Identify your STAR candidate by using great questioning

6 minutes
Tracey George

By Tracey George

Recently, more clients have been asking us for advice on interviewing. These are some of the reasons cited for this:

  • Increased volumes of vacancies/interviews currently
  • A desire to make the interview process more inclusive & offering adjustments or support
  • The need for consistency in the interview process
  • As an addition to traditional competency-based questions, a need, and desire to interview for potential
  • Hiring managers lacking interview experience or confidence
  • Curiosity about new and fresh ideas of what questions to ask

In this blog, we focus on interview questions and have broken these down into 4 categories. Of course, there are other assessment methods apart from questioning that may be more suitable for a particular role or could be used in a supplementary way to a standard interview process, such as; behavioural assessments, working interviews, practical skills based tasks or projects, presentations etc.

Question types:

  1. HR based questions
  2. Competency based questions
  3. Knowledge based questions
  4. Potential based questions

It is important to tailor the interview to specifically assess and evaluate the candidate based on their suitability for the role and the organisation.

To do this, start with reviewing the job description and person specification, paying particular attention to the essential criteria outlined. You should design questions that will allow a candidate to showcase their experience, skills (including transferable skills), knowledge and potential.

Remember, it is important to be working from an up-to-date and well-designed job description that is both fit for purpose and appealing to a diverse range of applicants – see our role design blog for more information on how to achieve this.

HR-based questions

These questions should be focused on ascertaining a candidate’s level of interest in the role or organisation, as well as gathering evidence of research they have undertaken, bearing in mind the amount of time they have had to prepare. Questions may also focus on career aspirations, achievements and how you, the employer, will get the best outcomes and engagement from them.


  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What interests you about this role?
  • Of your previous jobs, which did you enjoy most and why?
  • What are your weaknesses and how do you work to manage these? Your strengths?
  • What style of management gives you the best chance of success?
  • Are there any achievements that you are particularly proud of?

Knowledge-based questions

Knowledge-based questions assess the candidates’ skills, experience and knowledge of the technical aspects of the role. These questions will assess whether their current level of knowledge is sufficient to carry-out the role effectively.


  • Can you talk us through your experience of using student record management systems?
  • Have you used the database to automate donor communications, if so, how?
  • Are there any recent key changes of HR legislation you are aware of, and what is your understanding of them?
  • Can you talk me through the functionality within Sage Line 100 you are familiar with?

Competency-based questions

These are questions that require the candidate to evidence real-life examples to demonstrate experience of certain skills, tasks or responsibilities. They are designed to test the candidates’ hands-on experience and the outcomes that were achieved. This will allow for candidates to draw on experiences and skills that they have gained through other non-work-related projects, interests or commitments for example, volunteering, caring, hobbies or sports.

The most effective way of designing these questions is to go through each point on the person specification and ask questions that allow the candidate to give you clear, tangible outcomes and results-based answers.

Examples of outcomes/results you may seek to see evidence of could be:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Project deadlines
  • Appraisal reviews
  • Survey results
  • Awards or recognition
  • Targets

Example questions:

  • Teamwork
  • Tell me about a time you worked well as part of a team.
  • When you joined your last organisation, how did you get on with your co-workers?
  • Problem solving
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem, and what was the outcome?
  • Describe a situation in which you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle, and what happened as a result of your actions?
  • Decision making
  • What is the toughest decision you have had to make while at your present organisation?
  • Tell me about it – what alternatives did you consider?
  • Leadership
  • What type of leadership style do you adopt, and can you give an example of when this was effective?
  • What was a challenging project you have managed and how did you handle it?
  • Time management
  • How do you prioritize your day?
  • How do you react if your manager asks you to do something which conflicts with your own deadlines?
  • Customer service
  • What does excellent student service look like to you?
  • Describe a time you dealt with a difficult customer and what was the outcome?

Potential-based questions

These questions will help you understand a candidate's growth potential. Good employers will hire people who can do the job today but can also grow into the position and progress in the future.

Potential-based questions are about asking the candidate questions that will allow them to demonstrate to you who they really are, what their goals are, and how they approach their work and career.


  • How realistic and clear are your career goals?
  • How do you see this position helping you to achieve your goals?
  • What are your weaknesses? Have you done anything to improve?
  • Why are you better now at what you do compared to six months ago?
  • Tell me about the last article/video/talk that really intrigued you.
  • What new skill/s are you keen on developing in this role?

We always encourage employers to offer adjustments and/or support to the interview process, allowing candidates the best possible opportunity, environment and setting/location to showcase what they have to offer. For more information on inclusive recruitment, you can visit our D&I Hub.

If you would like any further advice or support with conducting effective interviews, please contact us at

  • 020 7198 6000
  • TPP Recruitment, Northern & Shell Building, 4th Floor, 10 Lower Thames Street, London, EC3R 6AF