The best (and worst) questions to ask candidates in an interview

Asking difficult or misleading interview questions can have a hugely negative impact on a candidate’s perception of your business, and...

Andy Bristow
Andy Bristow
5 min read Reading Time
26 March 2019 Date Created

Asking difficult or misleading interview questions can have a hugely negative impact on a candidate’s perception of your business, and whether you like it or not, can be a deal-breaker – regardless of whether or not they are the right person for the role.

It’s just as important for an interviewer to prepare for an interview as it is for a candidate, but unfortunately that preparation is often overlooked. It’s time to turn this on its head and give you – the interviewer – an idea of the questions not to ask in an interview, as well as the alternatives that will help you to get the most out of a candidate.

What not to ask

What is your current salary?

Where do you want to be in five years time?

Why do you want to leave your current employer?

There are many reasons for interviewers to need all of this information, but that doesn’t make these questions any less problematic. Asking them could force your candidate to start questioning your motives, and cause them to ask: are they asking because they want to offer me the job? Are they beginning to scope out how useful I will be to the business in the long-run? Should I be honest about how these questions make me feel, or could that have an impact on my chances?’

This kind of power imbalance can really put people on edge, and an interviewer should never put a candidate in an uncomfortable position. Salary, aspirations and reasons for leaving a previous role should have no bearing over whether or not someone is hired, and as outlined below, there are far better ways of getting the information you need.

What you should ask instead

What are your salary expectations?

The risk of employers subconsciously making an offer based upon a previous salary is worryingly high, and has also been attributed as a key reason for the gender pay differences we are still seeing to this day.

The only way this can change is by giving the candidate more control over selecting their ideal salary scope. A much broader question around a candidate’s expectations can give you a good indication of their ideal salary, and can make it feel like more of a collaborative effort, with both parties finding a comfortable middle ground. You will be surprised by how many people do their research around specific role salaries prior to their interview, and how honest they will be when asked. Factors such as industry averages and other job offers are all taken into consideration by a candidate, and may be factors you wish to consider when advertising a role or hiring in the future.

What are your medium to long-term career aspirations?

No one can truly know where they want to be in ‘X’ number of years, particularly when the job market and the average tenure of a role is constantly changing. Assigning a specific time to this sort of question almost feels like a deadline, and puts people on the spot unnecessarily.

Consider, would you ask a stranger this at a networking event, or would it seem totally out of the blue? Knowing exactly where someone wants to be against a specific number of years is essentially pointless for your business. However, asking a similar question without a specific time assigned to it is a good way of getting a candidate to open up about their aspirations. If you allow candidates to think more broadly about where they’d like to be in the medium to long-term, you give them the breathing space that then allows them to give you an honest answer in return – it’s a win-win.

What is it about this role and the company that interests you?

There are a multitude of reasons for someone looking to leave a role, without the assumption that it’s because they don’t like their employer or because their progression expectations are too high. More often than not, the people that apply feel the role you are offering is simply more suitable to them. Perhaps they are relocating, or were approached by a recruiter and couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Regardless of the reason, an interview should never act as an opportunity for you to be nosy, or for the candidate to ‘bash’ their previous employer.

The purpose of an interview is just as much to sell your business and opportunities as it is for the candidate to tell you why they think they are suited for a role with you. By bringing the conversation round to your organisation, the onus is on you both to pick up on factors that are going to be particularly attractive to the other. It allows you – the interviewer – in particular, to engage with the candidate about the opportunities that working with you presents, and ultimately leave them wanting to work with you.