Top 50 Strategic Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

By Mike Simpson

On average, filling a vacancy costs companies a little more than $4,000 per new hire. With that much money on the line, getting it right the first time is a must. And that’s where strategic interview questions to ask candidates come in.

By asking the right questions when you meet with applicants, you increase your odds of securing the perfect person for the job. If you want to make sure you’re using the best approach possible, here’s everything you need to know.

Interview Strategy

Before we dig into the top strategic interview questions to ask candidates, it’s essential to spend a moment discussing best practices. You need a great approach if you’re not just going to find the cream of the crop but also entice them to come on board.

Overall, about 50 percent of candidates have declined job offers due to a poor candidate experience. That means, if the interview process is subpar, you may lose half of your top contenders right there. Ouch, right?

So, how do you make sure that you don’t just find a great candidate but also convince them that this is the opportunity for them? By having a great interview strategy.

When you’re interviewing, you need to evaluate two main things. First, your primary goal is to determine if the candidate has the right skills to excel. Second, you want to gauge culture fit, as that can play a big role in the new hire’s level of success.

How do you figure all of that out? Well, by asking a mix of traditional and behavioral job interview questions.

Traditional job interview questions are usually straightforward. You’re requesting a piece of information directly.

While traditional interview questions can be “yes” or “no” questions, it’s usually best to try and make them open-ended. For example, you shouldn’t just ask candidates, “Do you have [skill]?” Instead, go with “Can you tell me about your experience with [skill]?” That way, your asking for more than a simple “yes” or “no,” helping you gather more information.

Behavioral interview questions are a bit different. With these, you usually use one of two approaches.

First, you can present the candidate with a scenario, asking how they’d act if a particular event occurred. Second, you can request examples of how they’ve previously tackled a certain kind of situation.

Both of these strategies are all about seeing how a candidate may behave in the workplace under specific circumstances. They ultimately allow you to anticipate how they’d perform in the role, making them crucial question types to ask.

Now, let’s talk about the topics you need to tap on. In most cases, you want to have some general job interview questions, as well as position-specific ones.

General job interview questions apply to a range of positions. Usually, they focus on fundamental workplace skills or traits that every employee needs to bring to the table. As a result, you can use them when interviewing for nearly any kind of vacancy.

For example, “How do you deal with stress?” is universally important. Every job comes with some level of stress, so this is a good one to ask essentially any applicant.

On the other side of the equation are job-specific questions. With these, you want to hone in on any must-have skills or traits for that particular position.

Since job-specific questions like these relate directly to a position, they aren’t universally wise ones to ask. For example, while asking a software developer to tell you about their experience with a programming language is a good idea, you don’t want to ask an administrative assistant candidate that question, as it doesn’t connect to that job.

By using a combination approach, you touch on core work-related skills along with ones that relate to that exact role. This gives you a better picture of what the applicant brings to the table, making it easier to separate top talent from the rest.

It’s best to choose the questions you want to ask in advance, as well as ask every job seeker the same thing. By having a question list, you create a consistent experience, making it easier to compare candidates. Plus, you don’t have to worry about forgetting something important.

MIKE'S TIP: You may be wondering, if you’re using a standard question list, does that mean you can’t deviate from it? Not necessarily. If you want to dig deeper into an answer the candidate gave, by all means, ask clarifying questions. Just make sure you use the list as a framework and return to it after the quick side jaunt. That way, you’ll cover all of the necessary ground while also learning more about something that piqued your interest.

Now, once you have your questions figured out, how do you spot a great answer? In some cases, the content of the response is enough. If the candidate can give you specific examples of them using their skills to excel at work, you’re on the right track. If the candidate provides vague responses, that’s a red flag.

With behavioral interview questions, whether a candidate discusses an approach that seems reasonable matters. After all, the examples they share are usually based on experience. If they act inappropriately in that example, there’s a good chance they’d miss the mark if you hired them, too.

How the candidate responds is also important. While a little nervousness is fine, you want to focus on job seekers who seem confident in their abilities. They should be well-spoken, having given thought to what they were going to say.

It’s also smart to concentrate on candidates that target their answers to your company’s needs. Usually, highly relevant responses show the job seeker did their research and spent time learning about the role and the nature of your business. That’s good stuff, as it shows they are genuinely engaged in the process and interested in the opportunity.

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Common Mistakes When Asking Interview Questions and How to Avoid Them

Interviewing is a skill, one that often takes time to hone. In the beginning, many managers make various mistakes that harm the candidate experience or prevent them from learning what they need to know. Luckily, by knowing what they are, you can avoid them.

One of the biggest missteps is asking “inappropriate” questions. Usually, this includes anything that relates to a protected status or information that is overly personal. Anything that relates to a candidate’s age, gender, race, religious preferences, disability, or similar topics is a no-go, even if the connection is a bit indirect.

Not respecting the candidate’s time is also a major issue. For example, starting the interview late makes it seem like you don’t value the applicant or that you struggle with organization, both of which don’t reflect well on you or your company.

