The 35 Best Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

If you're a hiring manager, recruiter, or a coworker tagging along, you've got three jobs during a candidate interview:

Why put culture as the top priority? Because even someone with all the right experience can still end up being a mis-hire if they’re not interested in driving your mission or embracing your values. But whether it’s because of a culture or skills mismatch, replacing a mis-hire costs a lot.

Benchmarking data from the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) sets the average cost per hire at around $4,700, though recruiting experts estimate it costs three to four times the new employee’s salary—and that’s not counting the hit to morale when someone leaves or loss of productivity when someone starts.

As for candidate experience, let’s start with the bad news: 83% of employees say they've had bad experiences during the hiring or onboarding process. But here’s the good news: improving your hiring process, especially a step as crucial as the interview, will give you a huge competitive boost!

To knock it out of the park on all three interview priorities—culture, skills, candidate experience—you need to take a thoughtful approach to each interview, tailoring your questions to the role and even the individual. To help you get started, we've put together the best interview questions to ask candidates, including:

Curious about BambooHR? Our complete HR platform helps organizations grow a strong culture, find the right people fast, and create great employee and candidate experiences with powerful, easy-to-use tools that all work together.

Free Download: Interview Scorecard

Keep your interview process running smoothly with BambooHR's customizable scorecard. You'll be able to prepare interview questions, document candidates' responses, and keep multiple interviewers on the same page.

Download the Interview Scorecard

What Makes a Great Interview Question?

In general, great interview questions share the same core qualities. These include:

However, this is easier said than done. Getting the interview questions right for candidates is hard. It requires a thoughtful approach that makes sure you're hiring the right people and creating a great experience for all candidates.

In a 2023 BambooHR survey, 50% of employees say who they talk to in an interview makes or breaks whether they accept a job offer.

The questions you ask in an interview lay the foundation of the whole experience. The quality of your questions not only drives the discussion and your final assessment of the candidate, but also the relationship you form with them. So, what makes for a great interview question?

1. Great interview questions focus on fit.

First, interview questions should help you determine how well a candidate will fit into the role and the company. Every person you hire impacts the culture. Will they be a culture add or a culture risk?

2. The best questions are customized to the role.

It's important to tailor questions to the job requirements to help you assess a candidate's relevant skills and knowledge. Focus on both hard skills (e.g., technical proficiency) and soft skills (e.g., communication or problem-solving).

3. Experienced interviewers keep things open-ended.

Asking open-ended questions will give you more thoughtful responses than simple yes or no questions. You’ll get insight into how the candidate thinks and works while giving them an opportunity to demonstrate their problem-solving skills.

4. Interview questions should always be respectful and stay compliant.

Design your questions to create a great experience for the candidate, whether you hire them or not. And as to not asking or removing illegal questions from your hiring process? Well, that’s just table stakes.

5. Interviewers must find a balance between structured and unstructured questions.

As you're designing the interview, try to strike a balance between creating a predictable structure hiring managers can follow with each candidate while leaving enough room for the interview to feel engaging.

Here’s why it’s important to do both:

Striking a balance will put the candidate at ease and allow them to put their best foot forward. Win win!

6. Craft objective questions that reflect a standard scorecard.

As mentioned above, consider using a scorecard system. Scorecards help you do the following:

As you implement these guidelines to craft your interview questions, you’ll create great candidate experiences and hire the right talent faster.

Create a seamless hiring experience from application to offer letter.

BambooHR helps you manage and personalize every candidate's experience. Plus, our Hiring Mobile App helps busy recruiting teams collaborate together and keep top candidates engaged.

Get a Free Demo Today

5 Behavioral Interview Questions

The purpose of a behavioral interview question is to assess how a candidate has acted in a specific situation in the past. These are especially helpful in evaluating skills relevant to the job role, such as:

Here are five examples:

1. Can you share a time you were able to motivate your coworkers or direct reports?

This question will help you assess the candidate's ability to influence people at work, an important attribute for anyone taking on a leadership role.

2. What are some examples of major decisions you've made at work this past year? Walk me through how you came to those decisions.

This question will prompt the candidate to demonstrate their decision-making skills with concrete examples. It will also give you a sense for what types of decisions you can trust the candidate to be accountable for.

3. Tell me about an instance when you could have done a better job managing an emotionally charged situation.

This question will reveal how well the candidate handles challenging situations or stressful environments, as well as their problem-solving capabilities and emotional maturity.

