Common interview categories you should know

Photo by Maranda Vandergriff on Unsplash

Often during an interview preparation process, we are asked ‘what questions will I be asked during this stage.’ This isn’t wrong to ask by any means, but despite working closely with hiring managers, we generally might not know the exact questions.

We are usually kept in the dark around the specifics to eliminate applicant bias from the hiring process, but over the years we have recognised several core ‘interview categories’ that will help you determine the type of questions you will be asked and when, allowing you to prepare more effectively and increase your chances of success.

If you haven’t heard the term ‘interview category’ before, to explain briefly. Each of the five core categories we have identified will be utilised at different stages of an interview process, some will be combined with others and some will be by themselves.

The five core categories are:

  • General
  • Behavioural
  • Situational
  • Knowledge
  • Roleplay

In the remainder of this article, we will break down the five core categories. Highlighting a little more about the types of questions you might see in them, as well as what stage they could come up, allowing you to prepare more effectively no matter the interview stage you are at.

General Questions

General questions are used across mainly all interview stages, they help ease you into an interview as they are frequently questions about you, your background, ambitions and motivations.

These questions will commonly be open-ended, allowing you to really sell yourself in a persuasive way, if you plan correctly ahead of time.

The key to preparing for these questions is to truly know yourself. Where you are heading in your career, the road you have just taken, as well as the ins and outs of what knowledge you can bring and maybe cannot.

Common General Questions

  • What would you say is your biggest weakness and why?
  • Outside of coding, what is another of your passions and why?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
  • What do you know about us as a business?

Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions are usually found in meetings with HR representatives or direct hiring manager meetings. They help elicit information about who you are, how you think and more importantly, how you approach real-world problems.

Answering these questions will help the interviewers draw an idea about your ability to complement the current team structure or not.

We have covered behavioural questions in detail before, focusing on the proven STAR technique that will help answer practically any behavioural-based question, if you missed that article, to recap here.

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action and Results.

The reason the STAR method is so effective is that is creates a story, the interviewer is able to follow a situation through to resolution with you, with yourself being the main character.

Common Behavioural Questions

  • Give me an example of when you had to assume a leadership position.
  • Tell me about a time when you had a disagreement with a colleague. How did you resolve the problem?
  • Explain a time when you took initiative on a project.
  • What has been the costliest idea you have come up with in your career.

Situational Questions

Situational questions share some similarities to behavioural-based questions so it can be tricky to determine which you are being asked the first few times.

The core difference here, however, is that the interviewer is looking for you to explain the situation and how you dealt with it, rather than the behaviour you experienced (we know, they are similar!).

A good situational question probes for your problem-solving skills, think of it that way and you should have an easier time preparing for them.

There is a technique you can also deploy for these types of questions, this time however it is referred to as the ‘problem-solution-benefit’ formula… not very imaginative but highly effective.

Whenever you answer a situational based question, you want to highlight to the interview:

  • A problem you faced
  • Your solution
  • The benefit that solution brought to your team, project or employer.

Using the above formula, look at some common situational questions below and start formulating ideas on how you could answer them. Like any of these categories, the more you prepare around key examples you have throughout your career, the easier it will be to answer during a live interview.

Common Situational Questions

  • Tell me about a time you went above and beyond your work.
  • Tell me about a time you reach a large goal at work and how did you reach it.
  • Describe a situation where you saw a problem, but managed to find the solution.
  • Describe a situation where you had to make a good impression on a stakeholder, and how you managed to do that.

Knowledge Questions

Knowledge questions are commonly used more during deep technical, design or product discussions, depending on your role. Whenever you are speaking with the hiring manager directly or someone from your potential team, expect these types of questions.

Sometimes HR representatives may ask basic knowledge questions, but the purpose there is more around your communication, simplifying the complex, rather than your deep understanding.

Reading over the job description ahead of these types of interviews will highlight the core areas that will likely come up (anything in the mandatory section of a job description, or if it is rather large, then usually the top points are the most interesting to them as a business).

Common Knowledge Questions

  • What is multithreading?
  • What is the difference between static and dynamic loading?
  • What are JavaScript data types?
  • What are undeclared and undefined variables?

Role-Play

Role-play questions or scenarios are really common for technology and design interview processes. They will usually come in the form of a whiteboard exercise, design presentation or pair programming session.

Every other step in the interview process is around questioning what you can do, whereas in this step you get to really show.

This is can make this step the hardest to prepare for, as you likely won’t know what you are working on until you receive it.

Try and gain some information from the company directly, alternatively, if you work with a recruiter, they should be able to share some insights around this step, if they have worked with the company before.

Successful interviews are a success because the applicant took the time, prepared correctly and as a result was able to not only stay composed during the process but put forward their best self. In an attempt to help as many of you as we could, we felt that by sharing the specifics, along with some example questions around the five core interview categories, that in some way we can all help bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.

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Eden Whitcomb

Eden Whitcomb

Bringing simplicity to the chaos of recruitment, one educational post at a time.