Types of Interview Questions

Interviews. Almost everyone has been through one (or many), on one side of the table or the other[1].

Interestingly, research has been coming out saying that standardized procedures and checklists help in interviews as much as they checklists help in surgery.

To make a standardized procedure or checklist, it helps to have a list of the types of things one can ask a candidate.

A number of people have made lists of types of interview questions.

Google says: “We achieve that goal by doing what the science says: combining behavioral and situational structured interviews with assessments of cognitive ability, conscientiousness, and leadership.”

We’ll start with the first two (‘Leadership’ is best folded into these): Behavioural and Situational questions, generally considered to have the most predictive power at identifying better long-term work performance.

They’re actually pretty similar. In both, the interviewer is asking for a description of a solution to a problem (sometimes a tech problem, often a people or people/tech problem).

‘Behavioural’ questions ask ‘Describe a time when you encountered a problem like this’.

‘Situational’ questions ask ‘Given this situation, how would you solve it?’

Fundamentally, answers to questions like these (are supposed to) show how a candidate defines a problem, finds root cause, and solves it, within the constraints. (One could also see how quick a candidate is on their feet, or how rehearsed, by seeing the difference in speed to how they answer these two types of questions.)

Good sources for questions like these: Any project where you’ve had to solve a technical problem (tech), any project with multiple stakeholders (tech/people), working with another team (people).

How do you answer them? Probably the best way is to go back and think about each line item on your resume in detail (Most of the lines on your resume are problems you’ve solved, right?[2]). For each of those problems, you had to work with others, define a problem, come up with a solution, get buy-in, implement a solution, some, all, or some of none of these things.

‘Cognitive Ability’ in the strictest sense of the word is most often associated with standardized tests. When combined with ‘Conscientiousness’, you get technical problem solving questions, also known as ‘Coding Interview’ to its friends.

So, really, we’re left with three types of questions:

‘Behavioural’ questions ask ‘Describe a time when you encountered a problem like this’.

‘Situational’ questions ask ‘Given this situation, how would you solve it?’

‘Technical’ questions ask ‘Solve this defined problem for me.’

Next time, we’ll go a little more in depth into these categories. If you want a specific category first, comment below!

[1]This feels very adversarial. Also, very binary. Why are there only two sides to this table? (Somewhat related, in Europe, corporate-labour relations are a trinary system, with the government being an equal partner.)

[2]Much more powerful, this is.

3 thoughts on “Types of Interview Questions

  1. ‘Knowledge’ questions, where the interviewer asks something like ‘why would you use a hash table vs. using a binary search tree?’, I’m grouping under the ‘Technical questions’ umbrella, which I’ll cover in a later post.

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