Dan Pink's Drive BookSometimes it isn’t a candidate’s answers that tell you they are perfect for the job, but the questions they ask in return. Hiring managers can expect interviewees to ask some questions during an interview and many wisely leave ample time for this. A candidate who asks sincere, interesting, thoughtful questions is often one who is serious about making a difference in your organization and figuring out whether this is really a job they can love.

In his best-selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Dan Pink makes a compelling case for three motivators of great performance: purpose, mastery, and autonomy. We use those categories to decode typical candidate questions and what they reveal about the candidate’s drive.


Great candidates for your role will share your beliefs and values and want purpose and meaning in their work. Purpose seekers might be asking you:

  1. What makes this organization special?
  2. What impact does it have on people?
  3. Your company website talks about these values/mission – how do you live them out?
  4. What do your leaders really care about?
  5. Why do you choose to work here?

Purpose-driven candidates can articulate their own purpose and beliefs and will grill you about the alignment between these and your organizational practices.


Great candidates want to master particular skills or a body of knowledge. They want to become experts at something and to learn and grow continuously. Mastery seekers might be asking you:

  1. What opportunities are there for formal and informal learning and development?
  2. How long will it take for me to become an expert in the role?
  3. What opportunities will I have to work on cross-functional teams, to lead projects, or to take stretch assignments?
  4. What career opportunities come with this position? What have previous people in the role done afterwards?
  5. What would it mean to exceed performance expectations in the role?

Or they might say something like, “I already know about negotiating contracts – that’s why you’re interviewing me – but one of my goals is to gain some skills in sales. How will this job allow me to get skills is sales?” In other words, they know what they know and they know what else they want to know – pretty sophisticated.


Great candidates crave autonomy, responsibility, and accountability. They want to solve real problems not just do as they’re told. They want the freedom to act and to see the impact of their work. Autonomy seekers might be asking you:

  1. How do decisions get made here?
  2. How hands-on of a manager are you?
  3. Where will I and won’t I have the responsibility to make my own decisions?
  4. How have you supported people to take risks or innovate?
  5. What does this organization want to do that it is not already doing?

Smart candidates ask smart questions. Engaged candidates make engaged employees. So when they ask you these tough candidate questions, you can take it as a good sign and give them the best answer you can.

The opposite can also be true so beware:

Canned Questions

Many candidates are coached to ask questions, which isn’t itself a bad thing. However, those candidates usually ask canned questions – what is your culture, what do you expect me to achieve, is there anything about myself you’d like me to go over? – without much interest in or insight about your organization or the role.

Practical Questions

Many candidates ask practical questions, which again is not a bad thing. Practical questions – compensation, hours of work, parking – are important and candidates need those answers at some point. You’re best to head them off at the pass and be forthcoming about your job in the job ad, on your careers page, your blogs, etc. However, a candidate who only has practical questions may not be the rock star you hoped for.

No Questions

Many candidates ask no questions. Again, that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. Nervousness, interview inexperience, and cultural preferences can all influence a candidate to hold back their questions. Give candidates as much opportunity as you can to learn about you and evaluate your job opportunity. Ultimately, if they don’t have any questions they may not be that engaged with the opportunity at hand.

To Sum It Up

Ultimately, questions tell you a lot about a candidate – their motivation, their curiosity, their independence. You may have amazing answers and you may not, but if you find the candidate who asks amazing questions, perhaps they will be the one to help you find better answers and better questions in the days ahead.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” Voltaire

This blog is inspired by every candidate who ever asked me whether s/he should ask questions; and by the rare candidates who asked something awesome. Leave your questions of any sort below.