Business management

Questions for every interview

Leading recruiters share their must-ask questions, and their red flags.

Capability and drive

Q: How do you handle several important projects simultaneously?

Q: How do you handle stress in a fast-paced environment?

If you want to establish whether a candidate has the skills to thrive under pressure, these questions will help to demonstrate if they have what it takes. The small teams that comprise SMEs and start-ups usually require an element of multitasking, so it’s crucial to assess candidates’ ability to do this.

Kelly Laine, head of recruitment delivery at recruitment firm BPS World, says employers must look for a sense of urgency, organisational skills and a positive attitude to communication and interaction.

“You will be wanting to see examples of where they have been efficient and productive in a fast-paced team environment,” she advises. “The characteristics you are looking out for will be someone with speed who can take on extra tasks outside of their day-to-day job, is organised and able to multitask and prioritise efficiently.”

If the interviewee is not able to provide satisfactory examples of how they have thrived in a fast-paced company, be wary, she says. Also, hints that the person has not delivered on tasks outside their role and that they dislike working in a busy environment are red flags.


Q: Describe a situation where you got people to work together...

Q: Tell me about a time you led a group to achieve an objective...

Lorraine Twist, operating director for finance at Michael Page, points out that while many applicants will have similar experiences and skills, asking questions that tap into their attitudes to people will help to identify the candidates most suited to a company.

“Individuals who are able to demonstrate initiative and enthusiasm through their answers are definitely the candidates to look out for,” says Twist. “The professional you’re interviewing may potentially be joining your business and therefore working closely with your existing teams, so showing curiosity, motivation and a positive attitude is a strong indication that the candidate would fit your expectations and company culture.”

She says applicants who ask about team roles, company culture and performance measures give an indication of their approach to colleagues. Conversely, speaking negatively about past experiences, employers or workmates is a bad sign, as the individual should be able to fit in with an existing team in a positive and productive manner, without causing conflict.

Culture and growth

Q: What are your values?

Q: What do you want to learn?

Members of small teams need to share similar mindsets to foster growth. Companies, therefore, should hire those with compatible values.

“Interviewing for cultural fit as well as job qualifications will help employers understand a candidate’s ethics, beliefs and motivators,” explains Joanne Cumper, managing consultant at talent and recruitment firm Futurestep. “Assessing cultural fit throughout the hiring process will help organisations hire those that will not only excel in their new positions, but also work towards driving business growth.”.

Showing curiosity, motivation and a positive attitude is a strong indication the candidate would fit your company culture

Lorraine Twist
Operating Director, Michael Page

She stresses that it is vital to attract people who want to learn, and advises SMEs and start-ups to look for individuals who talk about their weaknesses and strengths openly, showing self-awareness and a willingness to grow.

“Candidates who believe they have [already] learned everything they need should come up as a red flag for recruiters,” Cumper warns. “Employers must try not to take candidates’ answers at face value, but rather, follow up to find evidence when assessing a person’s values. Candidates should be able to express how these values manifest themselves in their lives and provide ample examples for authenticity.”


Q: Why do you want to join us and what attracted you to the role?

Q: If you got the job and had a very successful first year in the role, what kinds of achievements would we celebrate?

Martyn Wright, EMEIA (Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa) recruitment associate director at EY’s financial services office, says it’s crucial for a recruiter to establish the candidate’s interest in the organisation – and the reason they are looking to leave their current job.

“These should be obtained in as much detail as possible to ensure their needs fit with the business but also to ascertain why they are actually in the interview,” he says.

He goes on to warn employers that some applicants will use a resulting job offer as a bargaining tool to secure a better deal from their current organisation; questioning will uncover a candidate who is not genuinely committed.

Holly Fisher, head of talent at digital marketing agency BozBoz, is also keen to avoid taking on people whose motivation centres only on themselves. When asked what successes they would hypothetically be celebrating after one year, some candidates answer based on their achievements, others focus on the team, and occasionally, a candidate focuses on the company.

“I am ideally looking for a mix of all three responses, as this shows they are driven, a team player and commercially focused,” says Fisher. “The worst kind of answer is the one that is purely about themselves, as in my experience, this kind of candidate is most likely to jump ship as soon they get a better offer.”

Finally, Steven Shephard, director of Sync Recruitment, urges employers to be aware that, when assessing a person’s motivation, the individual will say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. External recruiters, he comments, will glean relatively more honest answers.

“If a candidate doesn’t have any questions or they clearly know nothing about the company, that is usually a red flag,” he surmises. “Money is important, it’s what pays the bills and makes life pleasurable, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus. Also, if someone asks a lot about promotional prospects, that’s not a bad thing, but remember most people move jobs for promotional reasons, so you might end up with a short-lived hire.”

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