5 Classic Interview Questions Updated for Today’s Job Market

Interview QuestionsHow common questions have evolved and what to listen for in the responses

In previous years when giving a job interview, you know the standard questions to ask. “What is your biggest weakness?” “What interests you about this position?” and “Why do you think you’d be a fit for this role?” often rise to the top of the common interview questions list.

Many GREAT companies are updating their customary questions to include ones that refer to new trends, address the current economic situation or gauge a candidate’s commitment to the company and position in question. In today’s job market employers are searching for GREAT employees, those with intrinsic qualities that are predictive of success in their position.

Here are five questions to ask that will help filter the candidates and what to listen for in their response to highlight those candidates that are GREAT:

1. Have you used social media in your current job? If so, how?
Unless your company is completely sworn off new technology, you should be very aware by now that social media is a part of the fabric of society and are well-ingrained into companies’ communication practices. By asking this question you want to know how well the candidate understands social media and how they think companies can benefit from using social networks. Listen for an example of how the candidate has used the communication form in their current job. If they haven’t done much in this area, listen to their ideas as to how business world as a whole uses social media. The candidate will receive ‘extra points’, if they share how they think your company specifically could benefit from social media.

2. Give me an example of how you’ve contributed to your present/most recent company’s success. This question stresses importance of not only sharing the candidate’s qualifications but also addressing their accomplishments. In today’s competitive job market, employers can’t afford to hire someone who can just complete tasks. You want someone who can make an impact on your company’s bottom line. Listen to their examples of how they increase revenue, helped a client gain market share or created efficiencies that saved money. GREAT candidates will quote actual numbers or percentages. Some candidates may not know the numbers off the top of their head, so extra points if they provide that information in a follow-up or thank-you note.

3. Why did you leave your last job? While this may not be a new question, today’s hiring managers understand the answer may have evolved. If the candidate has been laid off, expect them to be honest. As an employer you know that the economy is rough, and can expect that some of the candidates you interview will be unemployed.

While they share their experience, listen for them to demonstrate how in the time they’ve been unemployed, they’ve continued to boost your résumé by volunteering, attending networking events or joining industry organizations. The GREAT candidates will have put their time to good use and be ready on day one to take on the required tasks.

4. Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy. In a recent article, human-resources expert Susan M. Heathfield lists this as a question employers should be asking potential employees. Hiring managers want to hire employees who will thrive in their company’s work environment AND employees want to thrive in a company that fits their culture.

This can be a critical question based on the type of environment matching with their personality and work style. Listen for words that describe the experience and match it to your company’s culture.

5. What is your motivation for pursuing this position? According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 43 percent of hiring managers and human-resource professionals are concerned that top workers will leave their organization this year. As the economy slowly improves and more opportunities become available, unhappy workers will be more likely leave their jobs in pursuit of a more fulfilling career. While there’s no way to guarantee an employee won’t head for the door as soon as a better job offer comes along, take this opportunity to try to get to the root of why candidates want to work at their company.

“I’ve been unemployed for more than a year and I’m really desperate to get a job.” Yes, that’s an honest answer, but it’s also a red flag to you that the candidate is more interested in getting a job versus getting this particular job. The GREAT candidate will speak to why your company is the right company for them, and why the particular role will help them achieve their career goals. Extra points if they also mention how they see themselves growing at the company as a way to show their commitment to the organization.


Finally, in order to avoid “Listening with your eyes*” conduct your interview via the telephone. As soon as you shake hands, your brain forms filters that pre-determine how you will process the information the candidate provide. This can cause you to overlook a candidate who may be right for the job, just because they don’t fit the ideal picture in your head.

*From What The Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell