What questions to ask the candidate in a job interview?

recrutement de masse

Contents

You are looking for the future member of your team, you have obtained great profiles very quickly thanks to our jobaffinity recruitment software, you prepare your appointments and ask yourself “what questions will I ask during the job interview?”

While an interview should be first and foremost a conversation, the famous questions are all primers to help the candidate introduce themselves and give you valuable information.

In this article, you’ll find the 15 most common questions in job interviews, as well as what to look for (or expect) in those answers.

  1. Can you introduce yourself, tell me about yourself?
  2. Why do you want a career in [your industry]?
  3. What interests you about this position?
  4. Why would you hire yourself and not someone else? What makes you better than others?
  5. Tell me about a professional challenge you overcame, how did you do it?
  6. Where do you see yourself in the future (in X years)
  7. What are your strengths (your best qualities)?
  8. What was it like to work at your previous job?
  9. Why do you want to leave your current job?
  10. How do you imagine your working days with us?
  11. Let’s talk about money: what are your salary expectations?
  12. What is your favorite work environment?
  13. If we were to call your former manager or colleagues, what would they say about you?
  14. How do you handle pressure?
  15. Do you have any questions?

The goal is not to ask all of these questions during an interview, but to choose the ones that seem most relevant to the position.

And if you are a future candidate reading this, well go ahead, be prepared to answer these questions, as you will certainly be asked several of them!

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Can you introduce yourself, tell me about yourself?

This is often the first question asked during a job interview. It allows the recruiter to better understand the personality, professional experience and motivation of the candidate.

The idea here is not for the recruiter to recite his or her CV (you’ve already read it, that’s even why it’s there), but rather to see how the candidate expresses himself or herself, communicates, and what he or she emphasizes or does not emphasize.

As a recruiter, you should expect the candidate to succinctly present their professional background and education, while emphasizing skills and accomplishments relevant to the position.

When a candidate answers this question, it’s important to pay attention to how they carry themselves and how they communicate. Does he or she look comfortable, nervous…?

The other advantage is that this is not a trick question: it can be a relaxing way to talk about a subject that they have mastered (themselves) to start the conversation in the right direction.

Example of a bad answer

“Well, I put everything in my resume” or “recite your resume”.

Example of a good answer

“My name is [name] and I am a qualified professional with X years of experience in the field, including Company Y. I have obtained X certification, worked on several Y projects which has allowed me to develop [skills]. Today, I’m standing in front of you because I like your company and I want to develop [additional skills] and actively participate in improving [company promise].”

This will not only show whether the candidate is motivated and well-prepared, but also whether they are able to present their ideas in a concise and clear manner. Ultimately, this first question could help determine if the candidate is a good fit for the company and the target position.

“Tell me about yourself” is a valuable starting point to better understand the candidate and kick off the interview.

2. Why do you want a career in [your industry]?

This is an essential question during a job interview: it allows us to understand the candidate’s motivation to work in the company and, more broadly, to work in this sector of activity.

The answers given by the candidate to this question can give a precise idea of what drives him or her to work in this field, verify in the potential employee why he or she is interested in the position and whether it will correlate with the company’s objectives. If a candidate is passionate about the industry you are recruiting for, chances are they will work diligently and invest in moving the company forward.

The answer to this question can reveal a number of useful pieces of information about the candidate. They need to provide a clear, confident answer to highlight their passion (or shall we say drive) for your industry and their desire to develop a career in this field. The answer should be consistent with the company’s values and demonstrate that the candidate has a thorough understanding of the company’s mission, vision and goals.

Example of a poor response

“I like the industry and think I could be successful in it.”

Example of a good answer

“I am passionate about the industry because it allows me to use my skills and experience to contribute to something that is important to me. On top of that, I see the industry changing rapidly and want to be an active part of its development. I also have ambitions to move up the ranks so I can contribute even more.”

The purpose of this question is to help the recruiter determine if the candidate is motivated by something beyond themselves and if they have the passion to be an asset to the team and the company as a whole.

Sometimes the industry may not be “dreamy” and it is hard to expect the candidate to evoke a consuming passion for an industry that you as a recruiter can hardly see the appeal of. This is where the next question comes in.*

3. What interests you in this position?

The objective here is to understand the candidate’s motivation not for the industry, but for this specific position.

