Best questions to ask in an interview

  • 26-03-21
  • Richard Lloyd Recruitment

It’s a common misconception that candidates are the only ones in the hot seat during the interview process. They may be facing quite a bit of competition, but there is pressure on the interviewer as well.

If you don’t ask the right questions, then you run the risk of hiring the wrong person for the role. The wrong hiring decision could cost you dearly, which is why we pulled from our extensive experience interviewing thousands of candidates to help give you the upper hand in your next interview.

Here are our tips:

The best way to start an interview

There is often hidden tension during interviews, especially at the start. The candidate may be nervous and feel a little out of their element, and the interviewer can sometimes be making assumptions and micro-judgments.

Very few candidates show their best selves in such environments, which can make it difficult to find who is the best fit for the role. To make that challenge easier, it’s a good idea to do whatever you can to make the interviewee feel comfortable. Some common ways include:

  • Providing a glass of water or offering tea or coffee if you have the amenities available
  • Telling them a little bit about your journey with the company
  • Sharing details about your personal life, so they feel like they know you better
  • Giving them a brief tour of the office and sharing details about the various perks and amenities the company has to offer

All of the above will help to reduce people’s natural defensiveness when put under pressure and help the interview to run more smoothly. Another great way to kick-off the interview is with some icebreaker questions such as: 

  • What are your plans for the weekend / what did you get up to last weekend?
  • I noticed on your CV that you are a “insert hobby/interest” – how long have you been doing that for….

While it doesn’t have to be these questions exactly, you should choose light-hearted ones to settle the nerves. Again, the point is to get them to open up and feel at ease during the interview process. 

Another piece of advice we encourage is to explain the high-level format of the interview. For example: “Today I would like to find out more about you and your experience, provide insight into our company and culture, and tell you more about the job role. Then I’d be keen to hear if you have any questions. I would encourage you to be as open and frank as you possibly can”.

4 key types of interviews questions

Now that everyone knows each other a bit better and feels more relaxed, it’s time to dive into the reason why you are conducting the interview. Typically, there’s a brief overview of the resume to clarify some work history and actual experience, but sooner or later, you will need to ask the tougher questions:

General questions

General questions are self-explanatory. Their entire purpose is to determine what makes someone tick. Determining people’s interests, achievements, and ambitions can help shape your view of their character and aptitude. General questions provide the foundation on which the rest of your interview rests. 

Examples of general questions: 

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to leave your current role/company?
  • What is your greatest achievement, and why?

As you see, general questions are straightforward in nature, but not always simple to answer. The quality of the answer matters even in the simplest of situations.

Situational questions

As you may have expected, situational questions are hypothetical scenarios. They boil down to “what would you do if?” style questions that put the candidate’s critical thinking skills to the test. Situational questions give you a good understanding of the candidate’s experience, ability to think under pressure, and decision-making skills. 

Examples of situational questions: 

  • What would you do if an employee you managed wasn’t performing to the standard expected?
  • How would you handle a change in the desired output or scope of a project you were working on?
  • How would you manage to work with a colleague that you found to be confrontational?

Situational questions are essential for hiring managers who face a pool of talented candidates that are difficult to choose between. It separates the flashy resumes and highlights those who can think on their feet and have the most applicable experience.

Competency-based questions 

Competency-based questions draw heavily on the candidate’s prior experience and act as a strong predictor of their future behaviour. At their core, these are open-ended questions that aren’t simple yes or no questions. They cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how so candidates open up and provide more detailed responses.

Competency-based questions fall into two categories: behavioural and technical.

Behavioural questions

As their name suggests, behavioural questions are all about assessing your candidate's past behaviour (e.g. tenacity, collaboration, learning etc). Asking them about how they reacted to past situations — both personal and professional — will give you a better idea of whether or not they're qualified for the role. 

Examples of behavioural questions: 

  • Can you describe when you had several competing deadlines? What did you do to meet those demands?
  • Provide an example of a challenging goal that you set for yourself and how you went about achieving it.
  • Tell me about a time that you felt you had failed at work. What was the consequence, and how did you overcome any fallout?

Technical questions

Technical questions, on the other hand, aim to dig a little deeper into a candidate's ‘hard’ skills. The answers may differ between candidates due to behavioural differences, but these questions are always based on technical knowledge.  

Examples of technical questions: 

  • I see that you implemented SAP in your last role. Tell me how you went about doing it.
  • Tell me about a time you developed a dashboard that provided valuable insights.
  • Describe a time you improved a process using your technical accounting knowledge.

Interview questions to avoid

An equally important point to remember is which questions to avoid asking. While you should try to be as friendly as possible, you don't want to ask questions that could be deemed inappropriate or even illegal. 

Some common questions to avoid asking include: 

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children?
  • Is English your first language?
  • What’s your religious affiliation?

Ideally, you’d avoid any question that might present any sort of hiring bias, either conscious or unconscious. Most people aren’t aware of any bias they might have, so it’s best to avoid situations and questions that will reveal potentially sensitive information. In other words, does the question assist you in identifying whether the candidate can do the job? If not, the rule of thumb would be not to ask it.​

Ending on a high note

It’s essential to end all interviews with ample time for the candidate to ask their own questions. Generally, at least 5-10 minutes for an entry-level position, more if it’s a senior or executive-level position. Often, the calibre of questions the candidate asks can tell you just as much as the answers they provide to your questions.

For example, if the interviewee jumps straight to asking about holidays or whether they can wear jeans in the office on Fridays, this may indicate their priorities may not align with yours. On the other hand, if they ask questions about company initiatives, values, and direction, then chances are they’re thinking at a higher level.


The interview questions you ask matter more than you might think. However, they’re far from the only factor worth exploring if you’re looking for the best candidates in the market.  

Making those in the ‘hot seat’ feel comfortable during the interview process is equally important. Not only do you want to ensure you are seeing the best possible side of the candidate, but your brand’s reputation is on the line if the interview is nothing short of professional and respectful. In the end, the details matter across the board and the more you invest in your hiring and onboarding process, the greater return you’ll see in your company’s performance as a result of your increased staff tenure. 

If you're seeking top-quality talent to enhance your team, then contact the experts at Richard Lloyd to find out how we can help.