4 Types of Job Interview Questions to Help You Dig Deeper

By Robert Half May 20, 2019 at 7:30am

If you want to identify the best candidate for a job, you have to ask the right questions. That takes preparation.

Not only do you need to gather the basics about skill sets and experience, but you want insights into how the interviewee thinks. That requires you to ask both closed- and open-ended interview questions.

And there are other types of questions in your interviewing toolbox that can produce even more nuanced information to help you with your hiring decision. Read on for a look at four types of interview questions employers ask, including when to use them and pitfalls to avoid.

1. Closed-ended interview questions

This first type of job interview question calls for simple, informational answers — sometimes just a yes or no. These queries can help you quickly gain factual information.

Here are some sample closed-ended interview questions:

  • "How many years did you work for your last employer?"
  • "Did you enjoy it?"
  • "Did your job involve traveling?"
  • "Which enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are you familiar with?"
  • "What training have you had that's related to this position?"
  • "Have you ever worked in a different industry?"
  • "Are you willing to move if offered the right job?"
  • "Are career advancement opportunities one of your priorities?"
  • "What's the longest you've worked for any employer?"
  • "Is a company's work environment important to you?"
  • "Do you have much experience with social media?"

When to use them: Closed-ended job interview questions work best if you're trying to elicit specific information or set the stage for more complex questions.

Pitfall to avoid: Asking too many of these questions in rapid-fire succession can make interviewees feel as though they're being interrogated, especially if you fail to link them back to the job criteria.

Are you a first-time hiring manager? Read our 10 job interview tips.

2. Open-ended interview questions

Open-ended job interview questions require thought and oblige the job seeker to reveal attitudes or opinions. For example, a behavioral question asks the candidate to relate past on-the-job experiences to situations they’re likely to encounter in the available position.

Here are sample open-ended interview questions:

  • "Can you describe how you handle tight deadlines on the job?"
  • "Can you give me an illustration of how you improved productivity at your last job?"
  • "Why do you want to work for this company?"
  • "What can you tell me about yourself?"
  • "What interests you most about this position?"
  • "Can you describe a time you helped reduce costs at a previous job?"
  • "What are your methods for avoiding errors?"
  • "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?"
  • "What's the biggest challenge you've ever faced in any job?"
  • "Where do you see your career in five years?"
  • "What does your ideal job look like?"
  • "What could your current company do to be more successful?"
  • "What do you think is the biggest issue in our field today?"

When to use them: Ask these questions frequently throughout the interview, but intersperse them with closed-ended questions.

Pitfall to avoid: If you're not specific enough when phrasing the question, the applicant’s answer may veer off track, especially if you don't intercede and provide clarification.

Are you a job seeker? Learn how to answer behavioral interview questions.

3. Hypothetical interview questions

These job interview questions invite the candidate to resolve an imaginary situation or react to a given situation. Check out these examples:

  • "If you were to supervise this department, what's the first thing you'd do to improve productivity?"
  • "Let's say the project you supervised didn't meet the goals you set — how would you respond?"
  • "If you noticed a decline in employee morale, what would you do to improve things?"
  • "Imagine what this industry will be like in five years. What do you think we need to prepare for?"
  • "If you could start a company like ours from the ground up, what would be your first steps?"
  • "If you were the hiring manager for this position, what qualities would you be looking for in a candidate?"
  • "Let's say you were given a generous budget for employee training. What would you spend it on?"
  • "If you were asked to improve communications across your current company, what steps would you take?"
  • "If you had an opportunity to revise your early career path, what would you do differently?"
  • "If you could have anyone in our industry as a mentor, who would you choose and why?"

When to use them: These kinds of questions are most useful when framed in the context of actual job situations.

Pitfall to avoid: Don't place too much emphasis on hypothetical answers. While the responses can certainly be beneficial, what you’re really looking for is a glimpse into the candidate’s approach to solving problems and moving around obstacles.

Want to know how to bring it all to a close? Read about how to end an interview gracefully.

4. Outside-the-box interview questions

On the surface, these job interview questions could seem bizarre, but they may actually yield revealing answers. Consider these curveball queries:

  • "What literary character do you most closely identify with?"
  • "If you could be reincarnated as a car, which one would you choose?"
  • "From what you've learned about this position, how would you describe it to a 6-year-old?"
  • "Who would play the lead role in a movie about your life?"
  • "What's the most important thing people don't understand about you?"
  • "If you could be given any superpower, what would you choose?"
  • "How would you explain social media to someone who’s been stranded on a desert island?"
  • "If you could take one trip through time, where would you go?"
  • "What's the most difficult problem you've ever solved?"
  • "If your life was a kind of music, what would it be?"

When to use them: Some businesses have used these types of interview questions to help determine whether a candidate is a good fit for their working environment — or to see if the applicant can think outside the box. But most firms should approach them with some caution. You may gain insights into a candidate's creativity and thought processes. But you might simultaneously seem unprofessional — if not weird — if you don't handle these job interview questions carefully.

Pitfall to avoid: Don't overuse this approach. If you decide to ask this type of interview question, do it just once. A series of odd questions may send your candidate scrambling for the door.

Curious about the value of off-the-wall inquiries? Read more about oddball interview questions.

Interview questions employers ask (but should avoid)

A final word of caution: There's another category of job interview questions that is best to avoid entirely: leading questions. They're asked in a way that makes the answer you want obvious. For example:

  • "You know a lot about team building, don't you?"
  • "You wouldn't dream of falsifying your expense accounts, would you?"
  • "I bet you're good at setting long-term goals. Right?"
  • "You're looking for job security, aren't you?"
  • "Is this the position you're most interested in?"

If you use these kinds of job interview questions, you're not likely to get an honest answer — just the answer you want to hear. And you run the risk of appearing unprofessional.

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