ABC’s of Hiring #7: Types of Interview Questions

There are typically two types of questions interviewers ask candidates: situational questions and behavioral questions. Both are based on “critical actions” that are required to perform the job, but they differ in focus.

Situational interview questions

These questions are future oriented. Candidates are asked to imagine a set of circumstances and then indicate how they would respond in that situation. The advantage is that all candidates respond to the same hypothetical situation rather than describe experiences unique to them from their past. Also, situational questions allow the candidates who have no direct job experience relevant to a particular question to provide a thoughtful response.

Situational examples

  • 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?
  • You are in a meeting. Your manager blames you for not doing well on a task, in front of everyone. You believe that your manager is wrong, and that he doesn’t have 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?
  • 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 quarterly award. If you say yes, the Montreal group will probably win this award. Your boss is preaching costs, costs, costs, as well as co-operation with one’s peers. Your boss is highly competitive; he or she rewards winners. You are just as competitive. What would you do?

Behavioral interview questions

These questions are past-oriented. Candidates are asked to relate what they did in past jobs or life situations that are relevant to the particular job addressing relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success. Here, the idea is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. By asking questions about how the candidate handled situations similar to those they will face on the new job, employers can gauge how they might perform in the future.

Behavioral examples

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.

Behavioral questions answered

Candidates can prepare for behavioral type questions by practicing the STAR method which is a structured way to respond by discussing the specific situation, task, action and result of the situation you have been asked to address.

  • Situation:Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. This should describe specifics rather than general descriptions of past behavior.
  • Task:What goal were you working toward?
  • Action:Describe the actions you took to address the situation with detail and focus on yourself. What specific steps did you take and what was your contribution?
  • Result:Describe the outcome of your actions. What happened? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results.

Which approach is best?

Various analyses have found mixed results for which type of question will best predict future job performance. In most interviews, it is likely that both types of interview questions are asked. A range of questions can add variety for both the interviewer and the candidate. Lastly, the use of high quality questions, whether situational or behavioral based, is essential to make sure candidates provide meaningful responses that lead to insight into their capability to perform on the job.


Being well prepared for the interviewing process is critical to success both for the company and the candidate. Bob Harrington Associates can help you optimize your process and make the best match.


Bob Harrington Associates has been in the executive search business for 20 years and can help you find the best people for your business.

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