Hiring Engaged Employees: Interview Questions
The idea for hiring good employees is to craft interview questions that are targeted toward the specific behaviors and traits that are unique to your organization and to the position. Although traits like enthusiasm, patience, selflessness, and optimism may be desired in almost any company, there will be differences in positions’ requirements that require tailored inquiry.
Examples may include a job that requires travel, involves client or customer interaction, includes management of other staff, or requires working remotely.
This table contains a list questions to help point out an individual’s important qualities. Use these as a starting point as you tailor your own questions.
|To Determine . . .||Ask . . .|
|Ability to learn||What kinds of things do you learn quickly? What kinds of things
do you have a harder time picking up?
|Adaptability, flexibility||Tell me about a situation in which you had to adjust quickly to
changes over which you had no control. What was the impact of the
change on you?
|Analytic abilities, honesty||What do you know about our company and its services?|
|Character, values, commitment, goals||How would your close work associates describe you? What traits
are you most proud of? What trait best suits you for this job?
|Client focus||What experiences have you had that demonstrate your commitment
to your client?
|Coaching, leadership||Tell me about a time when you took someone under your wing and
what you tried to teach him or her.
|Communication, accountability||Tell me about a time when your active listening skills really
paid off for you — maybe a time when other people missed the
key idea being expressed.
|Communication, feedback||Tell me about a time when you had to be critical of someone
else. What happened?
|Communication, influence||Describe the most successful experience you’ve ever had in
persuading someone to do something.
|Communication, relationships||Give an example of a situation when you were able to
communicate successfully with a person who didn’t like you.
|Communication, self-expression, listening skills, tact||Are you more skilled at written or verbal communication?
|Communication (written), innovation||What is the most challenging report you’ve ever written? What
made it unique? To what audience was it written?
|Customer service, analytic abilities, empathy, efficiency||What is your process for handling customer complaints?|
|Decision making, analytic abilities||Tell me about the most difficult customer-service experience
you’ve ever had to handle — perhaps an angry or irate
customer. Be specific. What did you do, and what was the
|Decision making, integrity, realism, common sense||Everyone has to bend or break the rules once in a while. Can
you give me an example of how you handled this kind of
|Decision making, problem solving, creativity||Give me an example of a problem, issue, or concern that you
handled in a unique, creative way.
|Decision making, realism, willingness to learn, accountability,
|Tell me about a time when you made the wrong decision. What
went wrong? What would you do differently knowing what you know
|Efficiency, analytic abilities||How do you prioritize your work?|
|Energy, drive, initiative||What are some examples of your going beyond your job
requirements? What are you currently doing to improve your overall
|Enthusiasm||What achievement are you most proud of?|
|Frugality||Describe a time in which you saved money for your company
|General||What special characteristics should I consider about you as a
|General||Give me a quick overview of your current or prior position and
describe the biggest impact or change you made.
|General, analytic abilities, creativity||Describe your ideal job.|
|General, analytic abilities, detail oriented||Walk me through a typical day in your work life. What is your
favorite part? What is your least favorite part?
|General, confidence||What has been your greatest accomplishment? Why?|
|General, confidence, accountability||What did you do in your last job to contribute to a positive
|General, confidence, risk taking, willingness to learn||What has been your greatest challenge? Why? How did you handle
it? What did you learn from it?
|General, initiative||Give me an example of how you did more than what was required
in your job.
|Innovation, creativity||What approaches could you take to the following problem? (Then
describe the problem for the candidate.)
|Management style, philosophy||Describe your management style. How would direct reports
describe your philosophy? What’s most important to overall business
|Personality, cultural fit||Who was the best manager you ever had? Describe that person’s
traits. In which of your past work environments were you happiest?
|Planning, organization||Describe how you go about planning and organizing your work and
setting priorities. When can planning get in the way of
|Planning, organization, analytic abilities, delegation,
|If you left your company today, what would be left undone?|
|Planning, organization, confidence||What did you do in your last job to be effective at
accountability, planning, and organizing?
|Problem identification, analytic abilities, problem solving,
relationships, feedback integrity
|If you observed someone displaying inappropriate work behavior,
what would you do?
|Problem solving, analytic abilities||If you were to get this job, how would you go about solving
this typical problem? (Then describe the problem for the
|Problem solving, collaboration||Give me an example of a problem you faced on the job and tell
me how you solved it.
|Problem solving, thinking skills||From a technical challenge standpoint, what past experience was
most stimulating? What kinds of problems do you enjoy
|Professional development, analytic abilities, initiative||Is there some technique or technology you want to learn but
haven’t yet? Describe it.
|Professional development, confidence, accountability||In your last performance appraisal, what was detailed in the
“employee strengths” section?
|Professional development, willingness to learn||How many training courses have you attended over the last three
years? What were they and what did you learn? What have you
implemented as a result?
|Professional development, willingness to learn||In your last performance appraisal, what was detailed in the
“developmental needs” section?
|Relationships||Describe how you’ve collaborated with people outside your
department in the past. What cross-sectional teams have you
participated in during your career and what role did you play on
|Relationships, communication, collaboration||Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was
difficult to get along with. Why was this person difficult? How did
you handle that person?
|Results oriented, confidence, realism||Give me an example of a goal you didn’t accomplish. What went
|Results oriented, innovation, initiative||Tell me about the goals you set for yourself last year and
whether you achieved those goals.
|Results oriented, innovation, planning||Tell me about your goals for this coming year and your plans to
|Results oriented, confidence, self-respect, enthusiasm||Tell me about a project you’re particularly proud of having
been associated with and why.
|Risk taking, accountability||Describe a time when you weighed the pros and cons of a risk
and why you decided to take it.
|Stress management, willingness to learn, innovation||Tell me about a situation in which you were under significant
pressure. How did you handle it?
|Team leadership, ability to persuade/motivate others||What do you see as being the advantages and disadvantages of
working as part of a team? What are the challenges of leading a
|Teamwork, collaboration, facilitation||Describe your most recent group effort.|
|Technical abilities, confidence||This position requires a variety of skills. Describe your
strengths that are applicable to the position.
|Trend of performance over time||How has your job or level of contribution changed since you
began working in this field? How would your current manager
describe your performance?
As you develop your questions, also keep these points in mind:
Even when detailed information on specific areas is required, keep your questions open ended. The descriptive response elicited by an open-ended question will include specific information. The candidate’s response may even reveal information that you never thought to ask about.
Closed-ended questions (those that require only a yes or no response) won’t yield a broad, informative response. Plus, open-ended questions can be followed by more specific ones.
Don’t ask leading questions. A leading question is a rhetorical question that indicates to the applicant the answer that the interviewer wants to hear. For example, “Don’t you think that getting along with subordinates is absolutely critical to good management?” is a leading question.
Don’t ask any questions that are legally off limits. For example, it’s illegal to ask a candidate his or her age, sex, marital status, parental status, health status, race, height, weight, or religion. This is by no means an exhaustive list, however.
For more information on questions you shouldn’t ask during an interview, check with an HR or legal representative. Bottom line: If you’re worried a question may be inappropriate or unacceptable, don’t ask it!