Ask These 7 Questions in a Job Interview to Land the Perfect Candidate

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How many quarters would you need to stack to reach the height of the Empire State Building? How many ping-pong balls fit in a school bus? How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale? These questions asked by real companies—the ping-pong one is Google, FYI—might be able to help identify someone’s critical thinking skills (or at least provide some comic relief in a job interview), but they aren't optimal for uncovering the candidate's capabilities, values, personality, and, most importantly, whether they'll be a good fit for your workplace. And that’s your ultimate goal when you’re the one making the hiring decision: You want to pick someone who will not only help the company succeed, but will thrive in the role.

I spoke to career advice experts to find out the questions they ask in job interviews that get to the heart of who a candidate truly is and determine whether they're "the one."

Keep reading for 7 job interview questions that reveal a lot more than "what's your biggest weakness?" will.

Hiring manager questions to help find "the one"
Photo: Stocksy/Trinette Reed

What are your career goals?

“This is one of the first questions you should ask because you’ll need to make sure the available position aligns with what the candidate actually wants to be doing long-term,” says Marty Imes, CEO and founder of the California-based corporate culture and career coaching firm CultureStoke. “If their career goals aren’t aligned, they’re not going to be an A-player, despite their potential.”

How do you deal with page-long TDLs?

When you have a multiple page to-do list (don't we all?), you have to be good at prioritization. “Asking this question helps the hiring manager understand how comfortable the candidate is with competing priorities and if their strategy for handling them lines up with what the hiring manager is looking for in an employee,” says Carolyn Birsky, founder of the Massachusetts-based career coaching company Compass Maven.

Tell me about a time that you stepped up to do something outside of your job description that needed to be done.

We’ve all had to do some grunt work or pick up some extra responsibilities when someone is out of the office. It’s beneficial to hire someone who gets that and doesn't think "not my job" as they walk away from the jammed printer. “I like this question because it shows if the candidate is willing to go beyond their specific job description for the greater good of the team or the company,” says Birsky. (If they think too long before answering, it's probably not a great sign.)

Hiring manager questions to help find "the one"
Photo: Stocksy/Lumina

What’s the last thing you taught yourself to do?

“A-players are curious by nature and always want to learn new things. This is one of the most valuable skills any team member can have,” says Imes. He suggests asking how they learned the skill (whether it's crow pose or Photoshop) the setbacks they encountered, and how they would teach someone else to do it. Learning new things shows that the candidate is driven and focused on self-improvement. And bonus: You might learn a little more about their personal life without having to ask about what they do "outside the office."

Have you ever outperformed your colleagues?

“$1 million in sales looks impressive on a resume, but if the average person in that role sells $3 million, that tells a completely different story,” notes Imes. Ask about a time they overperformed and how they accomplished it. Their story will show if they have the capability to be innovative.

Hiring manager questions to help find "the one"
Photo: Stocksy/Aila Images

What’s the biggest project you worked on that didn’t turn out so well?

Everyone makes mistakes...but not everyone handles them well. “A-players are accountable and take responsibility for the results they have achieved. When a project doesn’t turn out so well, they'll often use the experience as a learning opportunity,” says Imes. “This question allows for honest self-reflection and gauges their growth mindset." You want a candidate who can explain what the mistake was, how they fixed it, and what they learned from it, he says.

How do you help raise the bar for those around you?

This question will reveal if your possible new team member will support and elevate the rest of the team. The people you want to hire will “lead by example and help others succeed by inspiring, educating, and empowering them to reach for greatness," says Imes.

And if you're thinking of making a career pivot, you're not alone (and it's not too late!). Either way, here are the questions you should always ask in a job interview. 

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