There are many types of questions that are used by interviewers. Here you'll find an explanation of the main types and some examples to help you.
Closed questions can be answered simply with a yes or a no, or with a single word or short phrase. It’s common practice for interviewers to use closed questions to check facts at the beginning of an interview. They are used to gain short, factual answers and are useful to test understanding.
Examples of closed questions:
- Were you born in Glasgow?
- Do you need a blue badge parking space?
- Would you like a drink?
- If I achieve my predicted grades, will I meet the minimum entry requirements for this course?
An open question is one which cannot be answered with just a yes or no – it requires more information to be given. Open questions are used to glean more detailed opinions, thoughts, and perceptions. An interviewer will usually begin an open question with the phrase, ‘tell me about', or ‘describe how you would'.
Examples of open questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our company?
- What do you think would be the most interesting part of working here?
- What do you imagine will be the main challenges of this job?
- Tell me about your future career aspirations?
A scenario-based question asks you to explain how you would respond in a hypothetical situation. This type of question is used to assess how you approach, prioritise, and respond to tasks, so it’s important to give logical and well-thought-out answers.
Think about the key topics that are relevant to the job role, or subject area of your course. You can plan some broad answers which showcase your understanding of the sector, this may be a hot topic in the news, or it could be related to the provider or employer.
These are most likely to be hypothetical scenarios and require complex answers which highlight a combination of skills and qualities.
Examples of scenario-based questions:
- How would you react if a co-worker asked you to cover for a mistake they made?
- How would you approach a task you have never done before?
- How would you deal with an aggressive customer?
- You're coming up to an important deadline, and your tutor gives you more work, how would you prioritise your work?
An employer wants to know what you are particularly good at and what you enjoy doing. Always be honest and don’t just focus on strong work skills. Your interests tell a lot about you too, so this is a great opportunity to showcase your strengths – the more unique the better.
Remember to explain your answers, and back them up with examples from your experience.
Examples of strength-based questions:
- Describe something that you’ve learnt recently.
- What’s your favourite interest outside of work or education?
- Do you prefer to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a big pond?
- What’s your proudest achievement?
- What do you consider to be your greatest strength?
Employers aren’t interviewing you to try to catch you out, but what they do want to see is how you think rationally, decisively, and with sound judgement. Most cases will focus on handling difficult issues in the workplace, problem solving or handling unexpected or tricky situations. These types of questions will involve you imagining yourself in a hypothetical situation, and how you would deal with it.
Examples of hypothetical questions:
- Describe a situation where you had to work closely with a difficult colleague.
- Describe a time when you needed to influence others to change their opinion and decision.
- Describe a situation when you had to take the initiative to resolve a problem?
There’s a growing trend in some sectors for employers to ask questions you simply wouldn’t expect. They are usually used to test how quickly you can think creatively and respond when put under a bit of pressure – you’re more likely to be asked this type of question if you’re applying for a creative role, but it’s good practice to prepare for any that may crop up, no matter what you’re interviewing for. They can be fun, so don’t panic – it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate a personal characteristic that will make you stand out.
Examples of unexpected or ‘quirky’ questions:
- If you were a biscuit, what type would you be and why?
- If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you choose to have with you?
- If you won more than £1 million on the lottery, what would you buy first?
- If you were a company director, name one thing you would make compulsory in the office and one thing you would ban.
- If you could design an app what would it be?
- Make sure you’re listening when the question is asked – when you’re nervous it can be easy for your mind to wander. If you miss part of the question, or you’re just not sure what the interviewer means, you can ask them to repeat what they said.
- Did you take it in? Good, now, take a breath and think about the different elements of the question. What is the employer looking for in an answer?
- Repeat the question out loud if you think this will help you, it will give you a few extra seconds to think.
- Use your own experiences and relate them to the question, if possible. Where you don’t have a personal example, think about someone you know who has, e.g. a family member or a friend, and explain how you would act in a similar situation.
- Don’t waffle – keep your answer structured and keep to the points the employer has outlined in the question.
- Try to apply a fair and reasoned response to show that you have thought carefully about your judgement. Be prepared to be challenged on any viewpoints, because interviewers want to see if you can argue your case, and possibly appreciate others’ perspectives.
- Relate your answers back to the job description or course information
There will be a chance at the end of the interview for you to ask questions, and it’s important to try to ask two or three which have not been answered earlier in the interview. Asking questions shows you have a genuine interest in the role and are committed to finding out more. You may have questions about the job role itself, or ones which relate to the interviewers personally, for example about their success in the company or what they like best about their role.
- Can you describe the induction programme that I would follow if successful?
- What opportunities are there to learn about other departments in the company?
- What advice would you give to someone who is about to start in this role?
- Practical questions such as, when do they expect to make a decision?
Not asking questions can give the impression you are disinterested, and that's the last thing you want your potential employer to think.