Here again, a precise answer must be expected from the candidate. It should speak to the candidate’s desire to get the job, their understanding of the expectations of the job responsibilities, and how their skills and experience will contribute to the success of the objectives.

It is also important to pay attention to the specific aspects of the position that the candidate mentions when answering the question. Perhaps the job ad was unclear, or misunderstood, this is the time to make it right. This is a good time to determine if the candidate has a clear understanding of the expectations of the position.

Example of a wrong answer

“I’m looking for a change and it sounds interesting”

Example of a good answer

“I am interested in this position because it will allow me to increase my knowledge of X and Y and also, to use the skills I have developed in my career to meet exciting challenges that vary. In addition, the fact that I can work at a company committed to [company commitment] is a very important point for me.”

If we’re going to talk about compensation later, one of the answers to this question may be “money,” and that’s okay, we all work for something. It just needs to come on top of everything else, and not be the sole motivation for the candidate.

The position can also be seen by the candidate as an important step in his or her career, to learn things and be a springboard for the future. Don’t stop at just the now, the candidate wants a future, and this position could be the key to that.

4. Why hire you and not someone else? What makes you better than others?

The objective here is to understand what differentiates the candidate from others applying for the same position. It’s giving the candidate an opportunity to put themselves forward; you’re leaving the reins to them. Depending on the type of profile you are looking for, this is perhaps one of the most interesting questions.

You should expect an answer that highlights the experiences, skills and past accomplishments that make him or her highly qualified for the position in question.

Good answers should focus on key qualities that are relevant to the position and meet the specific needs of the company. Candidates should also be able to provide concrete examples that illustrate their success in a similar position or skills or expertise that will translate effectively to this position.

Bad answers would be answers that offer nothing specific or are superfluous: vague statements about work experience or education, with no concrete examples, or taking credit without any supporting evidence.

Example of a bad answer:

“I think I’m the best person for the job because I have a lot of experience in this field.”

Example of a good answer:

“I am confident that I am the right person for the job because I have worked in similar roles at [other company] that helped me develop specific skills that you are asking for just like [example]. I have been successful in achieving ambitious goals in my previous roles. For example, in my last job, I was able to increase my department’s sales by 15% due to my ability to understand customer needs via a series of surveys and interviews, I also set up specific coaching for sales teams with training workshops. I look forward to achieving such goals in a new environment.”

The goal here is to ensure that the candidate has the skills, experience and potential to integrate into the company. Good answers highlight success stories or concrete examples that demonstrate key qualities and specific skills related to the proposed position.

5. Tell me about a professional difficulty you overcame, how did you do it?

The idea here is to understand how the candidate handles problems and adapts to stressful situations.

The candidate should provide a response that clearly describes the difficulty he or she encountered, his or her strategy for dealing with it, and the outcome.

Good answers should provide concrete insight into how the candidate goes beyond traditional limits to overcome challenges, provide good examples of problem solving, and demonstrate critical thinking.

Poor answers would be those that do not offer enough detail or impact on the situation at hand. For example, statements such as, “I found a quick solution” or “I worked hard to solve the problem” are not sufficient because they simply say that they solved a problem without offering more specifics.

Example of a poor response:

“I had a conflict with my co-worker and found a solution.”

Example of a good response:

“When I was working as a project manager, I dealt with a conflict between my colleagues over the approach to achieve our goals. To resolve it, I conducted discussions with everyone to understand their views and perspective. I then proposed a solution that reflected the best aspects of the strengths presented by each party, which allowed the group members to reach a mutually acceptable consensus to complete the project in accordance with the client’s expectations.”

You’ll be able to learn how candidates approach difficult issues and expose their cognitive and social skills. You are looking for intelligent strategies used to overcome this difficulty, which will highlight effective interaction with the other parties involved. You need to be specific and clear.

6. Where do you see yourself in the future (in X years)

This is the part where you seek to understand the candidate’s ambitions and vision, and their ability to plan for the future.

You expect candidates to provide a response that clearly describes their short and medium term goals, while demonstrating commitment and ambition.

Good answers should be flexible and show a desire to grow with the circumstances. They should be specific to the position they are applying for and highlight how they want to engage or contribute to the organization.

