Mediocre interview questions are boring for everyone and don’t create clear differentiation between candidates, leaving the hiring manager to draw on gut instinct (also known as good old fashioned bias) when making a decision.

“How is this an issue?” Some interviews are doomed from the start.

Good interview questions help the hiring manager understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of a set of candidates in the context of the role’s requirements. Good interview questions are predictable enough that a candidate can provide composed, complete answers that put his or her best foot (feet?) forward, exhibiting both technical capabilities and unique personality traits.

Great interview questions make the experience engaging and informative for everyone involved. The best interviews build a positive reputation for the employer, regardless of whether the candidate receives an offer. The best interviews build confidence in both parties that there is a strong mutual fit and build positive momentum into the offer and joining phases of the hiring process.

So what are the best interview questions? Here are a few categories you should test for, regardless of the job description, along with a few examples I’ve encountered in my experiences on both sides of the interview table.

  1. Domain knowledge: “Tell me about five subjects on which you’d consider yourself an expert and how you gained knowledge in the area.”
  2. Interpersonal dynamic: “Think of a time where you discovered a mistake that would have caused significant cost to your team if it was not corrected. What was the mistake, who made it, and how did you resolve the situation?”
  3. Adversity and its aftermath: “Tell me about the most significant failure in your last role. What specific, personal contribution did you make that created the failure?”
  4. Unique contributions to success: “Tell me about the most significant success in your last role. What specific, personal contribution did you make that created the success?”
  5. Self-awareness and commitment to development: “What would you say is your main development area today? How did you become aware of it, and what are you doing to improve in that area?
  6. Professional relationships: “Looking at your resume, tell me in one sentence for each transition why you left and how you found the next role.”
  7. Mental fatigue: Near the end of the interview, ask the candidate to stand up in front of a white board and work through a tough logic puzzle like these involving weighty things, calendar cubes, or other popular techie puzzles. It’s not the answer that matters, it’s how the candidate demonstrates their ability to apply structured thinking under pressure.
  8. Mutual evaluation: Last, let the candidate ask any questions he or she has for you, so that everyone walks out of the room with the information they would need to make a decision on an offer. Are the questions about strategy, career progression, pay, coffee quality, weekend emails? You can learn a lot from what questions candidates ask in what order.

Please leave a comment if you have feedback or suggestions on this post. Happy hiring!