Best Interview Questions for Employers to Ask Job Applicants

Man and woman interviewing a job candidate
You Will Develop the Interview Questions that Work Well for You. Blend Images - Terry Vine/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Do you have favorite interview questions that you ask each job applicant at an interview? If so, you’re not alone. Seasoned interviewers develop a shortlist of the best questions that quickly tell them what they need to know about a candidate’s job skills, job fit, and potential cultural fit.

You will also learn what kinds of answers were given by the applicants who became your most successful employees.

These best interview questions focus on the skills that you want candidates to have and the contributions that you most want the candidate to make—if hired. They help you assess the prospective employee’s work experience and his or her approach to problem-solving. They help you understand how the candidate interacts with people and the work environment.

These questions are the backbone of an effective job interview. If you track your data carefully over time, you will learn which questions and answers worked to help you decide to hire the candidates who became your most successful employees.

Best Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

These best interview questions help you assess the prospective employee’s work experience and their approach to problem-solving. They help you understand how the candidate interacts with people and the work environment.

These questions have a track record of helping you select people who become successful employees. Each question includes an explanation of the information you're trying to learn by asking the question, along with a sample response.


Watch Now: 4 Essential Interview Questions to Ask Applicants

Interview Questions About Work Environment

1. Describe the work environment in which you will most effectively be able to contribute.

What you want to know: The candidate’s response tells the interviewer whether the work environment they provide is congruent with the candidate’s needs. The answer helps the interviewer decide whether the prospective employee is a good fit for their culture and work environment. For example, you don't want to hire a loner for a team that thrives on collaboration, and you don't want to hire an employee who can't type a coherent paragraph if the majority of your customer support happens via email.

My favored work environment would emphasize employee involvement and autonomy in making decisions about issues that affect my work. I dislike close supervision and believe that I am competent to make decisions about my job if I have all of the information and support I need to make responsible decisions. I also like to use a team approach to completing tasks and solving problems because thoughtful people working together can move mountains.

2. What kind of oversight and interaction would your ideal boss provide?

What you want to know: You want to know how self-directed your candidate is. In a company that emphasizes empowerment, for example, a candidate who requires constant direction will not fit. If you know that the boss who is the hiring manager is a micromanager, the self-driven candidate may not succeed. In fact, most of your best candidates will not succeed with a micromanaging boss. (What are you doing about this boss’s management style, by the way?)

My ideal boss would expect me to operate within the framework of our department's mission but would give me the information and support that I need to make autonomous, responsible decisions. They would communicate frequently, provide recognition for legitimate accomplishments, and create an environment that emphasizes honesty, integrity, and respect for all employees. They would also care about me and pave the way for me to succeed.

Best Questions About Contribution and Problem Solving

3. Tell me about your greatest achievement at work.

What you want to know: The applicant’s answer tells you a lot about what they value and consider important. It also demonstrates what the applicant considers to be an achievement. This will tell you about the most important contributions they consider that they make at work.

Occasionally, consider asking an additional question about what the prospective employee thinks of when asked to name the three key values that they would bring to your workplace.

My greatest achievement, one that I will remember for a long time, was when I led my product development team to release a major product release on the date we had promised our customers and resellers. This was probably the first time in company history that we released a product on time. I had a fantastic team that was highly motivated to add this achievement to our record. Everyone pulled their own weight, contributed their work on time, and they were committed to adding value for our customers.

4. Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a major obstacle that stood in the way of you accomplishing a goal or commitment. How did you approach the situation?

What you want to know: You will obtain a clear picture of the candidate's past performance as they attempted to overcome difficulties that stood in the way of their achievement. You get a picture of their problem-solving style and learn about what the candidate considers an obstacle. Further, you may also learn about their interaction style with co-workers and how they approach solving potential conflicts and problems.

Once I had a co-worker who needed to provide several reports for me every week by Tuesday. They were late almost every week, which caused me to be unable to complete my overview of the department's performance.

Rather than complaining and blaming, I decided to proactively discuss the situation with my colleague. What I found out is that she didn't realize that my whole departmental report was incomplete without her input. She also was not aware of my deadlines and the final report and due dates to the senior team. By addressing the issue with her directly, I discovered that her manager had never provided her with the context she needed to understand the importance of the deadline. The report was never late again.

5. What are the three most important attributes or skills that you believe you would bring to our company if we hired you?

What you want to know: The candidate's answer tells you what they consider most important in their skill set. You also learn about how the candidate views your open position and their ability to make contributions in that job.

When you asked about my key skills that I would bring to your workplace, the fact that I am a team player came immediately to mind. I am one of those people who appreciates the insights and input that my co-workers provide and can capitalize on their value. Along with this, I am also an effective communicator. I over-communicate when necessary to achieve challenges, solve problems, and accomplish goals. Third, I am confident enough in my skills and work ethic to know that I am up to any task that a job throws my way.

