Job interview questions can vary widely, but most fall into a small number of categories. Here are four different types to use, organized by how they help you elicit information about candidates.
These job interview questions call for a simple, informational answer — often just a yes or no.
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?"
- "Have you carefully reviewed our starting salary ranges?"
- "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 candidates feel as though they're being interrogated, especially if you fail to link them back to the job criteria.
Open-ended job interview questions require thought and oblige the candidate to reveal attitudes or opinions. For example, one type of open-ended question is the behavioral interview question, which asks candidate to relate past on-the-job experiences to situations they are likely to encounter in the available position.
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 value do you provide to your current employer?"
- "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.
Pitfalls to avoid: If you're not specific enough when phrasing the question, the candidate's answer may veer off track, especially if you don't intercede and provide clarification.
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These job interview questions invite the candidate to resolve an imaginary situation or react to a given situation.
Sample hypothetical interview questions
- "If you were the purchasing manager, how would you go about selecting a new automated purchase order system for the company?"
- "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 value a candidate's hypothetical answer too highly. You're usually better off asking questions that force candidates to use an actual experience as the basis for their answers.
On the surface, these job interview questions could seem bizarre, but they may actually elicit revealing answers.
Sample outside-the-box interview questions
- "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 available position, how would you describe it to a six-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 super power, what would you choose?"
- "How would you explain social networking to someone who lives 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 oddball 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 a good deal of caution. You may gain insights into a candidate's creativity and thought processes. But you might simultaneously seem unprofessional, if not thoroughly weird, if you don't handle these job interview questions carefully.
Pitfalls to avoid: Don't overuse this approach. If you decide to ask this type of interview question, do it just once. A series of weird questions may send your candidate scrambling for the door.
Questions to avoid
There's another category of job interview questions that it's 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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