page resumes to help you find the right candidate for the open position.

What follows are 50 quick, easy-to-use, and immediately applied interview questions. These questions will help you to decide quickly whether the candidate you are interviewing is the right fit or not. Each question has been filtered through a vast array of human resources scenarios to determine if any are “questionable” or “offensive” based on current HR laws, regulations, and interviewing rules, (e.g., discriminatory questions based on violations of ADA, Title VI, etc.), and each one has passed the test in the US at the time of this writing. However, it is always recommended that you check with your local jurisdiction to ensure that any interview question you use is in compliance with the employment laws and regulations in your locale.

Traditional interview questions, (“Tell me about yourself,” or “What is your greatest weakness?”), are okay, but only reveal a fraction of what you need to make a decision for a qualified candidate. You want to use questions, like the following, designed with a laser-like focus to help hone in on specific qualities you are looking for in a candidate, particularly the personality and character of the person.

Since many companies and businesses will vary in their job requirements, the following should not be used to replace any interview questions that may be technical in nature or those used to determine specific skills needed for a particular position. Some of these questions may appear to be geared toward candidates seeking a supervisory position or who aspire to be in leadership. However, based on the role you may be hiring for, (e.g., cashier vs. manager), the answers may be different while still providing the results you seek. Moreover, not every question listed here will be used for every job, but our hope is to arm you with questions that may be used in determining excellence in character and finding passionate and motivated employees.

Simply browse through to the category you are interested in and use those questions to help find the right candidate for your needs.

Motivation and Passion Interview Questions

In this section, you want to begin asking broad questions that force the interviewee to elaborate, and then some specific questions that reveal greater detail. This approach offers two benefits: It causes the interviewee to think about their responses since they cannot be answered in one or two words, (you get a sense of communication skills!), and the responses should help you uncover a consistency pattern that reveals the truth.

1. What aspects of your work life history do you feel passionate about?
The interviewee must think over his work history to recall moments of motivation that kept him engaged in his work. The question is useful for determining what parts of the job he is most likely to excel in. If you are screening candidates for a customer service level position, this is a great question to use to see if this candidate naturally excels at talking or working with people.

2. In your previous work, were there any aspects you did not like, but you pushed on through anyway?
This question opens the door for the candidate to elaborate on his motivation and drive that keeps him going. The answers should shed some light on the core passion of the candidate if he reveals that although the going was tough, he knew that the reward was greater at the other end. This would be a candidate to continue through the interview process.

3. What two to four things do you need to be successful in this job?
The answer to this question should reveal the candidate’s work style and expectations. If they answer that the needs are from you and the company, move on to the next candidate. If the applicant states that most of her needs to be successful come from her, you have found a motivated candidate. Even in entry-level positions, this question is helpful in determining if the candidate is a self-starter or requires constant direction and supervision.

4. When it comes to rewards, whether monetary or non-monetary, which ones are the most meaningful to you?
Getting to more specific responses now, the candidate must provide an answer that agrees with his work history. Of course, any answer is revealing, but a non-monetary one such as “the pleasure of serving people,” or “the satisfaction I get after a job well done,” are preferable because it shows that the person is working with a passion for the work and not the money. Most candidates with these responses know that the money will come if they follow their passion.

5. During your career, what aspects have not lived up to your expectations?
The hope is that as the questioning continues, a voice of candor emerges from the candidate, and you get real, meaningful answers rather than vague and general ones. This question, when honestly answered, will allow you to understand any frequent job changes, gaps in employment, or terminations. If the interviewee expected more respect and money along the way, this response might be a red flag. A good response, if it is honest, would be along the lines of “I failed to do…” or “I did not perform as I should,” or “I expected too much…” If the response is an emphasis on “I” the candidate is taking ownership of his path and not putting the blame on everyone else. This is a good sign.

6. Why did you apply for this position?
The candidate should have no problem answering this one. They may say the reason is money or that they saw the ad and thought they could do the job. Some of the best answers would be that they know a little something about your business, and they want to be a part of the team. Alternatively, another good response is that they know that their skill set matches the position, and they would like to contribute to the success of the organization. This question will not necessarily make or break the deal, but it is helpful in learning more about the candidate. For example, if it is someone applying for the position of a server, they may reveal that they are in between jobs and needed the money. This may not be a long-term employee, but at least a motivated one that may prove to be an asset for your business.

