interview essential questions

Essential Questions You Should Ask Candidates During Every Interview


The time has come to begin interviewing candidates for a sales or marketing position within your company. You have spent hours developing the right job description or working with a recruitment agency to target the right candidates. Afterwards you have combed through tens or even hundreds of applications for the role and have whittled it down to the candidates you want to take a closer look at.

The interview process is particularly useful because the interviewer can glean information you simply cannot get from a resume. Will this person be a good fit with your company culture? How will they handle pressure? Does the career trajectory they envision line up with what your company can provide?

And of course, all of this is on top of making sure the candidate really possesses the skills and experience listed on their resume.

Competency-Based Questions

Unless you want this interview to last hours, you need to smartly choose good questions to ask, and get the most bang for your buck. The most useful type of question to ask is a competency-based question.

A competency-based interview question asks the candidate to provide examples or tell stories about their past experiences, how they see themselves as an employee, or how they envision using past experiences to inform their future decision making.

Questions that get your interviewee telling a story are the most useful type of question. You get to see their thought process, communication skills, and also get a feel for how they do under pressure in that moment. Particularly for client-facing roles, seeing how the candidate handles open-ended questions is especially important.

Not 100% of the questions you ask can be competency-based, but when you can, leaving questions fairly open allows you to glean as much information as possible.

Questions to Ask

As a hiring manager, there are endless questions you might want to ask your candidate. And you should certainly add questions that are unique to your firm, or tweak these questions to make them even more useful.

But at least to provide a good starting point, consider the following interview questions:

1. How did you find out about this position?

One of the few questions we recommend that likely won’t lead down a long storytelling road, it is always good to know how they found you. This can let you know how this person was going about their job search, and whether they were seeking a job more actively or passively.

Additionally, if they found out about this role through one of your employees, that lets you know that they probably have a good idea of what the company culture is like already, and hopefully their friend wouldn’t have suggested the position if they didn’t think it would be a good fit.

If they found you through more traditional means, such as a job search engine, you can follow up with questions regarding what sort of job they were searching for, and what exactly about your posting piqued their interest. What they saw in the position that drew them to you gives you a good idea of what they were looking for, and if they can’t really put their finger on what it was, it’s possible they were just submitting resumes for every job they saw, and might not be as interested in your company in particular as they have purported to be.

2. Why are you interested in working for our company?

In the same way as the previous question, this lets you know whether the candidate has taken things seriously and researched your company. If they don’t know what you do, that’s not a great sign.

The candidate should be able to point out some unique things about your company that fit either their personal or professional strengths. These first two questions provide some information about the candidate, but are more focused to get a feel for whether they are serious about this process.

3. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?

This is a great question because it lets you know what the candidate holds in high esteem. It also veers things in a positive direction, so you can find out what drives the candidate, and what they are passionate about. You’ll also get an idea of what their work ethic is like when working on something they really loved.

It is also a great storytelling question, and opens things up for the more competency-based questions that you will be asking from this point forward.

4. Tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.

Also one of our favorites, this question helps you get to know your interviewee. If they ask for clarification, let them know that you just want to know a little more about them as a person.

You might find that they go into their qualifications or work experience that isn’t detailed on their resume, or they might tell you more about their personal background. Perhaps their college major isn’t at all related to business, but gave them a unique perspective that helps them in sales or marketing. Or maybe they’ll tell you about their life outside of work.

However the answer to this question goes, it will open things up so that the candidate doesn’t feel boxed in to speak only about their most recent work positions, and lets you know who they are. This is also great for assessing their cultural fit within your organization.

5. What sort of work environment do you prefer?

You can make this more storytelling-based by asking about a recent work environment that worked really well or badly for them, or be more straightforward. The goal of this question is to see whether they would flourish in your office setting.

6. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a manager and how you resolved the issue.

Emotional intelligence is extremely important, especially in client- and prospect-facing roles. Everyone has disagreements at work, and the goal here is to see whether the interviewee was able to see both sides and negotiate a resolution to the issue.

Of course, they may have been dealing with a person who was unreasonable — we have all worked with people lacking emotional intelligence — so temper your reaction based on the details of the story. But the primary goal here is to hone in on your candidate’s problem solving skills and their degree of emotional intelligence when they describe the disagreement.

7. What is a skill you would like to improve upon, and how do you plan to do so?

A great alternative to the “what is your greatest weakness” question, this allows the candidate to let you know that they are aware of the ways they can improve. The “greatest weakness” question can often elicit answers such as “perfectionism,” which are sneaky attempts to make you think they have no real weaknesses. We all have weaknesses. The key is knowing what they are and wanting to improve.

8. Why are you leaving your current employer?

This question is great when it comes to seeing what your candidate values and what needs aren’t being met in their current position (or most recent position, if they are not presently employed). Watch how they speak about their previous employer, as oftentimes, the problems people have with their jobs are as much a reflection of them as they are of the jobs.

If they mention a lack of growth opportunities, ask yourself whether those opportunities exist within your company. The same goes for any other issues they bring up. You don’t want to bring someone on who you know will end up in the same rut they were in before.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years?

This is important to know. You want someone who has a sense of what they want to do with their career. Hopefully, you can help the right candidate build a successful career as an employee of your company, and this sort of question allows them to paint a picture of what that might look like.

10. Describe a time when you…

This is the beginning of most competency-based questions, and you should feel free to craft as many of these open-ended questions as you need to. Focus them so that you are exploring areas that matter the most in the position you are interviewing for.

Example include:
– Describe a time you had to meet a deadline under pressure.
– Describe a time you dealt with an angry customer, and how you resolved their complaint.
– Describe a time you used outside-the-box thinking to make a sale.

The list goes on infinitely. Craft these questions to identify the traits you most value in the person you’re bringing on.

Questions that are Illegal to Ask

One quick note! As important as what questions to ask is what you need to avoid. Remember that the following things are not legal to ask during a job interview:

  • Race or national origin
  • Religion
  • Sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation
  • Pregnancy status or plans to become pregnant
  • Disability status
  • Age
  • Citizenship
  • Marital status or number of children

None of this information should matter when you are hiring, so remember to stay on topic and avoid areas that could create potential HR issues.

Make the Interview Your Own

Of course, there are many questions you could ask every interviewee, and in a perfect world, you could get every bit of information about every candidate before making the important decision of who to hire.

In the real world, the best way for a hiring manager to evaluate candidates is to let them speak for themselves. Questions like these allow candidates to let you know who they are and what matters to them. Hopefully, you can find someone who shares your company’s values and will fit right in!

Hiring isn’t easy. From posting the job to identifying potential candidates to conducting interviews, it can really help to have sales and marketing recruiters in your corner. Contact CulverCareers today and we can help you find the perfect sales or marketing professionals  for your open position.

Ty Culver headshot
Written by

Ty Culver is the Client Development Director of CulverCareers focusing on talent acquisition and workforce solutions with a wide variety of local, national and global clients.

Ty has been working in various aspects of the industry for over 10 years and developed deep expertise in Executive Search, Executive Benefit and Talent Acquisition Programs along the way. He has a range of experience from SMB to Enterprise clients and hyper specific executive searches to high volume recruiting with companies in a dynamic state of flux.

Today, Ty leads a talented team of Talent Acquisition Specialists, Executive Recruiters and Client Success Managers at one of the most respected Recruiting Firms in the Nation, CulverCareers. While leadership is a key aspect of his role, Ty still enjoys working with clients on recruiting strategies, executive benefit solutions and workforce solutions to help clients build a holistic approach to talent acquisition and talent retention.

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