Interview Guide for Employers

Key Factors:


The Result:


All managers have their favourite questions to ask job candidates, from the banal to the bizarre. But what do the answers to these questions actually tell you about your interviewee? All job interview questions should be designed to find out if the candidate can do the job, how they react under pressure and how well they will fit into the team.

They can generally be grouped into three types; standard questions, investigative questions and bad questions.

STANDARD QUESTIONS – These are commonplace at job interviews and your candidates will probably have some pre-prepared answers. However, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked as they provide an effective way of evaluating candidates against each other. For example:

  • What attracted you to this role? — This will tell you how much research they have done into the role and company. You want someone who has a clear idea of what the role encompasses and why they would be good at it.
  • What are your main motivations? — Are they looking to develop their skills with your company or do they feel passionate about the industry you operate in?
  • What are your main strengths and weaknesses? — It’s always good to find out what candidates think they are particularly good at so you can ask them to expand on each area and work out how it would help them succeed in the role. When hearing their weaknesses, ask what steps they have taken to try and overcome them.

INVESTIGATIVE QUESTIONS – As well as technical questions about the role, you will want to find out a bit more about the type of worker they are and the experience they have gained. These could include:

  • What management styles do you work best under? — Does this match the type of management that they could expect to experience if they got the job?
  • What type of people do you like to work with? — Again, this will help you find out if they will fit into your existing team structure.
  • What has been the biggest challenge in your career? — Finding out how they turned a situation around can tell you a lot about an individual. It also lets you assess what they perceive to be a ‘challenge’.
  • What has been your biggest career success? — It’s always good to find candidates who are proud of their work and this gives them a chance to shine.
  • If you could take back one career decision, what would it be? — Does the candidate learn from their mistakes? This question can tell you a lot about the journey they have been on in their career. Do they genuinely like their choice of career or do they wish they were doing something else?

You should also look to investigate things like their knowledge of relevant computer software, competency in languages and their grasp of your products, industry and competitors.

BAD QUESTIONS – A bad interview question can not only take your interview wildly off course, but it may also put you in a negative light in the mind of the interviewee. Here’s a few to avoid:

  • Tell me about yourself — Firstly, it’s not actually a question. Secondly you’re not providing a starting point so the response might not tell you what you were hoping to find out. Try an alternative such as “Can you describe why you have chosen this career path?”
  • Where do you want to be in five years? — The truthful answer would be on a beach in Hawaii after winning the lottery. The answer you will get will probably be “to have progressed within your company into a management position” or an equally ‘interviewer pleasing’ answer. Instead, ask “Which of your skills do you hope to develop over the next few years to help you take a step up in your career?”
  • What can you do for us that others can’t? — Isn’t that your job as the interviewer to figure out? Candidates will be unlikely to know about the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors, so will generally resort to an answer related to their work ethic. “What is your most valuable skill?” will give you much more useful answers.
  • If you were an animal, which one would you be? — This used to surprise candidates, but many will now be prepared for this amateur attempt at psychological analysis. If you’re looking for a lion (or someone who shows leadership) then ask a more direct question about their leadership skills.
  • What is your marital status? — Any question that is of a personal nature (including age, gender, race, religion, sexuality or disability) is not only unethical, but often illegal.
  • What salary are you hoping for? — This is something that can be discussed before or after a job interview, but not during as it’s not right to put your interviewee under pressure to commit to a figure on the spot.

A job interview should be an open discussion but there are some legalities around the process that you should be aware of before you begin. So, whilst the purpose of the interview is for you to determine if your candidate is right for the vacancy, there are laws to protect the interviewee from being asked illegal questions that could possibly lead to discrimination.
Whether you are seeking to clarify a person’s work history, skills or ability to perform specific job requirements, your questions need to be pertinent and revealing; however, the line between legal and illegal interview questions can be slim:

  • Eligibility to work in UK – You may wish to know if someone is eligible to work in the UK but not where the person’s parents were born. This would be deemed unnecessary and potentially racist.
  • Age inquiry – may be made to ensure a person is old enough to work for the job being filled, or if the job is among the few where age discrimination is permitted such as physically dangerous or hazardous work or driving a school bus.
  • Marital/ Family Status – Asking about marital status can also be considered discriminatory as it may imply that the single or divorced person is somehow less reliable or less committed. An easy alternative to ask is if there anything that would interfere with regular attendance at work.
  • Personal details – Minimum height and weight requirements are unlawful if they screen out a disproportionate number of women or minorities. Unless the employer can show that a height or weight requirement is essential for job performance, such inquiries should be avoided. Your questions need to be phrased so that they relate directly to the job in hand, not against the person in question.
  • Disabilities – A large part of discrimination falls under disabilities. Questions about a person’s disability or health are unlawful if they imply or express a limitation based on disability. You may inquire about an applicant’s ability to perform certain job functions such as if they are able to carry out in a safe manner all job assignments.