7. How do you like to be managed?
The answer to this question provides a look into the candidate’s level of responsibility they take for their actions. It is also a good way to determine if they will fit into the current management style in your business. A motivated candidate typically provides an answer along the lines of, “Give me the parameters and business goals and I will self-manage.” This answer may come from an entry level candidate with years of experience and may be a keeper.

8. Tell me about what has motivated you recently?
This forces the candidate to recall seminars, books, events such as movies or plays, songs, or people that have impacted his motivational level. You are looking for something that puts fire in his belly rather than the answer, “Nothing.” If the interviewee is applying for an entry level position like cashier or hostess, they may respond to this question with surprising answers such as, “I am retired and was bored,” or “My car broke and I need the money.” Both are motivations, but one candidate may stay long at the position while the other may never show up.

9. Walk me through your mental process of dealing with complaints about customer service?
A motivated and passionate candidate will know how to do what it takes to please the customer, particularly if they are a seasoned veteran in the hospitality industry. Look for the candidate taking responsibility for the situation and not pushing the blame on the customer or a coworker.

Customer Service Interview Questions

Providing excellence in customer service is so vital to the success of your company, that hiring talent that can deliver the best to your customers must be a priority. If you have excellent customer service, it can elevate the customer’s view of your product. If you have poor customer service, often customers will leave even if you offer the best product in your industry. These questions will help you identify those candidates who not only know the importance of great customer service but can also deliver that service.

10. What have you done at your present/last company to provide a wonderful experience for your customers?
A generic question that the candidate can answer in a variety of ways. You are looking for specifics that shows the candidate took action to provide a good experience for the customer. The best possible answers include total recall of incidents where the candidate knows that she shined and remembers comment cards from customers or kudos from supervisors.

11. Have you encountered a situation where you dealt with an upset customer or got blamed for something that wasn’t your fault? How did you handle it?
Great follow-up to the first question. Every business has unsatisfied customers, whether justified or not. It is simply part of running a business. Here, you are trying to get the candidate to provide an honest account of a complicated scenario and how they handled it. The main thing you are looking for in their response is if they are focused on finding a positive solution for the customer.

12. How do you advocate for your customers when it is apparent that their issues could be prevented by improving how a product was designed (e.g., how the food was prepared), how a process could be streamlined, or how communication could have been improved?
With this question, you are looking for where the candidate may put the blame on a customer service issue rather than doing what it takes to please the customer. If the candidate recalls an incident when he did all that was possible to right the situation regardless of who or what was at fault, you may have found someone who places customer service as a high priority—a trait that is required to be successful in this job.

13. Give me an example of when you went the extra mile for a customer?
Any question asked during an interview should be designed to elicit more than just a “yes” or “no.” This question prompts the candidate to retrieve a file that will give you information on how she thinks and reacts outside the standard parameters. Tony Hsieh tells the story of how one of his employees at Zappos, an online shoe store, once ordered a pizza for a customer who requested one using her personal credit card. You may not want a candidate that feels empowered in that extreme, but close to it would be nice.

14. Describe a delightful customer service experience you had when you were the customer in a restaurant. What did the server/cashier/hostess, do to make it so?
You are looking for a response that indicates that they know what is meant by good customer service and what it took to deliver it for them.

Interview Questions for Thinking on Their Feet

A team member who makes decisions to act takes responsibility for their actions, and the outcome of those actions is valuable to the business. Questions in this section help the interviewer gain an understanding of how well the applicant thinks on their feet and if they are willing to make decisions or would rather be told what to do.

15. What are the first three things you would do on the job if you were hired for this position?
The question requires the candidate to be decisive and come up with an action plan. The answer you receive will give you an understanding of how the interviewee approaches new, possibly uncharted, situations. If the candidate answers that she will wait to be told what to do, you may have an unmotivated, high maintenance candidate.

16. If we hired you, what are the three most important attributes that you believe you would bring to our company?
The hope is that the candidate did their homework and now knows a little about your business. If so, they should be creative in their approach to answering this question. One skill may be natural, and two may be a little taxing. Which is why asking for three attributes requires that they think quickly as well as creatively on their feet. While the answers are important, how they get to the answers reveals even more. It shows that they can improvise and adapt to various situations at a moment’s notice.