4. Can you tell me about a project that required significant preparation on your part? What steps did you take to ensure success?

This question is great for assessing how well candidates can plan and anticipate potential challenges or changes in circumstances. It also demonstrates their organizational skills and shows how they handle unexpected obstacles.

5. What are your top priorities in your current role? How did you decide that's what you should be working on?

This question provides insight into the candidate's planning and organizational skills. It also prompts them to demonstrate their ability to think strategically and focus on work that matters.

An Award-Winning, Complete HR Platform

In BambooHR, everything works together to help you manage data and benefits, hire talent, run payroll, and help employees thrive. Best of all, it's easy and intuitive for busy HR teams!

Learn More Today

5 Situational Interview Questions

While behavioral questions help you assess how a candidate acted in the past, situational interview questions dig into how they might act in the future.

Here are five examples of situational interview questions you can use during your hiring process:

1. If you were on a special project team and a member wasn't pulling their weight, what would you do?

This question prompts the candidate to demonstrate how they will collaborate and hold people accountable.

2. If you have a project due at the end of the month but are given a conflicting priority from a different supervisor, how would you handle it?

Stress management? Conflict resolution? Prioritization? This question tackles them all. It’ll prompt the candidate to describe their reaction to a pretty common scenario that can be difficult to navigate.

3. If you were given an assignment outside of your skillset, how would you tackle it?

You can use questions like this to gauge how well the candidate handles stretch assignments. It’ll also prompt them to demonstrate their ability to learn on the fly and be resourceful.

4. How would you approach a phone call with an upset and confrontational customer?

This question is a great example of tailoring a question to a specific role. If you're hiring customer-facing roles, use this to assess their competence managing challenging customer interactions.

5. If you accidently shared confidential information with someone who shouldn't have access, what would you do?

We all make mistakes. Use this question to gauge how a person handles their mistakes, especially when the stakes are high.

» Learn More: How to Conduct a Video Job Interview

5 Phone Screen Interview Questions

The phone screening is a brief phone call to weed out unqualified candidates before doing a first interview. The questions we’ve included will help you filter out anyone who might have looked great on paper but doesn’t end up being qualified.

Save your organization and your candidates time (and heartaches) with a thorough phone screen. Here are five questions to help drive the conversation.

1. What attracted you to this organization?

This can be a great way to break the ice with a productive question. A candidate's response can help you assess their interest level in the role.

It can also provide some insight into how they might align with your company values. Be sure to ask follow-up questions to nudge them past what they think you want to hear.

2. What are your career goals? What gets you excited? Where do you want to end up?

Asking about the candidate’s future career helps you understand where this job fits into their plans and any areas they want to develop professionally.

3. Where do you stand out professionally? What would your coworkers say you're great at?

This question is another way of asking about a person's strengths. It frames the question in a way that allows the candidate to be open and talk about themselves more comfortably.

4. What are you not interested in doing?

This question is the other half of the standard strengths and weaknesses question. Framing it this way gives the candidate permission to talk about the aspects of the role that don’t align with their interests or strengths.

5. Tell me about the last few people you worked for and how they would rate your performance when we talk to them.

This question incorporates a first pass at reference checks before you invest a ton of time into interviewing the candidate. It allows the candidate to be honest with themselves and with you on how other past employers perceive their performance.

» Learn More: How to Define, Measure, and Improve Your Employee Experience

5 First Interview Questions

For the first interview, focus on understanding the candidate's experience, motivations, and potential fit with the role and your workplace culture, including:

Here are five questions to get you started:

1. Describe a time when you had a disagreement with or had to deal with hostility from a coworker.

This question helps you understand a candidate's ability to resolve conflict. It's also a good indicator of the candidate's ability to empathize and put emotions aside.

If the candidate doesn’t have a lot of work experience, you can rephrase this to be about a time they've had to deal with hostility from an acquaintance.

2. Share an experience where you feel like you understood how someone was feeling without them telling you, and you were able to adjust to their needs or values.

There's more to communication than a person's ability to talk. It's important to gauge a candidate's ability to understand unspoken communication and respond appropriately.

3. Tell me about a situation where you figured out how to do a process or project faster and cheaper without compromising quality.

