10 Thought-Provoking Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

interview questions to ask candidates

The process of interviewing and hiring employees differs from company to company. For companies who are looking to fill a very important role, interviews can take weeks, months, and even years to complete. The more important and integral the role to be filled, the more important it will be to find the perfect person. That often means multiple interviews of the same people to cut down the list and find the candidate with the skills best suited to the company.

For smaller roles, businesses likely will not take quite as much time with their interviewing process. Sometimes it will take a few weeks, or it could take a day. Regardless of the differences between the types of interviews, there is one thing that is certain: Each interviewer wants to find the best possible person for that role.

Interviews offer employers the luxury of getting to know potential workers by talking about professional and personal topics and by getting an idea of their personalities. Even if someone has a great attitude, their lack of experience might be a turn-off, or their core values may not match those of the company. There are all kinds of factors that can rise out of one or two interviews with a person, giving an employer a better idea of whom to hire.

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When it comes to the interview questions, some employers might get straight to the point. However, incorporating more creative questions has been quite a popular approach to hiring in the last couple of years. Asking questions that are more original helps to get interviewees thinking on their feet, and can often expose strengths or weaknesses.

For those who are trying to find some unique questions to ask potential employees, consider these 10 thought-provoking interview questions to make the process more interesting. If you’d like, you can tweak them to get more specific answers for the information you need.

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“How would you define hard work?”

What one company expects out of a certain role might be totally different than what another company expects. For example, a business may have large projects that need to be completed within a few months, while smaller businesses might expect them to be done in a few days.

These changes in expectations should be addressed early in the interview process. This will help you to get an idea of what your potential employee has been used to in the past, and what they can offer to your company.

Keep in mind that some employees have been working at an establishment that didn’t allow them to achieve their full potential. They may need some warming up to get back to their hard-working ways, and you can find that out through the interview process.

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“Can you clearly explain to me how something very complicated works?”

In this question, interviewees should choose a topic that you know nothing about. It could be how a typewriter works, how to build a house, or how to follow the stock market. It really doesn’t matter what the topic is — the point is to see how the individual communicates with others.

Are they able to take a complicated topic and explain it in a clear and concise way? Not only does this give you some insight into their attention to detail and ability to communicate, but it may also reveal something they’re very passionate about.

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“Who do you know personally that you aspire to be like?”

The easy question here would be to ask who employees look up to, but chances are you’re going to get a lot of celebrities and individuals that they’ve never even met. Adding on the part about knowing the person in question personally will give you a better idea of the traits and characteristics they really do value in other people.

For example, an individual may choose a close friend who has always been extremely driven and known for accomplishing their goals. Another may choose a family member who has conquered great obstacles or who has got their networking game on point.

This kind of question will likely bring about much more honest answers that demonstrate the type of people the interviewee surrounds himself with and what they aspire to.

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“Explain a time when you were the one to blame.”

It’s easy telling other people about your successes, but it says a lot more about a person when they can open up about their mistakes. Asking this kind of question will expose a mistake that an employee made previously, and what they did to alleviate their blunder.

Employers can learn about the personality of a person just by asking what they did to solve the problem. Some individuals may explain how they faced the issue, looked for ways to fix it, and learned from the experience. Others may decide to put the blame on others and make excuses for the mistake. It will quickly become obvious who you want moving onto the next round of interviews with a question like this.

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“Can you identify problems in this process?”

If you want to be sure that a candidate knows a lot about the type of work they’re interviewing for, it’s always smart to ask them to apply themselves to a process already happening in your company.

To do this, show them a diagram or outline of an existing process in the business and ask them to pinpoint a few weak areas or places that could use improvements. Whether you agree with their answers or not, this is still a great way for them to see the kind of systems they’d be working with, and it will give you an idea of their capabilities.

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“Can you share your insight into the future of this company?”

Right off the bat, this kind of question will tell you whether a candidate has done their homework on your company. If they are well-informed about the business, it will be much easier for them to give you a forecast of what they see in the future for your industry.

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Many businesses are changing and evolving very quickly in order to keep up with the fast-paced changes of their industries. This includes technological advances and business changes that alter the way companies perform. A candidate should be able to share their insight into where the company is headed and what they’ll need to do to keep up with the evolving industry.

