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How to Conduct an Interview - Questions and Tips

Updated on September 11, 2012
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

What Can an Organization Do to Make Good Choices in Hiring

Hiring the wrong person for a job can be a major problem for an organization. There are many ways that the folks in Human Resources recommend to avoid such situations in the early steps of a new hire recruitment. Advertising and marketing the vacancy accurately to ensure that the job is clearly reflected in the posting is most important. Jobs tend to evolve into something different over time. Subsequently, job descriptions will need to be updated to reflect reorganization and changes in job duties and essential job functions. Involving the hiring supervisors in the recruitment process is another way to make sure a qualified candidate is selected from the hiring pool. Who better than the supervisor of that vacancy to truly know the needs of the job and who would fit well with the team? Finally, the job interview, itself, is a crucial time to screen out bad applicants who just do not meet the needs of the organization.

Unfortunately, it is at this important juncture of the hiring process, interviewing applicants, that many employers find themselves in trouble. Asking inappropriate questions to the applicant during an interview can get an employer in a lot of hot water. It is important to avoid the potential "off-limit" topics that could lead to allegations of discrimination from the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and/or an attorney representing the applicant not selected for the job.

What Kinds of Things Can a Supervisor Ask at a Job Interveiw?

Supervisors should ask questions related to the performance of the job, not about how the person looks, what religion the person practices, whether the person is married, etc. The protected classes recognized by federal law are as follows:

  • Race
  • Age
  • Sex/gender
  • National Origin
  • Religion
  • Disability

Other protections include union involvement, pregnancy and military service. It is also advisable to research your state's laws for other protected classes. For example, the State of Florida recognizes marital status as a protected class.

A supervisor should stick to information about the job itself when conducting an interview. Job-related questions about:

  • The applicant's work-related experience
  • The applicant's education, certification and prior training
  • Skills needed for the job

There are many things an applicant presents on the job application that you are free to ask about for clarification or more details. If there are significant gaps in their employment, a supervisor may choose to ask for explanation. In today's tight job market, it may be common to see some long gaps due to a lack of jobs and cost cutting measures around the country that have eliminated scores of positions. If the applicant leaves any blanks on the application, you might want to inquire as to why they are blank. Also, the description of duties performed at previous jobs may be vague which may need clarification from the applicant. Asking the applicant to expand on his/her details will be useful. Sometimes, just listening to the responses from an applicant will give the supervisor much information about their skills.

Plan, plan, plan. Prepare your questions ahead of the interview.


Interview Questions

Sample Questions to Ask an Applicant During a Job Interview

  1. What made you decide to leave your last job?
  2. What did you like most about that job (or your present job)?
  3. Have you had any classes or training that you think will assist you with this job?
  4. What do you know about our company?
  5. Tell me about an accomplishment from a previous job that you are particularly proud of.
  6. What attracted you to apply for this job?
  7. What do you think makes you stand out among your peers?

Asking open-ended questions, not "yes" and "no", will provide valuable insight as to what kind of a worker the applicant is. If an applicant really wants a job, they will be eager to answer the questions in a meaningful way that says a lot about their work ethic, past work experiences, interpersonal relationships at work, etc. Some employers choose to use a behavioral style of questioning that involves real life events or situations. The interviewer will ask the employee to describe a situation when they were tasked with coming up with a solution to a difficult problem. Ask the same questions of all the applicants being interviewed for the same job. The situations and the answers you get from the applicants will vary and give some valuable indication of their problem solving skills. Any note taking during a job interview by the supervisor should not include comments about the applicant's appearance, accent, or other non-business related descriptor.

Questions Not to Ask Job Applicants

List of bad questions

  1. Are you married?
  2. Do you have any children? Or, do you plan to have children?
  3. Are you a U.S. citizen?
  4. Do you go to church? If yes, which one?
  5. What year did you receive your high school diploma?
  6. Have you ever had a work related injury at any of your other job?
  7. Your accent is interesting. Where are you from originally?

Asking questions similar to those above are going to lead an applicant to believe that they were not selected for a job because of discriminatory reasons. For those supervisors who have not had much experience conducting job interviews, it is crucial to contact Human Resources for some advise or even training about what kinds of questions should and should not be asked of an applicant. Failing to properly educate staff doing interviews will undoubtedly lead to serious legal problems for the organization.

Asking About an Applicant's Health

In general, it is never OK to ask an applicant about his/her health. Furthermore, an applicant should not be asked about past worker comp situations with other employers from their employment history. However, it is acceptable to ask the following question in an interview:

Are you able to perform the essential functions of the job, with a reasonable accommodation, if necessary?

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows this question with the idea that should the applicant be a person with a disability, an employer is obligated to make a reasonable accommodation if the person with the disability is otherwise qualified for the job. Some employers will actually have the job descriptions at the interview to show the applicant. The job description will have a list of the essential functions of the job for the applicant to review.

Also, after a contingent offer of employment has been made, employers are allowed to send the applicant to a physician for an employment physical. Be advised that the physical can only be done after a contingent offer has been made. Many positions like police officers and firefighters require an employment physical to be done as the final step of the employment process.

Closing Thoughts

Illegal discrimination often occurs when hiring decisions are made by an employer based on non-business reasons. Laws have been passed in this country to help assure that workers have the same opportunities in the workplace; from the hiring process to the termination of employment. Like anything else we do well in life, you should carefully prepare the job interview questions before the interviews to be certain the questions will be business related, will provide the necessary information about the applicant, and be consistently rendered to all candidates. Supervisors who have a limited role in the hiring practice need to communicate to Human Resources any changes to the essential duties of the job when a recruitment effort is being done for a particular vacancy. As much as possible, try not to rush through the steps of the hiring process by not asking good interview questions and skipping steps in the employment process. A little time and a lot of attention to the hiring process is needed to ensure proper job interviews are conducted for all applicants.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very well written and informative.

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Thanks for the feedback. Interviewing is very important part of the hiring process. It is helpful to review interview tips for a refresher from time to time.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      7 years ago

      Useful hub Chris. I've been asked many questions that are on the do not ask list. It's important for hiring managers to really be on top of this list.

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Thanks for the comments, Jake.

    • JakeFrost profile image

      Jake Frost 

      7 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      This is excellent, very useful. Like pringoooals said, it was a great idea including what not to ask. I can see how they might 'accidentally' come up and cause trouble.

      Thanks for writing this fantastic tips.

      Voted up, and very very useful!

      ~ Jake

    • ChrisMcDade8 profile imageAUTHOR

      Christine McDade 

      7 years ago from Southwest Florida

      Yes, it is very easy to ask the wrong kinds of questions that might get a person or company is trouble. Thanks for the comments.

    • pringoooals profile image


      7 years ago from Edinburgh

      Fantastic article! I liked particularly the section about questions not to ask. It is very useful and good to know as some of those questions could just pop out and as you say cause trouble.


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