Interviewer Questions to Ask Candidates That Really Work

Do you still spend time in interviews asking about an applicant’s strengths and past achievements? There may be better interviewer questions to ask candidates to find the right person. Many times, candidates who look good on paper struggle with jobs that require creativity and collaboration, two skills that are more and more necessary for companies operating in this climate of startups and innovation.

RELATED: How You Can Snag the Best Candidates

Kristen Hamilton may have the answer. Co-founder and CEO of Koru, a training program for new job seekers, Hamilton used the data she pulled in from her clients to track seven characteristics that make for a great employee. Here are seven interviewer questions to ask candidates that zero-in on these characteristics to help businesses make the best high-impact hire.

1. Describe a time you overcame an obstacle.

This interviewer question to ask candidates will show you whether they have the candidate has GRIT. If the applicant describes attempting something they really want over and over again, that’s a good sign. You want someone who will stick it out for the long term, thinking of different ways to come at a problem until it is solved. You don’t want someone who will simply give up after one or two tries. Tenacity is a virtue.

2. Tell me about a decision you made using data or information.

A candidate who has a good answer for this question has RIGOR, another of Hamilton’s characteristics for a great employee. There are many jobs in the modern workplace that require the use of data and information from multiple sources, and more are being added every day. You don’t want someone who can simply use tools to get the data, you want someone who can look at information and arrive at a conclusion. This interviewer question to ask candidates lets you see how someone thinks, so make sure to pay attention.

3. What is the biggest impact you’ve made at a previous job or organization?

This one reveals whether the candidate understands the value of making an IMPACT. You want an employee who is willing to work toward a goal, and that willingness comes from identification with a mission or goals. An alternate line of questioning would be: Who do you admire? Followed by: What impact has that person made that makes them so admirable?

4. What is the hardest thing for you about working on a team?

TEAMWORK is key to success in the modern workplace, and you want to know if your candidate has enough empathy to work well with others. More interviewer questions to ask candidates in this area could include: What do you find most effective when working with a team? Have you ever worked on a difficult team? What would have made that team operate more smoothly?

5. Tell me about a time you experienced an injustice.

This is actually a tricky one, but in the end, it shows whether the candidate takes OWNERSHIP. After the person finishes describing the incident, the interviewer should express empathy, commiserating with the candidate. If the applicant is an owner, they will brush it off, rather than taking the bait and continuing to complain.

Ownership is based on a ‘we’ culture, not an ‘I’ culture, so it’s also a good idea to pay attention to how much the candidate uses one word or the other.

6. What was the last thing you geeked-out about?

Passion, attention to details, empathy, creativity, innovation, quick learning, all of these traits come from CURIOSITY, and they’re all very important traits for a good employee to have. The answer might not be work-related — in fact, it might be better if it’s not — but a good answer will show you the high level of engagement that you definitely want to see in your workers.

7. Do you have any questions for me?

Yes, this is one of the tried-and-true interview questions that actually still works. No questions is not a good sign. Questions will, once again, show curiosity. They can also show attention to detail, aggregation of data and information, and even empathy, if the question is one based on the interviewer themselves.


A final trait to look out for is POLISH. This is something you’ll need to monitor throughout the interview, noting whether the candidate knows how to give and take in a conversation. Do they interrupt you? And how do they conduct themselves if they do? Do they go on long tangents, or do they say things quickly and gracefully? Do they send a thank you note after the interview? These are all things to watch for.

Different positions will lean on some traits more than others, but these seven characteristics can help you to find great candidates that will help your company succeed. Consider laying the old unwritten hiring handbook aside and try these interviewer questions to ask candidates on for size the next time you’re filling a position.

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