A business that sells quality ink jet cartridges for example, may need to incorporate environmentally-friendly options and remanufactured items as the demand for greener businesses grows. This is a thought-provoking interview question, as it will encourage the candidate to be honest about the business’s current practices, as well as the need for its services in society. Employers will find out very quickly if a candidate is forward-thinking whether they have a good grasp on current trends and their likelihood of flourishing or failing in the coming years.  

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“What type of management style do you prefer?”

Being up front about the questions you have for your potential candidates is the only way to truly find out who will be the best addition to your team. You can ask the generic questions that everyone always has, but asking the things you really want to know about is the best way to find the person you’re looking for.

This kind of question is not only thought-provoking for the candidate; it’s also a great way for employers to find out what they can expect if they hire this person. Will they need to be managed closely to stay on task? Or do they flourish when trusted to get their work done independently? Will they respond well to criticism? Do they need very specific work hours? Are they flexible with change? This question is also important as employers may find it challenging to manage different generations.

There are all kinds of answers that candidates can give for this question. After years in any field of work, a candidate should know what kind of worker they are and what kind of management they’ve responded best to. If they are honest with you, you’ll likely find out who they worked well with and why, and what kind of work environments had a negative effect on their productivity.

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“Rank the strengths you bring to this job.”

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Without telling candidates what you’re looking for in a new employee, ask them about their greatest strengths, and have them rank them from 1-5. Generally speaking, if a candidate already knows what the job entails, they’ll be able to manipulate their answer to suit the position more closely.

By asking this question near the beginning of the interview, you’ll be asking the candidate to share the five main strengths they possess without knowing anything about your needs. They may highlight things such as their time management skills, their ability to work independently, or their passion for pushing boundaries. No matter what their answers are, you’ll be getting an honest answer about what they believe are their best qualities both inside and outside of work.

If you’d like, you can always ask them if they want to highlight some of their other qualities after you’ve explained the job requirements.

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“What was the worst work relationship you ever had and why?”

Getting along with co-workers isn’t always easy, and sometimes there’s just no way of figuring out your differences with certain people. The key to this question is to ask about the worst relationship a candidate had with someone at work, since they’re likely not going to want to talk about the problems they had with multiple people.

Asking about the worst one will make your potential employee vulnerable, just like they were when you asked about a time when they made a mistake. If they’re able to give you an honest answer, they should be able to point out where things went wrong, why they didn’t see eye-to-eye, and how they resolved the conflict.

In some instances, the conflict may not have been solved at all. Try not to use this information as a reason not to hire them, but see it as an honest answer that gives you more insight into their personality. If they wouldn’t get along with a certain type of character in your office, you can always consider them for another area if you really want their skills.

This will be a good test for the employer as well, as they’ll have to decide whether the skills of an individual outweigh their trouble with other personalities. If you have a smaller business, a problem like this might be harder to avoid.

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“What would your former colleagues say about you?”

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A potential employee can say all of the great things about themselves they want, but if it was up to a colleague to get them the job, would they be able to? This is another challenging and insightful question for candidates because they won’t want to come across as arrogant, but they won’t talk about the opinion of someone they hated working with, either.

Here is where candidates often try to find a nice balance of really great opinions and a few lesser qualities that aren’t deal-breakers for a new employer. Try to gage the type of relationships they’ve had with coworkers in the past from the answers they’re giving. Did they end up with some life-long friendships? Do they enjoy looking back on their time with old colleagues?

This is a great question, since it often opens up to stories about former job places and memories that the candidates won’t mind sharing. If you’re looking for a good way to end an interview, this question is definitely one question to consider.


Hiring the right employees is vital to the success of your company. Planning your interview questions carefully will help to ensure that you’re learning everything you want to know about a candidate, including whether they possess the right skills and personality. Being picky about your candidates is a good thing, and a successful and thorough search will help you to know that you’re building a business that is primed for success.

Consider these 10 thought-provoking interview questions to give you a strong grasp on the type of people you’re meeting and who will fill the role best.