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Questions to Ask During an Interview

Asking the right questions in interviews can help supervisors get the answers that will enable them to select the right candidate for the right job.

Goals for interview questions

Asking the right interview questions should give you, the supervisor, the following information:

  • Confirmation of the candidate's education, training, and experience listed in the resume
  • Information about performance and accomplishments
  • Indication of the candidate's compatibility with the culture (e.g., work pace, work style) of your department
  • Reasons behind the candidate's desire to change jobs

Questions not to ask

Avoid unintentionally discriminatory questions that violate equal opportunity laws. Questions to avoid include — but are not limited to — the following:

  • What year did you graduate from high school?
  • Where were you born?
  • Where did you learn a foreign language?
  • What are your child-care arrangements?
  • What are your religious practices?
  • How many days did you miss because of illness last year?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Questions to ask

  • Behavioral interview questions: Behavioral interviewing techniques probe beyond superficial answers, requiring candidates to assess themselves and recall examples of behavior. Most behavioral questions are formed as either self-appraisal queries or situational queries, as shown in the examples below:
    • Self-appraisal query: If you had the choice of working in a job with peaks and valleys in the workload or a job with a steady volume of work, which would you choose and why?
    • Situational query: Tell me about a time when you had to make a critical decision in your supervisor's absence. How did you handle it?
  • Open-ended questions: These questions require an explanation from the candidate. Open-ended questions begin with words such as "what," "why," "how," "describe," and "explain." For example:
    • What is the greatest asset you will bring to this job?
    • Describe the most important thing you do at your current job.
    • Tell me about the last time you had a short deadline and how you handled it.
    • How have you had to adapt to your job’s changing needs?
  • Neutral questions: Neutral questions do not reveal a bias toward an acceptable or correct answer. For example:
    • If you had to choose between one extreme or the other, would you want a supervisor who leaves you alone to get your work done and only wants to hear from you if there’s a problem, or would you prefer someone who meets with you regularly to help you focus on your goals for the day or week?
  • Yes or no questions: Use questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no” to confirm information you already have. In general, use these types of questions sparingly because they don’t add new information. For example:
    • Were you with XYZ company 10 years before you relocated to San Diego?
  • Follow-up questions: After a candidate answers a question, follow up with another question that probes the candidate's attitudes or delves further into the issue. For example, you may start with a broad question: "What are your responsibilities as the administrative assistant?" A candidate may respond with a list of duties such as: answer phones, type, keep the calendar, arrange travel, and file documents. Although this information confirms the resume, it does not give information about the relationship with the supervisor, consequences of actions, or pride in work output. To get this kind of information, ask follow-up questions, such as:
    • What aspects of your job are most crucial?
    • How many hours a week do you find it necessary to work in order to get your job done?
    • What skills do you need to improve in the next year?
Notice: The information on this page summarizes provisions of university policies and/or collective bargaining agreements. Refer to the Personnel Policies for Staff Members (PPSM) or applicable collective bargaining agreement for full text of referenced information.