17. How do you make decisions?
This simple open-ended question is packed full of potential. The candidate should elaborate on their decision-making process. If they stumble on this one, it may be an indication that they are usually told what to do rather than think on their feet. Perhaps they have not been given a chance in the past to make decisions. If other questions lead toward a good candidate, you may be able to change their habits by empowering them to make decisions. If you do not have the luxury of that kind of time, use their unsatisfactory answer to this questions as another red flag.

18. Do you have any questions for me?
This question has been asked over a million times by employers, but doubtfully used for determining if the candidate can think on their feet. Typically what is asked are questions about salary, start date, vacation and other benefits. What you are looking for is a quick-thinking candidate who may have also prepared a strategy for this question. Both responses are positive.

19. Describe a time when you were asked to do something you were not trained to do. How did you handle it?
The answer to this question provides insight into how the candidate adjusts to doing something outside of her comfort zone. Asking how she handled it helps to learn about her thinking process and if she can change direction on the fly. Candidates that can adapt and ask for assistance from managers and coworkers should be considered as able to think on their feet.

Hospitality Related Job Interview Questions

The hospitality industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that is expected to almost double by the year 2025. Hiring the right candidates in this high-turnover industry requires a high amount of finesse, good screening and interviewing, and good incentives— a hard combination to develop. These following questions can be used to find entry-level candidates that will provide the service that your business needs to excel in the marketplace.

20. Is your schedule flexible?
Anyone applying for a position in any of the segments of hospitality should already understand the demanding flexible work schedule. It is one of the only industries where employees must adapt times of work to fit the occasion, (e.g., banquets, conventions, parties). Gaining acknowledgment about the schedule from the candidate up front merely establishes the ground rules before continuing. If you get responses about limitations on times or certain days, this may not be the one you want to hire.

21. Are you able to interact well with people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life?
Most candidates in today’s world understand the need for showing equal respect for all customers, co-workers, and managers. However, this question also helps to set the ground rules ahead of time, so there is no misunderstanding later. The answers should be straightforward, but any hesitation or flat-out bias comments should serve to end the interview.

22. What challenges are you looking for in this position?
A little more in-depth question, but one that should cause the candidate to reveal any strengths he may have gained from previous positions in the hospitality industry. The answer may be something along the lines of, “I look forward to handling a busy rush of customers into the restaurant,” or “I hope to be stretched in my abilities to serve multiple tables with great service.”

23. How do you handle stressful situations?
The hospitality industry is rife with stress. Anytime you have to satisfy others and cater to their needs, it is stressful. This question is looking for the candidate to acknowledge that there is stress on the job and then to tell what they do to cope with stress. “I do not get stressed,” is a red flag response. Look for coping mechanisms used and if they ever consider taking out their stress on the customers.

24. What would you do if you saw a co-worker stealing?
Unfortunately, this industry has its share of pilfering costing businesses millions each year. The question serves multiple purposes. The response alone reminds the candidate that stealing is wrong, and there will be consequences. It lets the candidate know that if he sees any form of stealing, he should report it, and finally, the question elicits a response on an ethical level. The candidate has to think about his actions going forward. The good responses should be obvious.

Job Interview Questions on Desire to Advance

Employees with a desire to advance are not a threat to the company. In fact, they are a great asset. They are willing to learn more, work harder, and look after the company more so than others. A good goal to have is to find employees who want your job and are willing to go after it. These questions should help to find that kind of employee.

25. Can you envision where you see yourself in three to five years? If so, what does that look like?
Here you are trying to determine the candidate’s ambition and if they are setting realistic expectations for their career. Some may not have a clue, but for those that do, this question will uncover whether the candidate is using the position you are offering for a springboard for something else or if they have a desire to grow with your company. Allow the candidate to elaborate and look for clues as to whether the candidate has the desire to excel with you.

26. Tell me about when you have been most satisfied in your life?
A very revealing question. The interviewee’s answer provides both depth and breadth of insight. If he answers camping near the lake, then you may have to refocus the question toward his career. What you are looking for is either a sense of contentment or satisfaction or a hunger for more out of life. The answer should not make or break the decision for hiring, but it may uncover his ambition for advancement.

27. What’s the biggest decision you have had to make in the past year?
This question fishes for a time (or many times), when the candidate made courageous decisions and what the outcome of those decisions was. Their responses tell how they made a plan and if that plan was for future gain or advancement in their career. The question may also address the candidate’s ability to face obstacles as well as their level of determination.

