Five Easy Questions That Should Be Asked at Every Job Interview

There are five suggested, critical interview questions every employer or hiring manager should be trained to ask in order to help identify job applcaints that are unqualified, unfit or dishonest. Of course, an employer would not want to get the interview off on the wrong foot with questions aimed at past criminal conduct or negative employment experiences. One of the goals of an interview is to help foster a talking environment where a potential employee understands and accepts the goals and direction of the organization.

However, every interview does have a "housekeeping" portion where standard questions are asked. That would be a good time for the following five questions:

1. Our firm has a standard policy of conducting background checks on all hires before an offer is made or finalized. You have already signed a release form. Do you have any concerns about that?

This is a general question about screening. Since the applicant has signed a release form, there is a powerful incentive to be honest and reveal any issues.

2. We also check for criminal convictions for all finalists. Do you have any concerns about that?

This question goes from the general to the specific. Be sure to ask the question in a form that is legally permissible in your state. It is important NOT to ask a question that is so broadly worded that it may lead to an applicant revealing more information then allowed by law. Again, make sure the applicant understands that he or she has signed a release and this process is standard company policy. Also keep in mind that it can be discriminatory to automatically reject an applicant with a criminal record unless there is a business justification.

3. When we talk to your past employers, what do you think they will say?

This question puts the application on notice that past employers will be contacted. This general question again provides a powerful incentive to be very accurate.

4. Will your past employers tell us that there was any issues with tardiness, meeting job requirements, etc.?

This question goes again to a specific area. Ask detailed questions about matters that are expressly relevant to the job opening.

5. Tell me about any unexplained gaps in your employment history.

If there are any unexplained employment gaps, it is imperative to ask about them. Unexplained gaps longer then a few months can be problematic, since an employer needs to be concerned ifa gap was caused by a criminal as opposed to other reasons.

Since applicants have signed consent forms and believe the firm is doing checks, applicants have a powerful incentive to be truthful. These questions serve a valuable function by providing a strong motivation for applicants to be self-revealing. It also takes advantage of the natural human trait to want to have some control over what others say about you. If an applicant believes a future employer may hear negative information from a past employer, the applicant may want to be able to set the record straight before the future employer has the chance to hear negative information from someone else.

Good applicants will shrug the questions off and applicants with something to hide may reveal vital information. Applicants with something to hide may also react in a number of different ways. Some applicants may tough it out during the first question. However, the questions are designed to go from the general to the specific. By the second question, an applicant may well begin to express concerns or react in some way that raises a red flag. An applicant, for example, may object to the questions by asking if the questions invade their privacy rights. If an applicant raises such an objection, then simply indicate that these are standard job-related questions asked of all applicants. By adding these five key questions at every interview, employers can both demonstrate due diligence in hiring, and try to avoid hiring problematic employees.


Lester S. Rosen is an attorney at law and CEO of Employment Screening Resources (, a national background screening company located in California. He is the author of, "The Safe Hiring Manual--Complete Guide to Employment Screenings Background Checks" (720 pages-Facts on Demand Press/ 2d edition 2012), the first comprehensive book on employment screening and safe hiring. He is also the author of, "The Safe Hiring Audit." His blog on human resources and hiring issues is a leading ...

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