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Career Advice – Types of Interview Questions

Meeting at a workplace

In interviews that are considered to be structured there are typically two types of questions interviewers will use: behavioral questions and situational questions. Both types of questions are based on critical incidents that are required to perform the job but they differ in their focus.

Analyses have found mixed results for which type of question will best predict future job performance of an applicant. For example, some studies have shown that situational type questions have better predictability for job performance in interviews, while, other researchers have found that behavioral type questions are better at predicting future job performance of applicants. In actual interview settings it is not likely that the sole use of just one type of interview question is asked. A range of questions can add variety for both the interviewer and applicant. In addition, the use of high-quality questions, whether behavioral or situational based, is essential to make sure that candidates provide meaningful responses that lead to insight into their capability to perform on the job.

Behavior Based Interviewing:

Behavior based interviewing is a technique used by employers to learn about how you have behaved in past experiences in order to better predict how you will perform in their job. When answering this type of interview question, it is very important to refer to a specific situation and talk about what you did and how it turned out.

It is imperative that you practice for this type of interview, to allow yourself to become comfortable speaking about your past experiences as they relate to this job. How to prepare for a behaviour based interview:

  • Review the job description and highlight the skills required to perform effectively in this position
  • For each skill required, think about 2 or 3 examples from your past educational, work or extra-curricular experiences of when you have demonstrated this skill
  • Practice speaking about each related experience – remember to explain:
  • The situation in which you demonstrated the skill
  • The challenges you faced in association with this experience
  • The actions you took in this situation
  • The end result or outcome of the experience

Sample Behavior Based Questions:

  • Describe a situation when you were able to identify a conflict between two individuals and were instrumental in the solution to that conflict.
  • How do you behave when you encounter a problem with a co-worker?
  • Tell us about a time when you experienced a steep learning curve in a job. What did you do to learn all the material you needed to know?
  • How do you decide what gets top priority when scheduling your time?

Example of How to Answer Behavior Based Question:

Sample Question –

Please describe a time when you were working within a team and you experienced difficulties meeting the project deadline due to communication problems. How did you handle this problem?

Sample Response –

During my internship with ABC Company, I was working with a team of 5 individuals to evaluate 3 new software packages to determine the best replacement for the current assembly line computer system (Situation). We were supposed to meet weekly to review each package and discuss our concerns, but each week one or two of the team members were away on holidays and we were continually canceling meetings. Because each person represented the interests of a different department, no consensus could be reached unless all of the group members were present. We needed adequate time to review each new package, but we were faced with a deadline date less than 2 weeks away to reach a decision about the best new product so that the package could be purchased and put into place by October 1st (Challenges). To resolve the problem, I contacted each group member to obtain their holiday schedule over the next two weeks. After reviewing the schedules, I suggested 5 possible times we could meet over the next two weeks in order to meet our deadline date. From their feedback regarding these days, I arranged 3 meeting times to discuss each of the packages and asked that if a member was unable to attend, they send a representative from their department in their place (Actions). We met as scheduled on all three occasions, and only one member missed one meeting due to an emergency with their daughter, but their replacement fit in well and offered some valuable input to the group. Our deadline was reached 2 days ahead of schedule and the new software was in place by September 21st. From this experience, I learned the importance of communicating as a group and finding creative solutions when the group is faced with scheduling challenges (Result).

Situational interview questions

Situational interview questions ask job applicants to imagine a set of conditions and then specify how they would respond in that situation; hence, the questions are future oriented. One advantage of situational questions is that all interviewees respond to the same hypothetical situation rather than describe experiences unique to them from their past. Another advantage is that situational questions allow respondents who have had no direct job experience relevant to a particular question to provide a hypothetical response. Two core aspects of the SI are the development of situational dilemmas that employees encounter on the job, and a scoring guide to evaluate responses to each dilemma.

Situational examples

  • You are in charge of truck drivers in Toronto. Your colleague is in charge of truck drivers in Montreal. Both of you report to the same person. Your salary and bonus are affected 100% by your costs. Your colleague is in desperate need of one of your trucks. If you say no, your costs will remain low and your group will probably win the Golden Flyer award for the quarter. If you say yes, the Montreal group will probably win this prestigious award because they will make a significant profit for the company. Your boss is preaching costs, costs, costs, as well as co-operation with one’s peers. Your boss has no control over accounting who are the score keepers. Your boss is highly competitive; he or she rewards winners. You are just as competitive; you are a real winner! What would you do in this situation?
  • You are in a meeting. Your manager blames you for not doing well on a task, in front of all your peers and managers from other divisions. You believe that your manager is wrong in his critique, and that he might have come to this conclusion hastily without knowing all the information. You feel you are being treated unfairly in front of your peers. You feel that your reputation may be affected by this critique. What would you do in this situation?
  • You are managing a work group and notice that one of your employees has become angry and hostile in recent weeks, to the point of disrupting the entire group. What would you do?
  • A general request has been issued by the Dean for someone to serve on a new joint government/industry/university committee on business education. The objective of the committee is to design the budgeting allocation for the Faculty for the next fiscal year. It is well known that you have the necessary skill and expertise to improve the chances that the Faculty will receive budget increases for future operations. You have been told that it will require 2–3 days per month of your time for the next 9 months. Your tenure review is one year away. Although you think you have a good publication record, you have no guarantee of tenure at this point. You are concerned because you have already fallen behind on an important research project that you are pursuing with a colleague at another university. What, if anything, would you do?

Other types of questions

Other possible types of questions that may be asked in an interview include: background questions, job experience questions, and puzzle type questions. A brief explanation of each follows.

Background questions include a focus on work experience, education, and other qualifications. For instance, an interviewer may ask “What experience have you had with direct sales phone calls?”

Job experience questions may ask candidates to describe or demonstrate job knowledge. These are typically highly specific questions. For example, one question may be “What steps would you take to conduct a manager training session on safety?”

The puzzle interview was popularized by Microsoft in the 1990s, and is now used in other organizations. The most common types of questions either ask the applicant to solve puzzles or brain teasers (e.g., “Why are manhole covers round?”) or to solve unusual problems (e.g., “How would you weigh an airplane without a scale?”).

Case

A case interview is an interview form used mostly by management consulting firms and investment banks in which the job applicant is given a question, situation, problem or challenge and asked to resolve the situation. The case problem is often a business situation or a business case that the interviewer has worked on in real life. In recent years, company in other sectors like Design, Architecture, Marketing, Advertising, Finance and Strategy have adopted a similar approach to interviewing candidates. Technology has transformed the Case based and Technical interview process from a purely private in-person experience to an online exchange of job skills and endorsements.

Panel

Another type of job interview found throughout the professional and academic ranks is the panel interview. In this type of interview the candidate is interviewed by a group of panelists representing the various stakeholders in the hiring process. Within this format there are several approaches to conducting the interview. Example formats include;

Presentation format – The candidate is given a generic topic and asked to make a presentation to the panel. Often used in academic or sales-related interviews.

Role format – Each panelist is tasked with asking questions related to a specific role of the position. For example one panelist may ask technical questions, another may ask management questions, another may ask customer service related questions etc.

Skeet shoot format – The candidate is given questions from a series of panelists in rapid succession to test his or her ability to handle stress filled situations.

The benefits of the panel approach to interviewing include: time savings over serial interviewing, more focused interviews as there is often less time spend building rapport with small talk, and “apples to apples” comparison because each stake holder/interviewer/panelist gets to hear the answers to the same questions.

Stress

Stress interviews are still in common use. One type of stress interview is where the employer uses a succession of interviewers (one at a time or en masse) whose mission is to intimidate the candidate and keep him/her off-balance. The ostensible purpose of this interview: to find out how the candidate handles stress. Stress interviews might involve testing an applicant’s behavior in a busy environment. Questions about handling work overload, dealing with multiple projects, and handling conflict are typical.

Another type of stress interview may involve only a single interviewer who behaves in an uninterested or hostile manner. For example, the interviewer may not make eye contact, may roll his eyes or sigh at the candidate’s answers, interrupt, turn his back, take phone calls during the interview, or ask questions in a demeaning or challenging style. The goal is to assess how the interviewee handles pressure or to purposely evoke emotional responses. This technique was also used in research protocols studying stress and type A (coronary-prone) behavior because it would evoke hostility and even changes in blood pressure and heart rate in study subjects. The key to success for the candidate is to de-personalize the process. The interviewer is acting a role, deliberately and calculatedly trying to “rattle the cage”. Once the candidate realizes that there is nothing personal behind the interviewer’s approach, it is easier to handle the questions with aplomb.

Example stress interview questions:

  • Sticky situation: “If you caught a colleague cheating on his expenses, what would you do?”
  • Putting you on the spot: “How do you feel this interview is going?”
  • Popping the balloon: (deep sigh) “Well, if that’s the best answer you can give … ” (shakes head) “Okay, what about this one …?”
  • Oddball question: “What would you change about the design of the hockey stick?”
  • Doubting your veracity: “I don’t feel like we’re getting to the heart of the matter here. Start again – tell me what really makes you tick.”

Candidates may also be asked to deliver a presentation as part of the selection process. The “Platform Test” method involves having the candidate make a presentation to both the selection panel and other candidates for the same job. This is obviously highly stressful and is therefore useful as a predictor of how the candidate will perform under similar circumstances on the job. Selection processes in academic, training, airline, legal and teaching circles frequently involve presentations of this sort.

Technical

This kind of interview focuses on problem solving and creativity. The questions aim at the interviewee’s problem-solving skills and likely show their ability in solving the challenges faced in the job through creativity. Technical interviews are being conducted online at progressive companies before in-person talks as a way to screen job applicants.

Telephone

Telephone interviews take place if a recruiter wishes to reduce the number of prospective candidates before deciding on a shortlist for face-to-face interviews. They also take place if a job applicant is a significant distance away from the premises of the hiring company, such as abroad or in another state or province.

Video

Video interviews are a modern variation of telephone interviews. Prospective candidates are asked preset questions using computer software then their immediate responses are recorded. These responses are then viewed and evaluated by recruiters to form a shortlist of suitable candidates for face-to-face interviews

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