The Top HR Interview Questions You Should Ask

by Mike Tannian on May 23, 2022

Are you a hiring manager struggling to find public sector interview questions for candidates? Here’s a list of top HR interview questions you should be asking.

Article Highlights:

Interviewing job candidates for a public sector job can be daunting if it's not something you do regularly. What questions should you ask? What questions will tell you the most about a candidate? And what questions should you skip over altogether?

Asking different interview questions helps determine a candidate's career goals, past work experiences, and whether their future goals align with your organization's. For an HR generalist, your interview questions can offer insight into the candidate's communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, people skills, and technical skills. 

But if you're not used to conducting an interview, that can be an intimidating task. So we'll share examples of the types of questions you can ask a little later. Of course, it all depends on your role in the interview.

You may be an HR interviewer conducting front-line interviews designed to see whether a candidate should move on to speak to a hiring manager. Or you may be a new hiring manager making your first professional hire, trying to find the best public sector interview questions. Or perhaps you’re a candidate interviewing for a government job and you want to know the top HR interview questions that you might encounter.

If you're an interviewer, this article will show you a list of qualitative questions you can pick and choose from to ensure you’re selecting the right candidates for your job openings.

If you're a job candidate, read over this list of top HR interview questions so you know what they may ask. It's especially worth reviewing the list of public sector interview questions and answers so you can prepare in advance. You'll also want to ask your own questions, and we'll provide some thoughtful ones you can write down. Practice both your answers and questions to hone your interview skills so you can present your best self.

HR Manager Interview Questions

When interviewing a candidate, you're looking out for several different factors to help you make a decision. As you prepare a list of questions, they should help you learn about candidates’ future goals and formulate answers to things like: 

  • Will this person fit in your company culture? 
  • How do they handle conflict and stress? 
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What do they do best and what needs work?

Let’s look at some basic HR generalist interviewer questions that you'll want to ask in the initial interviews, just to see if you should move them to the next phase of the interview process.

Career questions can tell you about their career goals and their passions. This is the chance for your candidate to talk about themselves and for you to get a good sense of their enthusiasm for the work they do. Some examples include:

  • Where do they want to be in five years?
  • What made them get into this line of work?
  • What do they love about the job?
  • What has their typical role on a team been?
  • And why are they leaving their current job?

Competency-based questions share about their past experience and education. You can see how well a person knows their work and whether they actually have the experience they need for the position. Ask things like:

  • What skills and strengths do they bring to the position?
  • Where do they need to improve?
  • How did they handle a difficult situation?
  • How well do they know a particular computer language or piece of software?
  • And what do they spend most of their time doing in their current job?

Situational questions or hypothetical questions help identify soft skills, such as conflict resolution or work style. You can get an idea of how a candidate thinks and how they'll handle specific situations. Answers to this type of question will reveal a lot about their emotional intelligence and how they function in a team setting. Examples include:

  • Tell me about a past project that went badly; how did you deal with it?
  • How do you handle job-related stress?
  • How would you deal with a particular situation?
  • How do you celebrate your successes?
  • What could be improved at your current company?
  • How would you establish your credibility with your team?
  • What do you see yourself doing within the first 30 days of this job?

Culture-fit questions see how well candidates will fit within your workplace. These may be some of the most important questions to ask. If a person is not a good culture fit, it doesn't matter how competent they are. A bad culture fit can do untold damage to a team's morale and productivity, so you want to make sure you're hiring people who will do well in your organization's environment.

In interviews, ask things like:

  • Do you prefer to work alone or in teams?
  • What sort of management style do you work well with?
  • How do you communicate during a conflict?
  • How would your coworkers or your boss describe you?

Behavioral interview questions determine how they'll function at their highest and lowest, so don’t forget them. Everyone has good days and bad days at work, and behavioral questions will give you better insight into a candidate's emotional intelligence. Some examples are:

  • What's an example of a time you did something wrong? How did you handle it?
  • If you were at a business lunch and you ordered a hamburger, but they brought you a chicken sandwich, what would you do?
  • If you realized your team could perform more efficiently by implementing a new process, what would you do?
  • How would you handle it if you had to finish multiple tasks by 5:00 p.m., but you knew there was no way you could get them all done?

