What are the Types of Interview Questions and how to prepare to tackle them?

The word “interview” comes from the French “entre” (between) and “voir” (to see). The role of the interview is to get a glimpse of a candidate beyond his or her physical appearance and resume. That’s why the interviewer asks all kinds of questions… Fictitious questions that test your ability to think on your feet, inquiries that verify your credentials and even math questions that test your mental dexterity are just some of the few surprises an interviewer could throw your way.

The best way to ace an interview is to prepare yourself mentally for the questions they might throw your way. Most common situations where interviews take place are for employment and/or graduate school admissions. Knowing the type of questions an interviewer will ask allows us to prepare ourselves better for the unexpected, ensuring a great personal image, and thus, a good interview outcome.

Here are some common question types:

A. Resume Verification Questions: A concern employers carry is how truthful a resume is, if it overstates the candidate’s accomplishments or if it carries any misconceptions. Verification questions will ask specific things like what was your GPA, where you went to college, what was your major, etc. You might be asked to walk the interviewer through your resume, thereby explaining what you did at each job. The purpose of this is to measure your abilities objectively and try to keep subjective areas such as personality and physical appearance from skewing the interviewer’s judgment.

B. Experience Questions: Employers want to know not just where you used to work but what actual duties you performed, what did you learn, what where your responsibilities, etc. These questions assess the types of duties you have performed and if your prior responsibilities match the job/education program requirements.

C. Case Questions: Interviewers are interested in seeing how you would react in different situations and thus they will present you with cases or scenarios. Example: You and a co-worker are assigned to work on a project, your partner keeps postponing the meetings required to accomplish this task. What do you do? They can also ask you problem-solving questions such as “How many fish restaurants are in Miami?” or “How do you handle collections from a client you can’t afford to offend?”

D. Fictitious Questions: Companies know that some candidates over-prepare for interviews and memorize their answers. That is why they will try to throw you off balance with questions about unrealistic situations, such as “If you where a musical instrument, which one would you be?” or “Which mountain best describes your personality?”

E. Quantitative/Scientific Questions: Jobs that require particular abilities in math and other sciences will feature questions like “What is the square root of 400?,” “How many dimes are in $10?,” or “What is the chemical composition of hydrochloric acid?” among others.  The purpose of such questions is to test your brain power without the aid of paper, calculators or time to think things through.


F. Behavioral questions: These questions assess your stance in a specific situation. These are questions that you could prepare for by thinking of experiences you have had and then answering with a PAR (Problem/Situation – Action – Result) methodology. They assess how you would respond in different situations. Examples of such questions are “Provide a specific example of how you avoided a crisis”, “Explain how you increased revenues for a product”, “Tell me about a situation when you confronted an ethical dilemma and what was the outcome”.

G. Judgment questions: Employers and universities seek to understand personality types. They assess this by asking opinion questions which illustrate how you react in different scenarios. Some of these questions include “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”, “What would you do if…?”, “What would you do if you would have a co-worker who did not act rightfully towards others?”

While some questions are common in any type of interview, i.e. “tell me about yourself?” employment interview questions are designed to isolate the best talent, weed out potential problems and minimize the risk in time and money that the hiring of a new employee represents.  Be ready to know about the company in full. Some employers like to use behavioral questions more than any others as they find that these help the company assess more accurately if an employee will perform up to expectations. To prepare for these, think of several scenarios that could be inquired and decide upon a response for each scenario. For example, plan ahead what you will response when asking you for a teamwork situation, or a failure, or an ethical dilemma. This is data that when thought ahead, can be structured into a well developed answer that provides outstanding feedback to the interviewer.

Unlike employment interview questions, institutions of higher learning do not risk financial loss when they admit a student. However, admitting the wrong student to the wrong major or university can have poor results reflected in lack of student satisfaction, which directly hurts any academic institution. That is why colleges use questions that will help them determine if A. The student understands the program and what is expected of him/her. B. The student has the right personality/outlook for the program sough after. D. The student’s resume reflects a commitment to his field of study or community service.  Some types of questions also included in admissions interviews are:

H. Program Questions: Colleges want to get the right person for the right major, they want to ensure that the candidate knows what the program is like and what is expected from him or her. Questions such as “What impresses you about our program,” “why do you want to be x-profession?,” “why should we give you a chance?,” will test the candidates commitment to their education goals. Expect other popular questions like “how will this experience help you achieve your professional and personal goals?” and “what objectives do you plan to achieve and how do they fit with our program?”, “what are your short term goals?”, and “where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

I. Personality Questions: Some professions are sedentary while others demand working in teams, some jobs are full of constant change and require new learning and adaptability while others rely on repetition, routine and inflexibility. That is why colleges will try to find out if you have the right outlook for the profession. Questions may include: “Have you ever lead a team and if so what results did you accomplish?”, “how do you deal with rejection?,”  or “how many hours to you practice a particular skill everyday?”

J. Theory vs. Practice Questions: These inquiries are designed to test your ability to identify problems and opportunities, demonstrate leadership in creating solutions, show your enthusiasm about applying new knowledge/skills at work (Evening/Weekend MBA), and other questions that help the program see if you have book-smarts and street-smarts. Prepare yourself for questions like:  How did you sell your idea to your supervisors? How did you execute a strategy your team developed? Describe an incident where you took the lead?

K. Contribution Questions: Universities want to know “what is in for me?” Will you be an active participant in the classroom and broader university community? What unique aspects and experience do you bring to the class? How do you handle conflict? What type of learning environment do you thrive in? What was your favorite class in college? What activities will you pursue outside of academics? These and other questions will help the school know not only what you’re getting out of their curriculum but what they’re getting out of you as well.

In effectively interviewing, there are few secrets. Practice does make perfect, or at least, almost perfect… The more times you interview for a job or for admissions, the better you will become at expressing yourself accurately and effectively to the decision maker. This is the one part of the job search process where it pays to be prepared. Learn about the company, the school and whomever you are interviewing with. Be ready to put your best foot forward with a positive attitude, knowing that you will make the connection and earn the opportunity.

By Claudine Vainrub, Principal of EduPlan

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