3 Questions Freakin’ Awesome Candidates Ask

I read and essentially disagreed with a post over at Recruiter.com about “7 Questions Great Candidates Ask“, so figured I better pony up with some of my favorite questions.  It wasn’t that ALL 7 sucked, but they were predictable,  like “Why did the previous job holder leave?”  And, “job holder”?  Really??!  Who says “job holder”?

I did like #7 – “How do your employees wind down?”, but the suggested response blew. Candidates don’t want to hear about your commitment to work-life balance, because guess what – they won’t (and shouldn’t) believe you.  I’ve said before there’s no such thing as work-life “balance” as balance implies equality.  There can be work-life trade-offs.  Some weeks you kill yourself on a project.  The trade-off being when you need to get to your kid’s basketball game at 4pm you’re court-side by 3:45pm and not checking email.

Here are my 3 and why only freakin’ AWESOME candidates ask these questions:

#1.  Why should I leave a job I love to come over here?  This question says, I’m an extremely passive candidate and you’re going to have to really convince me to even continue in the interview process.  It is also asking for transparency.  What’s the real story about your org and this role?

#2.  What would my priorities be for the first 6-12 months?  Your candidate is intrigued.  He/She is now looking for detail about what their 1st year would look like.  It’s also a question to test if you (hiring manager) have really thought through your priorities and expectations of the role.  You better be able to answer this one – and with more than “I want you to build relationships”.  Duh.

#3.  What do you tell your mom/spouse/best friend about why you love working here  AND  what happened on your worst day here? OK, so yes, this is two questions in one.  It’s also the culture question.  It’s also the real question – the one where the candidate wants to see if you can get out of interview mode and get gritty.  This is where the candidate not only learns about the culture but your style and how you handle the good and the bad.  It’s probing, shows interest and indicates they want to know the cool stuff and the not so cool stuff about your culture.

Interviews generally suck.  You know you’re in an enhanced interview when there is actual dialogue – give and take.

Hiring managers – in order to pull top talent out of their current company you not only have to be prepared to ask compelling questions… but perhaps more importantly assess the types of questions you’re being asked by the candidate and give meaningful answers.

And candidates – if you want to be put in the AWESOME category, you have to step up your game as well.  Think about how many times the interviewer has been asked about “training and development opportunities” by average candidates.  If you’re getting a glazed over look, call it a day and go figure out spicy questions for the next time you’re interviewed.

FOT Background Check

Kathy Rapp
Kathy Rapp is the President of hrQ, where she helps companies find groovy HR Talent or HR Consultants to drive business results.  Prior to joining hrQ, Kathy booked more than 15 years of human resources leadership experience working for such companies as Morgan Stanley and First Data Corporation.  A connoisseur of the intersection between pop culture and business, Kathy believes many talent issues can be addressed via the succession planning lessons experienced by Van Halen  (David Lee/Sammy and sadly, Gary Cherone).


  1. Ayrione says:

    Hi Kathy,

    I really enjoyed reading your article! I had a question about question number one. Why would a candidate who loves their current job be interviewing for something else? Maybe they shouldn’t say that they love it so much because they are obviously looking for something else. Unless they were sought out by the new company, i guess i would feel a lil silly applying fora position then asking them to tell me why i should leave a position i love. I know growth and other reasons are reasons to move forward. Tell me what you think 🙂

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Hey Ayrione – Part of my other job is finding extremely passive candidates and convincing them to at least have conversations…..so it is a question I get from great candidates all the time. Even though they may love their current job, they may not see the right opportunities down the road – or have a boss who isn’t going anywhere, etc. so it never hurts to have a convo – just know that the new job will have to be all that ++++ if you’re going to woo this person out of their current gig.

      • Rex says:

        When you are the one who approached the company rather than they approaching you, is paraphrasing the first question to one of asking “why I would leave a company wher I have worked for 10 years to work here?” sensible?

        In addition, please comment on asking these questions for when the interviewer asks you what questions you have versus in the middle of the interview when the interviewer asks you questions, as long as you can do that in a respectful way.

        • Kathy Rapp
          Kathy Rapp says:

          Rex – If YOU are the one reaching out to the company then clearly, #1 needs to be rethought.

          If the interviewer starts the interview with “what questions do you have” I still think those 3 are appropriate (and #1 as long as the company is chasing you vs. you chasing them).

    • Vicki says:

      They may be exploring their options.
      They may love their job but not their manager.
      Their company may be considering a reorganization.
      They may have just gone through a reorganization.
      They may have been contacted by someone at Company 2.
      They may have been passed over for promotion.
      They may have hit a salary ceiling.
      They may need to move.
      They may hope to find someone great with a shorter commute, shorter hours, access to transit…

  2. Craig Carrel says:


    Great questions. question #2 is vital and lets you understand what will be expectations and how you will be judged. A variation on question #3 is to ask them the best thing about working for the company and what would be the one thing they would change if they could.