Finally, interview questions for public sector jobs can give you industry-specific insight into a candidate’s qualifications. Working for a government agency has its own special experiences and requirements, so you should ask questions about that type of work, including:

  • How would you promote this program to the general public?
  • What was your major in college? How will it help you in this position?
  • What interested you in our agency?
  • How would you describe the role of this agency to a member of the public?
  • If you could change one thing about government work, what would it be?

If you want more ideas for public sector HR Director interview questions, we compiled some of the best into a list of 99 Questions to Ask Public Sector Candidates

Candidate Interview Questions

As a candidate, it’s important that you also ask questions during an interview. This shows that you're interested in the job and you've done your research. Don't assume you'll get all the information you need from the interview or from researching the organization ahead of time. If you think you already know the answers to the questions below, ask them anyway to get more context that you might have missed.

With that being said, before you go into an interview, always research the organization ahead of time. Make sure you know the organization's values and mission, and the salary range. You can always ask these questions, but it's also a good indication of whether this is a place where you'd like to work based on what the interviewer says.

It’s also important to note that you should not ask about salary. Ideally, the agency already posted a range for the position, and you researched it yourself. But this isn’t always the case. 

Employers will likely ask you about salary expectations during an interview, so be sure to tell them a range as well. Do your research on industry salary averages for the position and the average salary ranges for the organization — there are several job boards and websites that have this information — so when they do ask, you can give them a reasonable range. You don't want to shoot too high and scare them off, or shoot too low and leave money on the table. But don't commit to a specific number until they make an offer, and don't ask about the salary in the early stages of the hiring process.

Now we’ve covered the “don’ts” — but what are the “dos” of questions to ask in an interview?

For starters, ask questions that assess the workplace culture. Employers want to see if you're a good fit for their workplace culture, but is their culture also a good fit for you? You'll be spending 40 hours a week there, so make sure you'll enjoy the work. Ask them things like

  • What are your favorite parts of your job?
  • What's the most important part of this job I'm interviewing for?
  • How will I be judged on whether I'm successful? What standards are there?
  • What is the feedback and review process like?

Ask questions about the interview process. You'll want to know how many rounds of interviews there will be, how long the entire process will take, and how long you can expect to wait for a job offer.

  • What is the next step in the interview?
  • When do you expect to make a final interview?
  • What is a typical work week like?
  • How long has this position been open?

Finally, ask questions to gain insight and demonstrate industry knowledge. Examples include:

  • What is the history of this position? Is it a new role or are you filling a vacancy?
  • I read about the _____ program on your website that you recently launched. How is that program going? What has been the public's reaction?
  • Other than my team, what departments will I work with most closely?
  • It looks like you put a lot of resources into your _____ initiatives. Why are these the most important to your organization?
  • What HCM/Talent Management Software do you use? (Consider naming a couple of examples like NEOGOV, CivicHR, etc.)

Tools for HR Interviewers

HR interviewers who need some assistance in their recruiting and hiring efforts can save themselves a lot of time and effort with the NEOGOV Recruit module.

The NEOGOV Recruit module can speed up your time to hire because it centralizes the process of attracting candidates, screening them, and qualifying them. That way, you don't need to spend a lot of time sorting through résumés to find the candidates worth interviewing. 

Recruit helps you attract candidates through Governmentjobs.com, screen applicants with candidate auto-scoring, and onboard new hires by giving them online access to forms they can fill out before their start date.

By using GovernmentJobs.com and Recruit, you're 177% more likely to get a qualified hire than you would by using Indeed, and 67% more likely than on LinkedIn. You can also generate reports for diversity and inclusion initiatives and analyze how long it takes to hire a candidate. And you'll even be able to automate offboarding tasks and document exit interviews.

Final Thoughts

When you're conducting an interview, or if you’re the person being interviewed, there are a lot of important interview questions and answers you should know to ask – or know how to answer. We shared some popular interview questions that you'll hear in almost every interview,  including specific public sector interview questions and answers, to help you make the most of your next interview.

As a candidate, don’t forget to create your own list of government job interview questions and prepare your answers. You'll want to ask about the agency and know the best way to answer common interview questions. Doing this will help set you apart during your interview and improve your chances of landing the job. 

To learn more about HR interview questions and personalizing your interview for better candidate experiences, keep reading on our blog.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.