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June 2013 · Volume 95 · Number 5


On Point

What’s the most important interview question you ask when hiring staff (and why)?

Elizabeth (Lynne) Ladner, ICMA-CM

City Administrator

Hiawatha, Kansas


My most important question: Why do you want to work for the city of Hiawatha? Working in the public sector takes a passion for working not only with people but for people. I am looking for employees who seek to do more than earn a paycheck because they also want to help people.

Every position reflects on the character and values of the governing body. Each employee represents the culture of the community and may be the first or only person whom a visitor or new resident sees when they are evaluating whether they want to stay or return.

So for me, understanding why candidates want to work for the city is the most important question because it reveals if they have the heart of a public servant.

Jacques Dube

City Manager

Moncton, NB, Canada


I like to investigate and then ask a question because the candidate’s response allows me to gather information about the person based on a real-life example of an initiative he or she found important to an organization: “Tell us about the most significant change initiative you implemented and for which you were responsible. Tell us what role you played in it, what made it challenging. What were the results?”

The candidate’s response also provides insight into what the candidate considers an achievement. All of us encounter barriers when we are implementing change and this question can reveal a candidate’s drive to succeed as well as the problem-solving approach.

You can then assess whether the candidate’s style will fit into your organization. You can also sense a candidate’s energy level, drive, and influencing skills, which are all important competencies for leadership roles in local government today.

Kay Love, ICMA-CM

City Administrator

Roswell, Georgia


The most important question that I ask in an interview is why the person is specifically interested in working for the city of Roswell. The answer provides valuable insight about candidates as potential representatives of the city.

It tells me if they are simply looking for a paycheck or if they are on a career path. It gives me an idea of what they know about the city, the community, and how much preparation they did for the interview.

The answer also helps me know if they will be a good fit with other employees. During the course of my career, I have made some great hires, and I have made some not-so-great hires. In every instance, it boiled down to how well the person “fit” in the organization.

Joseph Gall, ICMA-CM

City Manager

Sherwood, Oregon


I have a number of consistent questions that I usually ask during an interview process, including “Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?” Responses to this question help me understand what a candidate thinks about his or her career and how the current opportunity fits into those plans.

But the question I think is the most important to ask is, “Do you have any questions for me about the position or the organization?” This question is usually asked toward the end of the interview process. The questions that candidates then ask in response help me understand the research they have done in preparation for the interview.

In addition, I strongly believe that an interview is a two-way process—as much as I am interviewing candidates to determine if they are a good match for our organization, candidates should also be interviewing me to determine whether our organization is a good match for them.

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