    Whenever I give advice to people interviewing I recommend they have at least 3 great questions to ask. You should be interviewing the company and finding out if there is a fit as much as they are interviewing you. One question I recommend is to ask the interviewer to outline their work history. People love to talk about themselves and puts you in a positive light and you should be able to get some information on what make the interviewer someone you want to work with.

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Thanks, Craig and totally agree. Questions show candidates have intellectual curiosity – no questions or dumb or predictable questions can blow your chances with an organization fast!

  3. Hi Kathy, I’m passing your post along to my twins who are gearing up to graduate college.

    I also had a concern about #1. I love it and do believe it’s an excellent question. My concern is that it would need to be delivered in the right way so that the interviewer doesn’t take it out of context. Meaning, it could come across as being a bit arrogant vs. being confident depending on someone’s individual style.

    Thanks — great read!

    • Kathy Rapp says:

      Thanks, Kimberly and CONGRATS on getting twins out of college! You have to feel awesome.

      I totally agree with your concern – it IS all in the approach and phrasing of the question. It also can’t be the first thing out of a candidate’s mouth…..hopefully there has been some rapport built up so the hiring manager doesn’t take it out of context. In my opinion you always want someone running TO your org vs. running FROM their current situation – so viewed in that way it’s not arrogant at all.

      • Yes exactly — so that it’s basically saying, “hey hiring manager, it’s going to take a decent lure to get me out of my current gig!” I’d definitely coach new grads to keep this in the back of their minds while they’re building their relationship skills!

        Thanks for the congrats! My oldest is graduating next year (doing a 5-year co-op program) and my youngest is graduating next month. Oh and for the record, she has two written job offers. Guess who coached her through that process?

  4. Lindsay says:

    Interesting but nothing earth shattering here. I’ve been embarrased once asking question #2. What I was told, is that they expected ME to come prepared with what I could do for THEIR company. Since then, I’ve never walked into any interview without a written 30-60-90 day plan.

    • Kathy Rapp
      Kathy Rapp says:

      That’s cool – in general, interviews aren’t earth shattering. Doesn’t sound like you asked #2 in the right context as no one should expect a candidate to know what the goals and projects are and how they can contribute to them without some input from the hiring manager. A generic 30-60-90 day plan can be spit out for ANY company – but #2 is getting at more specific needs at play for the 1st year.

  5. Keith says:

    How about this:
    “Tell me what I’ll be doing in the course of a day in this position”
    Response: There will be meetings.
    “How many meetings?”
    Gets to the gritty aspect mentioned in question 3. Similar to question 2, but gets to the idea of “Will I be doing things I love on a daily basis?”

    • Kathy Rapp
      Kathy Rapp says:

      Keith – Think it depends on the level of the job. If a Director or VP asked me about their daily work life it probably would lead me to question whether they are too junior for the role.

  6. david says:

    @ Keith RE: “Will I be doing things I love on a daily basis?”
    Not really, there’ll be days when you’ll just want to walk out and leave 🙂

  7. Hi All,

    A candidate who is hirable and is bound to perform phenomenally will suffice 3 critical parameters:

    1. His resume is not available on job sites
    2. He does not mail his resume to consultants randomly
    3. Companies have to ‘headhunt’ and do rigorous referencing to get to him.
    As a Managing Director at Map My Talent Consulting, we do this on a daily basis and quite enjoy.
    I look forward to hear your views/comments.

  8. GuyBatt says:

    Asking questions on interviews is as important as answering them, that much we know.
    And we can determine an awful lot about a person by their questions and answers.
    What constitutes a “Best’ candidate remains their level of knowledge of the skills and scope of the position.
    Stay focused.

  9. 1. Interviews need to be treated like high level sales calls
    2. The interviewee should be asking smart questions geared around how they can help the company, NOT how the company can help them.
    3. “Why should I leave a job I love to come over here?” is close to the worst advice I’ve ever heard. This shouldn’t happen unless/until a company is ready to make an offer.
    Due respect, please stick to HR and stay out of recruiting.

    • Kathy Rapp
      Kathy Rapp says:

      Carol – That was the very question I asked as SVP of HR when my current business partner called about joining hrQ. If I hadn’t asked that question I wouldn’t have reflected on what I ultimately wanted to do with my career – which was run a successful business. I will always remember asking my husband – why would I want to go into search/staffing as I’d had such horrible experiences as a client and a candidate with bad recruiters. His reply – “because you’ll do it differently” – and I DO.

  10. Completely agree. On that note, it is time to trash resources designed to help people prepare to hear what employers want to hear. Can I also say that it is time to start a fire and burn all the amazing resumes which include “key words” to match exact job descriptions. In addition, it is time for recruiters to get creative and about writing job/ descriptions. Instead of asking for experience, start asking for talent (Hint: recruit people based on the criteria the CEO used to let go of someone…get it? work ethic, team work, positivity, HONESTY.) College students are the primary victim of our traditional recruiting paradigm. Your post is extremely valuable for people who want to find a “calling” instead of a job.

  11. Karen KT says:

    Good post; good questions; good exchange of comments. These questions might not be right for everyone in every context, but they are nice to add to the repertoire!

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