4 Types of Interview Questions and How to Respond

Knowing what types of interview questions to expect is absolutely crucial if you are going to be able to prepare thoroughly and come across confidently during your meetings with recruiters.

Although it might seem as though there is no rhyme or reason to the questions that interviewers ask, in fact they generally fall into one of four main categories, namely general, situational, behavioural and downright oddball.  Here is an explanation of each type of question, along with tips on how to deal with them.

General Job Interview Questions

General questions are basically designed to find out more about candidates.  Essentially they are just fact-based questions which are typically asked at various stages throughout the course of an interview.  However, it is worth mentioning that a great many recruiters like to start interviews off with the old favorite “Tell me about yourself.”

Now, although “Tell me about yourself” ought to be simple enough to deal with, many candidates fall into the trap of rambling on about everything from their hobbies to where they went on vacation and what their dogs’ names are.  In some cases, they even quite inadvertently slip into providing recruiters with information which could very easily be used to discriminate against them, such as their ages and how many children they have.  When interviewers invite you to talk about yourself though, they don’t want to know your entire life story, and in fact the only thing they do want to hear is about you in a professional sense.  Give them a potted history of your career to date, and even bring in your aspirations for the future, but leave out the personal stuff as far as possible.

The other types of general job interview questions that you might face could relate to any of the following areas:

  • Things that you have included in your resume.
  • Your current job and why you want to leave it, your relationships with your current boss and colleagues, the things that you like most/least about it and so on.
  • Your career aspirations for the next 3-5 years.
  • What you know about the company you are interviewing with and why you want to work there.
  • What interests you about the position you are applying for.
  • What you have to offer the company.
  • Your greatest strengths and weaknesses.
The most important things to keep in mind for these types of interview questions are:
  1. Keep your answers focussed on and revolving around the key requirements to perform well in the job.
  2. Show the interviewer how you are a good fit for the company culture and how there is a match between your career goals and what the company has to offer.

Situational Job Interview Questions

Situational interview questions are designed to elicit how you would deal with certain work-related situations, and clearly the questions themselves are going to be centered around the type of situations that you would actually have to deal with in the role that you are applying for, or which would require the same skills and competencies.

Essentially, situational interview questions are hypothetical questions which normally begin with “What would you do if…”.  If you can think of a time when you found yourself in a similar situation, however, then use your experience to form the basis of your response and to tell a story which demonstrates the key skills, capabilities and personal qualities that you brought into play.  If you can’t think of a relevant experience, then simply tell the interviewer how you think you would react or behave, but again, be sure to bring out the skills and competencies that you genuinely possess and are needed for the specific job.

Clearly, to be able to answer these types of interview questions effectively, not to mention being able to anticipate them, you need to do your research and form a clear understanding of which skills and qualities would be most important in the role that you are applying for.  If the job advertisement describes the role as being dynamic and fast-paced for instance, you might intuit from this that requirements and deadlines are likely to change.  One of the situational questions that you might be asked, therefore, could revolve around what you would do if you were part-way through a project and the deadline was suddenly brought forward.

Behavioural Job Interview Questions

Behavioural interview questions are similar to situational questions but rather than being hypothetical, they ask you to draw on your direct experience.  Generally, they begin with “Describe a time when…” and the reason that interviewers find them so useful is because in most cases the ways that people have behaved in the past tend to be a fairly good indicator of how they will behave in the future.

As with situational questions, you need to prepare in advance for behavioral interview questions so that you attend the interview armed with relevant stories which demonstrate not only what you did, but how you did it, what skills and qualities you needed to use to handle the situation, what results you achieved and how these benefited your employer.  When recruiters put together both situational and behavioural questions, they tend to focus on the skills, knowledge, abilities and personal traits that would be especially important in carrying out the role, so think carefully about situations that you have dealt with in the past and which will help you to demonstrate that you possess the most relevant ones.

An effective format to  prepare and answer such questions, is the Challenge, Action, Results approach:

  • Challenge/Context: What was the situation or circumstances you faced?
  • Action: What did you do to deal with the situation?
  • Result: What were the results that followed? (Quantify wherever possible)

Oddball Questions

The final type of question that you might find yourself faced with in a job interview is the downright oddball question, and while it might seem totally nonsensical for an interviewer to suddenly ask something like “How many golf balls does it take to fill a Boeing 747?”, “Why is a manhole cover round?” or “If you were a superhero, which one would you be?”, these types of questions are in fact asked for a reason.

Although oddball questions aren’t relevant to all types of interviews, when employers are recruiting for positions which require strong problem-solving abilities or high levels of creativity, random questions such as the ones above can give them enormous clues as to how you would try to fathom out the unfathomable or how inventive your mind is.  In addition, they can be a great way for interviewers to see how well candidates cope under the stress of a difficult problem.

The main things to remember about oddball interview questions are that:

  1. There is no way you can properly prepare for them, because of course you have no idea which ones are likely to come up.  The best that you can do is to take a look online at some of the ones that companies such as Microsoft and Google are so famous for asking, simply to practice a particular way of thinking.
  2. With the notable exception of the one about the manhole cover, there is hardly ever a “right answer” to these types of questions, or at least not one that the interviewer is likely to know, so don’t fret about whether your response is correct or incorrect.  The main purpose of the exercise, as I have said, is so that the interviewer can see the process that you use to work out an answer, so don’t be afraid to think out loud and don’t let yourself get phased by the oddball nature of the question.

As you can see, far from being random, the different types of interview questions that you are likely to face are all asked for perfectly logical reasons.  Do your research into the position that you are applying for and the company that you are applying to and not only will you be fully prepared for the meeting, but you should also be able to pre-empt some of the questions.

Oh, and for those who are still wondering, manholes and manhole covers are round because no matter how a cover is dropped, it can’t possibly fall down the hole and injure anyone underneath.

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