• Purpose
  • Useful types of interview question
  • Keeping control
  • Closing the interview
  • Types of interview questions to avoid

A series of core interview questions should be prepared in advance of the interview and should relate directly to the selection criteria laid out in the person specification .

These core interview questions should be asked of all candidates – although probing follow up questions may need to be asked of each candidate to elicit more information as appropriate.

A structured interview that used the same questions based on the selection criteria for every candidate will help ensure candidates are assessed fairly and only against the selection criteria, in addition to help defending discrimination claims from unsuccessful applicants.

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Useful types of interview questions
Open questions

Open questions encourage candidates to talk and therefore are a useful way of commencing interviews.

  • Example open questions:
    • Please tell me how your experience makes you suitable for this job?
    • Can you tell me about your current research plans?
    • What do you know about …….?

However, open questions can produce too much detail or miss key information and you may need to use follow up probing questions to find out more information.

Probing questions

You should use probing questions to elicit more information, if answers are too general or if you think the full facts have not been disclosed. Probing questions will therefore be unplanned and will follow on from other questions.

  • Example probing questions:
    • What exactly was your role in the project?
    • What assistance did you have from your supervisor in this?
    • You’ve told me that you managed staff. What experience do you have of managing poor staff performance?
Closed questions

Closed questions should be used to clarify facts and are designed to elicit a brief response, often a yes or no answer.

  • Example closed questions:
    • How many staff did you manage?
    • Who else was involved?
    • Were you sole author of this publication?
Critical incident questions

These types of question focus on past experience in order to assess how candidates will deal with future events. Critical incident questions can provide useful information on the nature of candidates’ experience and how they have dealt with incidents in the past.

  • Example critical incident questions:
    • Can you tell me about an occasion where you have managed a project?
    • Please tell me about a situation where you have dealt with a difficult customer.
    • Could you describe an occasion where you have had to negotiate with others to reach a successful outcome?


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Keeping control

Some candidates can give verbose answers and you may need to politely refocus the candidates to move onto other areas.

  • Example
    • Thank you, I have a good idea of your experience on this; could you now tell me about ……… ?

Playback questions can be useful in checking you have understood a candidate’s answer correctly and summarising their response for notes and to enable you to move onto the next question.

  • Example
    • As I understand it, you have had experience of staff management including recruiting and appraising staff but have no experience of managing poor performance. Have I got this right?


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Closing the interview

You may find it useful to close the questions by checking if there is any information the candidate thinks is relevant that has not been explored yet.

  • Example:
    • Is there any thing else about your experience that has not been raised yet in this interview, but which you think is relevant for the post?

You should give candidates the opportunity to ask questions about the role at the very end of the interview.

It is good practice to let the candidates know how and when they will be told the outcome of the interview.

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Questions to avoid
Discriminatory questions:

You should not ask any questions which could discriminate against candidates on the basis of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or nationality.

  • Example discriminatory questions
    • Are you married?
    • What are your plans to have a family?
    • Who will look after the children while you are at work?

These questions can seen as be discriminatory as they assume family commitments will adversely impact on a woman’s commitment to the job, motivation, attendance and ability to work outside normal working hours. Such assumptions may not be made to male candidates and therefore could be discriminatory on the grounds of sex. If the post involves weekend working or international travel, you should explain this to all candidates at the end of the interview and ask them if this would be a problem.

Hypothetical questions

Hypothetical questions lead to hypothetical answers and may not reflect what a candidate will behave in reality. It is better to focus a question on a past incident rather than a fictional one; this will be a better predictor of how an applicant is likely to perform in future.

  • Example
    • How would you deal with a distressed student?
Multiple questions

Multiple questions often confuse candidates and are likely to be only partially answered. It is better to answer a series of single questions rather than multiple questions.

  • Example:
    • Can you tell me about your experience of staff management including if you have had any responsibility for staff appraisal and whether you have ever had to take formal disciplinary action against staff, and if so, why?
Leading questions

Leading questions encourage candidates to answer in a specific way, and the answer is normally a foregone conclusion.

  • Example:
    • This job involves working to deadlines – are you able to do this?


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