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Productivity
Published: April 27, 2017

I Nailed Every Job Interview by Understanding the Intention Behind Each Question

Interviews can be terrifying. It is terrifying, as it is hard to predict what the interview questions will be like.

More often than not, the hiring managers like to ask questions about our past experiences. If we have not prepared a story or two to cope with this, we sit tongue-tied.

Behavioral Interview Questions Are the Hot Items in Interviews

We’d like to introduce to you the term “behavioral interview questions”. Behavioral questions aim to get information about how the interviewees behaved in the past.

By knowing how they behaved in the past, managers can get a sense of how they will behave in the future. The important question every interviewer wants to know the answer to is: will this person work well with our organization? 1

You may have heard some of these questions in the past:

  • Describe a time when your team or company was undergoing some changes. How did that impact you, and how did you adapt?
  • Can you talk about a long-term project that you managed? How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Give me an example of a time when you did not meet a client’s expectation. What happened, and how did you attempt to rectify the situation?

Their formats are varying. But more or less they can be reduced to a simple question which starts with: “Can you tell me a time…”.

Categories of Behavioral Questions

Here, we categorise all the behavioral questions based on the knowledge of experienced hiring managers.

If you are an interviewer, this article may serve as a reference for preparing interview questions; if you are an interviewee, by knowing the forms and expectations of these questions, you may be better equipped in the preparation of an interview.

1. Teamwork

As said by Pamela Skillings, the founder of Big Interview, interview questions about teamwork are the most common.

This type of questions aims to know if the potential employee will be a good team player. After all, the ability to cooperate is crucial in an organization, and hiring managers are responsible for finding out if the potential employees are cooperative.

Examples

  • Can you tell me a time when you had to work closely with someone with a personality which was very different from yours?
  • Please tell me a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. Did you handle it well?
  • Did you once try to get information from someone who, for whatever reason, was not responsive?

Expectations

  • Provide one or two of the most relevant examples demonstrating your skills to cooperate with others well.
  • The ultimate goal of the interviewee is to show that they are easy and a joy to work with.
  • Understand the definition of teamwork the job requires. For example, a start-up company may look for employees who work well with others by taking different roles. Or a multinational company may look for newcomers who can adapt quickly to the established working environment.
  • In order to show their cooperativeness, interviewees should demonstrate their ability to help a team succeed, instead of emphasising on one individual’s success.
  • Show respect for the previous teammates, instead of raising complaint or criticism.
  • According to Alison Doyle, there are some qualities or skills that define the ability to work well in a team. It is best if the interviewee can show some of these skills or qualities, such as listening, reliability, respect, and timeliness.

2. Problem Solving

Questions regarding problem solving are another type of questions that are often asked in an interview. These questions aim to know if the employer can manage problems smoothly.

Examples

  • Describe a time when your company was under a change. How did you adapt to it?
  • Describe the most challenging work you have ever encountered. How did you handle that?
  • Tell me a time when you faced a difficult colleague. How did you work with him or her?

Expectations

  • When answering these questions, interviewees are expected to provide examples demonstrating they are capable of solving a problem strategically.
  • The problems discussed are expected to be about professional matters, instead of arbitrary daily chores.
  • Besides the concrete problem, interviewees are expected to describe how they approached the problem.
  • Through talking about their approaches to the problems, interviewees are expected to demonstrate their excellence in problem solving and critical thinking.
  • Interviewees should not overly emphasise their accomplishments; instead, they are expected to remain humble, and articulate their growth once they solved the problems.

3. Motivation and Value

It can be said that the purpose of the interview is to find out what kind of person the interviewee is. That is why questions aiming to know what motivates them are popular.

However, most of the time, these questions are not asked directly; very often they are hidden questions that may seem random at first!

Examples

  • Tell me about a time when you worked hard to achieve something.
  • Tell me about a time when you tried hard to help a person.
  • Tell me a time you tried hard to learn a new hobby.

Expectations

  • Handle unexpected questions well. Lily Zhang suggests that interviewees should smile first at these questions before they come up with an answer.
  • And since these questions look random, the interviewees are also expected to explicitly address the focus of these questions, which is to answer: what motivates them.
  • These questions do not expect a solid “right” answer. There is no “right” answer to them. In this light, interviewees are expected to give an enthusiastic and coherent response, despite what the content is mainly about 2.

4. Failure

The questions asking interviewees how they faced failure may be the most difficult kind of all. They are difficult, as they require skills to answer them. Interviewers especially look at how the interviewees address their past failure without tarnishing themselves.

Note that these questions are not designed to embarrass the interviewees. The hiring managers ask these questions, as they hope to know: (1) how the interviewees performed in the previous job, and (2) whether they can learn from failure.

Examples

Questions like these can be blunt, as like:

  • Describe a time when you failed.

Or they may come in a more implicit manner:

  • Tell me about a time when you were under a lot of pressure.
  • Describe a time when you had difficulty leading a group of people.
  • Describe a time when you faced communication break-down.

Expectations

  • Be honest when talking about failure.
  • Describe the failure, while remaining positive about it.
  • Humbly admit the fault, instead of blaming others for it, or denying the failure.
  • Since the goal of these questions is to find out how the interviewees handle failure, interviewees are expected to talk more about the qualities and skills they obtained out of handling the failure.
  • Avoid talking about some detrimental failure. You are instead expected, as suggested by Alison Doyle, to talk about failures that happened in the last job, which need not be tightly related to the future job.3
  • It is best if the interviewees can show how they conceptualise success and failure in general.

5. Achievement

The last type of questions is about your personal achievements. These questions may simply ask for one’s talents. Yes, they are questions eliciting information about one’s skills and qualities. However, it is also through these questions that the interviewers gain more understanding about how the interviewees view success, and what their future goal will be.

Examples

  • Can you describe a time when you successfully lead a project?
  • What was your biggest achievement recently?

Expectations

  • Specify one or some of the achievements to show your capability.
  • Interviewees should avoid being overly specific or spending too much time talking about their achievement. Otherwise, they may appear to be boasting themselves.
  • It is better, instead, if the interviewees can elaborate on their strategy that helped them accomplish their goal.
  • Align past achievements with the job you are applying for.
  • Near the end of the answer, it will be best if the interviewees could link their past achievement to the future. That is to say: what is the future goal he or she wants to accomplish?
  • And finally, it is wise if the interviewees can relate their future plan to the job they are applying for, which means interviewees should state that the job is a part of their life plan.

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