Interview questions for every level of seniority
While the questions you ask a candidate will depend on the role you’re hiring for, the seniority of the role will also have an impact on what you choose to ask. That’s because your expectations in terms of both hard and soft skills will be vastly different for a junior hire in comparison to a senior director. While you’ll want to probe the latter about their long term vision for your organisation, it will be more important to understand how a junior hire’s education can help them in your open role.
Interviewing for entry-level roles.
Entry-level roles are often aimed at recent graduates or those looking to make a change in career. Because the candidate may have limited or no experience in that particular field, recruiters and hiring managers will have to use the candidate’s qualifications, as well as how they perform in the interview, to judge if they are the right fit for the role.
Here are some questions interviewers could ask for any junior role:
What made you decide to apply for this job?
This question gets to the heart of the candidate’s motivations. They should have an understanding of what your company does, and have proactively spent time researching on your website or social channels. If they don’t know much about what your business does, it could be an indication that they are unable to work on their own initiative.
A great candidate will also be honest about their lack of experience related to the role requirements, but will switch the focus to how they could see themselves learning and growing within your organisation.
Give me an example of a time when you worked on a team. What was your role?
The main function of this question is to understand how well a candidate can work in a team situation. It’s a great way of understanding how adaptable an entry-level candidate is, especially if they can outline times when they took on a leadership role, and others when they were capable of following instructions for the benefit of the team.
As many of these candidates will have little or no work experience to call on, the best answers will see candidates demonstrate an ability to easily apply situations from their personal lives or university to a professional situation.
What do you see as being the day-to-day responsibilities of this role?
By asking this question, interviewers can get a sense of how well a candidate understood the job description, and how realistic their expectations for the role are. They should use this opportunity to illustrate how their past experience (personal or professional) could be applied to the different responsibilities within the role.
Look for candidates whose answer demonstrates that they are aware of the requirements in your job description and who understand the areas of the role in which they have an opportunity to learn and develop.
Interviewing for mid-level roles.
Mid-level roles are often filled by those who are beyond entry-level but who need further training and experience before they are ready for managerial responsibilities. Interviewers have the advantage of being able to ask questions about experience and make a judgement on how candidates could apply that to a new role. They can also use the interview to determine how candidates will add to company culture.
Tell me about a business problem you face in your current role. How did you approach it and what was the outcome?
This question is often asked of mid-level candidates because the interviewer wants to assess their problem solving skills. However, it can also be used to gain an insight into a candidate’s day-to-day experience that a CV cannot.
As a mid-level candidate will be given a certain level of responsibility, it’s important that their answer demonstrates an ability to resolve situations on their own. But it’s equally important that candidates at this level show a willingness to seek support when they can’t solve a problem on their own. A great candidate will give examples of both.
Tell me about a leadership role you’ve taken on?
This question is particularly appropriate for mid-level candidates because it’s used to discover any gaps in a candidate’s knowledge or experience.
A candidate may not have official management experience at this stage of their career. However, this is a good opportunity for you to discover if they’ve shown leadership qualities in a previous role, and the style of management you might expect them to adapt in your open role.
Where do you see yourself in three years time?
By now, mid-level candidates should have a clearer idea of their career path. Interviewers ask this question to ensure that the candidate’s vision for growth aligns with that of the role and the organisation.
Listen for an answer that shows the candidate sees your organisation as playing an important role in their career progression. They should also be somewhat aware of the structure of your organisation and where they can grow within it.
Interviewing for senior-level roles.
Senior-level roles are very often a leadership position within an organisation. The challenge of interviewing for these roles is that, as much as candidates are required to have a deeper level of insight and preparation, so too are recruiters and hiring managers. Because experience is just one aspect of a good senior-level candidate, these interviews often have a mix of behavioural and competency-based questions.
Can you describe a time when somebody on your team didn't agree with you, and how you managed this situation?
This question is asked of senior-level candidates to get a sense of both their management style, and how that syncs with the culture of your company.
A good candidate will discuss how they sought to understand their team-mate’s disagreement and the process they used to resolve the conflict. A great candidate will illustrate their answer by outlining the initial problem and guiding you through not just the solution, but how they arrived at it.
What’s the best process to ensure that you and your team hit deadlines? How will you prioritise your time?
As time management is such a key function in senior roles, interviewers use this question to discover how well candidates can prioritise their own time, and how good they are at setting, and communicating, stakeholder expectations.
Listen for an answer that highlights how they worked as part of, or led, a team towards hitting a deadline. Candidates can have different methods of time management, so it’s important to listen to how their style of time management can work within the role requirements. For example, how they approach prioritising which tasks to delegate to subordinates, and which tasks to manage themselves.
What will the rest of our team learn from you?
The goal of this question is to discover a candidate’s management style and to give the interviewer an insight into their personality.
A good answer will not be boastful, but will still outline a candidate’s unique skill set. Listen out for candidates who see themselves not just as leaders, but facilitators for their team, as they are much more likely to see the benefit of nurturing and developing their team.
Interviewing for C-level roles.
C-level jobs are the top executive or highest level corporate positions in a company. Your organisation is not hiring them to focus on the day-to-day, but instead concentrate on the future of your company. Because of this, recruiters and hiring managers will have to put a lot of preparation in pre-interview to gain an understanding of their impact in previous companies and their network of connections.
It’s important to understand not just the candidate’s style of work, but also how they add to the culture of your company.
How do you measure success?
Interviewers ask this question because having a C-level executive whose definition of success is wholly different to your company’s is not going to work. Given the seniority, a candidate for this type of role should have a sense of how your industry measures success, and tailor their answer to suit that.
Often C-suite roles are filled internally, so if interviewing an internal candidate, listen for an answer which demonstrates how they might implement change, or continue a positive growth trajectory, that will drive the company towards success.
What do you see as the biggest challenges to our industry?
When seeking talent to fill a C-level role, it’s crucial that candidates are aware of the industry in which you operate, including any macro-economic factors that may impact the future of the organisation.
A great answer will not only outline a thorough understanding of your industry, but the role your company plays in it. Listen for answers that also showcase that the candidate is aware of your company’s mission and how they would look to use that position to guide the company through challenging situations.
Tell me about a time you had to sell a new idea to your management team?
Recruiters and hiring managers will ask this question to get a better sense of a C-level candidate’s leadership and communication skills, as well as their ability to drive change.
Interviewers should listen to how a candidate went about selling a new idea, not what they achieved. An ability to admit that it wasn’t always an easy process, with an example of how the candidate overcame obstacles, is a positive.
The right questions can secure the best talent.
Whether you’re interviewing for your new chief executive or a graduate role, asking the right questions will very often shine a light on the best candidates.
Of course, in addition to the ones above, most roles will also require specific questions directly related to the nature of the job. And while a good interview experience is crucial for landing the best talent, uncovering soft skills is also a key part of the process.