The Top Five Strongest Interview Questions to Ask and The Importance of Understanding Aspirations

Depending on the hiring manager, recruiter or human resources department - interviewers may not necessarily have as much time to interview as they wish. I've seen interviews that last from thirty minutes to a chain of interviews lasting eight hours. Regardless, interviewers need to make sure to take advantage of the time spent interviewing and more often than not, they ask questions that don't necessarily give a real understanding of the candidate.

In a previous article I wrote about the importance of understanding a candidate's foreground, or what they understand as their near future (aspirations etc). Technical questions are absolutely critical as well, but if the interview is completely focused around the technical capabilities, an interviewer may not have the opportunity to understand the candidate as a human being. When a hiring manager doesn't understand a candidate's aspirations, it makes it much harder on the firm to retain an employee since they don't know what would actually make them happy!


I do not necessarily put a huge deal of weight on the new fad of "behavioral questions" in human resources. These are often more reactive questions and certainly help hiring managers understand a candidates reactions and past actions - they are also likely to hear the highlights of that candidate's career so it may not necessarily be the most accurate representation of the candidate. If I was interviewing to be a fisherman, I'm more likely to tell you about the time that I saved a coworker from going overboard than the time I tossed a coworker overboard. Again, good questions to ask, but the answers should certainly be taken with a grain of salt.


An interviewer could technically flip the questions to make them a negative as in "What are your weaknesses?" but you're likely to get a less extreme version of Michael Scott's answer when he said:

 " greatest weaknesses? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job."

 All the more reason to focus on the candidate's aspirations and what they see as their future to see if it matches up with the future an interviewer sees in the possible associate.  More importantly, down to the questions:

1. What do you see as the next big step in your career?


This is nearly always the first question I ask a prospective candidate. Before I even speak about the job opening, the company or details on what the candidate does - I ask about their aspirations. Reason being, if my opportunity doesn't match up with what they realistically see as their future, it probably isn't the best fit. Not to say this is a disqualifier, but you can be assured that the candidate will not be as enthusiastic about the opportunity than someone else who really matches up as far as aspirations go.

 In addition, this gives the interviewer or company as a whole a clearer image of the candidate in order to emphasize the parts of the job that do line up with their aspirations

 2. If you could change one thing about your current employer, what would it be?

 Associates always have some type of idea or suggestion to make their workplace better. In some situations, they may be in an environment where there are already layers upon layers of processes in place and they don't have an opportunity to implement anything. This question gives an interviewer an inside look at a candidates analytical thinking as well as how well they can put up with not being able to implement/influence a change. 

 3. Do you prefer an environment with established processes or an environment with more opportunity to implement processes?

 This is also one of the main questions I ask because so often things are polarized. Associates from small companies gripe that there aren't processes in place, that software isn't sophisticated or that things are inefficient. Associates from large companies gripe that they are being drowned by processes, that there are many things they would like to change that they can't and that sometimes their employers strategies "can't see the forest for the trees".

 This gives a hiring manager another opportunity to sell to strengths. Many times, an associate from a large process-oriented firm will be very excited to join a smaller firm if they have the opportunity to implement processes of their own. On the other side of the coin, associates from a smaller more liberally run firm may be excited to join a large firm where they can learn processes, techniques and strategies that they didn't previously have the opportunity to.  

 4. What accomplishment in your current role makes you most proud? 

 This may seem like a background-searching question as the setting is in the past, but its actually forward-looking as the interviewer is figuring out what drives pride behind an associates work. An interviewer is greatly benefited by understanding what makes an associate happy with their work, go figure!

 An interviewer may also be surprised as the answers aren't always profit-driven or process-driven. Occasionally there are answers focusing on healing fragmented teams, improving employee pride or team engagement. 

 5. If you had to train someone in one of your current work-related skills, which would you be most enthusiastic about?

 Teaching is a key factor behind leadership. As Einstein said, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." According to my application to Harvard's Law Department, you can't teach something you don't know! In addition, this again explains the passions behind an interviewee's background in order to more accurately predict their future. 

In conclusion, some of the most important information to understand about a candidate is what drives them, what their passions are, as well as where their pride and enthusiasm lies. When a company can line up the succession plan of their open role with the future aspirations of a current candidate - they will greatly increase their average employee tenure.

Building materials organizations interested in discussing recruiting strategies can contact James Aiken at 864-417-8431 or through his website at

Views: 982

Comment by Mac McClellan on November 22, 2016 at 9:28am

Interesting post, and I like your five questions.  I'm puzzled by your comment regarding behavioral interview questions:  First I wouldn't call them a "new fad". They were the standard when I worked at Toyota in the late 1990's.  Second, why don't you put much weight on them?  I understand that they shouldn't be the only tool in the box, but they focus the candidate and ensure an in depth discussion vs. allowing prepared answers, especially when combined with skillful probing follow-up questions (why, when, how, how would you apply that to...). 

Comment by James Aiken on November 22, 2016 at 9:49am

Hey Mac,

You're probably right that they're not a new fad, but Human Resources teams typically push those emphatically. I still use them, but I don't put as much weight in general, kind of like you mentioned as not the only tool in the box. I absolutely agree you should have in depth discussions vs prepared answers - but you shouldn't only rely on the 'soft' side! I have just happened to see interviews that majorly focused around behavioral questioning and I don't think its quite that productive. 

Comment by Mac McClellan on November 22, 2016 at 9:57am

Thanks for the clarification.  Some HR departments become complacent with their process. I imagine especially so when they're very sure they're using the greatest process ever created :-) 


You need to be a member of RecruitingBlogs to add comments!

Join RecruitingBlogs


All the recruiting news you see here, delivered straight to your inbox.

Just enter your e-mail address below


RecruitingBlogs on Twitter

© 2024   All Rights Reserved   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service