Typical Interview Questions

Many interview questions will be straightforward ("How long did it take you to complete your degree?") Others will be vague ("Tell me about yourself.") Some may seem completely irrelevant ("What is your favorite color and why?") Some will test your skills, and others will seem like they came out of left field. Many in-depth resources exist on types of interview questions and how to answer them. A Google search will quickly lead you to some of the odd or industry-specific interview questions you may hear. It is important, though, to be familiar with the main types of interview questions you might face and the areas that most employers will likely ask about.

Aside from the relatively straightforward line of questioning, there are some interview styles you need to be aware of. The first, and perhaps most common, is the behavioral interview. In this type of interview, the basic premise is that the past predicts the future; more specifically, past behavior predicts future behavior. In other words, if you acted as a superior leader on a project for another company and can demonstrate that you did so, the theory is that you will be a superior project leader for the interviewing company as well.

Where does this leave someone with little or no work experience, or unrelated experience? That is a good question. Even though the interviewer will know you are new to the workforce, chances are you will still be faced with this line of questioning. "Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a difficult problem on your own. Give me an example of how you have demonstrated the ability to work as a team member and what were your contributions." You will need to mine your past for examples of how you demonstrated desirable skills, attitudes, and behaviors in the past. This may come from volunteer activities, club activities, school activities and projects, summer employment, and any other situation where you demonstrated the required skills. You will then need to show what you did and what the result was. In other words, you will need to tell a story.

If your experience is not directly related to the target position, use similar situations. Broader issues, such as problem solving, can be addressed quite easily. Most everyone has dealt with a situation that required some creative thinking to solve a problem or challenge. If you are asked about specific skills related to the job that you do not yet have, again, try to find a similar experience that demonstrates your use of related skills, processes, etc. to show that, while your experience may not be exactly in line with the position, you have many related and applicable skills. Being prepared for this type of answer requires some research about the position ahead of time. Then, you can formulate answers to potential questions in advance so you can confidently present those skills, situations, and stories that show how you are more than ready to step into this new position with ease.

When answering this line of questioning, use the STAR or SAR format: This stands for Situation or Task, Action taken, and end Result. When telling your story, relate the situation you faced or the task requiring attention. Describe how you took action to address the situation or task, and describe the end result. Obviously, choose an example that had a positive outcome. No need to inform an employer that you tried something and failed. We have all done this at one time or another, but the interview is not the time to talk about it. Choose your best examples instead.

Another line of questioning is specifically designed to generate stress. These are, not surprisingly, called stress questions. They may require quick thinking, put you on the spot, or use any number of techniques designed to make you sweat. For example, a group of interviewers may ask a mathematician to describe how to solve a simple, well-known problem. After the candidate gives a correct answer, the interviewers tell the candidate that the answer is incorrect and then watch the reaction. Another example may be if the interviewer picks up a pen and tells the candidate to "sell" it in 60 seconds or less.

The purpose of stress questions is to determine how you handle pressure. The interviewers are not as concerned with the answers as they are the reaction. With this in mind, you can relax a little when faced with stress questions because you understand the motive behind them. The Quintessential Careers Web site provides a comprehensive list of potential job interview questions and possible answers. Of course, how you answer the questions depends on your unique circumstances; however, the list provides an idea of options and methods for approaching difficult questions. See the list at: http://www.quintcareers.com/interview_question_database/interview_questions_database.html

Other types of stress questions are those that you may have read about online or in articles about strange interview questions. They include the oddball questions that have no real answer, such as, “Which is better, chocolate or vanilla, and why?” While many are strange, the idea behind these types of questions is to see how you handle pressure and to gauge your thought processes, particularly while on the spot. If you enter the interview prepared for the possibility of strange questions, you will not be taken off guard, or at least not as much. Not every interview will use these methods (and some companies are moving away from this type of questioning), but be aware that you may be hit with some off-topic questions.