21 Tips for Asking Effective Video Interview Questions
Both video and phone interviews allow you to easily interact with a candidate from a distance, but video holds the advantage because of the visual component. You’re able to see a person’s reaction and read their body language just as if you were in the same room with them.
Smart interviewers know how to maximize this video advantage. By asking effective interview questions, they’re able to get the “full picture” of a candidate from their verbal and physical responses. This is true for both live video interviews and automated (one-way) video interviews.
To help you assemble your own list of effective video interview questions, let’s start by taking a look at some general guidelines to follow:
Ask open-ended questions
Avoid asking questions answerable by “yes” or “no.” It stalls the conversation and helps the candidate play their cards close to the chest. Likewise, don’t ask questions that have simple, direct answers. Instead, ask questions that get the candidate talking.
For example, asking “what coding languages do you know?” will only get you an answer with a short list. Try “which coding language is your favorite and why?” instead. It requires the candidate to give their opinion and justify it, which reveals how they think and tells you what they value.
Invite them to tell a story
In addition to getting them talking, stories are a good way to see how candidates organize their thoughts. Is the story disjointed, full of random tangents and unrelated detail? Or is the narrative easy to follow and relevant to your actual question?
Their body language can tell you a lot about the person, too. Do they get excited as they tell the story, and start waving their hands around? Or do they clam up and stay at a stiff posture? You may not be able to tell if the person is lying or exaggerating, but you’ll definitely be able to get a sense of how they would behave (and get along with your team) in an actual work environment well before you bring them in for the in-person interview.
Ask about the person’s actions
When a person tells a story they may get so preoccupied with the events that they forget to tell you about their actual part in it. Get the candidate to focus on what they did to contribute to a situation (good or bad). It may turn out that their impact on an award-winning project was actually pretty minor, or vice versa.
This kind of question also shows how a candidate sees themselves. If they try to downplay their actions, they may either be humble or have a problem with self-confidence. Candidates who talk themselves up may be bragging too much or taking credit for other people’s contributions. Listen and watch carefully to see where they fall on the self-confidence spectrum.
Ask for clarification
A live video interview offers full interactivity and an interviewer should take that opportunity to ask as many follow-up questions as possible.
Some interviewers prefer not to do this because they’re afraid to look uninformed in front of the candidate. This absolutely should not be the case!
If the candidate uses jargon you don’t understand, ask them to explain it. If the candidate relates a story in an unclear manner, ask them to clarify. If they keep mentioning a specific name, ask who that person is. Don’t feel guilty for doing so. You’re not challenging them, you just want to fully understand what you’re being told so that you can better evaluate the information.
Of course, if anything about the candidate’s story rings false based on what you hear or see, then you definitely should challenge them. Ask for additional detail about any part of the story that seems suspicious, whether it’s overemphasizing their contributions or glossing over a bad outcome. In this case, you may be weeding out someone who will be openly dishonest with you just so they don’t appear weak. If they’re going to dishonest in an interview, they’re going to bring that quality to the job as well.
With the above general guidelines in mind, let’s now take a look at some specific examples of video questions you can ask, and what you should look for in an answer.
Effective video interview questions
Tell me about yourself.
This simple, innocuous question tells you so much about the candidate. How much emphasis do they place on their career? How much of their lives are they willing to share with you? Which parts? Do they tell it with energy and candor, or are they careful and reserved?
As they tell their story, ask them to expound on areas you find interesting. Don’t steer their conversation, but don’t let them ramble, either. A strong candidate will find ways to connect their answer with the job posting at hand.
What do you know about our company?
You don’t want a ticket puncher who’s in it just for the salary (even if that’s everyone’s basic motivation). You want to hire someone who, at the very least, cares enough about their career to know what
The candidate doesn’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of your company history or the name of your CEO’s dog (although that helps), but they must at least know the basics about what your company does, who your customers are, and what the candidate will be doing if they’re hired.
If you were building a team of former co-workers, who would you recruit and why?
One of the best ways to know a person is by how he sees other people. This question gives you a peek into his prior working relationships and what he thinks made them so great. You’ll discover what the candidate values in other people and how he may potentially see his future co-workers.
If a candidate can’t decide on anyone, that may be a warning sign that a) he doesn’t have the skill set to evaluate a co-worker’s performance, or b) he doesn’t know enough about his co-workers to make a decision one way or the other, or c) he doesn’t have a good working relationship with his previous team.
What’s the toughest problem you were able to solve? How?
This is an opportunity for a candidate to demonstrate their lateral thinking and problem-solving abilities, and also an opportunity for you to see how truthful a candidate is.
As the candidate relates their story, ask them to provide more detail on the steps taken to solve the problem. Things like context, specific actions, minor details, etc. If a candidate really participated in solving the problem, they will be able to provide most of that information. If they don’t know or claim to not remember, then they might be fabricating all or part of the story (or at least their contribution to the story).
Describe your ideal work environment.
Job skills aren’t the only thing that makes a good employee. You also have to figure out if they’re a good fit for your company culture.