The wrong answers would be answers that do not pay enough attention to the expectations of the current position and are too general or imprecise. For example, statements such as, “I want to achieve high levels of success” or “I want to move up the ladder” are not sufficient without more specificity as to the candidate’s chosen direction.

Example of a poor response:

“I want to be in your shoes.”

Example of a good answer:

“In 5 years, I see myself in charge of a team after having a good understanding of the issues, the company and its processes and having trained myself in management techniques. so I hope to have the respect of my teams because I have been just where they are.”

The goal is to see if the candidate’s personal goals are aligned with those of the organization. Good answers clearly express personal principles, as well as a focus on making positive long-term contributions in response to changing needs. Good candidates should be specific enough about their future aspirations to show how they want to contribute.

Some candidates will be reluctant to say they want to grow, fearing they won’t be taken on because you want someone who will stay in the specific position for a long time. If you sense any discomfort, try to reassure the candidate to understand their aspirations.

7. What are your strengths (your best qualities)

It’s like the age-old “name three qualities and three faults”, without the always painful faults part. This is the time to give the candidate the opportunity to talk about their skills, soft skills and hard skills.

This is the time for the candidate to sell himself by highlighting his strong points, he has certainly already expressed them on his CV, but now he has the opportunity to give specific examples and go further.

They must be specific and illustrate concretely how their skills can help the organization. Ideally, the candidate should explain how they have applied these skills in previous situations to give a better idea of the strength they will bring if hired.

Avoid being too vague or throwing out skills without explaining and giving examples. For example, statements such as, “I am highly motivated” or “I am a good team player” are not sufficient because they do not show what a candidate is capable of, they could simply recite a list of correct answers.

Example of a wrong answer:

“I am very creative.”

Example of a right answer:

“First and foremost the analytical mind and my talent for problem solving, which can totally transform a project. I have often sparked new ideas to initiate positive change among my colleagues, including my success in designing and executing Project X that I accompanied at [former employer], it was because of [skills] that I was able to propose [solution] and implement it.”

This question is mostly used to give the candidate space to talk about their strengths in a more specific and interesting way than a few lines on their resume. This is probably one of the most important questions to prepare for.

As for the famous “name three weaknesses” mentioned above, it is up to each recruiter to always use it, but from experience, and according to many recruiters, this question is of little use and often generates the same standard answers gleaned from the Internet. In any case, the other questions will help identify the candidate’s weak points.

8. What was it like to work at your previous job?

The purpose of this question is threefold:

  • Understand what the candidate has brought to previous employers
  • How these experiences can be adapted to the new position
  • Know how the candidate talks about previous employers

This is another opportunity for the candidate to highlight their skills and how they applied them, so the answers will be similar to the previous questions, but what will be interesting here is to analyze how the candidate talks about their former colleagues and managers.

Good answers will put the candidate’s skills and qualities in the spotlight without “spitting” on former colleagues or managers; questioning and neutrality in the words, acknowledging wrongs when they exist, are signs of a good profile.

If, on the other hand, the candidate simply blames others, says that nothing was his or her fault, or paints a gloomy picture of his or her former job, this can be a bad sign.

Example of a wrong answer:

“I didn’t really have much help, my managers weren’t good, and my colleagues did as little as possible.”

Example of a good answer:

“My former position gave me the opportunity to help implement Project X, which is now cited as one of the best initiatives the company has led in the past five years. With my skills (list), I established a very good rapport with my manager, there were some complicated relationships with some colleagues, but we were able to get around the table to talk about it and move forward. I am now looking for another opportunity for [reason].”

This question and the next one can go hand in hand if the candidate is still employed (or on notice to leave) at the company in question.

9. Why do you want to leave your current job?

If the candidate says that everything is fabulous in their current position, why would they want to leave? While some candidates may see this as a trick question, it is not and should provide clear and concrete answers.

Good answers should explain why the target position would be a better fit by clearly outlining the candidate’s career goals and how the skills needed for the position will give them the opportunity to grow.

Bad answers would be those that omit relevant information or that can be interpreted as critical of the applicant’s former employer or the work environment in general. For example, statements such as “I am ready for a new challenge” or “I am looking for a change” are not sufficient because they do not provide enough information about the reasons behind his decision.

Here are some examples of good and bad answers:

Example of a wrong answer:

“I want a more challenging environment.”

