Good Interview Questions for Employers to Determine Candidates' Skills and Motivations

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Learn how to create a list of good interview questions to gauge a job applicant’s qualifications, workplace skills, and education before interviews are set up.

[Featured image] A hiring manager conducts a video interview with a potential employee.

During an interview, you want to learn as much as you can about a job applicant. You'll inquire about a person’s experience, skills, and education and assess a candidate’s fit within your corporate culture. To do so, you need to ask the right interview questions.

Most in-person job interviews are between 45 minutes to an hour and a half, so you need a well-planned list of good interview questions to identify a candidate’s skills and motivations [1].  

Preparing interview questions

Before setting up interviews, you’ll need a list of interview questions and the order you plan to ask them. Be sure to identify an interview scorecard that you’ll use to rank responses during each interview.  

Introduction

During the interview, introduce yourself and explain how the interview will work. Review the job description, discuss the criteria for the position, and go over the company culture and mission. The applicant will have a turn to ask questions at the end too. The process might conclude with an office tour, introductions to executives, or a casual lunch. 

Job description 

During an interview, you'll review the job description to ensure the candidate is aware of the position’s duties and responsibilities. The job description forms the foundation of suitable interview questions, so it’s helpful for both parties to review it.

Essential criteria

During your meeting, you should list the criteria for the job. You might reference the applicant’s resume, noting qualifications that meet the necessary skills and responsibilities and ask the candidate to expand on those qualifications. 

Company culture and mission

Provide a brief overview of the company, its mission, purpose, and corporate culture. Skills and education are important, but you want a candidate whose personality fits within the organization too. 

Read more: 10 Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Questions to discover candidate motivation

As an employer, you should know what motivates the candidate. It’s best to understand what drew the candidate to this job, why they are a good fit for the role, and what kind of work ethic they’ll bring to the company. To assess motivation, try these questions: 

Tell me a bit about yourself and why you applied for this job.

This is a common first question that gives you a brief overview of the candidate’s background and skills. It gives interviewees a chance to highlight the qualities they believe are the most important, which should coincide with the job description.  

Tell me about your current or previous position.

You can judge applicants' experience and passion for the job as they review their previous position. The responsibilities they mention should overlap with the job they’re applying for so you can assess their experience level. The applicant should provide a broad overview of duties and key achievements, framed as a positive experience.  

What are your greatest achievements?

This question requires applicants to audit their career and provide their biggest achievements. Ideally, candidates provide a specific achievement; one with statistics is even better. For instance, a candidate might say their biggest achievement is lifting blog traffic by 150% in the last six months. If they do not add specifics, ask for them. 

What do you consider to be your weakness?

This is a good interview question because it tests a candidate’s ability to learn and grow. Applicants might discuss a workplace skill they struggle with or have worked to improve.

Questions that show essential criteria

Good interview questions require a candidate to discuss the essential criteria needed to take on a new role. It’s a good idea to ask these questions at the beginning of the interview to ensure the candidate qualifies for the position. If you notice gaps in the candidate’s knowledge, you can end the interview sooner. 

In what knowledge areas are you strongest? 

This question immediately reviews a candidate’s strongest skill. The ideal candidate will mention skills listed in the job description and support it with an example from a previous job. 

How did you acquire your skills and knowledge?

Candidates must review their most recent job experience or education to respond to this question properly. It’s a good way to check the validity of the candidate’s qualifications listed on their resume too. 

What’s your strongest workplace skill?

Your job opening likely needs a candidate with solid workplace skills, like communication and collaboration. Asking this question requires the candidate to exemplify their best skill, which should show that they are adaptable and willing to work in a team environment.

Questions to identify key skills

Workplace skills are often just as important as experience and education. It’s these skills that contribute to a productive, positive workplace. As a result, you should ask questions that reveal a candidate’s workplace skills. Here’s a look at questions you should ask to assess that skill.  

Teamwork 

Tell me about a time when you worked well as part of a team.

This question typically leads to a specific example of consistent teamwork that had a positive result. The candidate’s answer may help you gauge their willingness to collaborate with others. 

Communication 

How would you go about explaining a complex issue to a colleague?

This question helps to evaluate the candidate’s communication style. By asking them how they explain something complex, the candidate has to think about the steps necessary to break down an idea and communicate it understandably.  

Leadership

Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership skills. 

The answer to this question should be a specific situation. Look for the candidate to talk about delegating responsibility, leading by example, or empowering coworkers to do their best.

Problem-solving

Describe a time you identified and solved a problem before it became urgent.

You could tailor this question to a specific situation within your organization. When answered, the response should identify a problem and a solution, but ideally, the solution was innovative or out-of-the-norm. Addressing an issue without involving upper management is also a positive sign. 

Achieve deadlines

How do you work under the pressure of tight deadlines?

Candidates should show their ability to work effectively under pressure. To answer this question, a potential employee should discuss a high-pressure event where they could meet or exceed expectations. 

How to evaluate answers

During interviews, you can rank a candidate's responses during the Q&A session with an interview scorecard. The scorecard helps you achieve clear grading parameters and ensures that each candidate is fairly graded. You can download an interview evaluation template online and customize it to suit your company's needs. 

If you don’t want to use a scorecard, you can evaluate an applicant’s responses by:

Consider education and skills.

In conjunction with a candidate’s resume, you’ll discuss skills and education during the interview. Make sure these qualifications meet or exceed what’s needed for the job. 

Review previous experience.

A candidate whose previous work experience aligns with the duties of your job opening will likely be able to jump right into the position without a lot of training. Immediate productivity is good for your company. 

Listen to each response.

As you work through each question, listen to each response and take notes. If any particular skills stand out, for example, write them down. If you have any concerns, jot those down too. 

Get started

Interview preparation may help you feel prepared to find the right candidate for the job. While you take time to generate interview questions, you could also take a class to elevate your hiring skills. Consider the courses on Coursera like Recruiting, Hiring, and Onboarding Employees offered by the University of Minnesota or Hiring Practices offered by the University of California Irvine.

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Article sources

  1. Indeed. “Q&A: How Long Do Interviews Last?, https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/interviewing/how-long-do-interviews-last.” Accessed January 11, 2023.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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