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Traditional Style Questions

TRADITIONAL STYLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS make it much harder to stand out from the crowd, but it is still possible.

Most job seekers anticipate being asked traditional interview questions, therefore, they have answers prepared. Employers who ask traditional questions are often frustrated with the answers they receive, because people are ‘too prepared’ and answers all start sounding the same. This makes it hard to know which candidate is the best fit.  For example, when an employer asks, “What are your weaknesses?” answers often sound rehearsed. 

When I am helping clients prepare for an interview, I ask both behavioural and traditional questions because not every interviewer is familiar with behavioural style interviewing. However, you will soon see that if you are prepared to answer behavioural style questions, you will be better prepared to respond to the more traditional questions too.

As mentioned in the post ‘Behavioural Interviews‘,  it is much easier to talk about your knowledge, skills, abilities and attributes for the position through an example or story rather than speculation or theory. So even if you are asked a traditional question, answering with a story will help you stand out.

For example, you could answer the question, “Do you have customer service experience?” by telling a story about a time you had an unhappy customer and outline the steps you took to handle the complaint, including how you resolved the situation so there was a successful outcome.  This type of story will stick with the interviewer and help you stand out from others who say, “Yes, I have customer service experience.”

One Resume Pro client was asked the question, “Do you have experience with Excel?”.  They answered with a story about how they managed their son’s baseball team.  When they first started in the role of manager, they discovered that all team stats were recorded in Excel. They got help from the previous team manager, and they used the Internet, including YouTube videos, to learn and problem solve the software.  When they realized the power of Excel, they saw how it might be used to streamline some things at work, so they registered for a course.  They then talked about how they started using Excel at work to manage their client list and prepare proposals.  In the interviewer’s mind, this person will stand out over the others who answer with “Yes, I have used Excel”.

If you practice your answers to behavioural style questions, you will be prepared to answer with a story, even if the interviewer asks you a traditional question.  (Note: Preparing is different than memorizing.) 

Below you will find two examples of how you can change a traditional style question to a behavioural style question.

Changing Traditional Questions to Behavioural Questions

Example 1 – Do you have computer skills?

The question “Do you have computer skills?” is a traditional style question.  It is tempting to answer with yes or no, which is of  little help to the employer – and you definitely won’t stand out from the crowd.  If you are tempted to offer a short answer to an interview question, ask yourself:

  • What is the employer  really asking?
  • What is the employer looking for?
  • What will be important to this position?

Below you will find several examples of how a computer skills question might be asked using a behavioural style.  You can see how much easier it is for interviewees to share information when answering questions this way.  Additionally, employers will get the information they need, which really makes this a win/win style of question. 

  • Tell me about a time you had to learn a new software program.
  • Describe a time you used an Excel spreadsheet to create a report.
  • Tell me about your experience using QuickBooks to produce financial reports.
  • Describe a time you used social media to share a message with customers.
  • Tell me about the computer skills you used to manage a project.

If you don’t answer with a story, the interviewer might assume you don’t have experience to share.  In your stories, try to include information about your knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes (KSAO) whenever you can.  For example, you can talk about:

  • Your training in computers or software (knowledge).
  • How you have applied your computer skills on the job (skills).
  • The software you have used, how you used it, and how you demonstrated your skill level (skills).
  • Your natural abilities e.g. how you are able to learn new software quickly (abilities).
  • The personal attributes that make you good at computer software, e.g. a story that shows you as curious, patient, persistent (attributes).

Example 2: Do you have management experience?

The question, “Do you have management experience?” is a traditional style question.  Again, it is tempting to answer yes or no, but there are other options. To practice, think about how this question would sound as a behavioral style question.  Below you will find several examples.  

  • Tell me about your most challenging experience managing a team.
  • Describe a time you had to take the lead at work.
  • Tell me about a time you had to take the lead without having the title of manager.
  • Describe a time you helped a team adapt to change.
  • Tell me about a time you had to provide difficult feedback to a staff member.
  • Tell me about a time you had to train a new team member.

If you are asked about your leadership or management experience, tell a story that includes your knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes.  Below you will find several examples.

  • Any training you have taken that has given you insight into management or leadership (knowledge)
  • How you have used your management/leadership skills in past work (skills)
  • A time you demonstrated your skills through volunteer or personal life situations (skills)
  • A situation where you drew on your natural leadership abilities (abilities)
  • How your personal traits have helped you in leadership positions (other attributes)

Traditional Style Interview Questions

Here are some examples of traditional style questions you might be asked in an interview:
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do you plan to be in 5 years?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • What training have you taken lately?
  • Are you successful and what does that mean?
  • What are your greatest accomplishments?
  • Why did you leave your last position?
  • How would your last manager describe you?
  • What skills do you bring to this job?
  • How does your education prepare you for this position?
  • Where have you worked in the past?
  • What would your past supervisors/co-workers say about you if I called?
  • Can you work under pressure and tight deadlines?
  • How do you handle difficult coworkers/managers
  • Do you prefer working independently or as part of a team?
  • Do you provide excellent customer service?
  • Do you have a good attendance record?
  • Do you have experience in ….?
  • What do you know about …?
  • Do you have a good safety record?

Next Steps

  1. Create a list of traditional questions you might be asked (see ‘Traditional Style Interview Questions’ above for some ideas)
    1. You can also search online for interview questions for your field (e.g., search ‘Interview Questions for Executive Directors’; ‘Interview Questions for Managers’; ‘Interview Questions for Nurses’)
  2. Record five traditional style questions you think you might be asked
    1. For example, ‘How do you handle stress?’; ‘Are you a team player?’; ‘What is your management style and philosophy?’; ‘What do you know about strategic planning?’; ‘Do you have experience in fundraising?’
  3. Change each question so that it becomes a behavioural style
    1. Try starting the question with, “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a time when…” or “How did you handle…”
  4. Think about how you might answer each of these questions now
    1. What examples could you provide? 
    2. What stories could you tell?
  5. Write a few notes that will help you remember the story or stories you might tell an employer
  6. Contact Resume Pro Canada if you have questions about how you might prepare for an interview; email or call (705) 745-1607

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