Interviews are all about questions. You will be asked questions that probe, questions that put you on the spot and you might even be asked questions that you would prefer not to answer. The key is to take your time, remain calm and be up front. Questions are asked for a specific purpose and the questions you are asked will give you an indication and an insight into the company itself. Let’s look at the types of questions common to all interviews.
1. Open questions
These are questions to which it is impossible to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Candidates will often not only reply with the facts and issues but also with their feelings and attitudes. Thus, the interviewer can form a picture about the person sitting in front of him/her and can either explore certain topics further or ask them to expand on their feelings. The only disadvantage about these questions is that you could say too much or you could start to dominate the interview.
Examples of open questions are given below.
- What are your duties?
- What have you learnt from the situation?
- What type of management brings out the best in you?
- Why was that a problem for you?
- Why did that irritate you?
- Why did you decide to do …?
- When did that happen?
- When do you get bored?
- Where do you expect your next move to be?
- Where was that?
- Which part of the job did you most enjoy?
- Which part of the job did you dislike?
- Which areas of this job interest you?
- How do you feel about …?
- How did you get around that?
- How did you get the job?
Similar open questions might start with openings such as:
- Please explain why that was important to you.
- In what way did you benefit from your training?
Some useful open-ended questions are given below:
- What prompted this decision?
- What kind of advice did you take?
- Why did you leave such and such a job?
- How do you intend to achieve …?
- Have you any questions you would like to ask me?
- How much notice do you have to give your current employer?
- What activities are you involved in just now?
- How would you respond if you were offered the job?
- Looking back, what would you have done differently?
- What do you think the reason was for your dismissal?
2. Closed questions
At the other extreme are closed questions, which usually only produce a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer. These are useful for checking pure facts and eliciting a direct response. They can also be used to stop the interviewee doing all the talking, or they can be used to limit the relevant parts of the interview.
Examples of closed questions are given below:
- I see you worked for …
- I see you have …
- Do you like …?
- Do you get on with …?
Expect a few closed questions during the interview. However, if they become the norm you need to change the way you reply. Offer more than the straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, perhaps by adding a bit more as well as giving the interviewer what he/she wants. Try to communicate as many positive and relevant facts about yourself as you can.
3. Probing questions
Probing questions are the interviewer’s most sophisticated and useful tool. They are used to clarify, to justify or to reveal strengths or weaknesses – areas that the interviewee may wish to hide. The questions tend to be quite specific and predictable, and they are normally used when the interviewee is being over-talkative or when the conversation is drifting a bit.
Examples of probing questions are given below:
- What is your reason for saying that?
- Why does that concern you?
- Who else affected your decision?
- How did you resolve the situation?
- How did you react to …?
4. Hypothetical questions
Interviewers often ask the ‘What if?’ question. It may be because this is an actual situation which you will have to face in the job, or it could be asked just to test your ability to think on your feet. Answer the question as best you can and be able to back up your answer.
Examples of hypothetical questions are given below:
- What would you do if you were short-staffed?
- What would you do if you had to deal with an angry customer?
- What would you do if two important people demanded your attention at the same time?
5. Leading questions
On the whole these questions suggest the answer to give. Interviewers may wish you to disagree with the suggestion in order to hear your point of view, or the interviewer may be advising you of the company’s rules and expectations. You can either agree or disagree depending upon how truthful it is. The choice is yours. However, try to put your point across logically but not emotionally. These questions may help you to make your final choice about the company.
Examples of leading questions are given below:
- The company has this philosophy; do you hold this philosophy?
- I wouldn’t want to do …, what about you?
- I suppose you got on with your previous boss?
6. Complicated questions
These questions take two forms: the alternative question and the multiple question. The alternative question is in fact a closed question, but has two conflicting parts.
- What part-time jobs did you have or didn’t you bother because of your studies?
The tip with these questions is to ignore the bit that doesn’t apply and respond only to the bit that does apply. The multiple question leads to confusion and vagueness because the interviewee doesn’t know where to begin the answer.
- Did you pick up new skills in your last post and what did you think of the facilities?
It is best that your reply acknowledges the two parts perhaps by saying something along the lines of: ‘I will answer … first and the … second.’
7. Summarising questions
These are used by the interviewer to clarify and confirm what you have said.
- So what you are saying is …
- I understand that what you have said is …
These are often used in technical professions, but remember the summarising question is a tool that you too can use if you feel that a question needs further clarification.
8. Reflecting what has been said
The interviewer may reflect back what has been said in order to encourage less confident or more reticent interviewees to expand further.
- So, you learnt a lot from that role?
- I expect that you did find it quite stressful.
This technique is used to show that the interviewer is listening but not making judgements on what has been said. Whichever combination of questions is used, try to communicate as much positive information as you can. Avoid reading too much into a question and try instead reflecting back on what you think has been asked, for greater clarity. Never be afraid to ask for the question to be rephrased or repeated. If you are not up to date or don’t have in-depth knowledge on a subject, never bluff your way through the answer hoping for the best. Probing questions will be asked and that could be embarrassing for you.
Remember that everything the interviewer knows about you has been taken from the information you have supplied on your CV. Your CV is your very own press release about yourself and it forms the script for the interview. So, if you find yourself experiencing some tough interviews and tough interview questions, it may well be that you need to change the way you are presenting yourself on paper.