18 Interview Questions HR Managers Always Ask Candidates in Job Interviews

What one question do you ALWAYS ask candidates in a job interview?

To help other HR professionals ask the right questions, we asked HR, recruiting professionals, and business leaders this question for their insights. From learning candidate motivations to determining conflict resolution skills to identifying your organization’s challenges, there are several common questions you can plan for.

Here are 18 interview questions seasoned HR Managers always ask in an interview:

  • Learn About a Candidate’s Motivations
  • Provide Opportunities to Reflect
  • Determine Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Identify Organizational Challenges
  • Ask About Your Company Versus Competitors
  • Look for Sincere Interest in the Opportunity
  • Determine Candidate Resourcefulness
  • Say Nothing More of “Culture Fit”
  • Get Aligned on Compensation Early On
  • Remember You’re Hiring a Whole Person
  • Get Overall Insight
  • Ensure Brand Alignment
  • Learn About Current Scope of Work
  • Check That They Did Their Homework
  • Get a Glimpse of How a Candidate Accepts Feedback
  • Glean a Basic Understanding of DEI Concepts
  • Understand Any Motivating Factors

Learn About a Candidate’s Motivations

I really like to ask candidates why they are leaving their current job. If time permits, I will ask them to explain why they changed jobs earlier in their career, too. This tends to open people up and get a good glimpse into their motivations. Changing jobs is a big deal, and people don’t do it lightly. So the things that make them change jobs give a good insight into what really matters to them.

Ed Stevens, Preciate

Provide Opportunities to Reflect

“What accomplishment in the past year are you most proud of, and how did you accomplish it?” This will tell you what is important to them, how they tackle projects, and what strengths they tapped into for completion. It allows the candidate to reflect on their past and select one event that matters to them. And if they have a hard time coming up with something, that should tell you a lot as well!

Lori Kleiman, HR Topics

Determine Conflict Resolution Skills

"Describe a time you and your coworker disagreed.” I always ask the job candidates to elaborate on an instance where they were in conflict or disagreed with a coworker. The response the candidate provides helps me understand their conflict resolution goals and processes as well as their level of emotional intelligence. You always want to hire a candidate with excellent conflict resolution skills, as this is crucial to the maintenance of positive work culture. Sai Blackbyrn, Coach Foundation

Identify Organizational Challenges

Whenever I have been involved in interviews, the one question I always ask a candidate is this: From your perspective, looking at our organization from the outside-in, what do you think is our greatest challenge? Furthermore, how would you contribute to helping us overcome this challenge? This question is fantastic because it helps you determine the candidate's understanding of your company, cause, or organization. It will also give you the perspective of someone who is outside your organization. Lastly, you will get a sense of the type of solutions the candidate proposes. It's a great question, and it generally separates the good from the great.

Mogale Modisane, ToolsGaloreHQ.com

Ask About Your Company Versus Competitors

“What stands out about our company vs. competitors?” I always find it interesting to ask candidates why this specific job appealed to them vs. competitor organizations’ jobs (that they may have applied for). Passion and interest level are essential when hiring someone, and I'm always looking for details around why we should choose them and what stood out about our organization. Based on their responses, you can identify if they've done the necessary research on the company or see if they're doing this for a job versus a career.

Annie Raygoza, WebEnertia

Look for Sincere Interest in the Opportunity

“What questions do you have for me?” While this is an obvious question for an interviewer to wrap up an interview, I find the responses to this question are often the most insightful of the entire interview. First, a candidate having zero questions is a concern for me. I will usually provide the candidate with information about the organization and the position, so this should prompt them to ask questions for clarification or further detail. Unfortunately, many interviewers may interpret zero questions as a lack of interest or enthusiasm for the position. I look for questions about company culture, how their role will impact the organization's mission, and future vision or plans for the organization. Candidates typically ask questions about the next steps in the hiring process, work schedule, and compensation. However, I look for additional questions that help demonstrate that the candidate shows sincere interest and wants to learn more about the opportunity and their potential role.

Jeffery Palkowski, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Determine Candidate Resourcefulness

Provide an example of your approach to a project or work assignment on a subject you have no experience or knowledge of. The answer helps me determine the resourcefulness of the candidate. To me, this is a core competency in our ever-changing HR world — take COVID-19 as an example! Being resourceful is a big differentiator to identify the candidate's initiative to learn, common sense, ability to leverage available internal and external resources, and personal networks to get the job done and do it well. Patty Hickok, NANA Regional Corporation

Say Nothing More of "Culture Fit"

Hiring for culture fit threatens the very diversity on which organizations thrive. Instead, hiring for values fit and culture add opens up a world of possibility that a more homogenous team may never experience. One of my favorite interview questions is: "In what ways do you hope to ADD to the existing culture of this organization?"

Erich Kurschat, Harmony Insights LLC Get

Aligned on Compensation Early On

It is important to be somewhat aligned on compensation expectations at the beginning of the process. I always ask what a candidate is looking for roughly in compensation. It is important to avoid pitfalls and surprises during the offer stage and the only way to do that is through transparency and asking the right questions. Understanding if your candidate fits into your compensation parameters immediately will save the candidate precious time as well as your hiring managers. If a candidate does not wish to share their expectations, then I will always share the hiring manager's expectations and ask them if this is generally acceptable with the understanding that there will likely be some negotiating to come.

