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Common Interview Questions: What are the Most Effective?

Human Resources

Most common interview questions have a simple purpose. From the employer's perspective, the objective is getting a "feel" for the job candidate, a sense of who they are as a person, what their personality is like, how they conduct themselves in a stressful situation, and so on. This reinforces the underlying principle that "recruiting candidates who are a good cultural and company fit is important for performance and retention."

For the job candidate, the goal is "making a case" for why, in essence, they are the right person for the open position.

From both perspectives, the types of interview questions asked can determine the success or failure of a job interview, making it all the more crucial that the right questions be asked in order to achieve the best outcome.

Interview questions that get beneath the surface

The most effective interview questions are open-ended ones that require more than a "yes or no" answer. For example, ask an interviewee, "What's behind your decision to apply for our open position?" Some candidates may have a prepared answer, while others may feel motivated to answer candidly about aspects of their current situation that shed light on who they are as a person. In any case, this kind of open-ended question leaves room for the interviewer to follow-up with more such questions, thus getting beneath the surface and closer to the heart of things.

Least and most effective interview questions

Another question can help you determine the individual's ability to serve as a team player: "In our organization, it's sometimes necessary for an employee to step up and lead the team in completion of a project. Can you tell us about a time when you've assumed this role, and what do you feel you accomplished?" A confident person should be able to describe a specific time and company initiative, with details about his/her role and achievements.

Ask questions that aim to provide more details on how well the job candidate works under adversity: "What major hindrance or challenge did you confront in your previous job and what did you do to overcome that obstacle?" Increasingly in today's job market, employers need men and women who can think on their own, and who bring innate problem-solving skills to the company. The "right" answer to this question will likely include a specific account of a situation that bears some similarity to situations encountered at your business, thereby shedding light on the person's capacity to act on their own and achieve a favorable solution.

Jay Gould, CEO of a New Jersey-based video advertising firm called Yashi, offers this curveball interview question: "Why shouldn't I hire you?" As reported in Fast CompanyGould believes this question is designed to catch candidates off guard and that the way in which they answer offers insight into their level of self-awareness and integrity: "It forces people to try and disqualify themselves from the position, which takes them out of the mindset of putting their best foot forward."

Least effective interview questions

Perhaps the least effective single question to ask is, "What are your biggest weaknesses?" First of all, it's become an interview cliché, and any halfway prepared candidate will have a slick answer ready. It's better for the interviewer to gain insight into the individual's strengths and weaknesses during the interview process, rather than straight out asking a question that in the end, achieves little.

Another timeworn interview question is, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" Again, most candidates come prepared with a rehearsed (and therefore, non-spontaneous) response that offers little of value. Plus, realistically, with the job market and marketplace themselves so volatile, anyone can predict anything and the complete opposite might happen.

Finally, asking someone, "Why are you choosing to leave your current position?" is unlikely to elicit a helpful answer. It's not realistic to expect that person to give you a completely honest answer, nor does it especially indicate anything about their future work habits. Your goal, after all, is focusing on what's ahead, not what's in the candidate's past.

Move beyond common interview questions and you can get a stronger sense of whether the person seated across from your desk is the right fit for your business.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.