Skip to content

10 interview questions to get the right person in the right job


Have you ever hired someone who, despite a great resume and interview, lacked passion or just couldn’t do the work? You probably had a square peg in a round hole.

It’s all about having the right person in the right job. With a few tweaks of your interview style, you may not have such a hard time finding your next great employee.

Step 1: What are you looking for?

Determine the top three or four competencies that are needed in the person you hire. When you know what you’re looking for – rather than relying on “gut feeling” – you’ll have an easier time determining who is the best fit for the job.

To figure out the ideal competencies, look at your high performers. What do they have in common? What is it about their work that shows you they’re a good fit?

Step 2: Questions that mean something

With top competencies in mind, develop interview questions that speak to them.

Behavioral questions, where you ask, “Tell me about a time when…,” are very effective. The job candidate won’t be able to prepare beforehand, so you’ll likely get a genuine answer that’s not coached.

During the answer, you can tell a lot about the person: What does their body language say? Are they searching for an answer? Do they look you in the eye? Are they earnest and leaning in or are they fidgety and nervous?

Step 3: Be consistent

Once you have your questions, use them as a framework for each candidate who interviews for the position. That way, you’re comparing apples-to-apples when reviewing the candidates and their interviews.

Step 4: But go with the flow

Don’t be afraid to go off-script if the job candidates offer further information or ask questions of their own. The best interviews feel like a conversation.

But don’t get so far off course that you don’t get the answers you need to make a good decision.

10 questions to get you started

If you need a place to start, use these examples of behavioral questions and the competencies they address:

1. Adaptability – Tell me about a situation where you were under a great deal of pressure because of numerous demands competing for your time and attention. How did you resolve the situation?

2. Customer service – Tell me about the most difficult customer encounter you’ve experienced. How did you handle it?

3. Dependability – Tell me about a time when you had difficulty keeping a commitment? How did you handle it?

4. Ethics – Describe a situation where you worked with someone you did not like or respect. How did you cope with the relationship?

5. Initiative – Tell me about an opportunity that presented itself to you but you were reluctant to take the risk. What did you do?

6. Interpersonal skills – Tell me about a time you had a serious conflict with a co-worker. How did you handle the situation?

7. Judgment – Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What process did you go through to arrive at the decision?

8. Leadership – Tell me about a time when you had to inspire or energize an unmotivated individual or group? How did you do it and what was the result?

9. Planning/organizing – Give me a summary of the techniques you use to plan and organize your work. Describe how you applied one of these techniques in a specific situation.

10. Teamwork – Tell me about a time you had to set your own interests or priorities aside in the interest of the team.

Some basics you don’t want to overlook

When you’re considering job candidates, you’ll want to ask yourself these three things:

  • Can they do the job? This is pretty easy to ascertain. Do they have the skill sets and competencies to do the job? Asking questions about how they handled situations in the past may help uncover their capabilities.
  • Will they do the job? Have you hired someone you thought was qualified, they came on board and you found yourself asking, “What happened? They’re just not doing a very good job.” They may have the skills, but they don’t like what they’re doing. This is about motivation. What are they passionate about? Did you hire an analyst who really wants to be in customer service? You have the wrong person in the wrong job.
  • Will they fit? This is one of the hardest to determine. This is where you don’t want to rely on your gut. If you like them, you’ll tend to overlook things that otherwise would indicate a bad fit. Fit is about individual characteristics and values and how they fit into the organization. Ask questions about that.

Interview dos and don’ts

  • Don’t spend the first 30 minutes describing your company. Let the candidate do that. Maybe make it your first question: So, tell me what you know about Company X?
  • Don’t let them off the hook if they don’t have an answer. Encourage them to tell you what comes to mind.
  • Don’t waste time asking them to go over the information on their resume. You can, however, use it as a platform to learn about skill sets and competencies.
  • Do try to build a rapport and make them feel comfortable.
  • Do leave time for them to ask questions – whether it’s during the conversation or at the end of the interview.

What do you do with all this information?

You and your fellow interviewers should keep notes or use a score sheet for each candidate. You will measure the candidates against the competencies that you previously established for the position.

As soon as possible after the interviews, discuss your assessments to determine who the most outstanding candidate is.

You should have a list of the top questions and qualifications that are must-haves for the job. If a candidate fails those, then it’s not the right person.

Let’s say you’ve narrowed it to two candidates who look like a good fit and did well in the interviews, but when it came to a question about leadership, you weren’t pleased with one candidate’s answer. So, maybe that’s not the person for this job. It doesn’t mean the candidate can’t be an asset in another position – but not this one.

Or, perhaps you have a team of employees who believe it’s all for one and one for all. And your candidate shows he’s competitive and self-centered. A superstar isn’t going to fit well into this company culture.

To find the right person, it all starts with understanding what you’re looking for. You must go beyond a gut feeling about a resume that matches a job description.

Learn more about how discovering and developing the right people for the right roles can add to your business’s bottom line. Download our free e-book, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business.