Glenn Jordi, DailyPay

Remember You’re Hiring a Whole Person

One question I ALWAYS ask candidates in a job interview is: What drives you, both personally and professionally? Of course, I want to know a candidate’s career goals and values, but I also want to understand what motivates them outside the workplace. I’ll be hiring the whole person, after all. From there, I can better see if a candidate's goals and values align with our organization. I also think this approach helps with employee retention after they’re hired.

Sarah Hecht, BerniePortal

Get Overall Insight

The question that generates the most comprehensive and insightful information about a job candidate is, “Why did you apply for this job?” The answer reveals whether the applicant has researched your company, understands the specifics of the position, and has thought through how their skills and experience would fit. If the interviewer leaves open space for the response, strong candidates will explain how they can contribute to the organization. Less-ideal applicants may very well blabber themselves out of the job, demonstrating they don’t know what the role entails, don’t care specifically about working for your company, or simply aren’t a good fit technically or culturally.

Jeanette Coleman, Axcet HR Solutions

Ensure Brand Alignment

Why do you want to work for this organization? This question is a great way of determining whether a candidate has done their research on your company and why they think it will be a good fit. Of course, this means that as an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure your employment brand truly reflects your culture and values. Employment brand should be used like a filter, rather than a magnet as it’s not about attracting hundreds or thousands of candidates; it’s about attracting the right candidate. Use employee-generated content in your recruitment marketing and on your career pages to show people what to expect at your organization. Candidates trust employees three times more than a company to provide credible information about what it’s like to work at a company, research from LinkedIn revealed. So employee-generated content is an absolute must. The more authentic, the better. If you’re honest about your company’s culture, you’ll attract candidates who are better aligned.

Lesley Taylor, WilsonHCG

Learn About Current Scope of Work

If you are invited to join our team, what is a project that you will leave undone at your current organization? This question helps me to understand the real scope of the work that the candidate was involved in and their impact. I encourage folks to steal this beautiful question.

Diane Fennig, The Gallagher Group - Executive Search & Leadership Advisors

Check That They Did Their Homework

I always ask candidates to tell me what they know about our company. One quality I am looking for in a candidate is initiative, but it's not easy to tell whether or not they have that trait. If they took the time to look up information about my company beforehand, to me, that means they have initiative, and we are off to a great start! Suzanne Crest, Eos HR Consulting

Get a Glimpse of How a Candidate Accepts Feedback

Share one improvement area identified in your last review.” I ask this question instead of the lame "What is your greatest weakness?" question. Why? Because most people have a prepared answer for the weakness question that is designed to ultimately make them look good or that doesn't really address true improvement areas that the interviewer may view negatively. Plus, a self-identified weakness may or may not be relevant to the job in question. I'm more interested in a person's willingness to accept feedback and their approach to personal development. Whatever the improvement area they share, I want to understand more about whether they agreed/disagreed with the feedback, whether they have taken ownership of the challenge to improve, and what steps they have taken to improve. If it's been long enough since their last performance review when feedback was given, I'd also like to hear some demonstrated results that have occurred as a result of their improvement efforts.

Jennifer McClure, Unbridled Talent LLC & DisruptHR LLC

Measure a Candidate’s Willingness to Try New Things

I'm a big believer in behavioral interviewing. I want to hear about candidates' past behaviors rather than their interview pitch. One question I always ask is, "Tell me about a time you tried something new and failed (or didn't get the result you wanted)." This question doesn't aim to learn about a candidate's failure but about their willingness and desire to try new things. The answer often offers insights into a candidate's ability to take measured risks, innovate, and flex their entrepreneurial chops.

Melanie Haniph, HR Content Writer and Talent Management Expert

Glean a Basic Understanding of DEI Concepts

We always ask candidates a series of questions that signal whether or not they have some basic understanding of diversity issues and DEI concepts related to the technology industry. These questions often take various forms, especially if we're hiring for a people manager role. However, we always ask in the initial screen: Please describe your understanding of diversity and inclusion and how it's related to this position. "Seek and embrace" diversity is one of our core values. Everyone we hire must demonstrate a thorough understanding of what it takes to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in practical terms relating to their job function. Moreover, we look for candidates who present actionable ideas for personal growth within diversity and inclusion.

Laura Saracho, Bonusly

Understand Any Motivating Factors

One of the most important questions I ask candidates during an introductory call is what their motivation is for making a career change. I want to know what has them interested in taking my call and what their sense of urgency is. With a strong motivation to make a move, the candidate is less likely to become wary during the interview process, will be more likely to prepare for each step of the interview, and is much less likely to accept a counteroffer at the end. Knowledge is the best tool in a recruiter’s bag! The more you know about your candidate and what drives them to the decisions they make, the more likely you are to make a long-lasting placement!

Jessica Henley, Govig & Associates  

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