Developing Interview Questions

Step 7- Developing Interview Questions

Once the interview format is determined, it is crucial to prepare your questions in advance to conduct a successful interview and determine whether or not the candidate has the necessary technical and performance skills.


  • Ask open ended questions related to job duties/requirements and the technical skills and competencies defined in the position description. Avoiding questions that require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer provides candidates the opportunity to speak freely, voice opinions and share their experiences.

  • Technical Skills – specific skills and knowledge typically acquired through a combination of education, training and experience related to certain processes, procedures, techniques and other quantifiable and measurable abilities. Examples might include use of specific computer hardware and software, programming, etc.

  • Competencies – personal and interpersonal attributes and abilities that are required for job success which are not necessarily quantifiable or measurable, but affect work performance. Examples may include the following areas: management/leadership; decision making/problem solving; communication skills; ability to cope with pressure; time management/organizational skills; interpersonal relations.

All questions must be legal and non-discriminating.The following is a quick reference for examples of questions that are legal and questions which are potentially discriminating.

Keep it Legal 

  Legal Questions Unacceptable Questions
Family Status This job requires consistent availability to work 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.  Will that be a problem? 

Are you married?
What is your spouse’s name?
What is your maiden name?
Do you have any children?
Are you pregnant?
What are your childcare arrangements?

Race None What is your race?
Religion None (You may inquire about availability for weekend work.)

What is your religion?
Which church do you attend?
What are your religious holidays?

Gender None

Are you male or female?


Do you meet the minimum age requirement set by law in our area?
If hired, can you provide proof of age?

How old are you?
What is your birth date?
When did you graduate from high school?

Citizenship or Nationality

Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the U.S.?
Do you have language abilities other than English, which may be useful in performing this job successfully?

Are you a U.S. citizen?
Where were you born?

Disability Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation?

Are you disabled?
What is the nature or severity of your disability?

  • Ask the same questions of all candidates. Develop a structured and standardized interview plan to ensure that each candidate has an opportunity to offer responses to the same questions. This will provide you with a basis for comparative assessment; preclude personal and non-job-related questions; and enable an impartial qualification assessment for all candidates.

  • Develop behavior-based questions which require candidates to describe specific situations, actions and outcomes from their past experience. Past behavior is typically a good predictor for future performance. By asking questions about both positive and negative previous work experiences the hiring supervisor can identify if candidates possess key knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA), behaviors, and core competencies for successful job performance.

  • Once you have developed your questions, think through the possible answers. Keep in mind that some questions do not have a “right” or “wrong” answer. Consider the kind of answers that make sense given the priorities of the University, department and position. The candidate’s reasoning and thought process leading to the answer may be as important as the answer itself.

The following are examples of behavioral competencies which may generally be applied to many positions. Feel free to use any examples which are relevant to your position.

Work Ethic/Attendance
Individuals scoring high in this area are typically ambitious, self-motivated (self-starters) who require little or no direction from others. They routinely put in extra effort, approach work with energy and have excellent attendance habits.

Listen for answers that describe:

  • history of seeking increased responsibility
  • willingness to go the extra mile
  • being thorough, detail oriented in planning and doing work
  • results oriented
  • accepting of authority, following rules and procedures
  • accepts responsibility for own actions and results
  • preserves in overcoming obstacles
  • self-starter
  • values punctuality and good attendance

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you accomplished something on your own.
  • Tell me about a time when you did something at work above and beyond your normal job responsibilities.
  • Tell me about a time when you were proud of something you accomplished.

A high score on this scale indicates that the individual gets along well with others and is willing to collaborate to meet unit/university goals. These individuals enjoy the company of others and like working closely with others in the workplace. They are positive and reinforce the others’ contributions.

Listen for:

  • active participation in group decision making
  • taking pride in team accomplishments
  • deals effectively with interpersonal conflict
  • comfortable and enthusiastic working as a member of a team
  • experience working in team or group problem solving
  • supports others efforts, praises and compliments others’ accomplishments

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you worked with members of another department.
  • How do you handle it when a coworker is not doing their share of the work?
  • Not all teams function effectively. Tell me about a time when you were involved with a team that had problems getting the work done.

Customer Focus
A high score on this scale demonstrates a warm and friendly demeanor. These individuals genuinely like people and enjoy their company. Individuals who score high on this scale enjoy personal interaction with customers.

Listen for:

  • history of adapting approaches or processes to meet a customer needs
  • takes specific steps to ensure high customer satisfaction
  • enjoys and seeks out contact and interaction with customers
  • genuinely likes people; is warm and gregarious
  • courteous and patient in dealing with customers
  • sees customers (internal and external) as the reason for existence
  • considerable interest or experience in assessing and addressing customer needs

Sample Questions:

  • Who are your customers? Describe an occasion when you dealt with an unhappy or irate customer.
  • Tell me about a time when a customer was so happy with your service that they commented to your manager.
  • Describe your most challenging customer service experience and how you handled it? What did you learn from it?
  • Multitasking
  • Individuals scoring high on this scale prefer to work on multiple tasks (doing two or more things simultaneously) rather than doing one thing at a time.

Listen For:

  • Able and willing to quickly switch from one activity / priority to another with minimal productivity loss
  • Comfortable handling several tasks simultaneously
  • Enjoys variety and changes in day-to-day priorities and activities
  • Ready to cope with unexpected problems in a positive and effective manner
  • Able to monitor / track multiple projects or activities

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you worked on several projects or assignments at the same time.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to determine which of the multiple assignments would be completed first.
  • Describe a time when something “slipped through the cracks” and how you handled it.

Individuals who score high on this scale are able to adjust to day-to-day changes in priorities and demands. High scores on this scale indicate that the individual is able to adjust to major changes in work processes and procedures, as well as strategic changes initiated by the organization.

Listen for:

  • open minded and willing to try new approaches
  • believes change is necessary and that is it normally well planned and implemented
  • accepts and adjusts well to major changes
  • not bound to tradition or other aspects of the status quo
  • embraces the newest technology and work processes
  • believes in continual change to make constant improvement
  • responds positively to change even if it has a negative personal impact
  • willingly accepts different assignments

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new.
  • Tell me about a time when your schedule was disrupted due to something outside of your control.
  • Tell me about a time when you learned that your job was being impacted by changes within the organization. How did you react? What did you do?

Valuing Diversity
Individuals scoring high on this scale accept and embrace differences among people of different backgrounds. They support equal and fair treatment and opportunity for all.

Listen for:

  • experience working with individuals of different backgrounds and orientations
  • strong belief in value of a diverse background
  • appreciation for alternative beliefs, values, and lifestyles
  • willingness to take a stand for fairness and equal opportunity and treatment

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a time when worked or dealt with someone whose age was very different from your own.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone who had difficulty speaking or reading in the predominant language of the community.
  • Tell me about a time when someone was saying something either intentionally or unintentionally that was insensitive to the feelings of another person. What did you do?

Openness to Learning
High scores on this scale relate to the person’s ability and willingness to continuously update and improve job related skills. These individuals actively participate in activities (workshops, professional associations, classes) to improve their professional and career skills.

Listen for:

  • actively looks for opportunities to learn
  • takes initiative to continuously update job skills
  • enjoys taking classes and learning new things
  • interested in new ideas and ways of doing things
  • values learning and knowledge for its own sake
  • enjoys researching topics and issues
  • is curious and always wants to learn more

Sample Questions:

  • Tell me about a project that was very complicated. How did you handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a significant learning experience.
  • Tell me about a time when you were asked to attend a course or seminar as part of your work.