10 Strategic Interview Questions to ask Candidates

Hiring managers, let’s face it: the cost of a wrong hire is higher than you might expect. Beyond direct costs like training and salary, there are significant indirect costs, such as a drop in team morale and overall productivity. Did you know the average cost of a wrong hire is seven times the salary? Imagine the cost of a series of wrong hires!  Therefore, they should be asking strategic interview questions to candidates to prevent that from happening.

As a leading executive search firm, Citadel Search has interviewed many job candidates to profile the best fit for our clients. We understand the importance of asking the right interview questions to assess the skills and experience, cultural fit, and motivation of a candidate. The right interview process can identify red flags and thereby ensure a good fit, improving your hiring quality and saving costs.

Considering factors like the working environment, career path, work-life balance, and ability to meet tight deadlines can help you find candidates with the right skill set, soft skills, and work style. By focusing on the specifics of job seekers’ previous roles and project management experience, you can better gauge the eligibility and suitability of job seekers.

By enhancing your hiring process, you can benefit from a stronger team and have a good retention strategy of your employees. This not only supports individual career paths but also boosts overall productivity and job satisfaction in the team.

Can do? Will do? Organisational fit?

Consider these 3 factors when deciding what questions to ask in an interview:

Can do? – This depends on the core competencies required for this job role. It is important to ensure that the baseline skills are present when the person is hired.

Will do? – Employee motivation dictates the level of commitment, drive and energy that the candidate can potentially bring to the company.

Organisational fit? – Employees are generally happier when they fit well in an organization which ultimately has a positive and direct impact on their productivity at work.

Keeping these 3 factors in mind, let’s dive deeper into the type of questions hiring managers should ask during an interview!

Top 10 Interview Questions that are the Most Useful and Interesting

Interview Question 1: What motivates you about this position/role?

Usually, Hiring Managers will ask the candidates why they want this job. Why not phrase the question in such a way as to determine the candidate’s motivations for applying for this position? You may discover their hidden inspirations for applying and certain facets of the job that interests them! Ask them to talk about it in more detail, so that you can gain a clear understanding of their expectations and whether the company truly can provide them with the right opportunities. Secondly, ascertain if the job can sustain their motivation factors. This is crucial. Most Hiring Managers become enamoured with the candidate’s technical fit but pay little focus on what are the candidates’ motivation factors. This is a mistake. If the motivation factors are not sustainable, they quit fast.

For example, if you are looking for a Sales Manager, and your organisation’s sales cycle is long and consultative but your candidate comes from a domain of short sales cycle, they may get easily demotivated if they don’t close deals quickly, even if they are highly successful salesperson in their past jobs. Hence spend time to ascertain if they are able to persevere and stay motivated. Or else, when the going gets tough, or when other opportunities that were similar to their past jobs knock on their doors, they may not stay.

Interview Question 2: Why should we hire you?

Find out what exactly the candidates can bring to the table, their main strengths, and how their past experience can benefit the company. Do they meet the required qualifications? Listen to whether the candidate speaks in terms of the company’s needs. Determine if they understand what your company emphasizes and whether they can meet those needs. Look for authentic answers, not well-rehearsed phrases.

We value candidates who are self-reflective and willing to share an honest personal assessment of their fit for the role. While confidence is important, authenticity is equally crucial. There is a genius in the ‘and’ here: we seek candidates who are both confident and genuine.

To prompt interviewees along, check how they are able to address the company’s specific requirements, look for cues of mis-fits of culture, nature of work, and the ability to contribute to a positive working environment. 

For example, we recently are looking for Legal Associates and Senior Associates in Mergers & Acquisition and the nature of work tends to be extended beyond the 9am – 5pm. For candidates who are watching the clock or have daily mission-critical activities, they will not be a good fit to the role. Whilst employers may be open to accommodating, transactions are time-sensitive hence, such environments are not necessarily suitable for all. 

Your role as a strategic interviewer must draw out these motivations to check for the ‘Will-Do’ not just the ‘Can-Do’. The willingness to put in the long hours becomes a critical criteria to delineate who to bring to the next round of interviews.” By focusing on these aspects, you can ensure that you identify job seekers who not only possess the right skill set but also align well with your company’s values and goals.

Interview Question 3: What did you engage in during the gaps in between your jobs?

Most hiring managers have a bias against job candidates with long employment gaps. Despite the negative stigma, employers should give job-seekers a chance. Avoid jumping to conclusions and making assumptions without gathering sufficient information from the candidate. At Citadel Search, we strive not to overlook potentially qualified candidates. Instead, we listen to how they spent their time during these gaps, ensuring we don’t let unconscious bias get in the way. There may be valid reasons if you take the time to listen. It could be a family support issue, a sabbatical break, or other valid reasons.

Ask openly about the gap. Did they pick up any new relevant skills and experience that could be valuable to your company? Did they keep up with industry trends and prepare to return to the workforce? Assessing these factors can reveal a candidate’s potential for a good fit within your working environment, considering both their skill set and cultural fit.