Interview Questions About What the Applicant Is Seeking

6. What prompted you to apply for this job? What interested you the most about this position?

What you want to know: You want to know what the prospective employee is most interested in related to your position. The answer will tell you about what motivates the individual and what is important to them. You can then assess whether their needs are congruent with the work environment and opportunities that the position provides.

I applied for this job because the opportunity appeared to fit with the strengths and experience that I would bring to the position. It also offered me a promotion so that I can further develop my skills and face new challenges. I see it as a stretch role in which I can continue to grow my skills. Especially as the job is in a related industry to the one in which I am currently employed, I saw a lot of opportunities to expand my knowledge and network.

7. Why are you leaving your current employer? (If the applicant is employed.)

What you want to know: The applicant's response tells you about their values, outlook, goals, and expectations for an employer. You can determine what prompted the job search. Is the interviewee running toward a more successful future or away from a past unsuccessful employment experience? Candidates who tell you about leaving bad bosses may not reveal their own part in the story.

I am looking for an opportunity to continue to develop my skills and experience so that I can work for an employer in increasingly stretching roles. At my current employer, it is difficult to grow my skills. As a smaller employer, fewer opportunities exist to move into a team leader or managerial role. This is my ultimate goal. I have transferred and also made several lateral moves, but it's time to move on to my next challenge where I can contribute most significantly.

8. What are the first three things you would do on the job if you were hired for this position?

What you want to know: You will gain an understanding of what the applicant deems important, their understanding of the requirements of your job, and how they approach a new situation. You will learn whether the candidate takes the time to understand the work environment and necessary interactions before diving right into the water.

I'd start by trying to understand the environment and learning how I'd best interact with the existing people and systems to quickly integrate and contribute to my new job. I'd do this by interviewing any reporting staff members, my co-workers, my manager, and the senior team. I'd also speak with any of the departments that are the customers of my services. Finally, I'd work through the existing systems as they are currently followed to understand the way they work before turning my thoughts to continuous improvement.

General Effectiveness and Workplace Interaction

9. How would your co-workers at your current job describe your interaction with them and your general effectiveness in your work performance? How would your co-workers describe you?

What you want to know: You want to understand how the candidate thinks that their co-workers view their interactions. You also want to assess how co-workers like working with the candidate. These questions give you an idea about the candidate's assessment of their effectiveness in their current job and in relationships with co-workers. Past practice can predict future results.

My co-workers in the past appreciated that I am a team player and a person of integrity. I believe that they'd tell you that they respect me and the contributions I made. I made efforts to share the glory when the team was successful and I never threw anyone under the bus. They'd also say that I was reliable and accountable.

10. How would your current boss describe your work and contribution?

What you want to know: You want to understand how the candidate perceives the support and opinion of their current employer. This question tells you about the candidate's interaction with their current boss. It also informs you about how well they accept criticism and feedback. If the interaction with the applicant's current employer is positive and uplifting, this can shape the job applicant's expectations of their new work environment.

My current boss likes me, and I like her so we start the relationship from a positive place. She appreciates my team orientation and my ability to communicate effectively with my team members and our internal customers. She appreciates that I don't let her down because I am accountable, reliable, and I keep my commitments. When she has feedback and can provide specific examples, I am generally willing to try to use her advice. We enjoy a positive interpersonal as well as a positive managerial relationship.

11. How do you believe that your current skills will contribute to the accomplishment of our company's goals and mission as stated on our website or in company literature?

What you want to know: Prospective employees have long been asked to learn about the company to which they are applying. Thanks to the virtual era, this learning has never been easier. This question tells you if the prospective employee did their homework. Further, it tells you if the candidate was thoughtful about their potential fit in your company and whether they will be able to contribute. It also helps you to know that there are specific reasons why this person applied for a job at your company—not just that they're applying for anything and everything.

When I checked out the job posting on your website, I took the time to read through your mission, vision, values, and your description of the environment that you strive to provide for employees. It was right in line with the kind of workplace I want to find where I can function as an autonomous, empowered employee. In this role, I can seriously contribute to achieving the goal and the big picture in a mission that is much larger than anything I could do on my own. I also have skills and experience in five of the key requirements listed for the job.

12. How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?

What you want to know: You want to hire employees who believe in continuous development and improvement. Listen carefully to whether the prospective employee pursues their own professional development or whether they depend on their employer to provide development opportunities. Listen also to identify areas in which the job applicant believes they need improvement or an expanded skill set.

Continuous improvement and growth are one of my strongest areas as an employee. I read constantly online about management and interpersonal relationships. I am taking a few courses every year that will eventually result in an MBA. I'm especially focused on learning to manage people and processes. When available, I also seek out mentors who can help me develop my skills in these areas and in finance and accounting.

The Bottom Line

Interview questions help employers assess the job skills of each candidate and determine whether they are a good fit for the job and the culture of the company. These examples will help you create your own list of best interview questions to ask. As you interview more candidates, the success and failure of those interviews will help you learn which kinds of questions and answers will help you identify the best candidates for the job.