5 types of interview question and how to prepare for them

Recruiters ask a range of different questions to identify the best candidates. There are five different kinds of interview question you are likely to encounter. It makes sense to understand what the differences are and how to be prepared for them.

Questions to put you at your ease

The interview will start with questions designed to build rapport and help you settle in. Examples: ‘tell me a bit about yourself’, ‘what made you decide to study x degree?’ ‘What extra-curricular activities are you involved in?’

Tip: Use these questions as your warm-up. Answer honestly and enthusiastically.

Competency questions

Competency questions are designed to test how the skills you’ve developed through your academic studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities can be applied in the workplace. Recruiters will ask questions based on the skills identified in the person specification for the role, making them predictable. For example: ‘tell me about a time when you solved a particularly difficult problem’, or ‘what was your role in contributing to a team project?’

You can prepare for these by using the STAR technique (Situation, Task, Action, Result) Highlight each ‘Essential’ and ‘Desirable’ skill from the Person Specification and have 1 or 2 examples against each Skill listed. Each STAR example will read as a mini story so will be easy for you to recall on the day.

Tip: Focus not only on what you Achieved and the Result but reflect on what you learned. For example, what would you have done differently with hindsight or what contributed to your success?

Motivational and Sector awareness questions

Motivational questions are designed to identify how much you want the role. Questions may be direct: for example, ‘tell us what’s made you decide to apply for this position?’

The recruiter will be aiming to find out how much effort you’ve put into researching the sector, organisation, and job role. They may ask: ‘What has attracted you to our company as opposed to x company?’ Or ‘what has caught your attention in the news about the sector recently?’.  Whilst it’s harder to predict motivational questions, if you’ve genuinely done your homework then you should be well-prepared, regardless of the questions you’re asked.

Looking at the company’s website is a good starting point for your research. Use the additional research tools available to you at Warwick https://warwick.ac.uk/services/careers/findingwork/researching/ Explore relevant groups through LinkedIn and see if you can connect with any alumni who work for the organisation through Warwick University’s LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/school/university-of-warwick/mycompany/

Tip: Research will help to demonstrate your awareness of the sector- something many recruiters find that graduates lack- and a key reason for rejection. All candidates need to be able to demonstrate sector, or commercial awareness. This is not limited to commercial organisations. It applies equally to Creative Industries, Governmental and Non-profit organisations.

For example, if you’re applying to become a Secondary school teacher, you need to go beyond your motivation for wanting to become a teacher.  What’s happening within Teaching as a profession politically?  Financially? Within Secondary Education specifically? What changes are taking place within the curriculum or to examinations? Have you been keeping up to date by reading key publications such as the TES as well as articles in the Press?

Scenario-based questions

Whilst competency-based questions look for evidence of what you’ve done, scenario-based questions explore potential performance. These are the hardest questions to predict, though doing your research will help.  Examples: ’ How would you make a good impression on a client during a meeting?’. ‘How would you handle being asked to give a presentation if your line manager wasn’t available to deliver it?’ ‘How would you handle negative feedback on your performance?’

Tip: the better you know yourself, the easier it will be to respond to scenario-based questions. You can explore your values, skills, motivations, and strengths through Warwick’s Self-Awareness Moodle. https://warwick.ac.uk/services/careers/options/developingself/


Strengths are a key feature of most graduate recruitment and selection processes. Strengths questions are designed to find out what genuinely energises and enthuses you. There are no right or wrong answers, although recruiters will have a list of strengths they will find particularly helpful in the role you’re applying for.

Example questions include: ‘what activities energise you?’ ‘Tell me about something you’re particularly proud of’, ‘Are you a big picture or a detail person?’ ’What is one of your weaknesses?’ Questions are often quick-fire, giving you little time to plan a response.  

Tip: How you respond will demonstrate whether you are genuinely enthusiastic. It’s therefore hard (and unwise) to fake a response to attempt to guess what you think the recruiter wants to hear.

You can access Cappfinity’s FREE online Strengths questionnaire which will identify some of your top strengths and a weakness. https://www.strengthsprofile.com/

‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’   Benjamin Franklin.

By Anne Wilson, Head of Careers

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