Fast, efficient, and quality? Every employer's dream. This question can help gauge how a candidate thinks creatively and innovates in their role. It may also prompt them to demonstrate problem-solving skills.

4. What are your salary expectations?

Sometimes this question happens on the phone screen, sometimes during the first interview, and sometimes in the final interview. To help you decide when to talk about compensation, think about the role and what you want to accomplish with the question.

If you ask for a salary range early in the process, you won't waste time if the candidate's expectations are misaligned. However, you may want to save the actual negotiations for the final interview.

» Learn More: How Your Employees Really Feel About Compensation [2022 Compensation Trends]

5. What kind of environment helps you thrive? Can you list a few attributes?

Asking questions like this can help you understand what a candidate expects from the culture and environment. It may not always directly relate to job requirements, but it's important for a candidate's expectations to align with what the employer can deliver.

5 Second Interview Questions

Being diligent in your assessment leads to a well-informed decision, so the second interview is where you get to look more closely at an individual's skills and competencies. Consider designing questions that assess a candidate's abilities, including:

If applicable, you might also use the time to review their work samples in greater detail—have them walk you through step by step to gauge competency.

Here are five examples to get you started:

1. Describe a situation in which you were able to clearly frame a problem, identify and collect the necessary data, and make recommendations for solving the problem.

This might sound like a mouthful, but a second interview is the perfect time to ask complex questions and encourage the candidate to illustrate their communication and problem-solving skills in more depth.

2. Take me through the most recent budget you prepared.

This question is a great example of drilling into a specific job requirement. The candidate's resume might include "budget management," but it's important to assess in detail their competency level.

3. Tell me about a major project you led. How did you make sure everything got done on time without sacrificing quality?

Similar to the previous question, this type of prompt leads to a more insightful answer from the candidate. It gives them room to take you through their work.

That level of detail from a candidate is the difference between assuming they can do the job and knowing they can do the job.

4. Can you show me a piece of work you're especially proud of? Walk me through it.

A lot of roles require a candidate to come with a portfolio. This question helps you dig into the process that led to a specific outcome.

For example, when you ask a designer to walk you through the process on a particular piece of work, it helps you assess their speed. You can also use this type of question to confirm their contribution to a collaborative project.

5. Share an example of when you adapted your content to fit the needs of a specific audience.

Ever heard of a one-trick pony? A question like this helps you assess the candidate's ability to apply their skills to a variety of needs.

For example, a copywriter might need to adapt to your brand voice or to a specific segment of your audience. Ultimately, consider asking similar questions that help people demonstrate the breadth of their skills.

5 Better Interview Questions Than “What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?”

1. What’s your most significant project or accomplishment so far?

Candidates should impress you, so give them a chance to put the spotlight on themselves but with concrete details.

Achievements are a great way to learn more about a candidate, their work ethic, and their ability to work with a team.

2. Describe a time you made a mistake. What did you take away from the experience?

Most candidates absolutely dread talking about their screw-ups, but you need to find out about people’s weaknesses. This specific question can reveal their level of self-awareness. Do they admit their mistakes and learn from them?

It’s also a great way to gauge whether they’re humble and mindful of their own flaws. For example, if a candidate gives a “fake” screw-up or blames a colleague for their mess up—that’s a sign they have a habit of deflecting the blame from themselves.

3. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you handle it?

This question is a popular one, and for good reason. Whether it’s a competition, a big project, or an exam, people are bound to have failed at least once, and no one can avoid setbacks at work.

That’s why this question is so important. Getting a grasp on how a person tackles—and, more importantly, copes with—failure can help you assess how well they’ll perform in the role and in your workplace culture.

4. What’s something you like about your previous role? What’s something you wish was different and why?

No one wants to talk trash about a past job or boss during a job interview, and that’s not what this question is about. It’s to help you understand about the kind of work they loved and the tasks they weren’t very happy with.

Will this candidate be happy with the tasks involved in the role, or will they be bored?

Plus, if they end up complaining repeatedly about a key responsibility for the new position, then it’ll be easy for you to eliminate them from your list.

5. Do you have any questions for me?

This question usually marks the end of an interview. But you can determine what’s important to a candidate based on the questions they ask.

For example, if they ask about collaboration in teams, that’s an indicator that they value working with others and want to gauge whether your company is the right fit.

You can also get a good sense for their level of preparation and interest. Specific questions about your company’s past projects shows the candidate has done their research and is serious about taking on the role.