28. From what you know about our business, how could you improve it in 15 minutes?
A very tough question. You are looking at the potential of the candidate and if they are for real or just posing. Of course, their answer is not for actual implementation, (though it might be), but to determine if they are serious about advancing in the company. You are trying to find out if they have leadership potential. You might be surprised at how much good information you get from every candidate level. Entry level candidates with experience may have noticed something that needs tweaking based on their years of service elsewhere.

29. What would you do the first week working here?
Open-ended and meant to stir the juices of thought in the candidate. Look for answers that show signs of managerial potential. These would include, “Learn all I can about the position,” “Learn about the path for advancement,” “Ask my boss how I can improve my performance.”

30. What one word would describe you?
This one should cause the candidate to think for a moment. If they have been told that they are funny, they should not answer with, “Humorous.” You are looking for words that are positive and apply to the position. If they state, “Ambitious,” or “Go-getter,” then you may have found someone who is motivated to do a good job to advance with the company.

Questions on Loyalty

A loyal employee will do what it takes to complete a project and get the job done. Loyal employees are hard to come by, but when found, are worth the extra effort to keep them on board. It is difficult to gauge the amount of loyalty an employee may bring to your business in the first meeting, but you can uncover the potential for loyalty based on these specific questions:

31. How would your most recent manager, supervisor, or boss describe your work and contribution?
The question opens the floor for the candidate to elaborate on her perception of her former supervisor and the interaction they had. If the candidate knows that she was loyal, this information should come out in the response of what her former employer would say. Listen for key words and phrases from entry level candidates about previous employment such as “fair” or “unfair,” “he did not like me,” “she was a good boss,” and “he said I was good with people.” These are key indicators you can use to get them to elaborate on their responses.

32. What are things that you do not like to do?
The answer should tell you whether this candidate will fit into your company. There are aspects of almost any job that an employee does not particularly enjoy. However, if they recognize that those tasks still must be accomplished to obtain the overall desired goal, they willingly do them for the sake of the company. This is a loyalty attribute.

33. If you were to get this position, what are ways in which you would lose money for the company?
A loyal team member looks after the interests of the business. This question lets the candidate think of ways in which the company may lose money based on their actions. Responses such as treating customers poorly, showing up late or not showing up at all, and stealing from the company are general answers. Look for candidates that go deeper and offer responses like showing up for work and doing the bare minimum, or waiting to be told what to do.

34. Is there any question I have not asked you that I should?
A solid candidate will use this opportunity to shine. Responses that include additional information about the candidate such as his involvement in organizing community charity drives, his ability to mentor younger employees, or his recent classes in developing apps that may help your business are all great responses and reflect his potential loyalty to you and the company.

35. If you were hired to work here, what award would we all want to give you at the end of a year?
This question gives the candidate an opportunity to think about her loyalty to the company and what she would want to be seen as. The title of the award should be something that is representative of someone who takes care of the company, not one that “toots the candidate’s horn.”

Candidate Interview Questions on Willingness to Learn

We all want motivated, inspired, passionate employees who take the initiative to look for ways to improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities. These employees will not need coddling, but will seek opportunities for self-improvement for their advancement and the betterment of the company.

36. What are you currently reading?
This question helps to reveal if the candidate takes the initiative to learn. If the answer is simply People Magazine, then you can assume that he is either not in the learning mode or simply gave a quick reply off the cuff. Follow this question with…

37. What was the last book you read?
This will allow the candidate to elaborate on her interests. If she states she is reading a management book, allow her to explain her interest in the book. This will tell you that she is interested in learning and self-improvement. If you do not find the key phrases, you are seeking such as, “I wanted to improve my ability to…” or “I was hoping to learn more about…” you may have a candidate who wants to be taken care of instead of taking care of your business.

38. Give an example where in the last year, with your own time and money, you did something that made you more valuable to the company you worked for?
The candidate may or may not be able to provide a concrete example, but it gives her an opportunity to answer that she either did or would have, taken the initiative to learn something on her own if given the chance. The question gives her a chance to shine and gives you evidence of a candidate that is willing to take steps for self-improvement for herself and the company. For all level candidates, even purchasing a new wardrobe or trying to learn Spanish are good answers.

39. Who would you consider your role model? Why?
An interesting question because it gives insight into how serious the candidate is about personal and professional development. It also lets you see the type of person the interviewee aspires to be including his or her behaviors, habits, attributes, and values.

