The next phase of the interview consists of the interviewer asking you questions to try to determine whether you would be successful in the position. Having knowledge of possible questions helps you to prepare points to include in your answers. Think about why a question is being asked. What does the employer really want to know?
Behaviour-based and situational/hypothetical questions are very common as they are considered to be more valid predictors of on-the-job performance.
Behaviour-based questions are the most popular type of interview question and usually begin with “Tell me about a time when...”, “Give me an example of...” or “Describe a situation in which...”. They’re designed to elicit information about how you have performed in the past because many interviewers believe that past behaviours are good indicators of how applicants will function in the future. Interviewers develop their questions around the traits and skills they consider necessary for succeeding in a position or organization. Common behaviour-based interview themes include the following:
The “STAR Approach” is a useful technique for answering behaviour-based questions:
Situation: Provide background and context
Task: Describe what you needed to do
Action: Explain what you actually did and how you did it
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions
There are a few things to note with this approach:
Aim to deliver your response in approximately 90 seconds: that’s a typical attention span for interviewers. Don’t worry too much if it’s 80 seconds or 100 seconds, but practice for the 90. If it’s much less than 90, you’re probably not giving enough detail to convince them. If you’re going on longer than that, you’re probably giving too much detail.
An interviewer will use situational/hypothetical questions to establish how you would react to and handle real-life situations on the job. For situational/hypothetical questions, candidates must have a good understanding of the job and its requirements. Here are some examples of this type of question:
Potential employers often require proof that you have the practical skills and savvy to successfully do the job. Skill-testing questions can be hands-on (e.g., programming on a computer, solving a complex math problem, etc.) and are more common in technical, scientific, and industrial/manufacturing fields. The following are examples of skill-testing questions:
If you know the answer, great! If not, don’t fake it. Instead, indicate your interest and desire to learn. If possible, indicate something else that may compensate for this lack of knowledge (e.g., “I’m not familiar with that programming language but I do have experience with...”)
When answering problem-solving questions, demonstrate your ability to process information quickly, think logically, and solve problems creatively. Employers place emphasis on the thought process rather than on the conclusion. Examples of problem-solving questions include the following:
The key is not to worry about getting the “right” answer but, rather, to demonstrate your logical thought process in solving the problem. The following five-step process is appropriate for handling most problem-solving questions:
Keep in mind, there is no right answer, only your answer.
Case interviews are used primarily by consulting firms and investment banking companies as part of their interview process to determine if a candidate has the qualifications to succeed. Case interviews are most similar to problem-solving questions as described in the previous section except you will be given many types of case interview questions. There are many online resources available to help you understand and practice the “case interview” approach.
In addition to asking the other types of questions mentioned, many employers rely on a series of standard questions, and you should prepare for them:
While responding to questions, use to your advantage information that the employer volunteers about the position and organization. Listen for verbal cues and hints (e.g., what is said, how it is said) and customize your responses accordingly, but be honest. For example, if you are excellent at multi-tasking and skilled at meeting tight deadlines, share this information if the interviewer just stated that the work environment is very fast paced. Furthermore, listen carefully to the question and how it is phrased. If it can be interpreted in more than one way, and if you are unsure what the interviewer really wants to discuss, ask for clarification.
This popular question may come up early in employment and professional school interviews and is a great opportunity to help the interviewer connect their organization or program's needs with what you have to offer. Preparing for this question can also be useful when having networking conversations.
When an interviewer asks this question, they are typically looking for those aspects of your life that are relevant to the job or field. As with any interview response, it's generally best to limit your answer to approximately 90-100 seconds. Depending on your story, this answer may be a bit longer than most other interview answers.
Consider: Where are you now? What experiences and skills have you had/used in the past? What are you excited about for the future?
You might begin with how you became interested in this profession/industry/role: when did you become interested? What contributed to that interest?
Starting from your relevant interests can help you articulate your main values early on in the interview and help the interviewer understand who you are.
What have you done to develop your skills (technical and/or transferable), knowledge and experience?
Connect these highlights to the job or field: state how this background is a great fit, both in terms of your abilities and interests. If you have time remaining, perhaps use it to highlight something that may not be related to the job/field but is unique or impressive about you.
Check out this diagram as a possible structure to help you develop an effective response:
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