Three Common Types of Interview Questions

There are three basic styles of interview questions used by HR and hiring managers.  Today, we’re going to explain them so you can prepare for your upcoming interview.  We’ll start with behavioral interview questions since they are the most common and then discuss traditional and structured questions as well.  When scheduling your interview with a recruiter, HR or the hiring manager, there’s no harm in asking what category of interview questions that you should prepare for.

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral interview questions are by far the most common types of questions asked during a non-technical job interview.  These questions are asking for candidates to tell a story about something that has happened in the past.  The reason these are so popular among HR is because studies have shown that the way people behave in previous situations is a really good indicator of how they are going to act in the future.   Because these behavioral interview questions are so widely used, it is where we focus most of our interview coaching practice.

A few examples of behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time you had a disagreement with a co-worker.
  • Describe a complex problem that you fixed with a single solution.
  • Talk about a time when you had to work in close collaboration with someone whose personality was very different from yours.
  • Tell me about a time you had to juggle multiple competing deadlines?  How did you prioritize them?  What was the result?

Behavioral questions can be simple or contain multiple questions that you need to answer.  Take notes on the question to make sure you hit all of the questions the interviewers are looking for and answer the questions completely.  The STAR format is an excellent way to organize your response.

Structured Interview Questions

Structured questions are very similar to behavioral interview questions except they aren’t asking about past performance.  These questions are more forward-looking and ask ‘what you would do’ instead of ‘what have you done.’  These are beneficial for entry-level positions and internships where people might not have as much background to draw from.

A few examples of structured interview questions:

  • How would you handle a situation where your supervisor asked you to do something unethical?
  • Imagine you are very busy with a large company project, and your manager asks you to take on additional, unrelated work.  What would you do?
  • A furious client walks up to your desk. He believes that his being over-billed for services your company provided. After reviewing his information, you learn that the bill was, in fact, valid. How would you handle this situation?

Traditional Interview Questions

We call these the ‘mirror’ questions because they are the answers that candidates can rehearse in a mirror and fine tune their answers.  These are pretty straight forward and easy to draft an answer.  There isn’t any particular formula for responding to these questions.  Traditional interview questions also don’t add a lot of value to the hiring managers, so we are seeing a lot less of them in the interview process.

A few examples of traditional interview questions:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • What is your greatest strength/weakness?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • Why do you want to be [insert job title]?
  • Tell me about yourself?

The one exception, is the ‘tell me about yourself’ question.  In most interviews this question, in some variation is used to break the ice and move the discussion forward.  Another variation of this question is ‘tell me about your work experience and education that has prepared you for this position.’  With few exceptions, we recommend that applicants focus on work history, education and any relevant training or experiences that relate to the job.   This is not the time to talk about your love for the tuba, favorite cooking shows or your son in cub scouts, unless of course you’re interviewing for an orchestra, the food network or the forest service respectively.

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