5 Important Interview Questions You’re Not Asking

People come to an interview wanting to tell the interviewer what the interviewer wants to hear. Interviewers often feed right into this by structuring the interview in a way that gives the applicant information to repeat back—allowing them to look perhaps more qualified for the role than they truly are. This is one reason why even a thorough recruiting process can result in hiring the wrong employees.

So, how can an employer change this dynamic? Mel Kleiman provided advice in a recent BLR webinar: First, start by changing your interview flow. Instead of explaining what you’re looking for at the start of the interview, don’t tell them anything in advance—if you do, that allows them to simply tell you what you want to hear.

In fact, if the applicant asks questions up front, simply explain that you’d like to get some information about them, and then you’ll explain more about the company and the job, and then you’ll let them ask more questions. Take control of your interview.

5 Most Important Interview Questions You’re Not Asking

The 5 most important questions are actually variations on common interview themes. The tweaks are important, however, because they completely change the information solicited from the applicant. Here are the 5 most important interview questions you’re probably not asking:

  1. Tell me about your very first paying job.“What’s the question most of us ask? The standard question is: ‘Tell me about your last job.’ What does every single person have an absolute canned answer for? Their last job.” Kleiman noted..Asking instead about their first job lets you begin to see what type of person you’re interviewing. Ask follow-up questions that establish where they progressed, which will tell you their capacity to take on additional responsibilities. Ask them what they learned along the way.
  2. Tell me about the achievements in your life you are most proud of and the obstacles or problems you had to overcome to achieve them. Give the applicant time to think about what they want to say. In fact, throughout the interview process, let silence work for you. Don’t help them answer the questions. What you’re looking for with this question is to see how they solve problems. See how they overcome issues.
  3. Tell me about your last performance appraisal. It doesn’t matter the outcome, just ask about it and ask how they felt about it and whether they got a copy of it. (If yes, they could bring it – it may be more useful to you than a reference!)
  4. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rank yourself as a [job title]? Why did you give yourself that number? It doesn’t matter what the number is, unless they say they’re a 10. If they do, you may consider highlighting that even the best professionals can always learn more. If they still insist they are a 10, consider not hiring them—if you hire them, they may not be the type of person who is inclined to learn, Kleiman cautions.The second part is the more important part of the question—to see what rationale they give behind the chosen number. It will tell you a lot about that person and their ability level. Ask probing questions if appropriate. Follow up by asking what it would take to move up to the next number. This lets them explain what they need to do better or what they want to learn next.

    In interviews, many interviewers ask about strengths and weaknesses, but this question format avoids a canned response. It also allows someone to explain what they can do better without actually asking them about weaknesses.

  5. What one question would you like to ask me? Of all the questions you could have asked, why did you choose that one? This question does not have to be the last one you have, but it’s important to ask it at some point. The second half is more important than the question they chose. In fact, don’t answer their initial question—follow up with the second half of it first to see why they want to know. This lets you see what the applicant finds important.

If you’re looking to really find out who the person is – the behavior, the skills, the capacity – these five questions will get to the core of the individual.

For more information on interview tips to recruit and hire the best employees, order the webinar recording of “Recruiting for HR: Quit Selecting the Best Applicants and Start Hiring the Best Employees.” To register for a future webinar, visit

Mel Kleiman, CSP, is the founder of Humetrics Inc., which helps employers standardize and systemize the way they recruit, select, and retain frontline hourly employees and their managers. He is recognized as one of the foremost authorities in his field due to his cross-industry experience and groundbreaking research work.