If there was a billboard on the side of the road advertising you to us, what would it say to get us to pick up the phone and call you?
I can still hear that question being asked. I was sitting in a conference room filled with eight strangers who were making sure I was the right person for a marketing director’s position, and it was the one question that caused me to really stop and think about what set me apart from the other candidates. I don’t remember exactly what I said—it was something about a picture of me juggling—but it worked. A few weeks later, I was getting to know my new coworkers at the headquarters of a major airline.
A lot of marketing—and interviews—have taken place since then, but that question remains at the top of the list for seeing how a job candidate thinks on his feet and identifies what makes him stand out from the rest. I’ve used it often, and it’s never failed to produce great results.
We all want to make the right decision when it comes to career choices. Knowing what questions to ask a prospective employer or employee helps the process along. Entire websites are dedicated to teaching folks how to interview well—everything from how to dress to what to bring with you (one big tip: while studying a website is great, be sure to look at the social media presence of both the company and its employees to provide a more realistic peek into culture).
One thing to always bring with you to an interview are solid questions that give insight into decision-making, communication style, professional priorities, and personality.
Here are 12 of the best to keep on hand—six to use when you are being interviewed, and six for when you’re in the interviewing seat. The questions are here, along with some handy suggestions for other ways you might ask them or gain more clarity, and why the questions work. I’d love to add to this list, so be sure to share your favorite interview questions in the comments!
Six Creative Questions To Ask A Prospective Employer
1. What about this position is essential to the success of the company?
Other ways to ask this question: “How does this specific position fit within the overall department? In what ways does this position contribute to the company’s growth, efficiency, creativity?”
Purpose: You’ll learn how this position is perceived in the total scope of work.
2. Tell me about the type of person who would be ideal for this role?
Another way to ask this question: More than the skill set needed, what type of demeanor do you think is best in this role?
Purpose: You’ll gain insight on the personality type the employer is looking for in the role, as well as what might not be tolerated in the role.
3. What does the marketplace say about this company?
Another way to ask this question: Tell me about the reputation of this company. What would other companies say? What would the community say?
Purpose: You’ll gain perspective on the company’s perception of itself through the eyes of the marketplace and uncover any potential pitfalls that may not be readily accessible via traditional news sources.
4. Tell me about a time you were most proud of your team.
Additional questions to help bring greater clarity: What happened that made you proud? What decisions were made that led to that moment? What lessons were learned because of that moment, and how are those lessons being leveraged today? What about that moment would you like to see happen again?
Purpose: You’ll learn about what the employer defines as success and praiseworthy, and see how in what ways the employer encourages development and growth.
5. What do employees say about this company?
Other ways to ask this question: Why do people choose to work here? What is the average career path of someone who works here? When challenges arise, how are employees informed – and how are they engaged? Would it be possible to talk to someone who has worked here for a few years?
Purpose: You’ll gain additional insight about company culture and employee loyalty.
6. What does working for this company mean to you personally?
Other ways to ask this question: How long have you been here, and how did you choose to work here? In what ways does your work here contribute to your life away from this company? What would your family or friends say about how working here affects you? Based on the culture of this company, would you want your kids to work here?
Purpose: You’ll get a peek into the heart and soul of the employer – what matters to them professionally, and how they balance life at the job and away from it.
Six Creative Questions To Ask A Prospective Employee
1. If there was a billboard on the side of road advertising you to me, what would it say that would make me want to pick up the phone and call?
Another way to ask this question: If you were advertising you to me, how would you promote yourself?
Purpose: You’ll learn what qualities the candidate believes sets them apart, and you’ll see how the candidate creatively responds under pressure.
2. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up, and why? What has happened between then and now – how have those dreams remained or stayed the same?
Another way to ask this question: What was your dream job as a child? In what ways has that childhood dream impacted your life today? What pieces of that dream have come true?
Purpose: You’ll see how a candidate views life experiences, helping provide insight on how that candidate might approach evaluating and acting on circumstances in the workplace. And you’ll have a little fun dreaming and getting to know a more personal side of the candidate.
3. Tell me about a time you were most proud of the work you’ve done.
Additional questions to help bring greater clarity: What was it about the moment that made you proud? What did you learn from that moment or season?
Purpose: The candidate gets to share a few moments from their career story, and you’ll learn how the candidate defines worth and value in their work and their contribution to a project, activity, or situation.
4. How do you define success in your own life?
Additional questions to help bring greater clarity: Think beyond the workplace – in your eyes, what are the keys to having a really good day, month, year?
Purpose: This lets you see what a candidate deems valuable, and to help better understand the way a candidate evaluates success and achievement. This also provides insight into how a candidate might best be mentored and motivated.
5. How do you determine the next right thing to do?
Other ways to ask this question: When determining what work needs to be done, what is your criteria? How do you determine what needs to be done first or what will need the greatest attention? How do you prioritize responsibilities?
Purpose: You’ll get a peek into how the candidate processes work flow, and how well he gains information on projects and self-governs the outcome of them.
6. Who would you NOT want me to call as a reference?
Another way to ask this question: We all have the person we wouldn’t necessarily put on a reference list—for any number of reasons. Which person is your person, and why? It could be a former co-worker, an employer, a teacher, even a family member.
Purpose: You’ll learn about how the candidate views themselves, how they view relationships, and quite possibly get a glimpse into both resolved and unresolved hiccups in career paths. Trust me, this question can be an eye-opener.