Intentionally trying to trick or stress out a candidate is something else you should avoid. While you might think it’ll help you figure out how they act under pressure, it won’t actually help you gauge the candidate’s capabilities.

Remember, an interview is already stressful; there’s no need to make it harder. Plus, if you’re actively trying to trip them up, you may be seen as aggressive, unwelcoming, or harsh, harming the candidate experience.

Finally, not giving the candidate your full attention is, in a word, rude. Don’t spend time trying to multitask during your meeting. While you can certainly take notes to make it easier to remember what the candidate shares, don’t try to do anything more than that. Also, silence your notifications and phone, removing these potential distractions from the equation.

Top 50 Strategic Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Alright, now it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for: the top strategic interview questions to ask candidates.

Now, before we hop in, it’s important to note that this list doesn’t contain everything you might want to ask. This list focuses on questions that could apply to a wide range of jobs, so you’ll also want to find some job-specific ones to throw into the mix.

With that out of the way, here are 50 strategic interview questions to ask candidates:

    1. Tell me something about yourself that I may find surprising.
    2. Can you tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker? How did you resolve it?
    3. Why did you apply to this opening?
    4. What do you know about our company?
    5. How would you describe our products or services to someone who has never heard of our company?
    6. Describe your ideal work environment.
    7. How would you describe your perfect manager?
    8. Why did you leave your last position?
    9. Tell me about a time where you used [skill] to achieve success.
    10. What is your greatest strength? What about your greatest weakness?
    11. How would you deal with an upset customer or client?
    12. What do you think is your greatest achievement?
    13. Which trait do you feel is most important for succeeding in this job or field?
    14. Tell me about a time where you failed to meet a deadline. What happened, and how did you recover?
    15. What part of your work history makes you a good fit for this job?
    16. What emerging trend do you think will have the biggest impact on our industry?
    17. How do you manage stress?
    18. What do you enjoy most about your current job / What did you enjoy most about your last job? What did you enjoy least?
    19. Tell me about a time where you disagreed with your manager. How did you proceed?
    20. Do you prefer to work independently or collaboratively?
    21. If you could change one thing about your most recent workplace, what would it be and why?
    22. What do you do to keep your skills current?
    23. How would your most recent boss describe you? What about your most recent coworkers?
    24. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. What occurred, and what did you do to fix it?
    25. What strategies do you use to meet tight deadlines?
    26. If you two managers each gave you a high-priority task, how do you determine which one should be done first?
    27. Tell me about a time you had to use creativity to solve a problem?
    28. What is the most interesting work project you’ve ever had? What about it appealed to you?
    29. Can you tell me about a time where you set a challenging goal for yourself? What did you do to make sure you achieved it?
    30. What would you do if you were wrapping up a project only to hear that the project goals had changed?
    31. How do you prefer to communicate with your manager? What about when you communicate with your coworkers?
    32. When you take part in a group project, what role do you usually fill?
    33. How do you respond to constructive criticism?
    34. In your opinion, is it ever okay to bend the rules? If so, when?
    35. What steps are you taking to improve yourself?
    36. If you noticed that a coworker was struggling with their workload, what would you do?
    37. Tell me about a time where you had to discuss a complex subject with someone who wasn’t particularly savvy on the topic. How did you make sure they understood what you shared?
    38. If you could go back in time and change one thing about your career, what would it be and why?
    39. What is something that isn’t on your resume that you feel I should know?
    40. If you could write your perfect job description, what would it say?
    41. Tell me about a time where you set a goal but didn’t reach it. What happened?
    42. What are you passionate about?
    43. What motivates you?
    44. How would you define success in this role?
    45. When you arrive at the workplace at the start of the day, what’s the first thing you do?
    46. How do you stay organized during the day?
    47. Who is your biggest inspiration?
    48. What skill do you lack that you wish you had?
    49. What’s the biggest workplace decision you ever made?
    50. If you could implement a new solution in a workplace, what kind of solution would it be and why?

Top 5 Questions to Avoid Asking Candidates

While there are plenty of strategic interview questions to ask candidates available, there are also certain questions you need to avoid.

If a question has to do with a protected status, either directly or indirectly, it’s a no-go. Similarly, questions that are overly personal are often inappropriate, particularly if they have no bearing on whether a candidate could perform the job.

If you want to make sure you don’t cross the line, here are five example questions to avoid when speaking with candidates.

    1. Where are you originally from?
    2. Do you have any disabilities I should be aware of?
    3. How old are you?
    4. Do you plan on starting a family any time soon?
    5. Have you ever filed a workers’ compensation claim?

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, all of the strategic interview questions to ask candidates above are worth considering. Choose the ones that will help you identify top-tier applicants for the role you want to fill. Then, create a question list that you can use during each meeting. That way, you’re ensuring you don’t miss an important point and can easily compare candidates, making it easier than ever to find the perfect applicant for the job.

I hope these questions help you find the right candidate!

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  • What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
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  • Why Should We Hire You?
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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.