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Hiring 101

Ask Me Anything: The Best Interview Questions for Any Search

“Employers have to become flexible with their questions,” Cynthia McCutcheon, Managing Partner for Summit’s Halifax office, says to open up our conversation about the best interview questions. “Sometimes you have to go off script. It depends on the responses of the candidate. A good interviewer will read cues from the candidate and follow their gut. You can still address all the core questions but you will gain insights into the person if you follow their lead.”

Of course, to go off script, you need to have a script you’re starting from. Choosing the right interview questions in advance will set up the candidate to provide those cues. Here are more questions the Summit team recommends to bring out these impactful insights during an interview.

Starting an interview

“An interview should really be an exchange between two people,” Cynthia McCutcheon says. “Top interviewers get to know the person behind the resume. Starting with a question that helps uncover something interesting about the person is the best way to start an interview.”

What kinds of questions help reveal this person behind the resume? Oakville Recruitment Director Aman Sodi suggests starting by asking for the candidate’s story. As she says, “I start with education, why they went to school for what they did, and how that has brought them to where they are today.”

Candidates may not be expecting this question and that’s part of why it can result in deeper insights about the person you’re interviewing: they likely haven’t prepared an answer for it so you’ll hear their off-the-cuff response, not something they’ve rehearsed. “Candidates open up and it lays a good foundation for an open conversation,” Aman explains, and while people may initially be thrown off guard by the question, “they agree it’s a good question to open up the stage.”

Managing Partner Matt Erhard suggests a similarly open-ended question that gives the candidate space to introduce themselves and give an overview of their background. As he notes, “The best kick-off interview question is one that sets a positive tone for the interview and allows the candidate to showcase their skills and qualifications. It also gives the interviewer a chance to assess the candidate’s communication skills, confidence, and overall fit for the position.”

Questions for remote roles

Remote workers usually need the same technical skills as their in-office counterparts but they also need a specific set of soft skills to be successful in that type of role, things like self-motivation, time management, and problem solving.

Asking questions that focus on the remote work environment can help you gauge how well they’ll do in this type of position. Jessica Alcock, Recruitment Manager in Toronto, says, “If it’s a remote role, I suggest asking candidates about how they stay organized and motivated.” These kinds of questions can give you a sense of how well they’ll adapt to a remote environment, even if they haven’t worked in that type of role before.

Cynthia McCutcheon suggests, “For remote positions, an employer should ask about how the candidate adapted to working remotely during the pandemic. What did they like? What did they find challenging? How did they set up their remote office? These types of questions will give the interviewer a gauge as to whether or not this person will be, or has been, successful in a remote role.”

Pre-interview versus interview

While the interview is your chance to dig deeper into the candidate’s skills and experiences, a pre-screening interview is an ideal time to knock out the practical questions that need to be asked but don’t often yield many of these insights.

Jessica Alcock says, “In the pre-interview, I always make sure to cover the housekeeping questions: does the location work, if it’s hybrid, how many days they’re open to in the office, and so on. I also get a sense of the target salary range to make sure we are aligned.”

Getting these out of the way during the initial screening lets you focus future interview time on more open-ended questions where the candidate can truly show their personality and skills. One question Aman Sodi asks during interviews to get a full picture of the candidate: “Why are you here today? Why do you believe you’re well suited to this role, and what gaps do you foresee?”

This combines the standard strengths and weaknesses questions that are often asked in interviews, rephrasing them in a way that can give you more valuable answers. Matt Erhard also recommends asking interviewers why they applied for your role.

“A question like ‘What interests you about this position and our company?’ allows the candidate to demonstrate their knowledge of the company and their passion for the role,” Matt notes. “It also gives the interviewer insight into the candidate’s motivation for applying and their understanding of the job responsibilities and requirements.”

It can be equally valuable to find out why the candidate is leaving their previous employer and how they felt about their experience in past roles. One way Cynthia McCutcheon gets this information: “I like to do a reverse reference check. In other words, if your previous manager were to offer you a position today, would you want to work with that person again? Why or why not?”

The candidate’s answers can give you valuable information about the management style and work environment they prefer, and that’s very useful in identifying whether they’d fit well on your team.

Questions for candidates to ask

One point that all of Summit’s recruitment experts agree on is that a successful interview should be a conversation, with questions and answers going in both directions. Candidates should remember that a job interview isn’t just their chance to sell themselves for the position, but also to make sure it’s a role they will truly thrive in.

Toward that end, Ottawa Recruitment Consultant Melissa Krakana suggests, “One of the best questions a candidate can ask a client is, ‘What are some of the challenges I might face in this position in my first year?’ This can give you great insight into what you would be dealing with on the job, and can also help the hiring team visualize you in this role.”

Jessica Alcock also suggests asking about the role’s challenges, as well as for more information about the company culture. One question she suggests candidates ask is, “What is your favorite part about working here?” This gives candidates a first-hand perspective on the company’s culture and work environment that you can’t usually get from your pre-interview research.

Calgary Recruitment Consultant Mariah Beahen suggests a variant on this question. As she says, “One of the best questions for a candidate to ask an employer is ‘What’s different about working here than anywhere else you’ve worked?’” The interviewer’s answer can help candidates identify the unique aspects of the company that could make it a good or poor fit for their skills, personality, or goals.

Some other questions our recruiting experts suggest that candidates ask include:

  • What would success look like in this role 30 days in? What about 90 days in? In 6 months?
  • What does tenure and turnover look like in your organization? Why do employees tend to stay in your organization for the long-term?
  • What metrics or goals will my performance be evaluated against?
  • What types of skills is the team missing that you’re looking to fill with a new hire?
  • Why is this role open?
  • How has the company changed since you joined?
  • What are the current goals the company is focused on and how does this team work to support reaching those goals?
  • What gets you excited about the company’s future?
  • How does the team I’ll be a part of continue to grow professionally?
  • Where have successful employees moved on to?
  • Is there anything I can clarify for you about my qualifications?

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Ask Me Anything: The Best Interview Questions for Any Search

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