How to Answer Interview Questions Without a Right Answer

A woman is interviewing a new candidate for employment
••• Christopher Futcher / Getty Images

There are some interview questions that don’t have a right – or a wrong – answer. What's the best way to respond to them? Some of these questions can be tricky, and so the ideal response will depend upon the question and what the hiring manager is looking for.

Here are some of the different types of interview questions without a right answer, with tips for giving the best responses.

Types of Interview Questions Without a Right or Wrong Answer

There are three different types of these interview questions:

  • Hypothetical questions
  • Open-ended questions
  • Behavioral questions

Hypothetical Interview Questions

Hypothetical questions like, "How would you calculate the amount of toilet paper required to span the state of New Jersey?" are designed to reveal how you think and reason.

There will be no correct answer, but interviewers will be evaluating the quality of your logical analysis.

Start by asking questions to gather as much information as possible from the interviewer in order to clarify the problem. For instance, in the example above you might ask if they would like the measurement to be north to south or east to west.

Then, share your thought process in addressing the problem. This might include describing how you would gather the information which you will need in order to make a calculation or solve the problem as well as the actual method you would use for your calculation.

For the example above, you might state that you would check with geographic resources on New Jersey to determine the length (or width) of the state in miles.

After determining the length of the toilet tissue in the average roll, you would then convert the length of the state in miles to feet and divide that number by the average number of feet in a roll of toilet tissue to determine the number of rolls required to span the state.

Open-Ended Interview Questions

Open-ended questions like, "Why should we hire you?" or "Describe yourself" also have no right answer. You should capitalize on these opportunities by sharing your most compelling assets with the employer.

Prepare for open-ended questions by assessing the requirements for your target job. Make a list of your assets (like skills, knowledge, personal qualities, certifications, experiences) which match the key job requirements. For each relevant asset, think of an example of how you have applied that strength to meet a challenge, solve a problem, or add value to an organization.

As you answer open-ended questions like “Why should we hire you?”, it’s also a good strategy to use your response not only to promote your own abilities, but also to incorporate some employer-centered needs-based (consultative) analysis into the conversation. Try to couch your answer in a way that shows you are excited about providing a solution for the employer: “XYZ’s stated mission is to provide unparalleled excellence in customer service, a goal that I share and that I consistently achieved while improving customer ratings by 35% in FY 20XX. I would welcome the opportunity to provide even greater year-over-year gains for your organization.”   

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral questions are designed to determine if you have the right skills, attitudes, or qualities to succeed in a specific job. These types of queries will often contain a lead phrase like, "Give me an example of when you ...."

Basically, by asking these questions the interviewer is trying to ascertain how your past behavior in a difficult or challenging work situation might predict how you would react to pressured situations with their organization.

Each candidate will answer differently based on their own experience. Though there will be no single right answer, the best possible answer will be one which clearly references specific instances where the behavior or skill was in evidence.

The best approach is to:

  • Describe a situation or challenge which you encountered
  • Relate how you intervened, referencing the skills or behavior in question
  • Describe the outcome, emphasizing how you generated some positive result or outcome

Of course, it will be hard to prepare in advance for all possible behavioral questions. However, if you analyze the requirements of your target job, you can anticipate many of the qualities that employers will target with behavioral questions – qualities like resourcefulness, leadership, teamwork, creativity, or a strong work ethic.

In addition, if you review each of your resume citations and think of your successes in each role and the strengths which enabled you to succeed, you will be ready to respond with specifics to many behavioral questions.