Three types of questions to identify excellent candidates

  • 31-08-20
  • Louise Kelly

It’s time to hire your next accounting employee. You have your shortlist and your preferred candidates are booked into the diary. It’s all going ahead! But now comes the hard part – what exactly do you ask them? And how do you know what a good answer sounds like?!

That’s where I am here to help. Having heard a wonderful array of amazing and equally not so amazing answers over my 10 years in recruitment, I have sat through these interviews so you don‘t have to. To ensure you get the best out of the interviews and interviewees, here are my top tips on the best questions to ask to make the most of your time with each candidate and not leave the meeting wondering.


First of all, you probably know that there are 3 main types of interview questions: Competency-based, Situational, and General. Broadly speaking, these are defined as:


These draw on candidates’ prior experiences and help to predict how they may operate in the future. They are open questions (What, Where, When, How, Who and Why), designed to encourage the job seeker to talk. They can be split into two categories:

  • Skills Based / Technical: These are directly related to experience with tasks, systems and/or industry standards, to name a few. They can help you see the difference between theoretical and practical knowledge.
  • Behavioural: These questions help to reveal the candidate’s softer skills and show their aptitude and approach to a task based on their previous experience. These can show their attitude, motivation, trustworthiness, work ethic etc.


This is the chance to ask the candidate questions about specific scenarios that could arise in your workplace. These are a great way to get a view on the candidate’s instincts, confidence, and decision-making abilities.


These are more generic personalised questions.


Now you know what the defines the different types of questions, I am sure you are thinking some examples would be helpful! Well, I am here to be as useful as possible so take a look down this list!


  • Skills-based / Technical questions:
    • I see that you implemented SAP in your last role. Tell me how you went about doing this?
    • 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?

  • Behavioural questions:
    • Can you describe when you had several competing deadlines? What did you do to meet those demands?
    • Provide an example of a 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 fall-out?

You can find further behavioural questions in our Hiring Manager Toolkit on our website. To access this and other information on the hiring process, click here.

Situational questions:

  • What would you do if you made a strong recommendation in a meeting, but your colleagues or Manager decided against it?
  • 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 working with a colleague that you found to be confrontational?

General questions:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to leave your current role/company?
  • What is your greatest achievement and why?
  • Describe your management style or your preferred way of being managed.


So now we know what to ask, but does that mean we know what a good answer will look like? Thankfully, that’s a lot easier. A good answer will be coherent, clear and use limited jargon.

For competency-based interview questions, you are focused on the candidate’s prior experience with extra points if they answer using the STAR technique. This technique can also be used for situational questions. For anyone unfamiliar, here is an outline of what this acronym stands for:

S – Situation. What was the situation the candidate was in?

T – Task. What was the task that the candidate had to complete?

A – Action. What was the action the candidate took?

R – Result. What was the result?

For situational questions, these can be answered with a modified version of the STAR technique. You have already supplied them with the situation so you would be looking for the candidates to describe the task as they see it, the action they would take and the result they hope would be the outcome.


Finally, for your “free set of steak knives” as an interviewer extraordinaire, you want to ask questions to assess your candidates’ learning agility. If you haven’t heard this term before, learning agility is “knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do” (learn more from this blog). In other words, learning from experience and then applying that learning to perform better in new situations. It is, without a doubt, the best marker of a high performer. In fact, I now ask all my candidates learning agility focused questions when I meet them to help me identify top talent. These are questions I have used and found helpful:

  • In your most recent role, what has been the most difficult task you have had to learn? Why?
  • What was the developmental feedback you received in your last review? What did you do with that feedback?
  • Tell me about a time you had to admit a mistake at work? What was the mistake, who did you speak to, and what did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about a time you had to develop an unconventional solution to a problem. How did you develop your solution? What challenges did you face and how did you address them?

Armed with these questions and your understanding of what a good answer sounds like, you will be able to distinguish your top tier candidates from your interviewees. You can use the above approach to add high performers to your team who will add to the business, encouraging growth, development and an improved culture. After putting these into practice, you’ll have HR asking you for advice!

Our Richard Lloyd Recruitment consultants are available to assist you with your interviewing challenges. Get in touch with us by phone or email and don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn.