7 Effective Interview Questioning Techniques for HR Managers

Tyra Taylor
Tyra Taylor

HR Specialist and Career Expert

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of three people surrounded by large question marks hovering over them

Leading companies treat recruitment as a critical process that allows them to track down and attract the highest quality employees.

As a company decision-maker or HR professional, you’ll know that the recruitment and selection process is rewarding if done effectively. 

So how do you find out which candidate is most suited to the job?

It’s all about asking the right questions in the right way and gathering relevant and reliable information about them. This is essentially a two-part strategy.

The first part is about finding out if the candidate has the skills for the role, whether they are motivated to succeed and if they are a good fit for the company.

Unfortunately, interview questions cannot be as simple as that; everyone will answer yes, and you’ll end up with the same number of ideal candidates as you did applicants.

So, how do you effectively gather this information?

This leads us to the second part of the strategy: using particular questioning techniques during the interview. By using the right questioning techniques and communication skills, you’ll draw out the suitable candidates.

Keep reading to find out the best questioning techniques which you can easily incorporate into your recruitment strategy during your interviews.

1. Open questions

Tell me about yourself. Notice how it’s impossible to answer this with a simple yes or no? Hence, the candidates have no choice but to expand on their answers and get chatting to you. 

It’s a great way for you to hear their views and understand them more as individuals. Some examples of this questioning technique include:

  • Describe a situation at work where you managed stress.
  • What does your ideal joblook like?
  • What makes you want to work here?

These questions make the candidate discuss and elaborate on the subject in question. Through these longer answers, you’ll be able to indirectly get to know key facts about the candidate, like what motivates them, where their skills lie, what they value and how they have functioned in the past.

2. Probing questions

So, you’ve asked a question, but you want to know more. Probing questions get the candidate to think deeper about what they’ve answered and provide you with more clarification and details.

These questions make candidates express what they may not have prepared to say in the interview, for example, after a candidate has provided an answer, you might ask:

  • When have you done something like this before?
  • Why do you think that is?
  • What exactly do you mean by that?

These follow-up questions allow you to draw more information out of the candidate. So, if you sense that a candidate is avoiding telling you something or if you accidentally lost track of what they’re talking about: probing questions are a communication lifesaver.

3. Leading questions

Has someone ever asked you: ‘When would you like a cup of coffee?’ instead of ‘Would you like a cup of coffee?’ They might as well have put the coffee in your hands. Leading questions are just like this; they suggest the correct answer within the question. By asking these questions, you’re automatically leading the candidate into your way of thinking, not allowing them their own space to think.

Because you’re pushing the candidate to answer the question in a particular way, it’s not the most reliable questioning technique. But it does help the candidate answer the question precisely, avoiding vague answers and time wastage. Some examples include:

  • Many of the employees here enjoy working overtime. What do you think about this? 
  • You said that you’re skilled in Microsoft Word, didn’t you?
  • If you don’t have any further questions, can we agree on a starting date?

In all these questions mentioned, you’ve already shown them the best answer. If you know that the question is complex, this indirectly helps the candidate answer the question. With that in mind, you need to give all candidates an equal opportunity, so this questioning technique shouldn’t only be used on your favourite candidate.

Leading questions should be used with care, not bias.

4. Loaded questions

Have you heard of a trick question? Well, a loaded question is, in fact, a trick question. It’s a complex question including one controversial assumption which the candidate is likely to disagree with.

When using these questions, you’re going to make the candidate want to defend themselves, for example, what if someone asked you:

  • Are you saying that you enjoy teamwork to impress me, or do you really?
  • If I told you that you had to fill in on Saturdays, would you be too unwilling to help out?
  • Tell me about your weaknesses, how have they prevented you from completing your job duties?

These questions are a candidate’s worst interview nightmare. They’re scary and can be offensive is not phrased carefully. The candidate has to divert your assumption, and on top of that, answer the original question. If you’re the kind of interviewer who wants to test the candidate’s positive attitude, interpersonal skills and confidence, these questions will reveal those quickly.

But generally, it’s best to use this questioning technique sparingly and focus on questioning job-related subjects.

5. Funnel questions

Think of the shape of a funnel: it starts big and narrows down. This technique similarly starts by asking general questions and then drills down to more specific points, asking more details.

In an interview setting, it may look something like this:

This is a great way to gather an accurate picture of a candidate’s experiences. Unfortunately, when candidates want to impress you, they sometimes offer lengthy, exaggerated and unfocused stories of their past successes. Funnel questions will eliminate the unnecessary information and draw out the specific information you’re most interested in.

They also may be used as a confidence booster and an interview anxiety reliever. You can ask follow-up questions on parts of the candidate’s answers which you feel they are most proud of. Whether admit it or not, we all secretly enjoy talking about our strengths and accomplishments now and then.

6. Recall and process questions

As the name of this questioning technique suggests, the candidate is required to remember facts by recalling information from memory and then analysing the information. Easier said than done.

You’re asking the candidate to apply what they already know, for example:

  • What are the key skills you have which you’ll apply to this position?
  • I see you’ve worked in sales, how will that help you in this role?
  • What are the advantages of employing someone with your degree for this position?

These more complex questions allow the candidate to show off their mental processing skills and explain how their experience suits the current job requirements. These are tricky questions, and if a candidate is struggling with interview anxiety, they may be inhibited when answering. Scientific studies have proven that memory recall can be temporarily disrupted during a stressful situation, like an interview.

These type of questions try to get candidates to demonstrate how their previous experiences have prepared them for the opportunity in front of them.

7. Rhetorical questions

You didn’t think we were going to discuss this one, did you? This questioning technique does not ask for an answer. Indeed, rhetorical questions tend to be hypothetical and are only asked to get the candidate to think more; the answer is not required or is too obvious to say. Usually, it’s not a question at all but a statement.

This technique is used to engage with the candidate instead of attempting to get information out of them. They’re also more powerful when used together, for example:

  • Have you seen the economic statistics today, there’s no hope is there?
  • How many times am I going to tell myself not to look at the statistics?

These questions are effective if you want to get candidates to draw candidates into the conversation. It is more of a thought-provoking technique than a conversation starter.

Recruitment interviews are tricky and require excellent communication skills.

Each of these questioning strategies serves a unique purpose; I recommend that you choose techniques that allow the candidate to reveal and display their character and skills.

Plan your interview questioning techniques in line with your recruitment strategy, to ensure you get the right information, in the right way, which enables you to choose the best candidate for the job opening.

What is your process when planning your interview questions? Which questioning technique have you found best during job interviews? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!

This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 15 November 2014.