Use These 5 Types of Interview Questions to Level Up Your Hiring Process
People & Culture

Use These 5 Types of Interview Questions to Level Up Your Hiring Process

Using different types of interview questions will help you make the right hires for your startup. See our favorite questions to ask across five categories.

You’re scanning your calendar and then you see it: a recruiter squeezed in a last-minute interview with a candidate and you totally forgot about it. Cue the mild panic that sets in as you frantically look up their LinkedIn profile and fire up a search for some questions to ask them.

We typically think of the pressure that’s placed on the interviewee’s shoulders, but preparation is just as important for folks on the hiring panel — particularly the hiring managers.

But it’s easy to default to skimping on the prep work. Crammed calendars at a fast-moving startup make it tough to carve out the time. And some experienced interviewers feel confident in relying on a few go-to questions and a general “gut feeling” about who will be right for the position. Others opt to just “wing it” by showing up cold, without even scanning the candidate’s resume. But these approaches increase the odds you’ll end up with a costly mishire.

While there’s power in first impressions, relying on your gut isn’t the best move. As former poker pro and decision science expert Annie Duke told us recently, “Cognitive science shows that our decisions are super noisy and tend to be very biased. The problem with relying on your gut is that’s where all of that bias lives.” It’s easy to be wowed by a candidate brimming with confidence as they deliver (heavily practiced) answers that hit the right notes, but reveal very little.

And if you opt to play it by ear, you’re likely to fall into the skimming-the-surface trap, resorting to the overused “What's your weakness?” questions that don’t unearth true insights. The types of interview questions hiring managers ask need to sit at just the right altitude — not so obscure so that they don’t allow for thoughtful, in-the-moment answers yet not so generic that they don’t elicit insights. And that doesn’t happen without investing some time upfront.

Whether you’re interviewing a candidate for an entry-level position or a C-suite leadership role, the questions you ask matter. Put in the time to find the right ones.

To mix our metaphors, there are thousands of possible questions to pull from your quiver during the interview process, but they don’t all pack an equal punch. To help you narrow down the best questions and hire top performers for your most critical open positions, we’ve combed our archives for standout examples, categorizing the fundamental types of interview questions to draw from so you can hone your own style — and make sure you’re never left underprepared again.

5 types of interview questions every interviewer should know

In any job interview, there’s an impulse to cover as much ground as you can, touching on a wide range of topics like previous experience, future aspirations, values, areas for improvement, and standout skills. But in the limited time you have with a candidate, every question comes at the expense of leaving another one unanswered. By assembling a mix of different interview questions types, you can make the most of those precious minutes and dig into whether they're the best fit for the position.

Here are five interview question types to consider:

1. Experience-based interview questions

While this may seem like basic resume probing, this foundation-setting isn’t something to fast-forward through. Experience-based interview questions help you:

  • Confirm credentials and competencies.
  • Give a candidate the chance to dive deeper into their experience and frame up why it’s relevant to the position. Break the ice at the start, allowing you to establish rapport and defuse interview jitters early on.

We’re firm believers that experience-based interview questions shouldn’t be boring or closed-ended. Train your focus on the “what,” “why,” and “how” to allow candidates to elaborate on their experience and career goals.

Yes-or-no interview questions waste everyone’s time because they don’t bring any new information to the surface. Skip them.

Some unique experience-based questions to ask in an interview include:

  • For the last few companies you've been at, take me through: When you left, why did you leave? When you joined the next one, why did you choose it?
  • What’s something great about your current or previous position? Why?
  • Looking back on the last five years, what’s a career highlight?
  • What has your typical role on a team been? How might you want that to change?
  • What’s the first job you had that's not on your resume, and what did you learn from that experience?

2. Behavioral interview questions

You’re familiar with this one — think of those “Tell me about a time…” questions. While this framing is a bit tired, the intent behind these questions is still worth pursuing. With behavioral interview questions, you can go beyond the bullet points on a resume and platitudes in a cover letter to truly dig into a candidate's motivations, interests, personal traits and teamwork chops.

