When developing interview questions, consider what types of question would best give you the information you are seeking. Listed below are different types of interview questions and when each is best used or should be avoided:

  • Theoretical (Situational) questions place the interviewee in a hypothetical situation. These questions are more likely to test the interviewee’s skill at answering questions rather than exploring the interviewee’s ability to do a good job. These questions usually take the form of “Here’s the situation… What would you do?” Example: “If you were hiring someone for this position, what qualities would you look for?”
  • Alternate choice questions consist of two or more equally desirable or undesirable options. These types of questions should normally be avoided. Example: "Do you prefer establishing your own work priorities or having them pre-determined for you?"Always follow-up with why the person chose one answer over the other.
  • Yes or No questions should be avoided because they obtain very limited information from the applicant. Example: “Can you operate a personal computer?”
  • Loaded or leading questions should be avoided because they suggest a correct answer. Such questions often reveal the interviewer’s attitudes and may help applicants to create answers to fit those attitudes. Example: “Our department wants hard working employees. What kind of employee are you?”
  • Direct questions are used to get very specific information, such as "What accounting courses have you had?" They are valuable for questioning applicants in depth or on topics brought up by candidates' responses to open-ended or theoretical questions.
  • Definitional questions are usually posed in a “What is a …” or “What does ___________ refer to or mean?” format. They require applicants to demonstrate their knowledge of terms, concepts, and tools.
  • Open-ended questions require more than a yes or no response. They often begin with "Tell me…," "Describe…," "When…". Open-ended questions are basic to any effective interview because they call for candidates to relate information and ideas that they feel are important.
  • Behavioral questions seek demonstrated examples of behavior from past experience and concentrate on job related functions. Behavioral Interviewing is a more systematic and standardized process of evaluating job candidates than the typical "traditional interview". Behavioral Interviewing is based on the principle that the best predictor of future performance is past performance in a similar circumstance. Therefore, the questions asked focus on behavior and ask how applicants respond to a variety of specific situations and what results occurred from their actions.

For example, if you want to predict how applicants will behave with difficult clients, ask them to describe previous experience with different clients. The applicant will relate actual experiences rather than imagining what he or she might do in some hypothetical situation.

Behavioral interviewing focuses on experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that are job related. Applicants may use work experience, activities, hobbies, volunteer work, school projects, family life – anything really – as examples of their past behavior. Behavioral interviews give candidates a chance to “tell a story” as opposed to a one-sentence answer.


  • Describe a situation where you set challenging goals for yourself and accomplished them.
  • What was the situation that led you to set this goal?
  • What did you hope to accomplish and why was this important to you?
  • In what way did these goals represent a stretch or challenge for you?
  • How did you go about achieving this goal? What specific things did you do?
  • What level of effort did you have to put in to achieve your goal?
  • How did others feel about your actions?
  • What was the result?

Interviewers should also have several follow-up questions and probe for details that explore all aspects of a given situation or experience.

Examples of follow-up questions:

  1. Please clarify what you mean by …
  2. How did you feel when that happened?
  3. Why do you think you reacted as you did?
  4. Did you consider other options at the time?
  5. Please give me more details about …
  6. How do you think others felt about your actions at the time?
  7. Looking back on the experience, how do you see things now?
  8. What was going through your mind when you took that action?
  9. Did the outcome of your action satisfy you?
  10. Can you give me an example?
  11. What did you do?
  12. What did you say?
  13. What was your role?
  14. What was the result?
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