9 Interview Questions to Ask Potential Employees

9 Revealing Interview Questions to Ask Potential Employees

When you become a leader you have to make a ton of GIANT decisions, whether as an employee who recently got promoted, or an entrepreneur with a business that’s now large enough for you to hire an employee or two. Hiring decisions are probably the most important ones!

Note that being the interviewer is a huge change from being the interviewee.

Pro Tip: Don’t ask unto others the same interview questions that were asked unto you! (That’s why you’re here!)

Or, maybe you’re a seasoned interview pro and you’re here looking for some new interview questions to ask potential employees during your interviews.

I think you’ll agree with me when I say that hiring is one of the most important parts of running a successful business, and knowing what questions to ask is the framework that leads to great hiring decisions.

I’ve got a few of great tactics here, my coaching on the ritual of hiring, and of course my 9 in depth questions to ask potential employees.

It’s Tactics vs Ritual (and Ritual ALWAYS Wins)

So what’s the difference between the two? And what are they?

Tactic – An action that you can take that will help you in an area. It’s actionable.

Ritual – A firm belief in the overall topic. Philosophical. The part of “the thing” that has passion attached to it.

So why does Ritual ALWAYS win?

Because, if you don’t have a method, an opinion, and a default attack plan then you have no where to stick these great tactics that you read about. Ritual is like “your style” of doing something.

Let me say it a bit differently…

If I list out 10 great interviewing tactics (Which I do in this post: 10 Steps to Better Hiring and Interviewing | Win the War for Talent), but you’ve never done an interview and have no idea how the flow of an interview generally goes, you can’t use any of those tactics because you have no framework to add the tactic to.

How do you build your ritual?

Good freaking question!!! Read this whole post, and then go do interviews. Lots of them. As you do, you will build your belief system on how to pull the answers out of people as you ask the questions.

So before I get to my 9 awesome questions to ask potential employees, I’ve got…

A Few Ritual Primers For You

This is so you can start to build up your style of interviewing and form that ever important ritual.

  1. Be yourself. The applicant needs to want the job, and when you are yourself it will translate into an ease and confidence in how you come off to others.
  2. Know the Core Values of the company and make sure that the applicant aligns to that. This could be a 2000 word article in-and-of itself, so I’ll just leave it open and link to an old piece that I wrote on Core Values . I also reference it in the 10 Steps to Better Hiring and Interviewing. It’s steps #3 and #2.
  3. Don’t be nervous! You are in control, so you shouldn’t be nervous. You might be when you start, but know that they are the ones under the light, and you are running the show.
  4. Interview them using your personality. Don’t try to be some hardass when you’re a sweetheart. I know this is practically the same as #1, BUT, it’s that important.

All right…Let’s get to the thing that you came here for!


Interview Questions to Ask Potential Employees

Obviously you need to shake their hand, and go through introductions. Then you get to…

The best way to start an interview is with a question that let’s them talk about whatever they want to talk about. One of my Core Values is to always have fun, so I phrase my first question like this:

Give me your 2-minute commercial about yourself.

That will get them talking, and more importantly get you listening. You’re not allowed to interact with commercials after all!


You want to know what motivates the applicant. What they’re passionate about, what drives them and whether to not you want that motivation, or lack-there-or- as part of your team.

What’s the proudest moment of your career?

The “career” part is important so it keeps them focused on talking about things that they did at work.


You also want to know what the person values in life. So the next question is….

What’s the proudest moment in life?

You’re going to get a very wide array of answers here, but it will give you an idea of who they really are, and will start to let you in on some details that are extremely important, but often not talked about in interviews (children, hobbies etc).


Here is my favorite question! This is where you find out how self aware the person is, how open they are, and if they will admit to mistakes and learn from them.

Tell me about a time where you were disappointed in your effort. How did you grow from it?

This is when you need to really use your listening skills, and the power of silence. A vast majority of applicants will struggle with this question at first, but as you stay quiet and force them them to tell the story, you’ll really get to see what level of commitment the have to learning.


I like to know about the applicants “hero”. The person that taught them everything they know, and helped shape their life.

Who is a person that has mentored you? What did you take from them, and how do you live that lesson forward?

The reason I like this is because when you know that someone invested in them, they will usually want to pay that forward. By asking about this in the interview you also send the message to them that it’s going to be important to you.


