The Two Best Interview Questions You Should Ask

I’ll say up front that the subject matter of this post is a bit unreal. Great interviewing can’t be boiled down to a list of questions. It’s a combination of helping a candidate feel at ease, listening, observing, talking and, yes, asking the right questions. And what a recruiter or potential employer does (or asks) in any given interview depends, to a large extent, on what the candidate is like.

Strategies can also change in mid-interview – several times, in fact – because of a candidate’s verbal or non-verbal response. And much depends on what kind of interview is taking place – a get-to-know-you phone interview, a final interview, an interview for a full-time position, an interview for contract work, or something else.

In short, there is no simple instruction manual for great interviewing. I would say, in fact, that it’s a difficult skill to learn, and the only way to get really good at it is to do it a lot, observe other interviewers, and try to constantly improve. If someone can speak with an experienced mentor, all the better.

So are there really “two interview questions that you should ask”? No, not absolutely. But there are two that should get asked in most interviews. Here they are, followed by some explanation:

1) Can you give me an example of how you ……?

In most jobs we are required to solve problems and complete projects/tasks in an efficient and effective manner.  You should finish this question with things like; solved a problem for a customer, designed a presentation for a company meeting, conducted research that you also shared with a client, disciplined an employee, etc.   An interviewer will customize this question to uncover successful completion of and knowledge of the type of things they will be doing in their job at your company.

It’s easy for an applicant to give a hypothetical example of how they would do something but this is a far cry from a specific example of what they actually did.  This question separates people who get things done from people who talk about getting things done.



2) Can you give me another example ……?

There are two reasons to ask this question; first,  it’s fairly easy for an applicant to spin up one example of something they did and make it sound like an answer to your question.  If the example they give is vague, they could simply be nervous or they don’t really have specific experience doing what you need them to do.

The second reason to ask this question is that even if they give a good example in the first question, someone with great experience doing what you’re asking should have many examples.  If an applicant can’t come up with at least two good examples of where they successfully accomplished the project, task or job you are asking about, they may be lacking the experience you want or need.

Keep in mind that the applicant may need a little extra time to come up with a second example and let them know that by saying, “take as much time as you need to formulate your answer”.  We are not trying to get them to stumble with this question; we are looking for solid examples of success in the job.


I’ll say it again: there are many, many other great questions to ask during an interview, and there may be a few interview situations in which the above two questions may not be necessary.

Now I’ll ask you a question. If you had to pick two interview questions that recruiters and employers should ask, what would they be? I’ll follow up on the answers I receive in a later post.

As always, feel free to reach out to us to learn more about how to manage the candidate through this process with recruiting software.

Views: 434

Comment by Sandra McCartt on June 16, 2011 at 6:07pm

Start with with why you picked the field you are in then take me forward with each position you have had, what you accomplished in each job, why you left and tell me the things my client would want to know about you that would make you successful in this position?


Then i shut up, i listen, make notes then i go back and ask questions about different comments that the candidate has made about their career path, elaborate on numbers, people supervised, etc. etc.


It's my opinion that asking the question tell me about a time you did blah blah only makes  candidates scramble for some isolated incident.  I want to see the progression and the thought process that brought them to where they are and where they want to go.

Comment by Michael Webb on June 19, 2011 at 2:58am

“there is no simple instruction manual for great interviewing”

Wrong, there is!!!
Look at the JD, select the key requirements for the position (not skills).

Next select the 4/6 most important.
Next ask the candidate how he achieved success previously relating to those requirements.
IE Requirement – Attention to detail.

Q1 – Tell me about a time in your current/previous role where you had to stay back to correct a problem you discovered. How did you discover the error? What did you have to do to fix it?

Q2 – What methods/processes have you introduced into your current/previous role to improve the quality of outputs? Why did you feel they needed to be introduced? What was your involvement in the selection?

You should ask 3 questions relating to each of the 4/6 requirements, that’s 12/18 questions.
That’s a start.

I have trained hundreds of recruiting managers and recruiters throughout Australia on how to use this methodology. I have a CD of 1000 questions relating to the main requirements organizations seek.

Hope this helps.


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