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The Two Types of Interview Question

This lesson is a part of an audio course Interview Skills by Ross Maynard

There are two types of interview questions – the motivational question and the situational question. Let's look at them both.

Motivational questions: focus on you and why you want the job; and about your skills and experience. Examples include:

  • Tell us about yourself and your work experience.

  • What interests you about this role?

  • Why do you think you are a good fit for this role?

  • What skills do you have that would be of benefit in this role?

  • Have you had a similar role? How would you approach this role?

  • What is your experience with X? (system / regulation / technique / method, etc.)

  • Have you ever worked in an environment with legacy systems that don't talk to each other?

  • What are your strengths?

  • What are your weaknesses?

  • What do you think is important in dealing with other teams and departments?

These are the sorts of questions that your interview skills balance sheet has helped you prepare for – your skills and experience and how well they fit with the role; and how you would like to develop in the role.

Situational Questions are questions about how you would deal with certain scenarios. This is where your case studies of projects and activities that you have been involved with come into play.

Examples include:

  • Give an example of where you have worked as part of a team to achieve a difficult goal or task.

  • You're running a project that is not meeting its objectives or is running over budget. What do you do?

  • Give an example of where you have provided excellent customer service.

  • Have you ever had negative feedback in a meeting or review? What did you do?

  • Have you ever had to give negative feedback? What did you do?

  • Give an example of where you have carried out a task under pressure.

  • Tell us about any difficult decisions you have been involved in.

  • How would you get people on board with a project and deal with resistance to change?

These are all questions where you can bring your experience into play and tell the interviewers some interesting stories about how you worked in different situations.

Of course, not every project goes to plan, and your discussion of how you dealt with set-backs will also be interesting to the panel with will work in your favour.

The Curve-Ball Question

In an interview, you may also get what I call the curve-ball question. This is the out-of-the blue, left-field type question. A question that is completely unexpected, or you are asked to comment on a situation that you have never faced or never experienced.

And some interviewers like to throw in a curve ball – roll with it. They're looking for creativity and adaptability. Sometimes the difficult question is asked to distinguish the A* candidates from the rest:

  • If it is clearly a deliberately "wacky" question, then it is permissible to laugh (that gives you thinking time) before addressing the question in the best way you can: "I'm not sure this is the first place aliens would land, but the issue of disaster recovery and data protection is one where I have some experience .."

  • My advice is to take it in your stride. Don't be thrown because someone is trying to mess with you! Smile, breath. Buy some time: "That's an interesting question and not a situation I have faced before!"

  • If you have no experience of the situation, then say so. And then theorise how you would apply your skills and experience in the situation.

  • Bonus points might be gained by commenting that you would hope you never got into that type of challenging situation – because of your ability to build strong relationships with others, your experience of facilitation or coaching, etc.

Thank you for listening to this lesson. In the next lesson we consider some typical interview questions.

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Written by

Ross Maynard