When you’re building a team, you can add size by adding followers, or you can multiply effectiveness by adding leaders. I prefer the latter!

Who is a person that you’ve mentored to be a success. Why did you pick them and how did you help them grow?

Leadership is ultra important, and it’s not that you need to hire all leaders, but like the last question, you need to send the message that you expect leadership.


This another leadership based question, but more geared towards interacting with the team.

Tell me a story when you rallied the team through a tough time or a lull in productivity.

You’ll know if they can spot tough times or drops in productivity. You’ll know if they give a rip when things grind to a halt, and if they can put on the captains arm band and lead from on the field.


Another leadership type question here, more geared to seeing how they interact with others.

Tell me about a conflict that you resolved between co-workers, possibly you and another person, and how did you do it?

In times of conflict emotion runs high and people’s true colors come through a bit. Very often when reliving it the same will happen and they will come out of “interview mode” and you’ll get a good glimpse at their true personality.


Having a teammate that will push hard to win is so valuable. You don’t need every teammate to have that love of the grind, but you need plenty of them!

What’s the longest hours you had to put in or a time where you were on a very tight deadline?

What to listen for here is…How important is it for them to win?



Here’s the question that I wrap my interviews with:
Did they do any research? Did they listen to the whole interview? Is the only thing on their mind the pay rate? Here’s how you answer those questions

OK, your turn to interview me! What do you want to know?

The trick to this question is that you need to ask it in a way that makes them comfortable to ask their questions. You can actually tell them that you’re going to ask this at the beginning of the interview to get them ready for it.

Hiring someone is a huge step and shouldn’t be taken lightly. I hope you’re able to use some of these questions to identify the teammate that you hire on.


7 Secrets to Get Yourself a Job Interview TOMORROW

10 Steps to better Interviewing and Hiring | Win the War for Talent

If you’d like to get a Monday Morning message from me with 3 strategies to prime you for a killer week, then sign up for my free Monday Morning 3 Point Primer.

There’s nothing more important than talent selection.

If you feel stuck, and unable to enact your vision, improving your hiring is the fastest way to change the direction of the business. Hiring isn’t hard, but to many it doesn’t come naturally. It’s a skill, and just like anything else, it’s a skill that can be honed with some knowledge and a few simple techniques. I’ve got 10 steps to support you in making better hiring decisions so you can win the war for top talent.

Step #10 Don’t Take Notes
Go to the interview with no pen, no paper, no phone, and no iPad. Just you and the candidate. It  will make you much more in tune with them and their answers, and will cut down on things for them to hide behind creating a more involved conversation. The goal is to assess the candidates skills and values so that you can make a decision on whether of not your want to have them represent your company.

To get their full story, you have to be engaged in active listening and you can’t do that with your attention on a legal pad!

Now, I didn’t say not to write ANYTHING down, I just said don’t do it while you’re in the conversation. After you wrap the interview, and stand to shake their hand to thank them for their time, now is the time to get your notes going. They’re gone, and you can think clearly. Jot down your thoughts and reactions on what they said. If you have a corporate interviewing packet, now is when you fill it out. By separating the listening portion of the interview with the writing and reflecting portion of the interview, you add value to both processes.

It’s not that you can’t do two things at once, it’s just that you shouldn’t when you’re going to be making such a huge decision!

Step #9 Ask for Stories
Avoid hypothetical answers, to the point where you refuse to accept them. When the interview starts, tell the applicant that you want answers in the form of a story, and that theses stories need to be about specific events that took place.

A hypothetical answer sounds something like this; “You know how customers can be sometimes, so it’s important to stay calm, and be direct in solving their problem so they leave happy.”
That’s not actually an answer, it’s a theory. It’s a decent theory, but it says nothing about the person’s skill set and it has one mission on the mind; IMPRESS YOU TO GET HIRED.

Hypothetical answers lead you right into the trap of getting fooled into hiring someone that is not fit for the job. This is because when they talk in theories, they sound much better than they really are.

Specific answers, now those cut through the BS! To do that we’re going to do 2 simple things. First, towards the beginning of the interview, after you finish the small talk questions, tell them you’re going to get into your real interview questions and that you want them to answer by telling a story. Second, when you ask your first question, tell them the same thing again, like this; “Tell me a story about a time you had to BLANK”.