Remember, the right approach can uncover valuable insights and prevent unconscious bias from excluding potentially great hires.

Interview Question 4: What are your reasons for leaving (did you leave) your current job?

Such a question reveals a lot about the candidate as to whether they left for a good reason, voluntarily, and did he/she end on good terms with the company. Through their answers, you can predict if the candidate is likely to be responsible, loyal, has good relationship skills, or satisfactory performance at work. Look out for these behavioural patterns to determine their work ethics and job values which can be evaluated in the interview. By asking behavioural interview questions, you can foresee if they are the right fit for the company and their likely reasons for wanting to quit if you were to hire them.

We like candidates who are honest in their explanations since such information can be cross-checked with the referees. Most importantly, recognise if they are habitual job hoppers who make light of their jobs. You wouldn’t want history to repeat itself right?

Interview Question 5: What are your top 3 motivation factors for your next career move?

By understanding the top 3 most motivation factors that the candidate is looking out for in his next move, you will have a better gauge on what drives the candidate. This interview question allows you to determine whether he/she is a right fit for the company. A motivated employee is much more willing to invest his or her utmost at work, allowing the company to achieve higher levels of output.

The more common factors are career progression, work-life balance, opportunities, etc. Recognise their priorities in their career and determine if their expectations can be met by the company. However, go in-depth as candidates may not have seriously thought about these questions and may give superficial answers. Remember to focus on what the company can offer in order to find the right fit. Be honest if you cannot fulfil those motivations as they are intrinsically important to that candidate. Being open and transparent also paves the way to an effective mutually respectful relationship.

Interview Question 6: Tell me about yourself.

This is a very popular starter question among hiring managers. It gives a bird-eye view of the candidate’s professional history and how they present themselves. As a hiring manager, look out for these 4 main topics namely, their early years, education, work history and recent career experience as well as their career motivation factors.

Interview Question 7: How does your coworkers or boss describe you?

Interestingly, instead of asking candidates to describe themselves, asking from a third party’s point of view invariably gives a more accurate representation. This interview question often makes a candidate think more deeply and reflect on how their bosses and coworkers describe them.

The way to ask is: “Suppose we were to do a reference check with your boss and ask them to describe you, what five key descriptors would they use?”

This approach helps hiring managers gain insights into the candidate’s communication skills, problem-solving skills, and how they fit into a team. It also sheds light on their cultural fit within the working environment and their ability to meet tight deadlines. Additionally, it reveals their thought process and how they have utilised their skills and experience in previous roles.

Understanding how a candidate is perceived by others can highlight their strengths as a team member and team player, as well as their soft skills and ability to solve problems. This information is crucial in the hiring process to ensure a good fit for the role, whether it’s a project manager or a customer service position. By incorporating this into your interview process, you can better assess the candidate’s overall skill set and career path potential.

Interview Question 8: Share with me about your current job?

Such a question can evaluate a candidate’s communication skills while gaining insights into an individual’s current work experience that goes beyond the resume.

We believe in asking competency-based questions to find out in-depth key competencies he needs to demonstrate in the role in question. Hence we usually deep dive into the various competencies required. We believe in looking for patterns of past behaviours.

This is where we deep dive and go into depth of both technical and non-technical competencies, using competency based interviewing techniques. This is the most important part, where we evaluate his/her job fit to the role. The power is in the follow up questions in competency based interviewing. Read our other article, Competency Based Interview – Why Is It Better Than Instincts to get details.

Interview Question 9: What do you know about our company?

Through this question, you can gauge whether the candidate has conducted thorough research on your firm and determine their genuine interest in joining your company. It serves as a litmus test for their sincerity. If the candidate provides inaccurate information about the company or the role, it presents an opportunity to address any misconceptions promptly. However, it’s crucial to approach this with openness rather than defensiveness.

Many hiring managers struggle at this juncture, often either overselling the job or defensively delineating the role’s scope. What truly matters is providing an accurate portrayal of the role. This allows the candidate to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, steering clear of positions they may not be fully prepared for. By staying true to the job’s demands and company culture, you ensure a better alignment between the candidate’s skills and your organisation’s needs.


Interview Question 10: What important trends do you see in our industry?

Find out if the candidate has done his/her research and is up-to-date with the ongoing trends in your industry. Listen out and determine if what they have shared is aligned with the direction of the company. We recall a client who puts high emphasis of candidates knowing their products and services. So we spent time to look out for candidates who were forward-thinking and informed on the latest insights in the industry and would spend sufficient time to read up about the organisation’s products and services. Candidates who can provide valuable inputs to the company demonstrate that they are passionate about their work. By recognising the industry trends, candidates can better contribute to the immediate needs of the company.

Get more information on what questions you should avoid asking as a Recruiter or Hiring Manager in  Job Interview Questions That Really Should Be Forbidden, you will get more insights that benefit you in your recruitment campaign.


And if you are not sure whether you are hiring the right candidate for your company, Citadel Search with over 15 years of experience, is trained to find the right fit and save costs for your company. Find out how our Executive Search service will benefit your company and contact us to ease your hiring process!

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