Want to really understand your candidates? Want to know for sure if they have the skills and the temperament to fill a position at your company? Curious about whether or not they’ll mesh with your team and your company culture? This article explores the top 25 most common interview questions and what to look out for in their answers.
The best place to answer these and other critical employment questions: the interview.
If you get it right, you’ll match a qualified candidate to a position that they’ll flourish in for years to come. Get it wrong, and you’ve wasted time, training, and valuable resources.
Either way, it ultimately comes down to making the most of the interview and asking questions that give you the insight, understanding, and knowledge that you need to make the best hire possible for your business.
With that in mind, here are the 25 top common interview questions – and what you should keep in mind when you listen to the responses.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Starting an interview with an open-ended question like this can be particularly telling, giving you insight into the candidate’s motivation and their personality. Chances are they’ll have an answer prepared – and they’ll want to make a good first impression – so it’ll be interesting to see what they choose to share.
Red flags: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is really an opportunity for the candidate to show his/her personality and get real, so look out for overly polished or rehearsed answers. If they say something like “I’m just too much of a perfectionist,” or they start to list off personality traits that your company put in the job description, take note.
Bonus points: If they sound genuine – and you see traits in their answer that make them a good fit for the job – then they’ve started the interview off on the right foot.
2. What are your greatest professional strengths?
This question can really give you insight into a candidate’s confidence level, their self-awareness, and their personality. Oftentimes, this is a place where candidates will get uncomfortable or shy – or, alternatively, they’ll show if they have a bit of an inflated ego. Either way, it’s a great question to help you scratch the surface and get a deeper understanding of where they stand.
Red flags: Again, watch out for “too good to be true” responses or any signs that the candidate won’t respond well to reflection or constructive criticism.
Bonus points: If the candidate can come up with an answer that sounds accurate, relevant to the job, and specific. Extra bonus if they share stories or examples to back up their response.
3. What are your biggest weaknesses?
This is probably one of the top 3 common interview questions ever asked. It can help you understand if a candidate is self-aware, humble, or ready to improve and learn. They’ll have likely prepared an answer here, so it will be telling to see how much they’re willing to share.
Red flags: Answers that clearly show they’re not a fit – a sales person who is prone to shyness, for example – or non-answers like “I just try too hard all the time.”
Bonus points: Initiative! It’s always great to see a candidate that gets specific and/or shares something that they’re continuously working to improve.
4. Why do you want to work here?
Have they done their research about your business? Do they understand your company culture? Your mission and where they might fit in your organization? This is your first opportunity to find out.
Red flags: Answers that are superficial or off the mark, like “it’s a new opportunity for my career.”
Bonus points: If they’ve done their homework. Do they love your CEO’s mission? Are they aware of your company’s charitable endeavors? Any answer that shows they did some significant digging will let you know that they’re serious about the job.
5. Give us an example of how you solved a problem in the past.
How do they think things through? What do they consider to be a real “problem” in a professional environment? What do they perceive as valuable problem-solving skills or an appropriate course of action? These are valuable things to understand about a potential new hire, and this question can help you get to the bottom of how they operate under pressure.
Red flags: A drama queen! Alternatively, look out for someone whose response doesn’t match the position they’re interviewing for. A potential manager that responded by passing along the message to their superior, for example, may not have the leadership skills they need for the job.
Bonus points: Specificity, critical thinking, and any evidence that they learned from the experience.
6. What do you like to do outside of work?
Yes, this is one of our common interview questions as it can help you weed out the partiers and the unmotivated. It can also help you understand whether or not the job is really a fit for the candidate’s lifestyle. Someone who values time outdoors or taking weekend vacations, for example, may ultimately end up feeling dissatisfied if they apply for a job that calls for a 50+ hour workweek.
Red flags: Answers that indicate they won’t mesh well with their teammates or with your company culture.
Bonus points: A response that shows motivation or desire for growth i.e: if they take a class or have a hobby that requires significant development or commitment.
7. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
The purpose of this common interview question is two-fold. Firstly, see if the candidate is a good fit for the position in the long-term. Secondly, to gauge their planning and how much they’ve thought their future.
Red flags: If they don’t have an answer, or if their answer ultimately shows that the job doesn’t fit into their long-term plans.
Bonus points: Motivation. The goal is to hire someone that will grow with your business and remain valuable over time. If their answer proves they’re on the same page, they get extra kudos.
8. Describe your dream job.
This question can really help you understand a candidate’s larger goals and ambitions (and you can tell if they have a sense of humor).
Red flags: Look out for a dream job that indicates they’re not a fit – or one that shows that they may not have been honest about their skills or values. For example, someone whose dream job is to be an athlete or a race car driver may not be all about calmness or letting someone else have the spotlight.
Bonus points: If a job in your company puts them on the right track!
9. Why are you leaving your current job?
Number 9 in our common interview questions can tell you a lot about a candidate’s personality. It can also highlight their values, and their non-negotiables when it comes to job satisfaction.
Red flags: Big blowups in the workplace or a candidate that places blame on a previous coworker or employer.
Bonus points: Honesty and self-awareness. If they have real reasons for leaving their current job and they’re able to be up-front about their non-negotiables – then you’re more likely to have a positive engagement with them in the future.
10. Why should we hire you? What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
Does the candidate have any specialized skills? Do they have some interesting experience that’s not common in the industry? This is a great opportunity to learn about anything that might not be on their resume. It’s also a wonderful chance to understand their confidence and their ability to be convincing and calm under duress.
Red flags: If they crumble under the pressure or fail you give you any unique information.
Bonus points: A specific example and a response that shows confidence without going over-the-top.
11. What would you like to accomplish in the first 30/60/90 days on the job?
Have they thought ahead and come up with a game plan? Do they truly understand what the job is doing to take? Here’s where you’ll find out.
Red flags: Answers that show no research or that don’t actually fit with the job description.
Bonus points: Specificity and direction.
12. Who is your mentor or your biggest inspiration?
Number 12 in our most common interview questions will give you insight into their personal values and their view of success. Is their mentor someone very spiritual? Perhapts it is a family member? Is it someone who has a lot of professional success? Understanding who they aspire to be can tell you quite a bit about who a candidate is and what they value today.
Red flags: No aspirations – yikes!
Bonus points: An answer that shows agency and a desire for personal growth. For example: “My biggest inspiration is Tony Robbins. I attend his seminars whenever I can.”
13. Describe a time when you went above and beyond for a project.
What does “above and beyond” mean to them? How do they feel about having to do more than what was initially asked of them? Do they value recognition, or are they content with simply doing a good job? There’s a lot that you can gauge from there response here.
Red flags: Negativity, blame, or a begrudging attitude.
Bonus points: If they find the silver lining or saw the challenge as an opportunity for growth.
14. What do you know about this company?
Want to know what drew them to your business, if they’ve done their research, or if they have an accurate understanding of your mission or what your company is all about? This question will help you find out.
Red flags: An unprepared or superficial answer.
Bonus points: A deep dive i.e. a piece of information they couldn’t have found with a cursory glance at your site.
15. Tell me about a conflict you faced at work and how you dealt with it.
This question can really get to the nitty-gritty: who didn’t they get along with? Why? What kind of interpersonal problems did they face at their previous job? There’s never going to be a professional experience without hiccups, but it’s important to understand how they respond in those situations. This is why this is definitely one of the most important common interview questions.
Red flags: If they blame others, or if you get a sense that they instigated the conflict or had frequent issues over time.
Bonus points: Signs of personal growth or a change of negative patterns.
16. Can you explain your resume?
Do they have any gaps in their employment history? Are certain dates not adding up? Did they change their career path? Inviting them to address these issues directly encourages authenticity and helps you deal with the elephant in the room.
