In the second of this series of articles Recruitment Tips: Planning the recruitment interview part one we looked at the importance of being crystal clear about the information we want the candidate to provide for us. In this article we’re going to move forward and focus on identifying the types of questions that will a) most effectively help the candidate to provide the information we need and, most importantly, b) help us to test their responses for accuracy.

Let’s begin by looking at the types of questions that work well in recruitment interviews

Recruitment Tip 1: Select the questions that work

There are several types of questions that always work well. Here are the six ‘classics’


To gain as much information as possible they usually involve the key words; what, why, when, where, who, how?

Examples: (think TED!)

 ‘Tell me about…’

‘Explain to me…’

Describe to me…


To discourage vague answers and to gain the behavioural evidence of past performance, testing for accuracy any claims the candidate makes about their skills and attributes


‘You said you were a skilled team player. Explain to me how you have demonstrated those skills in a team’

‘You said you are experienced in resolving client complaints. Can you give me an example of resolving a particularly complex complaint?’


To gain a more balanced view.


‘You said you’re generally well organised.  Can you give me an example when you weren’t?’


To obtain specific, measurable answers


‘What proportion of your time do you currently spend on…?’

‘How long have you been working with the ABC system?’


To explore attitudes; often easier to answer than direct questions about likes/dislikes


‘How did working in X team compare with working in Y…?’


To gain what may be important additional information


‘Is there anything we’ve not covered that you’d like to add?’

Recruitment Tip 2: Avoid those questions that just don’t work

I’ve trained and coached many managers and business leaders involved in recruitment and I’ve often heard them use questions that either confuse the candidate, annoy them or simply fail to get the information needed. Here are three commonly asked questions I’d suggest you try to avoid


Typical examples would be ‘Are you good at…?’ or ‘Do you have the required experience in …?’

It might sound obvious that we should avoid these questions as they imply the correct answer – the responses are usually what the other person thinks you want to hear – but I’ve heard these asked many times. They don’t add value so why use them?


An example might be ‘How long did you work at ABC Ltd; what jobs did you have there; what were your main achievements and why did you leave…?’

It’s easy to see the problem here – the candidate doesn’t know which question to answer and will probably miss answering at least one part (what’s interesting is that the recruiter often fails to notice the missing question too!)

Should be avoided, unless you want to see if a person can cope with complex questions! 


These are often used as follow up questions to an answer the candidate has already given. An example might be ‘Surely you would agree that the client has to be our main priority?’

Similar to a leading question, they simply invite the candidate to agree with the recruiter. It’s a rare/brave/foolish though potentially honest candidate who would reply ‘No I don’t agree, I think bottom line profit is our main priority’!

And a question I would suggest you use with extreme caution:


A typical example of a hypothetical question begins with ‘What would you do if…?’ followed by an imagined scenario eg ‘What would you do if all of your team disagreed with you about a new product you wanted to launch?’

I know hypothetical questions are much loved by recruiters partly because they focus on the future (what a candidate would do) rather than the past (what a candidate did do). My caution is that in my experience the quality of the answer is directly influenced by the quality of the question and I’ve heard a fair few hypothetical questions that simply have made no sense at all to the candidate e.g. ‘if you were a brick in wall, which brick would you be?’ and no, I didn’t make that up.

My advice would be if you are confident that you can come up with a hypothetical question that would make sense to the candidate AND will give you the information you cannot get by using any other type of question then go ahead. If you have any doubts, leave them out.


I think most recruiters would agree that one of the key recruitment skills is identifying the most effective questions to use in interviewing; those questions that give the candidate the best chance of demonstrating their fit for the job. In the next article we will look at how to use a framework for using questions to interview the candidate on their past performance

If you need guidance on any of the points mentioned in this article contact Jonathan for a chat.

Author Joan Henshaw

Joan is a management development trainer, author and presenter of the video management training series ‘The 10 Minute Management Toolkit’. She has spent the last 25 years helping business owners, leaders and managers improve their effectiveness, including building their skills as recruiters.