As a manager, your highest impact and most challenging job is hiring the right people. Interviews are often the best tool we have for getting to know candidates and determining their fit. Most managers, though, waste time and company resources on interviews that don’t help them gain unique insight on the candidate. They ask the same, common questions without a goal for what they’re hoping to ascertain from asking them. In fact, hiring can cost a team three to four times the position's salary in costs like interview time; productivity drains are a hidden cost.

In this blog, we’ll dive into the best questions you can ask candidates and, most importantly, what you should be looking for in their responses. Choosing your questions thoughtfully will pay dividends, helping you find great teammates and improving your ability to sell them on the role.

If you’ve ever hired the wrong person, spent far too long hiring the right person, or missed out on a strong candidate in the interview process, this is for you.

✂️ Common Questions & Why You Should Toss Them

1. Tell Me About Yourself.

Candidates usually provide rehearsed, generic responses, offering little insight into their suitability for the specific role. It doesn't gauge their critical thinking or problem-solving abilities.

2. What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses?

Candidates often provide cliche answers, downplaying weaknesses or presenting strengths unrelated to the job. It doesn't reveal genuine areas for improvement or how they address challenges.

3. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Responses may be overly ambitious or tailored to what the candidate thinks the interviewer wants to hear. It doesn't necessarily reflect their potential contributions to the immediate role.

4. Describe a Challenge You Overcame.

It’s too vague and leaves room for candidates to select situations where the challenge is downplayed or resolved without highlighting personal growth. It doesn't necessarily showcase their ability to handle diverse challenges.

5. What's Your Leadership Style?

Open-ended questions like this don’t force candidates to provide examples. They may choose generic adjectives that they assume align with strong leadership.

6. Tell Me About a Time You Failed.

Candidates may choose a minor failure or present it in a way that downplays personal responsibility. It doesn't necessarily reveal the depth of their introspection and capacity for growth.

🎯 Killer Questions & Why You Should Ask Them

1. To what do you attribute your success?

What You’ll Learn: Candidates' responses to this question offer insights into their self-awareness and curiosity.

What to Look For: Candidates who display genuine self-awareness, taking responsibility for their successes while expressing humility and demonstrating curiosity in personal and professional growth.

2. What's the hardest thing you've ever done?

What You’ll Learn: This question aims to uncover a candidate's perception of difficulty and their ability to overcome challenges.

What to Look For: Seek candidates who share challenges with openness, demonstrating resilience and a capacity for introspection. Look for individuals who take responsibility for their role in overcoming difficulties. Find candidates who perceive difficulty in a way that corresponds to the difficulty of the role you’re hiring for.

3. Describe a time when you were part of a controversial decision.

What You’ll Learn: This question delves into a candidate's capacity to handle conflict and consider different perspectives. It will also highlight how they make decisions and how they evaluate the relative success of those decisions in retrospect. You’ll also learn how they work cross-functionally.

What to Look For: Seek candidates who make decisions and handle conflict in a way that works with your team’s needs and culture. Look for individuals who can navigate controversy while maintaining a focus on the overall success of the project.

4. Tell me about a time when you've been in an ambiguous situation.

What You’ll Learn: This question evaluates how candidates handle ambiguity and seek input in challenging situations.

What to Look For: Seek candidates who demonstrate adaptability and a structured approach to navigating ambiguity. Look for individuals who actively seek input and collaborate in challenging situations.

5. What unfair secrets have you learned to improve your team’s output?

What You’ll Learn: By exploring unconventional insights, this question tests the candidate's creativity, authenticity, and willingness to challenge established norms.

What to Look For: Look for candidates who bring creative and unconventional insights to the table, showcasing a willingness to challenge norms and improve team dynamics.

6. What's something that everyone takes for granted that you don’t agree with?

What You’ll Learn: This question encourages opinionated responses and tests authenticity.

What to Look For: Look for candidates who express thoughtful opinions and demonstrate critical thinking. Seek individuals who challenge assumptions with well-reasoned perspectives, showcasing authenticity in their beliefs.

7. Tell me something you did that worked out, but not for the reason that you thought it would work.

What You’ll Learn: This question aims to tease out introspection and evaluate if the candidate reflects on their decisions.

What to Look For: Look for candidates who reflect on the unexpected success of their actions, showcasing introspection and a capacity to learn from diverse experiences. Seek individuals who can adapt their strategies based on outcomes and leverage unforeseen success for continuous improvement.

8. [to ask during a reference check] What feedback will I be giving this person in their first performance review?

What You’ll Learn: This question provides an indirect but insightful approach to assess the candidate's past performance. It leaves little space to elude the question.

9. Tell me about a time you changed your mind.

What You’ll Learn: This question assesses a candidate's adaptability and openness to new ideas. It also reflects on their ability to process information that conflicts with past beliefs and their ability to update their prior decisions.

What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate a willingness to change their stance based on evidence and new insights. Assess their ability to think critically and make informed decisions.

10. Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult trade-off.

What You’ll Learn: Exploring a candidate's experience with difficult decision-making, this question aims to reveal their prioritization skills and ability to manage competing interests.

What to Look For: Seek candidates who can articulate the context of the trade-off, the criteria they used for decision-making, and the outcomes of their choices. Assess their ability to leverage data in decision-making.

11. Tell me about a time when you had to do something outside of your job description.

What You’ll Learn: This question assesses a candidate's flexibility, initiative, and willingness to go beyond their defined role.

What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate initiative and a positive attitude toward taking on responsibilities outside their job description. Assess their ability to contribute value beyond their assigned tasks and collaborate effectively with colleagues.

12. How do you break down large product goals into actionable steps.

What You’ll Learn: This question aims to assess a candidate's strategic thinking and project management skills. Responses can indicate their ability to plan, organize, and execute tasks effectively to achieve larger objectives.

What to Look For: Seek candidates who demonstrate a structured approach to breaking down complex goals into manageable steps. Assess their ability to prioritize tasks, set realistic milestones, and align actions with broader product objectives. Look for clarity in communication about their strategic thinking and project management processes.

That’s a Wrap

Hiring pitfalls can have long-lasting negative implications on your team’s success. Choosing the wrong interview questions could lead you to waste months filling a role – or worse, hire the wrong person and spend months to years filling and re-filling the role. Investing time into crafting thoughtful interview questions can save you the headache. Plus, your interview quality will reflect on your team and company, helping you attract the strongest candidates. Remember, you should tailor your interview questions based on your candidate profile and to your team culture.

💡 Pro tip: For a smoother interview, you can ask the candidate to set up a profile on Candor and answer specific prompts you chose beforehand. It's a cool, personal way to really get to know them!

A print of the Candor platform showing a variety of Take cards users can choose from
After inviting candidates to create their profile on Candor, they can select prompts to showcase their unique style, strengths and weaknesses.