As a hiring tactic, this one offers a decent bang-for-its-buck. You might discover red flags like a BigCo candidate who doesn't seem suited to the fast-pace culture of a startup, or how your management style doesn't seem to mesh with how they do their best work.

To get out of your “Tell me about a time” rut as an interviewer, pull from these example interview questions:

  • Among the people you've worked with, who do you admire most and why?
  • What does your ideal next role look like? What characteristics does it have from a responsibility, team, and company culture perspective? What characteristics does it not have?
  • Across all of your employers, who were the best and worst bosses you’ve ever had, specifically? What was the difference?
  • When was the last time you changed your mind about something important?
  • When working on a team, what's hardest for you?
  • What’s one critical piece of feedback you’ve received that was really difficult to hear? Describe why it was difficult and what you did with that information.

3. Situational interview questions

Situational questions may seem similar to behavioral questions, but there’s a subtle, yet meaningful difference.

Instead of assessing how someone responded to a situation in the past to probe strengths and weaknesses, this flavor of interview questions is about asking candidates to place themselves in a hypothetical scenario and reason their way through it. Done right, it’s a chance for interviewees to display their instincts, decision-making frameworks and problem-solving skills.

It’s a tough needle to thread, however. The hypothetical shouldn’t be so far-fetched that it’s irrelevant, so stick to targeted scenarios that they’re likely to encounter on the job. As an interviewer, it’s also a chance to crowdsource ideas you might not have considered, so feel free to bring real, thorny challenges you’re currently wrestling with.

Here are a few examples of situational interview questions:

  • Imagine an employee on your team consistently misses their goals. How would you address their underperformance?
  • If you had two competing important deadlines, how would you approach prioritizing your tasks?
  • What would you do if you strongly disagreed with your manager about an important decision regarding a project you’ve been working on?
  • Walk me through how you would approach a conversation with your manager if you were dissatisfied with an aspect of your job.

4. Opinion interview questions

Opinion interview questions encourage candidates to stake out a stance and defend their position, showcasing their decision-making chops, industry perspective, and functional point of view.

These questions are less about the specific content of their response and more about how they approach answering the question. Follow their train of thought and pay attention to the evidence behind their arguments. Vague responses are a red flag that the candidate places a higher premium on not rocking the boat than on sharing their honest thoughts.

Here are some examples of opinion questions:

  • What could our team be doing differently that could yield 10x improvement?
  • What’s the difference between someone who’s great in your role versus someone who’s outstanding?
  • What are the three most important characteristics of someone who’d thrive in this role? How would you rank yourself from strongest to least developed among these traits?
  • Name a product that you think is exceptionally well-designed – ideally a non-electronic product. Tell me what makes it well-designed.
  • What have I not asked you that I should have?

5. Curveball interview questions

Some of the world's largest companies use curveball questions (aka brain teasers) to knock an interviewee off their pat answers and put their problem-solving skills to the test.

Questions that fall into this bucket are not without controversy. Critics say they add undue stress, can waste time, and don’t test actual on-the-job skills. Proponents note that this style measures spontaneity and creativity in stressful environments — key skills for any startup employee.

Our advice? Limit your curveballs to just a question or two, and make sure you choose ones that are grounded in the real-world. Aim for unexpected rather than fanciful or purposefully tricky.

A few examples of real-world wild card questions that strike the right balance:

  • Imagine it's your one-year work anniversary here. What impact on the business have you made since you were hired?
  • If you were to take over as CEO of your current employer tomorrow, and had to increase your company's current rate of growth, what three areas would you invest in?
  • Teach me something. It can be anything — a hobby, book, or project — but you have 5 minutes to take me from a beginner to someone who understands what’s most important about the topic.
  • How did you prepare for this job interview?
  • What have you learned in this conversation?
  • How would you improve our interview process?
  • Why shouldn’t we hire you?

Our final tip?

Don’t forget to leave time for candidates to pose any lingering queries before wrapping up. The questions an applicant asks — or fails to — are some of the most insightful in the interview process. (We’ve got a handy resource for that as well — check out The 40 Best Questions to Ask in an Interview.)