Interview Shortcut: The Only Five Questions You Need

By Heather Foley

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There’s a skill to interviewing.  And if you have it, it will greatly affect your chances of finding the best candidate. Certainly you need to be relaxed and put the candidate at ease.  You also need to have a clear job description. You should be able to describe your organisation and culture clearly and easily. But, what makes the biggest difference is the questions you ask.

And what you need are five killer ones.


1. What did you most enjoy about each of your previous roles?

People are likely to succeed in a role if they are doing the types of things they enjoy. Most people will do things they dislike for a period of time. They may even do those things well. But it will always be short-lived. By asking this question, you’ll get a good sense of what each candidate really enjoys and you’ll be able to compare it with what the role offers, to see if there’s a good match.


2.  What did you least enjoy about each of your previous roles?

Similarly, as candidates start to list the types of activities they dis-liked about previous roles, you’ll be able to assess how much of that type of activity there is in the job you’re offering. It’s much better (for you, and the candidate) to know that there isn’t a good fit now, rather than in 3 months when you’d both probably have to start the whole process again!


3. If I called your previous bosses tomorrow, how would they describe you?

This question is wonderful because it strongly encourages candidates to give an accurate answer. They know you are likely to call previous bosses for a reference, so there’s little point in ‘stretching’ the truth.  In fact, candidates tend to be candid and relay accurately what their bosses said to them about their abilities, strengths and weaknesses.


4.  What are you looking for now?

The answer to this question will give you a sense of how much passion and energy the candidate has for your organisation and this particular role. If you feel that high levels of passion and engagement are important for this particular role, you may feel that a candidate who gives general and generic answers isn’t right for you.


5.  What other jobs are you applying for?

This question is a good test of your candidate’s genuine desire to work for you. If you’re a small company and candidates say that this is exactly what they’re looking for, then warning bells may ring loudly if they tell you they’ve also applied to IBM!



Interviewing is, undoubtedly, a rather nerve-racking experience.  There’s pressure on you, as the interviewer, to pick the perfect candidate, and there’s certainly pressure on the candidates to perform.  Of course, if you’re armed with a number of great questions, you could be making your job a great deal easier.  And five killer ones is all you need.


Heather Foley is a consultant at, a UK- based HR consultancy and technology company

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