How To Write Effective Interview Questions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Hiring the right employees isn't always easy. However, with the right interview questions, it can be. In this article, we offer step-by-step instructions on how to write interview questions that give you actionable candidate answers, and we also provide sample questions and answers to highlight the process.

What are interview questions?

Interview questions help an employer determine if a candidate is the right fit for the role and the company. By preparing a set of interview questions, you can be more confident in deciding your pick for the job. As an interviewer, you can elect to pose all the same questions to your candidates or customize them to the individual applicant.

How to write interview questions

You could use the same list of interview questions that everyone uses, or you could create a strategy to ferret out candidates that aren't a good and specific fit for the role and your company. Having more specific questions will make you more informed in your hiring decisions, and hopefully, more successful in hiring the right candidate. Here are the steps you should take when writing interview questions that promote quality answers:

1. Establish your needs and wants

Each job is different and every company has its own culture. Knowing what your company wants and needs from its employees will help you write more effective questions. Start conceptualizing just this by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What are our company values?

  • What does this team need in a new-hire?

  • Where are we currently lacking support?

  • What is this position's job description?

2. Assess the job opening

Though company culture may remain more consistent, employee roles have a more dynamic nature. Take time to assess what the job entails: its needs, functions and goals. A good way to approach this is to list the job tasks and qualifications needed to make this role successful.

Example:

*Job opening: administrative assistant*

*Tasks: Sitting at the front desk, greeting clients, answering phone calls, monitoring agent calendars, scheduling interviews*

*Qualifications: Associate degree or equivalent, communication skills, ability to multitask, organization skills, customer service experience, basic knowledge of Microsoft Word and Excel*

3. Consider the potential employee

Now you know what you want, consider who you want. Each position requires a certain level of skill and understanding, so finding an employee who meets or exceeds your expectations is important. It is important to avoid relying solely on an applicant's qualifications when writing your interview questions. You should also consider the type of employee you want for this position. Ask yourself questions similar to the following:

  • Does this role require an outgoing personality?

  • Should this person be able to work well in teams or individually?

  • What kind of organizational strategies should this person have?

  • Does training require that employees learn quickly?

  • Is this work environment quick-paced or more laid-back?

4. Write your interview questions

As the interviewer, you set the tone for your interview. If you are more laid-back, the interviewee is more likely to be laid-back. The same goes for a more serious tone. With this in mind, structure your questions to mirror your work environment, language and company culture. You may work at a law firm and structure your questions to heavily focus on education and experience. If you work in a customer service call center, you may focus more on attitude and behavior.

Depending on your organization and needs, you may find yourself switching up the order of the below stages of the interview question writing process.

Start with the basics

Getting the small things out of the way, in the beginning, helps with introductions between you and your interviewee. Whether you adopt a serious or laid-back position, consider starting with some of the following:

Example: "Tell me about yourself."

Example: "What made you want to apply for this position?"

Example: "What brings you to this city?"

Inquire about interests

Learning why candidates are interested in the job opening, your particular field or the company can help reveal their motives, attitude and intentions. This can either be surface-level or may involve a bit more questioning. Here are good interest-based questions to consider using:

Example: "What made you want to make a career change from the medical field to public education?"

Example: "What makes you passionate about this field?"

Example: "Why do you want to work for us?"

Ask qualifying questions

Once you've become acquainted with one another, it's time to discuss qualifications, skills and experience. These questions should be specific to the job description and the candidate's background.

Example: "What was your accounting program like at the University of Missouri? What was your core emphasis in your program?"

Example: "Your resume says you interned with your local news station for your journalism program. Tell me about your experience and takeaways from the program."

Example: "How long have you been a shift leader at your current job? What do you do in this position and how do you feel you have grown while holding this title?"

Ask questions of character

Again, candidates who meet your qualifications are great, but you also need to know what kind of worker they are. Choosing situation- or circumstance-based questions to transition into can help give you an idea of your candidate's potential assets or set-backs.

Example: "Tell me about a time you had to resolve a conflict among your team."

Example: "What would you do in an instance where you were given a large amount of work on top of other work stressors?"

Example: "Describe a time you failed. Explain what happened and what the outcome was."

Goal-based questions

Asking questions about your interviewee's future career plans and goals can help you determine if they will be the right fit for the position. Here are some ways you could ask these questions:

Example: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Example: "What kind of work do you intend to do once you have completed your doctorate program?"

Example: "What do you feel you need from an employer to be able to perform your job to the best of your abilities?"

Closing questions

No matter the tone of the interview, it's important to close things on a positive note. The below example displays just a few ways you can approach this before ending your interview:

Example: "Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?"

Example: "Do you have any final questions or concerns?"

Example: "If you were to be hired, what would you do to improve the way we run our process?"

5. Reflect on your questions

Once you have written your interview questions, take a moment to analyze each one, the reasoning behind it and the way it may be received by your interviewee. Here are some other things to consider during this process:

Assume your interviewee is an intelligent person

This person has acquired an interview with you, so they are already on the right track. Use language that illustrates you think highly of them and remember to remain interested when it comes time for the actual interview.

Consider your time

Most interviews last at least 30 minutes, so make sure you have enough time to ask questions, receive answers and record this information.

Respect your interviewee

It takes courage to interview for a job. From the preparation to the actual meeting, the best candidates put effort into making a good first impression during their interview. With this in mind, do the same and come to your interview prepared. This helps solidify your integrity, as well as the integrity of your organization.

Have a back-up plan

Even with preparation, not all things go as planned. Your interview may be running behind schedule, or perhaps the interviewee reveals relevant information that pushes you to ask a different set of questions. Having more than one plan for how you can approach your interview can help you remain on track and in control of the process.

It helps to have more than one set of questions to go to. Maybe plan to ask certain questions if your candidate has impressive qualities on their resume like having a master's degree or serving in the US Armed Forces.

Example: "I see that you earned your Ph.D. a few years ago. Can you tell me about the work you did at your university that supported your program?"

Example: "As a veteran officer of the U.S. Army, what skills or qualities did you gain from this area of leadership?"

Conversely, prepare some questions that address certain qualifications that might not meet your standard, such as not having completed an internship or being in school to earn the degree that is required for your field.

Example: "Though you have yet to complete an internship in this field, what other experience have you gained that make you qualified for this position, and where did you gain this experience?"

Example: "I saw on your resume that you are currently pursuing a degree with plans to graduate in the spring. What have you learned in your program thus far that qualifies you for this position?"

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