18 Great Job Interview Questions to Ask: How Smart Interviewers Structure Every Stage of the Hiring Process

Most job interviews involve an exchange of at least a few of the most common interview questions. Most job interviews include a few of the most frequently asked behavioral interview questions. Some job interviewers take a fairly unusual approach to the interview questions they ask.

If you’re looking for job interview questions to ask (or are looking for advice on how to answer interview questions), there are plenty of options.

That’s great, except when your hiring process involves multiple interview sessions. Unless you’re careful, a job candidate may end up answering some of the same questions multiple times.

Which means you and your team will learn a lot less about the candidate’s skills, qualifications, and experience than you hope. 

Here are some of the more common job interview questions broken down into stages: phone (initial) screen, interview with the “hiring manager” (as the business owner, that’s you), and interviews with team members.

Phone (Initial) Screen.

The goal of a phone screen is simple: Create a short list of candidates who will take part in the full interview process. 

Think of a phone screen as the “overall fit” stage.

Here are the types of questions to ask:

  • “What makes you interested in this job?”
  • “Why are you seeking to make a change?”
  • “If you could only pick one thing on your resume to describe in detail, what would it be?”
  • “What are a few things that are really important to you in your next job?”
  • “What did you like about your current/last job before you started?”

The last question is one of my favorites. Many interviewees will provide a generic answer like, “It was a great opportunity,” “It was a chance to learn about [the industry],” or “It was the next step in my career.”

Some, though, can describe the type of environment they thrive in, can describe the type of work that motivates and challenges them, and then actively seek it. They work hard because they enjoy the work, and the people they work with.

If you find someone like that, put them on your short list even if they don’t possess all the skills and experience you need. Expertise can always be taught.

Hiring Manager Interview.

Now it’s your turn to interview the candidates on the short list. Since they’ve already “passed” the initial screen, don’t focus on overall fit. And don’t spend a lot of time evaluating qualifications.

You should know what the candidate can do. Your goal is to find out how they do it.

Types of questions to ask:

  • “Describe your current job. What do you like about it? If you could, how would you change it?”
  • “Tell me about a time you knew you were right, but still had to follow directions or guidelines.”
  • “Tell me about the last time your workday ended before you were able to get everything done.” 
  • “Tell me about an important goal you achieved.”
  • “Tell me about a goal you didn’t achieve.”
  • “Tell me about a time you had to make a decision without all the data you needed.”

The last question is one of my favorites. Rarely does anyone have all the information they need to make a decision. If your company favors action over reflection, that will definitely be the case.

Every decision can’t be perfect. How a candidate chooses a course of action, and then adapts to success or failure, to challenges or opportunities, that’s what matters.

Keep in mind each question should spark follow-up questions: What the candidate did next, how things worked out, what he or she did differently the next time, etc.

While you can’t always rely on what candidates say they will do, you can learn a lot from things they have already done. The past is usually a reliable indicator of the future.

Interviews With Team Members

Like it or not, your employees understand your company’s culture better than you do. They know what makes their teams tick.

So make sure their questions focus on team dynamics, team fit, and cultural fit.

Types of questions they should ask:

  • “Describe the best team you’ve been a part of. What made it so successful?”
  • “What team accomplishment are you most proud of? What was your role in that team, both formal and informal?”
  • “Tell me about a time you needed to motivate a co-worker.”
  • “Tell me about the last time a customer (external or internal) got upset with you.”
  • “Tell me about a fairly serious mistake you’ve made, and what you did to correct it.” 
  • “Tell me about a time you were asked to do something you had never done before.”
  • “Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision a boss or team made.”

Again, the last question is one of my favorites. We all know people who hurry to hold the little meetings after the meeting: The ones where they raise issues they didn’t share earlier when the group made a decision. The ones where they disagree with, and undermine, the decisions that were made. 

Great employees follow what Jeff Bezos calls the “disagree and commit” rule: Committing to give their all, even if they disagree, once a decision is made.

Bringing It all Together.

Once each stage is complete, evaluate each candidate on the basis of your company’s organizational and cultural needs.

Few candidates can bluff their way through multiple interviews, especially when those interviews involve different–and different kinds–of questions. Even fewer can bluff their way through more than one or two follow-up questions.

Conducting multiple interviews will help you and your team identify disconnects between a candidate’s resume and his or her actual experience, qualifications, and accomplishments.

And more importantly, it will give you a much better chance of identifying a potential superstar. 

Because when you create the right interview environment, superstars will shine at every stage of the process.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.