4 Common Types of Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

By Mia Casey

When you’re researching practice questions before an interview, you’ll often come across ‘general’, ‘behavioural ’, ‘motivation’, or ‘accomplishment’ questions. These terms divide common interview questions into distinct categories that, if you know how to use them, let you figure out the interviewer’s motivation, which in turn lets you formulate the best answers. But what do these terms actually mean? And how do you answer each type of  question?

General Questions

General questions are usually asked at the beginning of an interview, so an interviewer can find out a little bit more about you. Think of questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why do you want to work for this company?” While these questions aren’t particularly difficult (once you get over the cringey moment when you have to talk about yourself), you should still practice your answers before the interview.

When you’re talking about yourself, keep in mind the position you’re applying for. An interviewer doesn’t want to hear 5 minutes of you talking about your stamp collection or pet dog. Think of what you’ve studied, your work experience, your interests (as they may relate to the job), and what values you share with the company. For example, if you’re applying for a job at a firm that often takes risks, works on a variety of products, and values independence and creativity, then you can respond with something along the lines of: “I’m self-motivated, and really enjoy the process of coming up with new ideas, and discovering new ways of doing things.”

Now the trick here is you don’t want to lie. No, really – no matter how perfect your answer is to what the interviewer wants to hear, if you can’t follow through when you get the job then your professional reputation is going to suffer. And they may follow up this question by asking for examples to back up your claims later on in the interview (which could throw you off your game if your original claims were lies).

Some good questions to practice from this category are:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why would you like to work for this organisation?
  • So what attracted you to this particular opportunity?
  • What skills and experience do you bring to this role?

Behavioural Questions

Behavioural interview questions are designed to let interviewers know how you respond to different situations. They want to know how you handled situations in the past, so they can get an idea of how you’ll respond to similar scenarios in the future, were you to get the job. This often means you’ll have to provide examples of previous times when you performed a certain way, faced a particular situation or dealt with adversity.

A great way to structure your answers is the STAR method. UTS:Careers’ Ryan Li wrote a post a few weeks ago that explains what this method entails, which is really worth checking out. Basically, the STAR method involves you thinking of an experience you’ve had that illustrates your answer to a question. For example, if the interviewer has asked you to reflect on a situation when you had to adjust to significant change over which you had no control, you can respond by:

Situation: First, think of a situation that fits the question – maybe you worked at a shop and they changed the till system so you had to learn how to navigate the new system while on the job? Or you worked in an office where management completely restructured your team, so you were working with new people? Whatever it is, spend roughly 30 seconds or less ‘setting the scene’ as such.

Task: What was your job or role in that situation? What were you required to do, and what were your goals?

Action: What did you do in this situation? How did you achieve the goals you outlined above, and what steps did you take to overcome the change?

Result: What ended up happening? What did you achieve? How were things resolved?

You can use this structure to answer any question that requires you to give a specific example, or provide context to one of your skills – so get practising!

Some good questions to practice from this category are:

  • Describe a situation where you were playing an important role – one where others were relying heavily on you.
  • What steps have you needed to take in order to clarify a major misunderstanding?
  • Describe the most adverse situation you’ve faced where others gave up, but you kept going. Why did you persevere?
  • What is the most difficulty you’ve had explaining something complex to someone?
  • What’s the most pressure you’ve ever been under and how did you manage it?

Motivation Questions

Motivation questions help interviewers find out what drives you, and whether the things that motivate you fit with what the position entails. They want to find out what excites you, what part of your job or industry you’re passionate about, and how particular experiences have impacted you and your career.

Before an interview, take stock of what excites you about the jobs or experience you’ve had – do you really enjoy working in a team? Completing a particular task? Studying a particular subject? Once you determine what really interests you about your field, start thinking about how these passions tie in with the job description and selection criteria, and you can start formulating your responses!

Some good questions to practice from this category are:

  • How did you go about choosing which study area to specialise in?
  • How have you prepared for this interview?
  • What inspires you?
  • Describe your ideal job.
  • Are there team responsibilities or roles which you don’t get many opportunities to take on, but which you want more of?

Accomplishment Orientation Questions

This category contains questions to help an interviewer determine you goals, what drives you, your strengths, and past successes. Knowing these details can help interviewers determine whether you’d be a right fit for the company, particular areas where you excel, and what your plans for the future are.

When you’re practising to answer these questions, think about times in the past where you’ve excelled – either in a job, internship, or while studying. If nothing comes to mind, think about your extracurricular activities and hobbies and try to draw something from there. It’s also a good idea to make a list of your strengths, as that can help you think of past experiences where you’ve done well, and start drafting answers that could tie in with what will be required of you in the job you’re applying for.

Some good questions to practice from this category are:

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How would you describe your main strengths?
  • What have you learned from your current (or last) job, which has prepared you for greater responsibility now?
  • When have you significantly exceeded someone else’s expectations? How would you convince me this wasn’t just one-off luck?
  • Thinking back to 12 months ago, what were you principal goals for the year? To what extent was each of your objectives achieved?

More help?

All of the example questions in this post are from a document on the UTS:Careers website called ‘Sample Interview Question List’. If you feel like you need more practice, going through this document and completing all of the practice questions with a friend or family member testing you is a fantastic way to prepare. Practising a variety of questions helps you get in the right mindset, start thinking on your feet, and curating your responses. To really challenge yourself, have your friend or family member ask you questions out of order, from all the different categories listed.

Check out our posts on answering common interview questions and overcoming interview anxiety, get practising, then be like Rachel and ‘go get one of those jobs things’!

If you’re graduating soon and worried about entering the workforce, then you need to apply for Accomplish Intensive. It’s a 3-day program designed to increase your employability skills, connect you with employers, and get you feeling more confident about the recruitment process. Applications are now open – so apply today!

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.


Author: Mia Casey

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