Different types of interview questions, and how to answer them

Job interviews are unpredictable – you can control what’s on your CV, cover letter and application forms, but now the fate of your career is in someone else’s hands.

While you don’t know what exactly will be asked, you can always hazard a guess and try to prepare yourself in advance. So what sort of questions should you expect? And more importantly, how should you prepare your answers?

Well, here are the 5 different sorts of question you could be asked, and exactly what you should be prepared to say. We’ve condensed it all into a handy infographic, but read on for a more complete run-down of each question!

5 different types of job interview question infographic

1. Factual questions

Factual questions are there to test your knowledge: “What do you know about the company? What can you tell me about direct marketing/office supplies etc.?” Your answers to these questions will let a hiring manager know whether you’ve done your homework, which can be a good indicator of how much you want the job.

These sorts of questions will be most important for more entry-level positions: you don’t have prior experience to talk about so testing your knowledge of the industry or business will give employers a good idea of what training you might need as well as assessing your passion for the role.

To prepare for these positions, just do your homework and try to know your stuff to answer any of these sorts of questions to the best of your knowledge.  If you’ve put the effort in when it comes to research then you’ll be regarded with having strong answers to this sort of question.  You can’t learn everything possible however – if you don’t know an answer, be honest about it (and perhaps try and steer conversation to things thing you do know!).


2. Competency and what-if questions

This type of question will analyse your past experiences and its relevance to the job you’re interviewing for: “Tell me about a time you led a small team to success. What would you do if faced with an irate customer on the phone? Give me an example of how you used Microsoft Excel in your previous role.”

Study the job description and person specification of the role you’re interviewing for (if you don’t have one, refer to the advert you applied to). Make sure that you’re confident in your ability to do each point, and try to think up examples for each. Ideally, your examples should be professional ones, but situations from outside of work can be just as valid.  If you really can’t think of an example, or you have a gap in your skillset, especially if it’s a more technical skill, then express your willingness to learn and improve on these issues.

When you give your examples, we recommend the CAR approach (that’s Context, Action and Resolution).  State the situation that arose (e.g. A customer called to say they were having a problem with their service.), the action that you took to solve the problem (e.g. You arranged for an engineer to go out to repair their fault.) and then the way the problem was resolved (e.g. The customer’s service was restored by the end of the day; they were very happy that the situation was resolved so soon.).


3. Informal questions

Some job interviews, particularly with small businesses, will be much more informal and a potential employer will want to know if you’re the right personality fit and will get along well with the existing members of staff – and the fewer employees a business has, the more important this will be.

Questioning might relate to your social life and hobbies as much as your career history.  Your CV has demonstrated that you’re qualified to do the job; now you just have to show your personality.  Do your homework on the company and try to relax and be yourself – after all, if you aren’t the right sort of person for a company, you probably won’t enjoy working there anyway!  But remember, no matter what sort of rapport you build with your interviewer, it is still a job interview: don’t get too comfortable!


4. The seemingly random questions

The more random, off-the-wall questions come in two categories.  One set is designed to test a candidate’s ability to think a bit creatively and outside the box – “How do you kill an egg?” for instance.

The other set are just an unusual question, either aiming to break the ice and put you at ease, or to test how you cope when put on the spot with something that you weren’t expecting – do you shrug it off, or go into a complete panic and meltdown? Some people may advocate these questions for some psychological insight about a candidate that you can glean from whether tyrannosaurus or velociraptor is their favourite dinosaur, but no-one’s told us what that insight is yet!

You can’t really prepare for these questions, except to know they exist and can come up in job interviews (typically, it’s larger companies that will employ them).  Just say whatever you want to, rather than getting flustered trying to come up with an answer – if there are any businesses out there that take into account whether applicants prefer strawberry over mint-choc-chip ice cream in their hiring process, we’d love to hear from you!


5. The questions you shouldn’t get asked

There are some things that you shouldn’t get asked in a job interview: these are personal questions that could be seen as discriminatory and whoever is conducting the interview should know better than to ask them.  Your marital status, age, political affiliations, sexual orientation and the like should all be off limits in a job interview.  These questions do get asked though, but it doesn’t mean you have to answer them if you aren’t comfortable with them.  You can simply decline to answer, but be professional and diplomatic about it.  The question may be well intentioned, perhaps if you’ve built a good rapport with the interviewer, but you’re under no obligation to answer if you don’t want to.