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The 8 best questions to ask prospective employees

6 min read
When narrowing down the best candidates for your organization, be sure they can answer these 8 questions first.

You are sitting at your desk. Sitting in a chair on the opposite end of your desk is one of the 10 people you have decided to interview for a job at your company.

As you prepare to conduct the job interview, you should think about how important hiring the right individual is. According to the Entrepreneur magazine article “What Really Happens When You Hire the Wrong Candidate,” hiring the wrong individual can have enormous costs not just financially, but in productivity, employee morale, and even reputation.


The financial costs are measurable. The article reports that hiring the wrong person can cost a company about 30 percent of the individual’s potential first-year earnings. The other costs are less measurable, but they are real. A Robert Half Financial survey concluded that a large percentage of business executives believed that wrong hires caused them to spend too much time managing unproductive employees, reduced their sales (and presumably revenues), and adversely affected the performance of work colleagues, some of whom were presumably good hires.

One of the best ways to avoid these unnecessary problems is to ask the 10 people you are interviewing questions that will help you ascertain whether or not they will be good employees. You need to ask questions that will do more than help you figure out who is the best and the brightest. You also need to figure out which of the candidates will be the best fit for your company in the short run and the long run.

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Below are eight of the best questions to ask prospective employees. They are divided into two categories — questions that will help you determine whether the candidates are a good short-term fit and questions aimed at ascertaining the candidate’s long-term potential.

Short-term questions to ask prospective employees

1. What is appealing about our company?

The specific answer to this question is not the most important reason why you should ask a question like this. What you really want to know is whether the candidates for the job researched your company enough to speak intelligently about it. Do you really want to hire someone who doesn’t even take the time to prepare for a job interview? You want to hire someone who is interested enough in your company to know your products or services, how many branches you have, and details about your company’s past.

2. Why are you qualified for this job?

You want to hire someone who has the skill level to perform the tasks required for the job you are seeking to fill. It’s possible that candidates will give a concise answer that’s along the lines of “I have experience.” Consequently, you need to be prepared in a conversational, non-threatening way to ask follow-up questions that seek to ascertain whether the candidates’ accomplishments at their previous jobs are relevant to the job opening.  


3. How have your contributions improved a team project?

Remember that surveys of executives have shown that bad hires can harm colleagues’ morale. Bad hires can include people who are brilliant at their jobs. During the interview process, you need to do everything you can to figure out whether the candidates are team players. Candidates who give you a good answer might be able to communicate that they have good ideas, they’re willing to share good ideas with colleagues, they’re willing to pitch in for the benefit of the greater good, and have leadership ability.

4. What would constitute as a great first year for you?

This question includes a lesson because it was essentially a question devised by an Inc. magazine editor in an article entitled “14 Revealing Interview Questions.” The lesson is that interviewees should always be willing to give others credit as I just did. It’s also a great question because it gives you a chance to ascertain whether the prospect is more concerned about “I” or “we.” A good answer would focus on the candidate’s role in improving the company’s products, services, and bottom line, and would show that he or she understands the job’s role in helping the company.

Long-term questions for potential employees

1. Why did you choose this profession?

This is one way to separate candidates who are a good short-term fit for your company from good long-term fits. You could select the world’s greatest entry-level accountant, but then learn later that the individual decided two years ago to pursue a career in medicine and is only an accountant now to pay for medical school. The question gives the candidate a chance to convey a passion for the profession and cite specific educational and occupational decisions they made that show their passion.

2. What are your best ideas for improving this industry?

Many companies have several people who excel at what they do, but lack the ambition to improve their skills so they can excel at a higher level. The above question could separate people who could excel at the available job but lack long-term vision from people with leadership potential. In the newspaper industry, an editor is more likely to be more impressed with a prospective reporter who has well-conceived ideas about improving a publication’s coverage of community events than a prospect who has merely carried out assignments. The same principle is true in many industries.

3. What will be your best professional success 10 years from now?

As was the case with question No. 2 in the short-term section, a concise answer might not be satisfactory. You need to have the candidate’s resume in front of you so the two of you can discuss in a conversational way the candidate’s best accomplishments in his or her previous jobs and/or school assignments. Has the candidate’s skill level been improving over the years? Does the candidate’s answer about his or her long-term vision match his or her career path? Can you envision the candidate being an increasingly major contributor to your company for a long time?


4. What questions do you have for me?

This is a good short- and long-term question because it gives interviewers a chance to find out if interviewees are prepared, curious, and interested in a short- and/or long-term future with the company. It’s also a chance to learn what the candidate is interested in. Is it money? Professional growth? Intellectual challenges? The question is a great way to end the interview.

Making the right hiring decision is often extremely difficult because projecting anyone’s future is often extremely difficult. Asking prospective employees the best possible questions, though, can give you enough insight into their character, skills, attitude, and ambition to maximize the odds that you will make the right choice.


Now that you understand the key questions to ask when conducting an interview, learn the five questions you should NEVER ask a job candidate

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