Example of a good answer:

“I feel that I will not be able to go much further in my current job, I have the desire to develop new skills that cannot be developed currently given my duties and responsibilities. I am confident that this position will give me the opportunity to use and refine these skills and thus advance my career.”

We are all human enough to understand the subtext, the reasons for wanting to leave a position are many:

  • Moving
  • No possibility of evolution
  • No possibility of salary increase
  • Stressful/uncomfortable work environment
  • Very bad relationship with colleagues/managers
  • Disagreement with company policy/position
  • A position that is not what the candidate thought it would be/was promised
  • And many others

All these reasons are valid, they just need to be presented correctly.

10. How do you imagine your working days with us?

The purpose of this question is to determine if the recruiter and candidate are on the same page about the position in question. Whether it was not correctly stated in the job advertisement or the candidate misunderstood it, it is important to get on the same page.

The candidate needs to clearly describe what he or she imagines the activities that will likely occupy his or her workday to be and the impact that these activities might have on the organization. Good answers should take into account the overall mission and goals of the organization and demonstrate how the candidate will align with these visions.

If the candidate is completely wrong, or particularly vague, this is the time to start a discussion to clarify the ins and outs of the position.

There is no real example of a “right” or “wrong” answer here, as it depends greatly on the content of the position.

The idea here is really to make sure that you and the candidate are in complete agreement about what the position entails.

11. Let’s talk about money: what are your salary expectations?

The inevitable question of pay. We all work for a salary, and we need to talk about it. This question will allow you to learn more about the candidate’s professional profile and financial goals, which may influence your decision to offer the position or not.

There are two scenarios: either you have already announced the salary range (or a firm number) or you have not. If you’ve read our article on how to write a good job offer, you’ll probably have at least put in a range.

Questions about salary expectations should be answered clearly and honestly by the candidate. Good answers should show consideration for salaries in the industry, while also taking into account the particular skills and experience a candidate may bring.

The wrong answers would be answers that do not take into account labor market factors or that give an overly exaggerated impression of the appropriate salary for a position. For example, phrases such as “I require a very competitive package” or “I want as much as possible” are often a bad sign if there is no argument behind them.

Example of a wrong answer:

“X per year, I have on LinkedIn that was the average high pay for this position.”

Example of a correct answer:

“Based on my years of experience [example] and education , I would like to earn X per year as overall compensation. But it’s open to discussion if there are certain accommodations, such as additional days off or different benefits. That said I was at X in my previous position, to have anything less than that would be like going backwards.”

There’s no shame in talking about money, and some candidates might be promising enough that you’ll either revise what you’ve planned upward or find additional benefits to offer.

Remember, if you think you’re saving money by giving less than you can for a position, it will backfire: the new employee will eventually find out, be more likely to be poached by another company, or feel cheated and demotivated. You will then have to manage a departure and a recruitment again.

12. What is your favorite work environment?

This is an opportunity to learn more about the candidate’s preferred style of accomplishing tasks. It gives him/her the opportunity to talk about where he/she finds it most productive and efficient to work.

The candidate should clearly describe what type of environment he/she prefers to maximize his/her productivity. Good answers should be explicit enough to show how easily the candidate will fit into the organization, as well as his/her ability to feel comfortable with a given environment.

The wrong answers would be those that do not sufficiently specify the type of environment they need or that will give a biased impression of the opportunities the job offers. For example, phrases such as “I love to work in a diverse environment” or “I function very well independently” cannot provide the recruiter with a clear idea of the candidate’s career goals.

Example of a bad answer:

“I don’t really need a specific location.”

Example of a good answer:

“I feel really productive when I’m surrounded by my colleagues and can constantly benefit from sharing knowledge and experiences. However, I also appreciate the times when I am alone to focus on some of the more complex aspects of the job.”

This is the time to bring up topics like telecommuting, will the job be in an office, in an open space… Will the job require a lot of travel, will it be outdoors, in a store, in contact with the public, in a factory, in a warehouse…

13. If we were to call your former manager or former colleagues, what would they say about you?

It is a way to find out how the candidate thinks he/she will be perceived by others, as reference-taking is a common practice, and he/she should not normally allow himself/herself to be fooled. It is another way to give the candidate the opportunity to talk about his or her strengths and weaknesses, and to get a better idea of how he or she handles human relationships.

