Types of interview questions

Interviewers can ask many different types of questions. Below is a selection of some of these, with advice for answering them effectively.

Competency questions

The most common type of questions asked at interview, competency questions often come in the form of ‘tell me about a time you…’ or ‘give me an example of…’. They are designed to assess if you have the skills and experience expected from the ideal candidate.

In preparation for these questions, read through the job description and person specification to identify the required skills for the role. Consider your experience and decide on specific examples which demonstrate your use of these skills. Some students think of one example per required skill; however, our advice would be to have a suite of flexible examples at your disposal, which can be used and easily altered during the interview to demonstrate skills you may not have prepared for.

When giving your specific example in reply to a competency question, a popular format is the STAR technique:

  • Situation – what was the situation you faced? Set the scene (makes up 10% of your answer).
  • Task – what was the objective of the situation or task? (makes up 10% of your answer).
  • Actions – how did YOU go about tackling the situation and what was YOUR role in this. Tell the employer the step-by-step actions you took in relation to the skill you are trying to prove you have (makes up 70% of your answer).
  • Result – what was the outcome and were your objectives met? (makes up 10% of your answer).

Motivation questions

Another common set of interview questions, motivation questions assess how genuine and motivated you are. Typically they come in the form of ‘why are you interested in the role / company / sector?’. They may also question you career motivations, your greatest achievements and how you drive yourself in the face of obstacles, to name but a few.

In preparation for these questions you should use your research into the company, the role and the sector to show your commercial awareness; for example, if asked why you would like to work for the company, relate your understanding of what the company does, who their clients are, their market share, their values etc., to your motivations to work for the employer articulating this concisely.

When answering these questions it is useful to number your reasons. A good rule of thumb is to have three reasons prepared, and to go through these in turn stating “My first reason is… My second reason is… And finally…”. This ensures you say all you wanted to say, without speaking for too long, whilst helping the employer follow your thought process.

Strengths-based questions

An increasingly used question type, strengths-based interviewers are trained to read your body language and interpret the way you say things in order to assess what you genuinely enjoy. The difference between strengths-based and competency-based interviews is that strengths interviews rarely require specific examples, as the interviewer is looking for how you say things as well as what you say. For example, showing energy and enthusiasm, using animated hand movements and facial expressions will demonstrate a genuine interest in what you are talking about, whereas a monotone answer, with little body or facial movements could indicate disinterest. They do not allow for rote answers, as in competency questions. On the day you may face around 40 questions at pace, which are repetitive to assess for consistency in your energy through what you say.

In preparation for these questions, consider from the job description, person specification and the employer’s website what strengths they might be looking for, to guess the subjects you might be discussing at interview. If you are not sure of your own strengths, you can assess them on the LSE Careers Career Builder tool or at GraduatesFirst. You should also become familiar with the format of the questions. They will often ask questions which require a yes/no answer, sometimes some discussion or opinion and occasionally an example. Questions include:

  • Do you prefer starting or finishing?
  • Are you a leader?
  • Do you think it’s important that others think your work is of a high quality?
  • Do obstacles distract you from working towards a goal?
  • What type of people do you hate working with?

There is no set format for answering these questions, but our advice is to make sure you answer the question before discussing your thoughts. Your answer should be well constructed and logical too. On occasion it may be appropriate to give an example, but this should not be as structured as a competency answer and preparing structured examples should not make up the majority of your preparation time.

Case interviews

Visit our case interviews careers information to find out about this type of assessment.

Technical interviews

Used when there is a technical element to the job applied to, the employer will ask you questions to assess your level of knowledge either for the work you will be doing, or to assess your level of knowledge from a course you have done or are doing. These are often found in investment banking, law, science or engineering roles. Technical questions also allow you to demonstrate your problem solving, logic and communication skills. Questions faced by students include:

  • How would you calculate a company's free cash flow?
  • If interest rates rise, what happens to bond prices?
  • What is your prediction of the changes in the German yield curve over the next 6 months?
  • How do you calculate VaR (Value at Risk)?
  • Explain the facts, legal principles and outcomes of any set of paper or any court work that you have seen whilst on mini-pupillage.
  • What are your views on the implementation and content of the new anti-terrorism laws?

Prior to the interview you would be advised to research into any technical areas you will expect in the job or you have covered in your course, but please remember that you will not become an expert overnight! There is only so much you can learn and understand in a short period of time, and questions can vary hugely. If you are being interviewed for a graduate role, or are applying for a role detached from your degree subject, the employers will only expect you to know so much, so seriously consider how much time you can afford to devote to this element of preparation.

Technical questions will allow for a fairly formal conversation based on the employer’s initial question. Therefore, there is no set format to follow. Try to demonstrate your knowledge, allowing the employer to input and ask follow up questions where necessary.

Situational judgement

These questions allow the employer to assess how you would react in a given work-based scenario. You will be given the scenario and either asked to choose from a few options which you would choose (often ranking these options from best to worst choice) or to generate your own response. They allow you to demonstrate problem solving, logic, decision making and interpersonal skills. Sometimes this might be done as part of a small team. Often these are written tests, but you can face scenario question as part of an interview.

To prepare for these questions, practice answering some in your spare time. There are some situational judgement questions on the LSE Careers subscription of GraduatesFirst. When answering these questions do not make assumptions. Logically discuss the pros and cons of each option with your interviewer so they can understand and follow your thought process. And make sure you clearly express which you consider to be the best and worst options.

Brain teasers

When being interviewed for a technical or numeric job you might be asked brain teaser questions which are designed to assess your mental arithmetic, logic skills and ability to stay calm under pressure. The employer may ask you arithmetic of varying difficulties, estimation questions or present abstract ideas. In the case of arithmetic they seek correct answers gained at speed, or through clear dialogue. They are not necessarily looking for a correct answer for estimation or abstract questions, but will be interested in how you approach and solve the question set.

Examples faced by LSE students include:

  • Several brain teasers in quick succession, such as 18x19 and, which is larger, 26, 34 or 43
  • What is the ratio between the width and height of A4 paper? Given that it's the same ratio no matter how many times you fold it in half
  • Joe has a water pump to fill his pool in two hours, and his neighbour Jim has one which fills it in three hours. If they were to use both pumps together, how long would it take them to fill one pool?

To prepare for these questions, you are advised to practice your mental arithmetic, including times tables, addition, subtraction, ratios and percentages. You’d also be advised to practice brainteasers, considering how you can logically articulate your thought process to answer their question. The employers want to see how you arrived at the answer, and will assess your success through your ability to logically, clearly and calmly discuss your thought process.

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