5 Questions to Ask Every Job Applicant (and 5 You Should Never Ask)

Want to know a secret? I don’t really look forward to conducting job interviews. I’d rather be spending that time taking care of my clients’ needs or working on something else that’s going to make me money. However, every great employee who has ever worked for me was hired only after a thorough interview process. It’s still entrepreneurs’ best methodology to determine just who, exactly, these people are that want to join our team. Can they think critically? Can we trust them? The job interview gives us our first clues.

The interview process is often nerve-wracking for the applicant. They can be potentially embarrassing for the boss, too, unless you prepare properly. It’s a good idea to at least know the applicant’s name and the position they’re applying for before stepping into an interview. I also like to have a general idea of the questions I want to ask beforehand, as well. No one likes to see a job applicant fumble in a job interview, right? Well, nobody wants to see a business owner rack their brains for questions, either.


If you haven’t conducted many job interviews or aren’t sure if you’re asking the right questions, keep in mind that it’s best to ask open-ended questions that allow the candidate to give you a look into his or her thought process, experience, and personality. Here are five such questions that I ask in every job interview:


  1. Tell me a little about yourself. 

This is a great question to start your interview off on a low-stakes note and put your candidate at ease. After all, there are no wrong answers when you’re talking about yourself! The applicant’s answer can give you insight into both their confidence and communication skills right off the bat.


  1. Can you tell me about a time when something went wrong at work? How did you deal with it?

No matter how good you are, things are going to go wrong at work. Answers to this question can help demonstrate problem solving skills and culture fit as well as hint at the kind of issues that stress your candidate out the most.


  1. How would your last boss describe you?

This is a wonderful way to ask the “strengths” and “weaknesses” question without actually asking it. His or her answer might also provide some insight into how your working relationship could be. Does the answer describe a person that would fit well within your organization?


  1. What is your favorite project that you’ve worked on, and why is it your favorite?

This is the kind of thing you can’t learn from a resume! The key here is to find out what ignites the passion and excitement for work in this candidate. What makes them proud? If you can’t detect at least a hint of pride or passion in their answer, that’s a problem.


  1. Do you have any questions for me?

Job interviews should be a two-way street. This question lets the job candidate know that you recognize their humanity and want them to feel comfortable with your business. It’s likely that everyone will have questions, so if they can’t think of anything beyond “How much does it pay,” they may not really be that interested in the position.


Now that we’ve touched on a few of the things I recommend you always ask in a job interview, let’s go over a few of the things you should NEVER ask:


  1. What ethnicity are you?
  2. Are you married?
  3. Do you drink?
  4. Who did you vote for?
  5. How old are you?


Don’t forget that applicants have rights protected by federal and state laws! Don’t expose yourself or your company to unnecessary liability by asking the wrong questions.


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