I’m often asked about the best questions to ask in job interviews. Those perfect, silver-bullet questions that will lay the employee’s character bare and ensure that you’re getting the top-performing, easy-to-work-with employee of your dreams. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are my favorite job interview questions for managers.
Know What You Want
The key to figuring out good interviewer questions to ask is to know what you’re looking for. I can’t stress this enough: if you don’t know what you want, you will hire the wrong person. It sounds like common sense, but it’s not common practice.
Get this right by doing your homework. What are the top five personal characteristics you want to see in this employee? This framing question will help you nail down the right interview questions for this exact role. There are lots of ways to ask this: What are the top five behaviors you want to see? What are your core values? Really think this through and write down the answers.
Then, work backwards to frame questions that will help you test whether your interviewee has those qualities.
Ask the “Question Behind the Question”
Let’s say that this role will require the employee to stay cool under fire, to roll with the punches in a stressful situation and get to the best possible outcome. The worst question you can ask is, “Tell me about a stressful situation where you stayed cool under fire.” Any halfway competent interviewee will know the “right” answer and tell you what you want to hear.
Instead, ask an open-ended question to see if their answer demonstrates the quality you’re looking for. This is the “question behind the question.” Ask something like, “Tell me about a project you worked on under a short deadline.” They might tell you about how they handled the pressure, or they might complain about how the expectation was unreasonable – that difference in attitude will tell you a lot more than the actual answer.
Six Good Interviewer Questions to Ask
Remember, you should do your homework to ask questions that get to the qualities that you’re looking for, for this job. That said, these six job interview questions for managers get at qualities that are important across a wide range of roles and industries, like leadership, diligence, and creativity.
“If you come work here, how many people will follow you?”
This is a great interview question for managers and leaders because it works on multiple levels. First, it’s a test of whether they’re successful in their current role. Any really great manager will have some employees who like working with them enough to follow them to a new opportunity. I want leaders in my company who attract and retain great team members.
Second, and even more importantly, how they answer the question shows a lot about their integrity. If they immediately tell me how aggressively they’ll poach talent from their previous company, that might not be someone who I can trust. Instead, I might prefer someone who talks about how happy and successful their current employees are – how their team might follow them, but they wouldn’t necessarily encourage them to do so. I’ll learned a lot about my interviewee by how they approach the question.
“Starting From High School, Tell Me About Your Work Experiences.”
This might be my all-time favorite interview question. I always learn surprising, valuable information about the innate outlook, perseverance, and creativity of my interviewee. Maybe she worked hard to put herself through school. Maybe he’s faced enormous setbacks, and can tell me about how he overcame them. Maybe she sees herself as a victim of circumstance, or maybe she makes her own opportunities. Was he born with a silver spoon, or did he make lemonade out of lemons?
Tune your ear to hear the qualities behind their answer. Do they have stick-to-it-iveness? Are they generally positive, or negative? How creative are they?
“Show me what you’ve got.”
Ask the interviewee to prepare some work relevant to the position. For a sales candidate, I might ask them to pitch my product to a difficult prospect, giving a challenging scenario where we lost the client in the past. Then I’ll have my team act as the prospective clients for the mock presentation.
Obviously I don’t expect a new employee to give a perfect pitch on day one, so I’m not so worried about the exact content of the presentation. What I care about is how they prepared, how they walk into the room, how comfortable they are making that pitch. Did they do their homework? How do they handle questions from my team when they might not have all the answers? I’ll see how seriously they take the job and how cool they are under fire.
“How will you fit in with the team?”
I want employees who are ready to dig in and solve their own problems. In an interview, I’ll tell the candidate a bit about our organization, and then ask “How do you see yourself fitting into our team?”
I’ll learn what they consider their strengths – without leading them to it by asking that tired old standby, “What are your greatest strengths?” – and it will give me an idea of their problem-solving and resourcefulness. I want someone on my team who doesn’t need all the pieces of the puzzle handed to them, who can see beyond what currently exists to how they can fill in gaps and improve my organization.
“Tell me about a time you put a strategy together to solve a problem.”
What I’m getting at with this question is the interviewee’s ability to create clarity in a confusing situation. Are they collaborative? Independent? Difficult? Contentious? Again, I don’t want to say, “Tell me about a confusing situation where you had to create clarity.” That leads them to just say what they think I want to hear.
Instead, I’ll ask the more general question and then listen for the qualities in their answer. Did they work with a team? Did they have productive discussions, regular meetings, ad hoc collaboration? Did they go back and really evaluate how effective it was? These will tell me a lot more than just learning about the situation itself.
“Tell me about your employees.”
This is a great question for a candidate interviewing to be a manager. Great leaders see the best in people and understand how to bring out those qualities. A manager who sees their team as difficult or lazy is not a manager I want in my organization. I’m looking for leaders who help their team be successful by hiring well, then giving their employees the training and support to succeed.
Now that you know some good interviewer questions to ask, be sure you’re getting the rest of the hiring process right.