40. How will you continue to develop your professional skills and knowledge?
Listen for clues to see if the candidate takes responsibility for continued development or if he depends on the employer to provide the improvement opportunities. If the candidate accepts that the responsibility is his, you know you have a motivated candidate willing to learn more so he can give more.

41. Describe why you think this role you are applying for is important to the company?
The candidate should be able to intelligently articulate what the position means to the overall success of the business. If the candidate cannot describe how this role contributes to the ultimate satisfaction of the customer, perhaps you need to move on. Keywords and phrases such as “customer service,” “client satisfaction,” “bottom line profits,” or something similar should be mentioned. A candidate who struggles at this point may not be willing to invest the time and energy to learn more, either about the job, company, or industry.

42. What’s one thing you would like to do better and what is your plan for improving?
This is a good question to determine the motivation of the candidate to learn as well as the ability to recognize weaknesses and areas for improvement. Of course, the wrong answer is, “I do not need improving.” Look for candid responses and confidence in getting better in an area of deficiency. The answer will give you a clue into how the candidate will look areas of improvement in your business as well.

43. What’s the next important thing you want to learn?
Hopefully, the response is something about your company or how to improve in a particular position in the company. Again, look for the initiative to make the learning happen.

Team Dynamics Job Interview Questions

Teams are important in any business. Some do not require labels as teams, but the working together to reach a business goal is the essence of team dynamics. Candidates who embrace this concept are worthy of pursuing. They already have a leg up on their competition, and since they understand this concept, they are more likely to score well in other categories too.

44. What qualities in your co-workers bother you most and which ones do you appreciate the most?
This is a great question for determining if the interviewee runs solo or understands the importance of a team concept. Watch for answers that show a preference for working alone or not needing the help of others. The value of working together as a team to fulfill the mission of the business is so important and too important to continue the process on Lone Rangers. This question also reveals what the candidate likes and dislikes in people. If she dislikes dishonesty, that is good. If she prefers romance and partying with coworkers, it may be another red flag.

45. What concessions have you made to work more effectively with others?
People can rub people the wrong way. Not everyone is compatible to work together, but successful businesses rely on their employees to find a way to make it happen. Though it would be nice if everyone were friends, it just is not the case in most organizations. The question requires that the candidate shares incidents where he had to do something— swallow his pride, take on more work, offer an olive branch— whatever to create a more dynamic team.

46. What would you do if you made a decision and a coworker challenged that decision?
Interesting question because it causes the candidate to ponder their work history and pull out the file on confrontation. The answers will uncover how the candidate handles adversity and dealing with others. Good answers are ones where the candidate was able to diffuse the situation and come up with a win-win result. Look for signs of aggression and hostility. You do not want to add a loose cannon to your team.

47. Tell me about the relationships you have had with the people you have worked with?
The response you get to this question will tell you how the candidate interacts with others and perhaps the kind of interactions they prefer. You can follow up with, “How would you describe the best interactions? How would you describe the worst?” How the candidate delicately describes some scenarios in his answer may tell a lot about him.

48. Give an example of a situation where others had made an error or mistake, and you had to take the blame for their actions. How did you feel about doing that?
This question digs deep. Most of the time, taking the fall for others is painful. It is difficult for the candidate to put a spend on it, so he comes out looking good. Here you are looking for honesty and how the candidate looked after the interests of the business and bounced back from the episode.

49. What book do you think everyone on the team should read?
The response is not so much about the book content, but the fact that the candidate would have a book in mind he is willing to share that would be helpful to others. You are looking to see if he can be useful to others on the team for the sake of the business.

50. Can you give me a reason why someone may not like working with you?
A good question to ask because it is negative in nature. You will learn how the candidate deals with negativity while also learning if she is willing to reveal any not-so-glowing personality traits. To work in a team environment, the employee should know their strengths and weaknesses.

Answering the call from your ad does not guarantee you have filled the position. A set of good, specific questions helps you peel back the layers of a candidate to find the one right for your business. The responses you receive give you clues as to which person will have the best interest of your business at heart and which ones are only passing through. Using these questions will save you time and help to cut through the weeds and get to the root of what your job candidates are made of.

Chapter 11 – BONUS – How to Onboard New Employees – Orientation Secrets >

Additional Resources on Job Interview Questions to Ask Applicants