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Interview Format and Sample Questions

You may also refer to additional interview questions used in actual recruitments for:

  • laboratory position) (PDF or Word)
  • clerical position) (PDF or Word)
  • managerial position) (PDF or Word)
  • computer support position) (PDF or Word)


The Guide's Interview section offers valuable information about structuring interview questions. Below are just a few highlights from the "GUIDE" as well as some sample questions. Your Personnel/Payroll Representative in the Natural Sciences' Business Office must review questions prior to beginning interviews.

  • Develop a standard set of questions to be asked of all applicants based on the requirements for the job.
  • Follow-up questions may be asked, but must be job-related.
  • The "GUIDE" outlines questions that are illegal to ask.
  • Open-ended questions elicit the most information, for example: "Describe...; Give us an example of.."
  • The best predictor of future performance is past performance. Therefore, asking applicants what they have actually done, as specifically as possible, will provide more valuable information than asking candidates what types of tasks they like or dislike, why they applied for this job; what they see as their strengths and weaknesses; how someone else would describe them, etc. It is easy to draw inferences from these latter types of questions that may be inaccurate and unfairly influence a hiring decision.
  • Below are sets of questions to assist you, including
    • general questions, and
    • questions specific to
      laboratory, clerical and manager positions.
    • NOTE: Before using any of these specific questions, be sure they relate to requirements for the position you are recruiting.


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Suggested Interview Format

Again, please reference the "GUIDE TO FAIR HIRING" which offers excellent suggestions for conducting effective interviews.

1. Introduction/Opening

  • Provide candidates with copies of the complete job description.
  • For candidates who submitted a resume only, ask them to come to the interview a few minutes early to complete a UCSC application form (and be sure you have application forms available.)
  • Introduce the selection committee and describe the campus, the unit, and this position's role within the unit along with the reason for the vacancy.
  • Starting off with an easier question or two might help put an applicant at ease.
  • General, overview questions may include: ..."We have quite a few specific questions that will provide you the opportunity to give us details about your past experience, but to start off, please give us a brief overview of your employment background as it relates to this position"; or, ..."Briefly describe how you might apply your educational and past work experience to this position."

2. Selected Interview questions (see sample questions below and/or additional interview questions for specific positions at bottom of this document)

3. Closing

  • Ask for a list of individuals to be contacted for references.
  • What is their availability.
  • Ask if there is anything they would like to add or if they have any questions.
  • You might want to encourage them to contact you if they have any questions.
  • Explain the timeframe for the remainder of the interviews and the selection process.
  • Discuss the designated schedule for this position, if there is a furlough, etc.
  • Discuss any funding issues of this position (soft-funded, anticipated end date, etc.).

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Sample Questions- Generic

Being Supervised

  • What methods have you found to be the most effective for you to receive feedback about your work?
  • Describe the level of independence you have worked with in the past.
  • What issues do you typically feel warrant involving your supervisor?

Interpersonal Skills, Team Work and Diversity

  • With respect to your interpersonal skills, describe the nature and frequency of interactions in your previous positions and with whom you interacted.
  • Can you give us an example or two of a difficult interaction, what made it difficult and how it was resolved?
  • What type of interaction do you consider difficult, why, and what is your approach in these situations?
  • How have you addressed conflicts in the work place?
  • Describe an experience in which you had to change the mind of an uncooperative or difficult person.
  • How do you effectively explain technical things to non-technical people?
  • Can you describe an environment in which you worked as a member of a work group team (versus an ad-hoc committee) and talk about what your style is when working in this kind of situation?
  • Describe a past situation in which you worked as a member of a team:
    • what was your role in the team?
    • what did or would you do to help the team function at its best?
    • if you perceived a problem within the team, what have you done or what would you do?
    • whose responsibility do you see it is to manage a team effectively?
  • This position will be working with students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
    • In what ways do you think culture and/or ethnicity impact both verbal and non-verbal communication?
    • Can you think of any examples of how cultural differences might come up in this job and how you might have to deal with them?
    • What, if any, has been your experience working or living with individuals of diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds?
    • The objective of this unit is to involve more minority students in theoretical and experimental research. In what ways do you think you could contribute to the commitment and spirit of such a program?
    • Have you ever had the opportunity to live in a culture different from the one into which you were born? What was that experience like for you and what did you learn about yourself?
    • What, if any, has been your experience explaining computer programs, general procedures and/or policies to individuals who do not speak English as their first language?
    • What are some of the things that are important for you to be aware of when providing explanations to these individuals?
  • How do you determine who your customers are, what their needs may be, and if those needs are being met?"