What if I still get hypotheticals? That’s fine. Nearly everyone is used to answering interview questions like that, and you’re also used to getting them! When they start a hypothetical answer, let the person talk for a minute because there’s a decent chance that they will start out with a theory, and then go into a story. This interview style is new to them, so be patient. If the specific story doesn’t come, then we’re going to intervene with a reminder to give us the story. Something like this; “Ok that sounds interesting, so tell me about a time where you did that.”

Now you’ll be getting answers that will tell you what they did, and that will be a better representation of their skill set. From there, we can make a better judgement on wether or not they are the talent that you’re looking for.

Step #8 Be a Movie Director
Ok so what do we de with these stories? We’re going to listen to what they say, and “create a movie” in our head. Use their details to set the backdrop, and set the mood. If they don’t tell you where exactly this story is taking place, ask, and be specific. Not just the job they worked at, but was it in their office? On a sales floor?  Imagine the conversations they talk about as dialogue, and immerse yourself in the characters. As the story unfolds in their words, it unfolds as pictures in your head. This is how we are going to truly know if they are going to work for us!

You’ll start to catch hypothetical answers really quick because there’s a true lack of details, and you won’t be able to create your movie.

Now for the most important reason for making a movie out of their answers. The business world is relational, and relationships are built on conversations, so if the applicant can’t craft a compelling story, then can they achieve the success that you need to have on our team?

It doesn’t matter if you’re in sales, customer service, or a hands-on trade like electrical work, if they can’t connect with people, they’re going to experience performance issues.

It takes some patience to build your movie as they narrate the story. Don’t rush it. Stay quiet, keep listening, (more on that with #6), and use some imagination and creativity. If you have any areas that need clarification, mentally lump them into two categories;

  1. CUT, CUT, CUT – The story is missing detail to a point where your movie doesn’t make sense. As the director, you intervene and bring everything to a halt. Ask the applicant to go back and fill in the missing info.
  2. Fix it in editing – The story was only lacking a small amount of clarity and you make a mental note of it, and ask the applicant to revisit it at the end.

It’s worth noting, that when asked to answer questions in the form of a story, and having you creating the movie in your head, it is very difficult for the applicant to be untruthful. The answers have to be very complex to be made into a movie, and that level of detail is almost impossible to create on the fly.

Step #7 Ask a ton of Follow Up Questions
This is the part of the interview where we get to be in control. We’re going to be looking for gaps in the story, and making them fill them in for us using the 2 styles mentioned above.

How you ask the follow up questions is much less important than actually asking them. Do it in your style. If you’re assertive, be assertive and interrupt as you ask the question sounding skeptical. If you’re gently, politely interrupt and ask for  the clarification.

When you ask a follow up, be specific in what you’re asking, but you HAVE to walk the fine line of not answering it for them.
Good Example: “OK so you’ve got this majorly stressful situation and your GM is no where to be found. So what ended up happening??
Bad Example: “OK so you’ve got this majorly stressful situation and your GM is no where to be found. So you were able to calm it all down and get the customer happy?”
See the difference? In the bad example, you set the applicant up for success. It’s going to be a good answer because you made it a good answer. In the good example, there’s no details for them to play off of. They have to continue telling their story!

The follow up questions typically take the most time to master out of all the interviewing skills, and that’s because it doesn’t feel like you’re in control of the interview, and typically if your interviewing someone, you’re used to be in control constantly!

Since you typically will do a few interviews a week, you can practice the follow up questions normal conversation, and when you do, an amazing thing will happen; people will tell you things that you can’t believe they just told you! You give them the stage to talk, and they will just keep on talking.

#6 The 4 Secrets to Amazing Interviewing
OK we’re about halfway through here, so now it’s time to give you the one piece of advice that, above all the other ones, is by far and away the most valuable! When I was taught this by one of my mentors in 2011, it forever changed my hiring ability. I actually still have the exact paper he wrote it on, and not only that, it’s actually with me in my work bag at all times. I think this piece of wisdom is THAT valuable. Now, without further adue, here are the 4 Secrets to Amazing Interviewing;

  1. Ask Question
  2. Listen 
  3. Ask Question
  4. Listen

Here is the picture of this original lesson that I got on June 30th, 2011.

