SPIE Career Center

What One Question Do You Always Ask Applicants in a Job Interview?

Robert McMunn
Director and Founder of How2become.com

Different employers have different priorities – qualities that are most important to them in an employee. But even more commonly, different job roles have different key qualities that are important to the role. Considering this, it is safe to assume that any single most important question that the interviewer values above all other questions will depend on several factors: including the company, the specifics of the job role and of course, the particular applicant and their background.

Having said that, we can look at some questions that some interviewers always ask and which help them decide if the candidate is up to the mark, and some questions that commonly top the list of important questions for recruiters to ask during an interview.

For some employers, creative problem solving skills are most important – so interviewers may ask questions about hypothetical scenarios and seek to understand how best the applicant would come up with solutions to problems within the hypothetical situation. This could be any imaginary scenario, and would most likely not be similar to the situations one would encounter in that environment. This can give the interviewer an opportunity to see how the applicant thinks, irrespective of the situation.

Some employers, especially for sales job roles, value the applicant’s ability to communicate with clients and/or customers. In such roles, empathy and sharp perception of the listener’s reactions are crucial. A particular recruiter always asks interviewees to explain a random thing of their choice – it could be anything from the plot of a movie or book, a scientific concept, the way a machine or system works, or anything else under the sun – to the interviewer.

Invariably the interviewer acts as though they do not understand anything about what is being explained, and has no prior knowledge of the concept. This allows them to observe how the applicant adapts their communication to suit their level of prior knowledge. They also makes sure that they look clueless while the concept is being explained – which compels the interviewee to either perceive this or to continue in the same vein. The interviewer can judge how the applicant performs and this provides them with very useful insights into how effective a communicator they may be.

One common question that interviewers almost always ask towards the end of an interview is whether the applicant has any questions for them. This is a way for the employers to understand how aware the applicant is about the company, and how much initiative they have got. Asking absolutely nothing at the end of the interview may communicate a certain complacency or lack of interest on the part of the applicant. But on the other hand, asking something that is obvious or utterly inappropriate may ruin whatever impression they may have made during the interview.

Some employers seek dynamism above all else in a candidate. For some job roles being current and dynamic is at the top of the list. One particular interviewer always asks candidates how they manage to stay ahead of the game, and up to date with everything that is going on. This includes the latest trends in technology, in the industry, as well as the applicant’s personal methodology to remain connected and current. For instance, whether applicants are involved in any relevant professional networks, whether they attend seminars or conferences, how interested they are in future developments within the industry etc. This can give the employer a chance to see how forward looking and dynamic a particular applicant is, and how clued in he or she is into current developments.

Some interviewers like asking questions to understand how people deal with adversity. This can offer an insight into how the applicant deals with problems or low phases. For instance, an interviewer invariably asks applicants about their worst job. Most people are not sure how to talk about their worst job, because the reasons they give for hating that particular job may not send the right message. But it is precisely this quandary that can help the interviewer understand a little bit how the applicant thinks and what they want most from a job.

Many interviewers also ask about the applicant’s first job and how they found it. Some other common questions that some recruiters regularly ask during interviews are – what’s the biggest mistake you have made in your life? What do you enjoy doing in your free time? Why did you choose this field? Who are your role models, or inspirations?

Richard McMunn is the director and founder of How2become.com and the author of this article. Richard spent 17 years in the Fire Service and now provides insider recruitment training for those looking to join the fire service, police service and also the armed forces. You can also connect with How2become on Twitter