7 Interview Questions You MUST Ask

interviewIf yours is among the small businesses that not only managed to survive the Great Recession but is actually growing, too, congratulations! We salute you — especially if you’re ready to add a job or two to your local economy!

However, we know it can be  daunting to find the right person, especially  if you’ve never had the luxury of hiring help before. That’s why you need to start with a carefully crafted job description that accurately reflects the skill set and personality type you’re after. This is no time to be wishy-washy about your wants and needs!

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a flood of résumés out of the gate; this is a situation when more really is more! Now it’s your job to study them carefully, looking for “red flags” such as short tenures, lengthy gaps between positions or bizarre job titles.

Once you’ve evaluated your applicants on paper and decided who you’d like to meet, it’s time to get busy!

According to veteran HR specialist Brenda Mercier, who provides corporate training on how to screen prospective hires, preparation is the key to making the most of candidate interviews. Don’t wing it! Be clear in your mind what it is you want to assess and have your questions ready. That means knowing what’s off-limits, too.

First, Do No Harm

No, we’re not talking to doctors!

To steer clear of any potential discrimination liability, it’s imperative that you not ask questions related to race or ethnicity, age, sex, gender, national origin, birth place, religion, disability, marital status, pregnancy, or even military service.

“Why military service?” you ask. Because it’s illegal to discriminate on the basis that a candidate could be called for active duty, that’s why.

Avoiding the above-mentioned topics will keep you in the clear with regard to potential lawsuits. If, however, a candidate raises any of these issues, you’ll need to “politely shut them down,” said Mercier. An effective way to do that is to say something positive and move on. For example, if a candidate reveals she is pregnant in an effort to tease out how family-friendly your business is, simply say “Congratulations!” and move on to another topic.

Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to hammer out details like scheduling, pay and benefits after you decide who to hire. Here are a few other examples of what not to ask in an interview:

  • How old are your children?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • When did you graduate from high school?
  • Will you need time off for any religious holidays?
  • What does your husband do for a living?

7 Must-Ask Interview Questions

Now that you know what you can’t ask, let’s turn our attention to the types of questions you must ask.

  1. Start with an “icebreaker” question — something non-threatening that’ll help settle the candidate’s nerves. Questions like “Hot enough for you?” or “Did you have a good holiday?” work fine for breaking the ice. The purpose is to put the candidate at ease and solicit open, honest responses.
  2. Ask a few behavioral questions that’ll help you assess the applicant’s past performance. Here’s an example: “Describe a complex problem you had and walk me through your thinking as you solved it.” Another good one is, “Tell me about a situation you feel you should have handled differently.” The purpose is to get a feel for how the individual is likely to handle certain circumstances.
  3. Find out what motivated the candidate to apply. “Why do you want to work here?” is about as direct as you can get, and it’s a perfectly legitimate question to ask. If  an applicant can’t articulate that much, chances are he or she is looking merely for a paycheck, not a career.
  4. Throw ‘em a curve ball. Something like, “If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?” or “If you had only six months left to live, what would you do with the time?” The purpose of odd-ball questions like these is to make candidates stray from their scripts. Their answers will speak volumes about their communication and critical thinking skills and reveal much about their attitudes, also.
  5. Come up with situational questions to assess a prospect’s judgment and approach. “Imagine I’ve hired you. How will you make an immediate positive impact based on what I’ve told you about the position and our needs?”  Another example is, “What would you do if you got behind schedule with your part of a project?” How candidates answers these types of questions will reveal a great deal about their competencies and priorities.
  6. Pose questions that measure the candidate’s ability to fit in at your business. Assessing intangibles like work ethic, values and motivation is critical to making a successful hire.  Ask things like,  “What keeps you coming to work besides the paycheck?” and “What do you like best about your current job?”
  7. Turn the discussion away from the candidate and back to your company. “But enough about you, what about us? What is your take on the state of our business? Our industry? Where should we be heading in the next five years?” This will help you determine if applicants have done their “homework” as well as gauge their true level of interest and ability to commit.

Wrapping Things Up

Once you’ve covered these must-ask questions, it’s a good idea to give your interviewee the chance to ask some questions of you. Indicate your willingness to further the dialog by saying something like, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me that I haven’t already asked?” or simply, “Any questions?” Again, their responses will reveal just how curious and knowledgeable they are about your company and give you more to go on when it comes to deciding who’s the best fit. Good luck!

Further Reading

Check out these resources for more help in developing your interview strategy:

6 Great Interview Questions — for Employers
Employer Interviewing Best Practices
Employers Interview Strategy
The Interviewing Cheat Sheet: 100 Resources for Interviewers and Candidates
Recruitment Strategies — for Employers

Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Janice Conard is a U.S. Air Force veteran who studied writing, art and politics at Virginia Commonwealth University. She’s been writing for the web since 1999, having previously covered business and technology topics for TechRepublic, ZDNet and BNET.com (now CBS MoneyWatch). These days Janice writes about personal and business finance for online check printer CheckAdvantage. Visit the site to browse a huge selection of personal checks as well as matching address labels and more.


  1. thanks for sharing such a good information
    i faced a stress interview question
    when you entered in a rent house your searching for , while he house owner showing you the home there by chance you find a bracelet in the cupboard what would you do?

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