The Talent Scout Episode 35: Powerful Interview Questions
5 minutes | Posted 27 October, 2020

Interviews are often the first thing that comes to mind when people think of recruitment. In my opinion, there is probably slightly too much focus placed on interviews but that really is a topic for another day because, love them or hate them, interviews are a fundamental part of how we currently recruit. Today we’re going to delve into what makes for a good interview and discuss some powerful interview questions for finding the best talent among your talent pool.

Are you using terrible interview questions?

Before we get into the topic proper and discuss good interview techniques I’d like to address the elephant in the room. That elephant takes the form of terrible questions. For those of you who think questions like “What sort of tree would you be if you were a tree?” or “If you were a superhero what powers would you have?” make for a good interview, please, just stop. You’re not getting useful information from those questions, you’re not reflecting your culture well, and you’re most likely making your candidates uncomfortable. No one likes telling an employer what sort of song they would be if they were a song while trying to showcase what makes them an excellent hire so that they have enough money to pay their rent and mortgage. It’s showing compassion and respect to not throw candidates curveballs or “fun” questions, and I am of course referring to fun sarcastically.

A good interview experience

If you’re not asking those cringe-worthy questions then you’re probably already giving your candidates a good interview experience. The next step is just to adjust slightly so that you maximize the information that can be gained from those interviews. Asking the right questions within an interview will set you up for a structured process where your candidates can’t just resort to practiced answers but can still comfortably give you the relevant information you need to make an informed hiring decision.

To start the conversation around useful interview questions I want to talk about behavioural interview questions. For those who may not know, behavioural interview questions are designed to help identify basic competencies that are needed in the workplace. These questions and subsequent competencies can vary based on your respective workplace. Rather than defaulting to generic questions that fail to uncover much about a candidate’s abilities, the most successful interviews include questions that focus on behaviours.

As a very simple example you could ask a sales candidate, how would you approach a client that our organization had lost in the past and that we’re trying to win back. A question like this will illuminate quite a lot about a candidate from behaviour to skillset and experience.

Behavioural questions for face to face interviews

In most organizations, by the time you’re ready for face to face interviews, you’ll likely have put your candidates through some sort of screening process be that screening questions, phone screening, or timed video answers. This should give you a wealth of information about your candidates and that will allow you to have formed a strong shortlist of potential candidates.

When interviewing this shortlist face to face for the first time, while still asking questions that relate to adaptability and the organization, it’s important to introduce behavioural questions that focus on communication, problem-solving, and leadership qualities.

  • Communication is a skill that is non-negotiable in most roles. In order to identify strong communication skills you will need to ask questions that evaluate this ability. Understanding how a candidate responds to being misunderstood or being given limited information from managers is a great way to uncover these skills.
  • Looking at problem solving, I think we all know that it can be difficult to work with people who struggle to problem solve independently. Asking a candidate what they would do if given a task they were unsure how to complete will help separate those who are natural problem solvers and those who struggle with unknowns.
  • Then finally, Leadership. While it may seem unnecessary to ask questions related to leadership when you’re not hiring a leader, the ideal candidate, no matter their role or level, should be able to display leadership skills. No matter how great or small a role may be, every position does require some form of leadership. Asking people to explain their leadership style is a great way to get them talking about their strengths in this area.

Asking more of these behavioural questions will make your initial interviews much more powerful, allowing you to rest assured that all who progress to the final interview could confidently carry out the role you are hiring for effectively. If this is in question for any of your shortlisted candidates then they shouldn’t be in your shortlist. Depending on the role, your final interview is an option to test candidates on any behaviours that are particularly crucial to the role you’re hiring for.

Some good areas to address if you’re unsure what behaviours may be important are Adaptability, Communication, Project or Strategic Management, Organization or Time Management, Problem Solving, and Team Leadership. There are a whole long list of potential questions to ask for these behaviours ranging from “Give me an example of a time you have to say ‘no’ to a request” right up to “Describe the most difficult client problem you’ve faced and how you resolved it to keep the client happy.” I don’t think listing off questions is helpful so instead, I’ll say that when it comes to developing your questions do some prep work. Be clear on what you’re going to ask, know why you’re asking it, and make sure it’s a question that allows your candidates to give examples rather than a leading question or a question phrased in a manner that can be responded to with either a simple yes or no.

Summary questions

Once you’ve gained most of the information you’re looking for the following are some great questions for summarizing an interview from a candidate’s perspective as well as giving you insight into the candidates long-term career plans and how the role you are offering aligns with this. These questions are:

  1. How would you describe your ideal workplace culture?
  2. Tell me about your greatest professional achievement and the challenges you faced in achieving it?
  3. How do you define success within a working environment? What would success in this role look like to you?

I have listed some questions as examples but personally, I don’t think me giving you questions to ask a candidate is the best way to develop the right interview questions for your organization. That said if you are particularly lost we do have a resource section on our website. If you select our guide that is found there called “Powerful Interview Questions” which today’s episode was based upon you’ll find a cheat sheet of interview questions that are tried and tested by our recruitment specialists. Alternatively, feel free to get in touch and talk to one of our recruitment specialists who can help guide you towards best practice when it comes to the interview process.

If you’d like to see how Scout Talent can help you to achieve the recruitment success that you want, please feel free to reach out to us via email at or by phone at 1 866 474 3140