Download the Definitive Guide to Onboarding

Hiring a new employee is expensive and time consuming—and what happens during onboarding can make or break long-term retention. In this in-depth guide, you'll learn actionable tips for improving new hire paperwork, assigning onboarding tasks, facilitating personal connections, and more.

Download Now

5 Fun Interview Questions

Having some fun in the interview can be great to break the ice. But a word of caution—only focusing on fun can hurt the process in significant ways:

That said, here are some ideas to keep conversation on the lighter side while also being productive.

1. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

This question allows candidates to reflect and share something meaningful to them. Understanding what people value provides insight into how they prioritize their time, make decisions, and handle challenging situations or problems.

2. What is something that you are passionate about and why?

This question lets candidates express what motivates them beyond work. Similar to the previous questions, this gives you more insight into the candidate's interests and values. It also gives you an understanding of how driven a candidate is in areas outside their job role.

3. If you could switch jobs for a day, what would you do?

This question allows candidates to think creatively about different roles they may find interesting or exciting. It also shows whether a candidate is willing to take risks to try something new or push themselves further than they have before.

4. What's the best book you've read recently, and what did you learn from it?

Consider this question as a fun way to prompt someone to demonstrate critical thinking. It may also demonstrate whether a candidate will bring fresh perspectives or creativity into your organization.

This question helps you understand the candidate’s attitude and workplace ethics, while still giving them the freedom to determine what “memorable” means—exciting, challenging, boring, etc.

5 "Do Not Ask" Interview Questions

Part of creating a great candidate experience is treating everyone with kindness, fairness, and respect. Because this doesn't come naturally to everyone, there are laws in place that require employers to behave at a certain threshold.

Visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website for a comprehensive list of protected characteristics and anti-discrimination laws. Be sure you review these with anyone involved in the interview process.

We’ve also put together five example questions you definitely need to avoid (though these are by no means exhaustive and included better, legally compliant ways to ask for relevant information.

1. Are you a US citizen? Where were your parents born?

Instead, ask: “Are you legally authorized to work in the United States?”

2. Do you have any disabilities? Are you pregnant?

Instead, ask: “Are you able to perform the specific duties of this position?”

Also note that if the candidate has specifically told you about a disability, you’re allowed to ask if they’ll need accommodations during the interview process or on the job.

3. Do you have kids? Can you get a sitter on short notice for overtime or travel?

Instead, ask: "Are you available to work overtime on occasion? Can you travel?"

4. How old are you? When did you graduate from high school?

Instead, ask: "Are you over 18?" This is to ensure you’re compliant with child labor laws.

5. Are you married? Is [x] your maiden name?

Instead, ask: "Will I need any additional information, like a different name or nickname, to check job references or do a background check?"

5 Reference Check Questions

Reference checks are when you verify information the candidate has provided. They can also provide additional perspectives on the candidate's work habits, attitude, and qualifications.

Here are five reference check questions you can use to assess potential candidates:

1. What was your working relationship with the candidate?

Part of the reference check is confirming information the candidate has provided. You might consider asking about what their relationship was (e.g., direct manager or coworker), the length of employment, and the roles and responsibilities the candidate was responsible for.

2. What strength were they known for in their work?

Asking this question is one way to understand how people perceived the candidate at a former company. It's more concrete than a generic question about strengths and frames it up in a way that's easy for the reference to share an authentic perspective.

3. What advice would you offer to help them be successful in their next position?

If there's room for your candidate to improve, this question can be a good way to bring it to the surface. Asking about a candidate's weaknesses can put the person providing a reference on the spot.

However, most people are willing to share feedback in the form of advice. It frames it up in a way that is constructive rather than strictly critical.

4. How did they help you do your job better?

The answer to this question can be really telling coming from a direct manager. It speaks to the candidate's ability to meet expectations and competency in their role.

5. Is there anything else you would like to share about them that would help us make our hiring decision?

If there's anything good or bad that has been floating in the back of the person's mind, this kind of open-ended question gives them permission to share. It often leads to validation and praise for a great candidate, but it can also prompt them to share red flags.

Create better first days.

BambooHR helps you build an effective onboarding process with customizable onboarding checklists, welcome emails, and new hire packets—so every new hire feels welcome on day one.

Get Your Free Demo Today