Analysis, Problem-Solving, Decision-Making, and Initiative

  • Describe a special project or ongoing responsibility that has required analysis and discuss the scope of the project, your role, and how you approached it.
  • Give an example in which you have been responsible for developing, recommending, and implementing a solution to a particular problem.
  • Do you have experience being involved with the development of a program or special project, and if so, could you explain your role in that process?
  • In the past, what percentage of projects have been assigned to you versus left up to you to identify the need for and initiate action? Can you give us an example of each?
  • Describe the types of issues you have had authority to make decisions on:
    • have these decisions been made independently?
    • what are the factors you considered before making a decision?
    • what have been the ramifications of these decisions?
  • There are a number of interdependencies between this unit and other campus units. What issues, problems or challenges do you anticipate might arise between offices charged with responsibilities for delivering different pieces of a process? Can you describe your style of communication and managing such interdependencies?
  • There is much attention these days to "quality management" and "process re-engineering". Can you describe your experience and philosophy with regard to these issues?


  • Describe from your past experience how you have approached situations that required flexibility in terms of:
    • coming in to a new environment and learning all new processes, policies and systems.
    • being in a familiar environment and needing to adapt to new processes and systems.
    • coming in to a new environment where some overall processes may be familiar but procedural details are new.
  • Can you provide an example of working in a rapidly changing environment that may include changes in what you had planned for any given day, organizational changes, technology changes, procedural changes, etc.

Computer Skills

  • Describe your typing or keyboard skills and the nature of the word processing projects you have done in the past.
  • Describe the computer systems you have worked on and give us examples of projects in which you have used the following:
    • word processing
    • spreadsheets
    • data base management
    • campus specific systems: FIS, PPS, and SIS


Forms Processing and Attention to Detail

  • Describe your experience with forms processing telling us about the types of forms and the volume involved.
  • What do you do to ensure your final product is thorough and accurate?
  • Give us an example of work you have done in the past that required close attention to detail.
  • What have been the ramifications of errors you may have made?
  • What has been the level of review of your work?
  • Can you give us an example or two when your work may have been returned for corrections, modifications, etc. and how often did this happen?

Organizational Skills, Setting Priorities, and Working with Deadlines

  • What techniques do you use to organize your work?
  • Can you give an example where you may have needed to organize materials and information for your own reference use as well as used by others?
  • Can you give us an example where you may have recognized organizational problems or inefficiency in your assigned job or in the way others were working and what did or would you do?
  • What are the things you consider when prioritizing your work?
  • What types of deadlines have you worked under in the past?
  • How did you ensure you would meet those deadlines?
  • Can you give us an example of working with frequent interruptions while meeting deadlines?
  • When given conflicting deadlines or competing demands, what have you done or what would you do?
  • This position involves both "people" and "paper" tasks. Give us an example of how you have handled, or would handle, a position that requires the ability to do both, often simultaneously.
  • Please give us an example of your normal workday: ongoing tasks, special projects, deadlines, interruptions, etc.
  • Describe the most recent situation in which you had more tasks than you could successfully fulfill? What did you do?

Writing Skills

  • Describe your writing skills and experience in terms of:
  • who is your audience normally?
  • are you writing under your own signature or others?
    • what is the nature of the writing?


  • Describe your budgetary experience, giving examples of preparing and managing budgets and the types of reports prepared.


  • Based on your experience and judgment, what types of information and situations do you consider confidential?
  • Can you give us an example of working with confidential information?
  • Can you give us an example of a sensitive or confidential situation in which you had information and had to decide what action should or should not be taken?

Policy Interpretation

  • Describe a situation in which you have interpreted policies or procedures:
    • to whom did you provide the interpretation?
    • where did you find the information that needed to be interpreted?
  • Can you give an example of working with a variety of complex and frequently changing policy and/or procedural information, including how you organize rapidly changing information that you may use routinely as well as infrequently?

