How many questions are asked in an interview? (Plus types)
Updated 18 May 2023
Preparing to interview a candidate involves getting questions ready to help you determine their suitability for the role. This means asking the right questions and knowing how many to ask. If you're responsible for interviewing someone, knowing how many questions to ask can help you prepare. In this article, we explain how many questions are asked in an interview, describe the three stages of an interview and list interview question categories.
How many questions are asked in an interview?
Knowing how many questions are asked in an interview can help you to prepare for interviewing someone. While there's no exact figure for the ideal number of questions to ask a candidate, there are some factors that can help you determine a good range. One of these is the length of the interview. Naturally, a 15-minute interview affords less time for questions than one that lasts an hour. It's also useful to remember that you may want to allocate time at the beginning and the end of an interview to develop rapport and answer any of the candidate's questions.
For example, in an hour-long interview, you may allocate 10 minutes each to the beginning and end, leaving you 40 minutes to ask questions. If questions average five minutes to answer, prepare at least eight questions. It's useful to have additional questions, depending on answers and to clarify certain issues. It may be prudent to prepare one and a half times as many questions as you expect to ask. For a 40-minute interview with eight questions, this means preparing 12. Typically, you can expect to get through at least five or six questions in a 40-minute session.
3 stages of an interview
Here's an overview of the three stages of a typical interview session:
The introduction stage is when you first meet the candidate and develop some rapport before moving on to questions. This can involve introducing yourself by name and briefly explaining your position at the organisation. To develop rapport, you might ask them how the traffic was on the way to the interview, comment on the weather or other such matters. Part of this might be while you escort them to the interview room, during which you can give them some information about the organisation and the rooms or departments you pass on your way.
The introduction time depends on the duration of the overall interview. For an hour-long slot, you can leave up to 10 minutes, although it can be shorter if you feel it necessary. For an interview that's half an hour or less, a few minutes is sufficient. During this stage, you want to assess the candidate's communication skills, personality, confidence and professional attitude. You also want them to relax enough to give a genuine presentation of themselves. Once you've developed a little rapport and have settled into the interview room, you can proceed to the second stage.
2. Questions and answers
The second stage of an interview is the longest and is where you ask the questions you've prepared. While there are some questions that you might want to ask all candidates, with some categories of questions, you may want some options. For example, you may want to always include a behavioural question. This can be for assessing their soft skills or decision-making ability, so having options is useful. For example, during the introduction, you might quickly determine that the candidate has excellent communication skills and confidence.
In this case, you may decide that a question about their communication ability is unnecessary, so you'd want alternatives that assess aspects like decision-making or how they prioritise their workload. For every question, consider key points you want them to mention. Also, consider follow-up questions to get more detail and invite them to address these points. It's unnecessary to get through all the questions you've prepared, but don't dedicate too much time to each.
During the final stage of the interview, you can start to close and invite the candidate to ask their own questions. This stage can be roughly the same duration as the introduction stage, or slightly longer if the candidate has some good questions to ask. This is why it's acceptable to have a shorter introduction stage, as the candidate's own questions can be a useful way of assessing them. Once you're satisfied that you've asked a sufficient number of questions and have at least a few minutes left, ask the candidate if they have any questions of their own.
The candidate's own questions are part of either their preparation or ability to identify important points from the preceding interview. For this reason, leave it as an open invitation and avoid helping them formulate their questions. Give straightforward answers to any questions they have. Once they're done with their questions or the time slot has ended, you can thank them for taking the time to come in for the interview and end it. You can then accompany them to the exit and let them know you're going to contact them with their results.
4 categories of interview questions
A good way of getting the right number of questions is to sort them into categories. You can choose at least one question from each category or multiple from each, depending on the nature and priorities of the role. Although you may only intend to ask between five and eight questions over a 40-minute session, preparing 12 questions or more gives you increased options. For example, you may only require one iteration of a question that you ask all candidates. Conversely, behavioural questions can differ based on your impression of the candidate, so it's useful to have multiple options.
Here are some interview question categories to consider:
1. Behavioural questions
A behavioural question assesses the candidate's ability to act professionally in a workplace with other people. You can use these questions to assess key soft skills like communication, collaboration, problem-solving and customer service. There are broadly two approaches to this. One is to ask them to describe a previous situation and the other invites them to describe how they might handle a hypothetical one.
2. Motivation questions
Understanding the candidate's motivations can be useful for determining how likely they are to work well and remain with the organisation. They can also be useful for assessing the candidate's values to determine whether they align with those of the organisation. You can ask them why they're applying for the job, what interests them about the organisation, why they chose this field of work or what their professional goals are.
3. Performance questions
Performance or skills-based questions focus on the candidate's ability to perform their duties at work. Like behavioural questions, these can either be about past experiences or situational. For example, you might ask them about a certain task they listed on their CV and how they accomplished it within existing constraints. Alternatively, you can present them with a situation they might encounter at the organisation for which you're interviewing them and ask them how they'd perform the work.
4. Opinion-based questions
You can ask for the candidate's opinion on a matter to assess multiple factors. These questions often relate to the nature of their work. For example, you might ask a designer what they believe are the three most critical aspects of a successful design. You might ask a marketer what they believe is the key element to reaching the target audience. Opinion-based questions allow you to assess their prioritisation, knowledge of subject matter, decision-making skills and ability to formulate balanced and reasonable assessments.
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