Interviewing - Successful Selection

by Jane Tredgett

Asking effective questions

To ensure consistency, you should prepare questions before the interview. Try to identify a relatively easy question for the candidate to answer initially, to help put them at ease.

The past is the best indicator of the future.


Your core questions should be the same for all candidates. Depending on the answers given, you may then wish to explore certain points in more depth: ‘Tell me more about how you...’

The key focus is on specific areas that are critical to the role, so further questions should be based on examples from the candidate’s experience, where they can describe how they reacted or felt.

In the main, use open questions to get the candidate to talk, reserving closed questions – requiring yes, no or specific answers (such as, ‘Do you have a clean driving licence?’) – to clarify a point or to get specific information.


If you are doing more than 25 per cent of the talking, you need to revisit your approach.

Use questions that will help you to make judgements about some of the candidate’s personal qualities, such as their resilience, their ability to operate under pressure, how they get on with people at work, whether they are happy to work alone, how they cope with repetition, how well organised they are and so on. The exact questions will be tailored to the list of qualities you have previously drawn up – see The overall recruitment process for more information.

Try to link your questions, to keep a logical flow to the session and demonstrate you are listening actively.

Try not to ask confusing, multi-part questions that bamboozle the candidate, and remember to pause and allow them time to think before you jump in to clarify something.

Only interrupt if your candidate appears to be rambling or has ‘dried up’ and is struggling.

Summarise from time to time, to clarify the information you have been given. This will also help you to move on to a different line of questioning.

If you have a specific query arising from an application, prepare in advance so you can ask about this in a non-discriminatory way. It may be helpful to save such questions until after you have asked your consistent core group of questions.

Sample topics and questions

Try to link your questions, to keep a logical flow to the session and demonstrate you are listening actively.

Background and experience

When assessing the candidate’s ability to do the job, it’s useful to start on the candidate’s background – their experience and relevant qualifications.

In this part of the interview, you need to check that the candidate has the required qualifications (including academic qualifications, a clean driving licence, qualifications to handle machinery and so on), plus any specialist skills or training necessary for the job. You also need to confirm that they have relevant experience and/or the potential to do the job well.

It is important to look for evidence (to verify they are not just really impressive at interviews, but have done what they say they have) and to identify whether any additional training would be needed for them to be able to do the job effectively.

Examples of questions that may be used at this stage include

  • Tell me briefly about your career to date, starting...
  • What are your main responsibilities in your current role?
  • What achievements are you most proud of in your career to date?
  • What has been the low point of your career?
  • What experience/training/qualifications do you have that relate directly or indirectly to this role? (This also explores their understanding of the job they are applying for.)
  • What qualities do you have that you think will most help you in this job?
  • What do/did you enjoy most about your current/last job and why?
  • What did/do you enjoy least about your current job?
  • Give an example of a pressurised work situation/a time you had to cope alone/a difficult challenge you had to overcome/a time you were criticised/a time you had an urgent deadline to meet... and how you handled it.
  • What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of this role?
  • How have you handled similar challenges in the past?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Beware, though – this is a bit ‘clichéd’)

A good way to filter down information is to use the STAR approach to questioning...

  • Give an example of a Situation or Task that demonstrates your ability to do XYZ.
  • Describe what Action you took.
  • What was the Result.


It is also useful to explore whether the candidate is really motivated to do this job and how well they will fit in.

Clues include their body language, how much effort they have put into researching the company and so on. Ask some of the following questions to help you find out whether they really want this job and whether they will fit in or not. Remember to ask about time gaps or discrepancies on the CV.

Sample questions include

  • What do you know about this company?
  • What is your reason for leaving your present/last company?
  • What is attracting you to this position/company?
  • What has motivated you at work recently?
  • What is the most important thing that you are looking for in your next job?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • How would a manager get the best out of you?
  • How would your best friend/manager/colleagues describe you?
  • Tell me about your relationship with your last boss...
  • Have you ever worked with someone who you didn’t get on with all that well – how did this affect you and what did you do?

During the interview, show that you are listening – look interested and attentive. Nod, smile and make eye contact. Summarise what the candidate has said. Avoid any facial expressions of dismay or dislike of an answer. Stay calm, professional and in control.