Hiring & Recruiting

20 Top Job Interview Questions

If you could ask only 20 questions in a job interview, which should they be? BLR’s editorial mind weighs in with the answers.

Back in the day, there used to be a TV quiz show called “20 Questions.” The contestant had a secret in mind, and the panel was challenged to learn it in just 20 questions. If they could, the panel won. If not, the contestant walked away with the prize.

We’re still playing a version of that game today every time we interview a candidate for a job. A win for your company is substantial — a productive employee who will be with the organization for many years.

During the interview there are hundreds of questions that could be asked, but if we were limited to 20, which would elicit the responses most predictive of future job success? We’re not talking about routine stuff like “where did you work?” or “what did you do on your last job?” We’re talking about more probing questions that reveal the person sitting behind the smile and the handshake.

To help choose, we assembled several lists, starting with our own set of more than 100 general interview questions found on the subscription website HR.BLR.com. The site has a ton of interview resources.

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We then supplemented our own thinking with that of interview question creators on other sites, including Quintessential Careers, HRinterviews.blogspot, and About.com’s HR site; then narrowed our choices. Here are the 20 we chose, and the areas they explore:


1) What aspects of your training and education have most helped you on the job?

2) What skills or knowledge do you have not evident from your school records?

Work background/preferences:

3) What about your last job prepared you for this job?

4) What did you like most and least about your previous jobs?

5) What would your previous supervisor say if we asked him or her about what you are like as an employee?

6) What are your two greatest accomplishments on your previous jobs?

7) What are your two greatest disappointments on your previous jobs?

8) If you could design the ideal job for you, what would it be like?

9) Tell me what you know about our company and its competitors.

Workplace interaction

10) How do you resolve personal confrontations?

11) What have you done when you’ve received instructions with which you’ve disagreed?

12) What constructive criticism have you received, and what did you do about it?

13) Tell me about your experiences working on a team.

Leadership potential

14) What do you feel are the qualities required for good leadership?

15) Tell me about a group you had to lead that was difficult and how you got the members to achieve a goal.

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Behavior under stress

16) What do you do when you have too much work for a given period of time?

17) Tell me about the toughest decision you ever had to make.

Future Behaviors/Retention Possibilities

18) Where would you like to be careerwise in 5 years? In 10 years?

19) What are three things you will NOT do on your next job?

20) Are you lucky?

If you consider number 20 a bit strange, it has real potential, according to Daniel Pink, author of the best seller, “Free Agent Nation,” and a speaker at SHRM’s recent national conference. According to Pink, individuals who believe themselves lucky tend to be optimistic and work out well as collaborators, innovators, and providers of excellent customer service.

Are these the questions you would pick? Use the Share Your Comments button to agree or add to the list.

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