Red flags: If the candidate can’t explain certain red flags, or if you note issues in their responses that will make them a bad fit.
Bonus points: A good reason! Or honesty about any issues they’ve faced in the past.
17. What are your salary requirements?
Do they understand the industry, and do they know what a competitive salary looks like based on their education, background, and skills? Also, are they able to express their expectations and ask for what they want right out of the bat? Money can be one of the touchiest subjects, so it can be interesting to see exactly how the interviewee handles the topic.
Red flags: An unreasonable or completely out-of-range response: it either shows that they haven’t done their research or that they have unrealistic expectations.
Bonus points: This is a great place for the candidate to show confidence and fairness – bonus points for both.
18. How do you feel about working overtime or on holidays?
This is another touchy subject and a possible point of contention down the road. Which makes this it a great topic to address right off the bat and one of the important common interview questions. Now, there’s no right or wrong answer here. Some people like to work all the time and further their career. While others really value maintaining a work/life balance. This is a great question to help you gauge both the candidate’s honesty and how well your expectations align.
Red flags: Negativity or ultimatums. Even if they really value balance, you want someone who’s ready to take someone for the team if they really have to.
Bonus points: A thought-through answer and a position of compromise.
19. Do you consider yourself to be a leader or a follower?
Many interviewers place a heavy emphasis on leadership skills and ask questions like; what was a time where you showed great leadership? Or what makes you most effective as a leader? But the reality is that many employees are much more comfortable taking direction – and this can be an effective skill for many positions.
Red flags: A response that shows a lack of self-awareness or clarity.
Bonus points: An answer with examples that illustrate specificity and efficiency.
20. Describe your best/worst boss.
What do they consider to be the primary qualities of an effective leader? How and what pushes their buttons in a professional setting? What major things did they learn from the authority figures in their last position, and where did they have issues? This is a great question to help you find out.
Red flags: Once again, look out for excessive negativity and blame. If they put all of their professional mistakes on someone else at their previous job, chances are they’ll do the same thing at your business.
Bonus points: You want someone humble enough to grow and evolve – which means that they get bonus points if they express an opportunity for growth or explain what they learned that they continue to apply today.
21. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision at work. What did you do?
In most professional settings, there’s a fine line between standing your ground and being rude or insubordinate – and it’s important to know exactly how well your potential employees will toe that line and what they consider to be “stepping up.”
Red flags: An example of excessive confrontation in the workplace.
Bonus points: If they figured out a way to bring a positive outcome or improve the situation.
22. Are you willing to travel/relocate?
This is another topic where, no matter what, it’s important to know where the candidate stands to avoid issues down the road.
Red flags: A total lack of flexibility or wiggle room – especially in the interview process, this is a huge red flag.
Bonus points: A productive solution – if they’re not willing to relocate, do they have an alternative solution or a place where they are willing to step up?
23. Who are our competitors?
This will help you weed out the serious candidates since correctly answering this question requires some in-depth research and understanding of your industry.
Red flags: Someone who has no idea.
Bonus points: If they can explain key differentiators and what sets your business apart.
24. How many other jobs are you applying for?
Want to know how real they get in the interview and if they can keep their cool under pressure? This is where you’ll find out.
Red flags: A dishonest or vague answer.
Bonus points: If they can give you a well-formed, backed reason why they prefer your organization.
25. Do you have any questions for me? The final question in our top 15 most common interview questions series.
Interviews are ultimately a two-way street, and a job will only be a great fit if expectations are being met on both sides. This is the candidate’s opportunity to address their concerns and get their thoughts on the table – which makes it a really important question to ask.
Red flags: Crickets. Even if it’s something simple, it’s always important that the interviewee has something to add to to the process.
Bonus points: Preparation, particularly if they have a well thought-out question that’s targeted at the interviewer.
Now you are armed with 25 of the most common interview questions as well as what to look out for in your candidates answers, ensure you are providing your new employees with a detailed job description. Check out our guide: how to write a job description.