Technical/Position Specific Requirements

  • Describe your general clerical skills with respect to:
    • 10-key calculator.
    • bookkeeping/accounting.
    • standard office equipment.
    • record keeping, filing.
    • knowledge of correct spelling, grammar, punctuation.

      Note: Supervisor, along with Personnel/Payroll Representative, may develop additional appropriate technical and position specific questions.


  • Describe your supervisory experience including the number and types of staff you have supervised.
  • Give us examples of how you have structured/managed the work of others relative to workloads and delegating ongoing and special projects.
  • How do you ensure that others are working in an organized manner and setting appropriate priorities for their own work?
  • Can you give us an example of a disciplinary problem you have handled?
  • Have you ever experienced a conflict with a subordinate and how was that resolved?
  • How have you or might you resolve a conflict between two subordinates?
  • What do you think are the key factors to effectively supervising people?
  • In supervising staff, what things have you learned that have made you a better supervisor?
  • Describe some things you have done to develop the skills of your staff? What was the outcome of this effort?
  • Have you prepared staff evaluations? Do you think they are useful and if so, why?
  • How do you handle the situation of a staff member who might not be capable of performing an on- going, expected responsibility?
  • What is the style of supervision that works best for you?

Hypothetical Questions

While asking hypothetical questions is fine, please keep in mind that you are more likely to get accurate information if you ask a person to describe their actual experience in a particular area since many people turn out to behave differently than they claimed.

Essential Functions- interviewing applicants with disabilities fairly.

  • Please refer to the "GUIDE TO FAIR HIRING" for suggestions.
  • Ask about a person's abilities, not about his or her disabilities.
  • You may ask ALL applicants the following (do not just ask this question of applicants who appear to have a disability if you have not asked it of all applicants): Outline the essential functions and expectations for the position and then ask "Can you perform this task, either with or without accommodation?"
    For example: "The essential functions for this position include working 8-12 and 1-5 Monday through Friday, working at one's desk and, specifically, in front of a computer, for extended periods of time; working in a large office with a great deal of noise and frequent interruptions, and processing a large volume of work to meet fixed deadlines. Can you perform these tasks, either with or without accommodation?"
  • You may ask ALL candidates to describe or demonstrate how they would perform a task.
    Physical requirements for positions (per ADA Officer 10/99: how to assess if applicants meet physical qualifications)
    • Example of qualification: ability to unload and lift boxes and pallets weighing up to 50 lbs. would be better phrased by stating "ability to repeatedly move or transport" vs. "lift" (shift in thinking about ways to accomplish tasks).
    • You cannot ask candidates about any disabilities, prior injuries, workers comp, medical information.
    • Practical tests are not good; don't know what adaptive equipment/accommodations someone might need; would have to ascertain that in advance; not practical or useful.
    • During interview, you can describe work environment (ex: this is a warehouse environment where most items weigh between ___ and ___ pounds; in the course of a ___ hour day, one can expect to repeatedly transport boxes weighing up to ____ pounds) and ask "With or without accommodation, are you able to repeatedly transport such items and can you describe for us the manner in which you would accomplish this".
    • DO NOT ask any question that would elicit information about someone's disability or what accommodation they may or may not need. If the candidate should introduce this topic, indicate that the interview is not the appropriate forum for that kind of discussion but confirm it is the University's policy to provide employment accommodations, and if they are the successful candidate, you can discuss that with them before or when they start work. If they say they can do this, interviewer has to believe them.
    • To try and confirm there are no prior problems in this area:
      • review written application materials to see if they have demonstrated ability to repeatedly transport heavy objects;
      • also in reference checks, describe work environment and physical requirements, asking if candidate did similar work for them and if it was done efficiently, effectively.
    • If after someone is hired, they are clearly unable to do this work and we're unable to reasonably accommodate, then can look at release during probation (if already career, then have to look towards possible medical separation).
    • To protect against possible injury or reinjury if after hired, individual begins to disclose history of physical limitations/problems, would need to engage in interactive process to ensure work is being done safely, possibly involve SHR's Employee Accommodation & Rehabilitation Coordinator to obtain medical information and job assessment.

You may also refer to additional interview questions used in actual recruitments for:

  • laboratory position) (PDF or Word)
  • clerical position) (PDF or Word)
  • managerial position) (PDF or Word)
  • computer support position) (PDF or Word)



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