Your preparation for the interview equips you with a number of questions that will help you get to know and evaluate candidates. But there’s plenty more to do before, during and after the interview to ensure your success.
To give you a great chance of hiring the right people, follow this process:


  • Give candidate’s time – Once you have reviewed CVs and made your selection, give your chosen candidates a couple of days notice so they can make the necessary arrangements to get to the interview.
  • Explain the interview structure – If there are going to be expected to take tests or bring in examples of their work, don;t forget to tell them so they can come fully prepared.
  • Explain the process – Even before they meet you, let them know about how long it will take to make the hiring decision and how many stages to the interview there are.


  • Put candidates at ease – Interviewing can be stressful, so do your best to help candidates relax. Make sure each candidate is greeted and escorted, if necessary, to the interview location. Start with low-key questions.
  • Don’t judge on first impressions – We’ve all met them, people who don’t make a great first impression but end up being great employees. To make sure you don’t overlook these diamonds in the rough, withhold judgment until you’ve had the chance to thoroughly evaluate a candidate’s capabilities and potential.
  • Tell the candidate a little about the job – While you don’t want to dominate the interview time, you should start with a brief summary of the position, including the prime responsibilities, reporting structure, key challenges, and performance criteria. This will help the candidate provide relevant examples and responses.
  • Don’t be afraid to improvise – Plan your questions, but don’t feel you must ask only those you’ve chosen in advance. Be responsive to what the candidate tells you, and build new questions off their answers.
  • Listen – If you are doing most of the talking during an interview, you will not be able to obtain enough information to distinguish between candidates or to determine a candidate’s true competencies. A general guideline is to spend 80% of your time listening and only 20% talking.
  • Take notes – While you won’t want to transcribe everything the candidate says, do write down important points, key accomplishments, good examples, and other information that will help you remember and fairly evaluate each candidate. An interview guide, prepared in advance, will make note-taking easier and give you a structure for capturing key information.
  • Invite candidates to ask questions – This can be the most valuable part of the interview. Why do they want to be here? Is it the challenge of the job, advances in the industry, or something specific about your company? Or is the candidate fixated on salary, benefits, and time off? If the candidate has no questions this should be a red flag, especially for senior-level employees. Make a note of what the candidate asks, and be sure to follow up if you can’t provide the answer immediately.
  • Follow legal interviewing guidelines – It is critically important that every interviewer at your company understands and follow legal hiring guidelines. The easiest way to keep your interviews fully compliant is to ask only questions that relate to the job, eliminating the potential for bias by not introducing questions or scenarios that will elicit irrelevant information.


  • Let candidates know – A pet peeve of many job seekers is that they are left hanging after an interview, or they are promised follow-up that never comes. If the candidate is a good fit, be clear about what the next steps will be. And if the candidate is not a good fit, make the call as soon as possible out of courtesy.
  • Compare notes and reach consensus – The post-interview evaluation is the time to compare notes and advance the hiring decision. Each interviewer should be prepared to back up remarks and recommendations with specific examples and notes from the interview.
  • Deepen the questions as you narrow the field – Subsequent interviews with finalists are valuable opportunities to learn more about them. Consider recreating a real business challenge the individual would be facing.

The job market is always competitive when looking for good people. Companies need to realise that they’re selling themselves as much as candidates are. It’s important to treat people well during the interview process.

Your interview process reflects the value your company places on each candidate and, by extension, each employee. Be a good ambassador for your company by conducting a professional interview, communicating honestly, and basing hiring decisions on an honest evaluation of each candidate’s capabilities. Not only will you make great hires, but you’ll build goodwill and enhance your future recruiting efforts.


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 at 6:18 am and is filed under Client/Candidate Guidance. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.