7 Interview questions to save yourself from a bad hire

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One of the most valuable things I’ve learnt in business is how much a bad hire can really cost you. Hiring the wrong person doesn’t just cost you in productivity, it costs you in culture, in customer experience, in training and in lost opportunities.

Hiring the right person on the other hand, means you’ll have someone who not only does their job, but also contributes to the team and vision of the business – someone that looks after your business and helps it to grow.

Before I go into the interview questions, I think it’s worth covering your companies beliefs and values. They are:

  • Why are you in business? (what’s your business’ mission, purpose or cause?)
  • What is it that your company does?
  • How does your business do that? and,
  • What is your business committed to?

These questions are important for three reasons:

  • They sets a precedent for the type of employees you hire.
  • They show customers what they can expect from your business, and
  • They help guide the direction of your business.

If you don’t narrow down on what your business stands for and why, you’ll have no boundaries for what is optimal or suboptimal across the different areas of your business (including hiring employees).

Simon Sinek explains the value of ‘why’ wonderfully in a TED talk he made in 2009. He illustrates how throughout history, great leaders have inspired action by asking ‘why?’, ‘how?’ and ‘what?’.

His premise, is that doing so helps them to develop strong company beliefs and values (or purpose), which is in turn the differentiating point between two companies with the same opportunities and resources – allowing one to substantially outperform the other.

This relates to hiring employees because in addition to developing their company beliefs and values, great companies hire people that share the same beliefs values to move their mission and purpose forward.

When employees are engaged with, share and display those beliefs and values, it develops a definitive brand, connects with your customers and creates an extraordinary business.

After all, your business is a reflection of the people who built it.

Hiring employees aligned with your business: Acknowledging that you should hire employees that share the same beliefs and values is great, but implementing it means you need to understand people on a deeper level. Just like understanding your business and it’s purpose, the way to do it is by asking employees “why?”.

Admittedly, asking employees straight out ‘Why do you do what you do?‘ will probably generate a poor response (or at the least an awkward situation). Doing this effectively, involves a little more tact, which I’ve outlined in the questions below.

Interview questions:

To help you interview better, I’ve separated my interview questions into two segments:

  • Purpose, beliefs and values.
  • Skills and abilities.

I’ve done this because more often than not, interview questions target one area, but neglect the other. This list should help you to cover both areas and save yourself from hires that may not be the right fit for your company.

Purpose, beliefs and values.

1. Company values

People without purpose are like a ship without a rudder. If it’s not set up and steered, it will end up adrift. While not everyone has a conscious understanding of their purpose or values, they will have beliefs and values that direct their life. It’s your job to decide whether they fit in with your company values or not. To understand whether they’re aligned,


  • What are you most interested in and speak most enthusiastically about?
  • What do you want others to remember you for?

While they may seem like difficult (and quite personal) questions, this will quickly give you an idea of whether the candidate has given serious thought about their life or the role they’ve applied for.

It may also break through the facade many people put up when trying to portray themselves favourably for a role. Many people apply for jobs because they’re lured in by “shiny object syndrome”. That is, they haven’t given the role considerable thought and whether it is in line with their life’s path, they just go by what seems appealing and easier at the time.

While you might get some talented people with ‘shiny object syndrome’, hiring someone that’s talented and not aligned to your values is doing you both a disservice. More often than not, you’ll have someone that lasts a few months (causing recruitment, training and a host of other costs) or someone that causes problems in your business because they don’t fit within your company values.

2. Meaning

Ask those who love what they do and they’ll tell you it’s about more than just the task they complete. Someone in customer service might say they love “making people feel special”. Someone in sales might say, they love “helping to connect people with things that make their lives better” and someone in marketing or advertising might say they love “crafting communication to spread a message”.

Parents don’t love wiping their babies bum and cleaning up vomit, but they do love raising their children because doing so (despite the downsides) brings meaning to their life. Asking potential employees what they love most about their role and what it means to them, shows you the meaning they attach to their role, and whether it’s important to them or not.

ASK: What do you love most about ___?

3. Environment and contribution.

ASK: Describe the work environment in which you will most effectively be able to contribute. This question gives you an idea of how the candidate works.

Are they better suited to a role as a part of a team, or do they work independently? Are they interested in contributing to your company’s purpose, or are they focussed on the bottom line? Do they expect respect or do they earn the respect of their co-workers?

4. Achievements

Asking about a candidate’s achievements helps you to determine what they see as important, what they value and what they consider to be an achievement. If they’re feeling under qualified for the role, they may even indulge in over explaining some extravagant details to try and impress and overcompensate for their insecurities.

ASK: What has been your greatest achievement at work?

5. Growth and development

ASK: How do you go about continuing to develop your professional skills and knowledge?

You want candidates that are self directed and looking to continually develop and improve their skills and knowledge. Listening carefully to this will help you determine whether they’re self directed, or look to their employer to provide opportunities.

Skills and abilities.

6. Technical skills

Once you understand whether they’re a cultural fit, the second category is whether they have the skills to do the job effectively.

ASK: What three skills or attributes do you think you’ll bring to the company?

What they tell you in answer to this question is typically their strong suit, and/or what they think is most important in the role. This also gives you the opportunity to see how the candidate views the open role and whether they’re thinking about blind spots or opportunities that you may have missed in how you run your business.

7. Problem solving

Lastly, throwing a candidate a problem is a great way to assess how they’ll respond in the situation, their technical knowledge, whether they can assess further implications of the situation or their actions, and their experience.


  • How would you solve ‘x’ problem?
  • How would you handle ‘x’?

I’d recommend throwing them a few different types of problem questions to assess their ability across all the aspects of their role. Asking the follow up question: “when have you faced a similar problem, and how did you go about solving it?” is also a great way to get an idea of their experience and how they’ve responded to a previous scenario.

Keep in mind, that there isn’t always a right or wrong answer to your questions. Different people respond differently, and having a varied approach can become a strength for your company. The important thing is to determine how they approach things and whether that fits within the role and the company.

Got more to add? I’d love to hear your interview questions in the comments below!

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