That’s it. Beautifully simple. Ask a question, listen to their answer, then ask a follow up question about it, and listen to their answer, then ask another follow up question or a different question, and listen, and repeat…

#5 Allow for awkward Silence
Be Patient, and don’t rush to finish the interview. That’s when you will start to make hiring mistakes.
Now when it comes to a silence during the interview, we need to learn to love it, not fear it. Embrace it, don’t try to fill it up.

This is their interview, and that means it’s their silence. 

When it get’s quiet, stay quiet. Use the time to think, reflect, and wait for them to talk again. They will, and a majority of the time, this is when they tell you the deeper things that they don’t tell other interviewers. Many character flaws are revealed after a silence.

Alright that’s the nuts and bolts stuff. The rest of the list is much larger, broader concepts. More complex, and less actionable, but also more important!

#4 Diversity, the Yin to your Yang
This is not diversity in the sense of social diversity, it’s diversity in the sense of you need to be looking for people that have skills that compliment areas that you have a weakness. Now if you work in sales, everyone you hire needs to have sales skills, but they don’t all need to share your passion for spreadsheets and data, or have O.C.D. about paperwork like you.
If your a people-person, you need to diversify and hire a details-person. If you’re highly analytical, you need to hire someone that’s intuitive. If you’re a Gen-Xer then you need a co-leader that’s a Millennial.

#3 Job Values
What are the skills the applicant MUST have to get hired? You need a list, and it needs to be gospel. If can be as small as 3 things, it can be as many as 10, but it needs to be specific , and they have to be non-negotiable.

Don’t make “honesty” one of them. That’s obvious!

Give this list some thought, and use pencil, not pen. The list needs to evolve as you evolve. It needs to be able to shift as the world changes. If you’re in an industry where discipline is important, then “Follows the process” may be a job value. If you’re in tech, that job value will eventually lead to the death of your company because the tech industry changes extremely fast and your team needs to be able to adapt and creatively solve problems.

Job Values 2.0
What are some skills that you prefer they possess, but aren’t necessary? To ask that differently, what are some skills that you want, but are teachable? To work in tech, they have to be able to write code to work for you, but they don’t necessarily need to be a master public speaker. Maybe that is part of the job, but that’s a skill set that you can teach on the job.

#2 Alignment to The Purpose
This ALMOST made it to #1…it’s that important.
What is “The Purpose” of your company or division, and what are the “Core Values” that your team lives by?
“The Purpose” aligns the group, and the individuals align to it. It’s a statement that expresses the highest aspirations of the team, and it can never be check off as complete. It’s the direction, and the identity. It’s what you shoot for, constantly. If your a non-profit, it might be “To always be in a giving mindset”. All, and I mean ALL of your hires HAVE to align to The Purpose by nature.

If you can’t confidently state your Purpose, then you need to make that priority #1.
Click here for guidance on finding your company’s or divisions Purpose.

So how do you find out if they align to The Purpose? Subtly, that’s how. If you tell them what it is, then they will say, “Yep that’s the most important thing there is!” You’re going to do 2 things.

  1. Ask them “what are you proud of?” and then listen. After the response is complete, ask 3-5 follow up questions, and you will be able to track back through the persons values and figure out what makes them so proud, and you’ll be able to answer the question, “Do they want to [insert The Purpose here]?
  2. Tell a Purpose-laden story of your own, and once your done, ask for their thoughts on what you said. If they pick out a version of The Purpose, then you know they align to it.

#1 An Interview is an Audit of Skills
It’s not about getting a good interview, it’s about getting an accurate interview.
This is #1, because it is. As in there is no argument that I can dethrone it, because it is what interviewing is.

A good interview is their responsibility. An accurate interview is your responsibility.

All hiring mistakes, yes all, are because something  was missed, and it caused an inaccurate audit of the person’s skills. Have you ever heard someone use the cliche’ “They were a totally different person in the interview!”

It’s impossible for them to be a different person in the interview vs the person that shows up to work.

If you interview the applicant for 2 hours, and at the end can’t answer YES to whether or not they align to The Purpose, and have the job values required for success…THAT’S GREAT. All it means is they need another interview.

There is nothing more important than the people that work for you.


If you’d like to get a Monday Morning message from me with 3 strategies to prime you for a killer week, then sign up for my free Monday Morning 3 Point Primer.