For example, a candidate who hates dogs might not be a good choice in a dog-friendly company. And candidates who take comfort in fixed job requirements and predictable tasks wouldn’t appreciate the chaotic, everyone-does-everything nature of a startup.
After the candidate explains their work environment preferences, feel free to share yours as well to see how they react. Are they enthusiastically embracing what you’ve shared? Are they less than enthusiastic but willing to compromise for a chance to work with you? Or are they visibly discouraged by how you describe your workplace?
How would you spend your time if you didn’t have to work?
You don’t have to make all of your questions so serious. Get to know the candidate as a person by discovering their interests. You may find out that they share the same hobby as some of your other employees. Even if they don’t, other employees might be interested in learning their new hobby and bonding over it.
How would you solve X problem?
This is somewhat similar to the earlier problem about the candidate solving their biggest challenge, but instead of looking to the past, this question looks forward. You have to assess whether or not the candidate has the chops to do the job. This question isn’t just to see if they can come up with the right answer, but also to see what their process is for solving problems (or if they have one at all).
Try giving the candidate the general objectives or sketch of the problem and see how they approach it. A good candidate will come up with a logical and feasible answer right away. A great candidate will ask you more questions first to learn more about the problem, then slowly peel away the possible alternatives until they arrive at the right answer.
Describe a time you had a strong difference of opinion with a colleague. How was it resolved?
Most everyone has a strong difference of opinion with a colleague at some point in their career. And it doesn’t have to be an actual argument or fight.
Pay attention to what the difference of opinion was about. Was it personal or professional? Petty or major? On their own behalf on the behalf of someone else?
As for the resolution, did the candidate try to resolve it on their own, or did someone have to step in? Was the candidate satisfied with the resolution, or is he still nursing a grudge? The answers to all of these questions will tell you just what kind of person you’re going to be working with.
And by the way: any candidate who tells you they’ve never had a strong difference of opinion a) may be revealing that they’re not prepared to stand up for their convictions, or b) may not be completely leveling with you.
What didn’t you get a chance to include on your resume?
This is a question attributed to Richard Branson, and it’s worth including on the list because it’s so good.
Most resumes are stripped down to the barest essentials, and things that might’ve been a major selling point for the candidate may have been left out. This question offers the candidate a chance to correct that shortcoming and take one last shot at showing off their best stuff.
How do you think our product could be improved?
This is a little bit of a “gotcha” question, similar to the earlier one on this list asking about the company. The candidate absolutely must have done their research to have an insightful answer, because it would be very hard to fool an employee interviewer who knows the product well.
This is also a good opportunity to see how the candidate offers criticism: harsh or gentle, honest or sugar-coated, vague or detailed.
What is your greatest personal accomplishment?
This is normally a pretty general question, but the emphasis on “personal” narrows it down to a specific topic. You get to see what the candidate is passionate about, a few people will talk about accomplishing something they don’t value. Follow up questions can further reveal the details of how they achieved what they did.
Tell me about the best person you ever worked with. What made them so great?
The insights to be gained from this question come in two parts: First, the role (e.g. a co-worker, boss, mentor or other) of the person they consider “the best.” Next, the qualities they value in that person.
As you hear the response to this question, try to gauge the company the candidate keeps in their professional and personal lives, and decide if their standards measure up to your own and those of your team members.
What about your previous job frustrated you?
This is an excellent question simply because it allows you to flash forward in time. The candidate’s answer may give you an idea of why they could leave you a year or three in the future. If the reason doesn’t apply to you, then there’s likely no problem. But if you’re pretty sure they’ll encounter the same situation in your company, then you may think twice about the candidate’s potential for long-term success.
What was a situation you handled poorly in the past, and how would you handle it in the future?
The danger of asking a general “what was the greatest failure you experienced in the workplace?” question is that a clever candidate can spin things in a way where it’s not their fault. But wording the question in this particular way challenges them to admit to a shortcoming or mistake of their own and describe the details of that circumstance.
The follow-up question tests their willingness to learn from their mistakes and reveals how their problem-solving skills would be different with the benefit of a do-over.
Describe a situation where you did the right thing at work and nobody saw it.
This is the complete opposite of the previous question. Instead of highlighting past mistakes, you’re asking them to show their moral character — which can be more difficult to share with a stranger.
Remember to apply the condition of “nobody seeing it,” as it automatically excludes any situation driven primarily by personal gain. Feel free to
What do you worry about late at night, and why?
This revealing question gives you insight about what makes a candidate tick.
If they’re worried about money, then you know that compensation will be an important factor for them (for both the final job offer and for job satisfaction moving forward). If their answer relates to family, then you know that they value personal time and work-life balance. Analyze their answers closely for clues about how they would view the role and your company culture.
Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else.
This is a risky question simply because you have no idea what the candidate is going to say. And yet it can be
A candidate’s answer could reveal a hidden talent, a unique perspective, a key moment in their personal history, or (if they decline to answer) a strong sense of privacy and protectiveness.
Remember, when it comes to an interview the candidate has to bring their A-game, but so do you. So choose your interview questions carefully and be prepared to challenge their answers! By doing so, you’ll gain valuable insights to help you decide whether the candidate should move on in your hiring process.
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