7 telling questions that reveal a candidate’s true potential

interview questions

Have you ever interviewed a candidate who talked a great talk, but didn’t end up cutting it in the actual job? Enthusiastic job seekers may be tempted to stretch the truth a little on past performances in hopes of leaving the best impression, which means a hiring manager’s greatest challenge is often in deciphering a candidate’s real ability and fit.

With limited face time during an interview, asking specific, targeted interview questions can reveal much more about a candidate than they may even realize. As an interviewer, applying such a strategy can help you unravel falsehoods, and accelerate your ability to get to the heart of who a job candidate really is.

Behavioural interview questions are designed to uncover insights beyond just technical skills such as:

  • Attitude and motivation: how does the candidate accept direction, feedback and works under pressure?
  • Loyalty and work ethic: how committed are they to the job and their career
  • Honesty: while embellishment may be expected, lies are not acceptable
  • Preferred managerial style: do they like to be hand-held or do they thrive when working autonomously?

Here are seven telling interview questions that can help reveal a candidate’s true potential:

1. To gauge their ability to work under pressure: “Describe what is a stressful situation for you? What is your worst case scenario and how do you cope with it?”

2. To uncover how motivated they are at work: “Tell me about a situation when you had to go above and beyond your call of duty in order to get a job done?”

3. To understand their ability to balance work with personal responsibilities: “We have all faced a time in our lives when we had to be pulled away from work for personal reasons (i.e. sick child, family emergency, etc.) – how did you handle this?”

4. To detect embellishments or fabrications: ask the same questions in a pre-screening phone interview and during an in-person interview. You may be surprised at how much the answers can vary. For example, “Why did you leave your last job?” Often, during the in-person interview the answer changes or is a lot less glorious, and more honest.

5. To discover their managerial style preference: “If you were made the manager in your last position, what would you have changed?” This question can also uncover what they liked and disliked about a previous boss.

6. To learn about their favoured company culture: “Tell me about the best position you’ve had, and why it was great?” This can provide clues into what they liked about various aspects of a company, the job, work environment and their boss.

7. To determine their enthusiasm for the job: “Tell me about your ideal position – your ‘dream job.’ What is important to you in your next role?” Compare their description to the job at hand, to see how much they understand the role and how much they want it. This question should also be asked during the initial phone screening when candidates won’t necessarily have the job description in front of them to reflect on.

For more interview tips and tricks, download our free eGuide, Interviewing for success. Here’s a sneak peek:


Julie is the president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions. After a decade and a half of recruiting top talent, she is a veteran in her field. Fluent in both English and French, Julie also provides bilingual placement and expertise. She works closely with both business and HR executives and job candidates, and can offer insights into the strategies, nuances and psychology of the hiring process.

See also:
Eight interview mistakes hiring managers make
What you need to stop asking in interviews (and what to ask instead)


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