Expect a clear answer about what happened when you worked with your managers and colleagues. Good answers should show the collaborative spirit and qualities required to work effectively in a team, while indicating how past experiences can help the proposed role succeed.

Poor answers would be those that are not specific enough or give an inaccurate impression of the candidate’s collusions in their previous position. For example, phrases such as “Everyone respected me” or “Everyone thought I did a great job” are not specific enough to meet the recruiter’s expectations.

Example of a bad answer:

“Everyone thought I was very competent.”

Example of a good answer:

“I think my former managers/colleagues always considered my contributions relevant because I was able to come up with innovative solutions to problems my team faced because of my critical thinking and problem-solving skills. If we weren’t always on the same page on how to implement certain changes, we were able to agree; I think they would say I was good at communicating and building consensus to keep the team together.”

This is an opportunity to learn more about how the candidate interacts with authority and how easily he/she can fit into an existing group. Good answers will need to be credible to show how the human perspective directly contributes to the candidate’s professional potential.

14. How do you handle the pressure?

The goal is to understand how the candidate reacts and behaves when he/she is subjected to stressful circumstances. It provides some insight into how he/she will handle unexpected situations and difficult moments during the hiring process, and how he/she will adapt to a position in the future.

Depending on the position he or she is applying for, this could be of little importance, or it could be absolutely crucial.

The candidate should clearly describe, preferably with examples, how they handle pressure and highlight the benefits they can bring to an organization with this ability.

Good answers should demonstrate professional skills such as quick decision making, teamwork and effective management of priorities, as well as commitment to achieving goals under difficult conditions.

Poor answers would be answers that are not specific or clear enough about how they handle pressure. For example, phrases such as “I always try to stay calm” or “I tend to take a step back” do not provide enough information and could be said by anyone.

Here are some examples of good and bad answers:

Example of a wrong answer:

“I am impervious to stress.”

Example of a good answer:

“I usually handle pressure well by focusing on the expected outcome rather than my emotions at the time. I find it important to remain rational and objective while trying to use my past experience to quickly find solutions to problems, and I don’t hesitate to ask my colleagues for help if possible. For example a few months ago [example]”

The objective is to get a sense of how the candidate approaches difficult times, and whether their strategy is viable for achieving the professional goals set by the job for which they are applying. Good answers should emphasize communication skills and the ability to make consistent decisions even when faced with a heavy mental or physical load.

15. Do you have any questions?

The famous final question! It will give you an indication of the candidate’s interest in the position he/she is applying for. It also determines the candidate’s knowledge of the position and organization, as well as their ability to communicate confidently and accurately.

You are looking for relevant questions that show commitment to the position and a good understanding of the requirements.

Good answers might be questions about the organization’s work culture, diversity and inclusion, or even asking for concrete examples of a specific role they might fill.

The wrong answers would be irrelevant or off-topic questions that don’t fit the criteria defined by the job the candidate is applying for. For example, “Did you get a lot of applicants?” or “Would you rather have a position in a different department?” are pretty bad signs.

Example of a bad answer:

“No, I don’t have a question.”

Example of a good answer:

“Do you have any in-house training programs within the company? Are there any organized activities between colleagues to get to know each other better? What are the types of projects/assignments I will be asked to do first if I am hired? What are the next steps in the recruitment process?”

This is the final question to allow the candidate to clear up any blind spots they may have. This is an important indicator to determine their commitment and curiosity, but it will also give you insight into their mindset and vision for the company.

Conclusion

Again, you don’t need to use all of these questions during the interview, tailor your choice to the needs of the position, but also be flexible during the interview. The candidate will sometimes answer several questions at once, so give them room to express themselves.

An interview is a conversation, not a monologue on either side.

Don’t make the mistake of talking about the position for 35 minutes in front of the candidate who is beginning to wonder when he or she will be able to sell himself or herself. These questions are primers for him or her to introduce him or herself and put forth his or her strengths.

There are other types of questions, situational (explain the hole in your resume, why did you decide to change careers? You’ve changed jobs a lot in the last few years, why?…) or downright “exotic” questions that come close to role-playing (if you had to plan the evacuation of Paris, what would you do? I’m an unhappy customer of the product, convince me to stay a customer. Sell me this peno….). This article is already long enough, so we left them out, but stay tuned to the blog, because we’ll be writing about these famous questions soon!

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