Interviewing Beyond “Tell Me About Yourself”

🕑 6 minutes read | Oct 03 2023 | By Richard Head, TTA Learning Consultant

Interviewing isn’t just about “putting your best foot forward,” as the old saying goes. It’s presenting yourself as THE candidate who can help your prospective employer achieve their business goals. It means understanding what the employer wants—and doesn’t want—in a new hire. You’re setting yourself apart from every other candidate applying for the job. And that means understanding the kinds of interview questions you’ll need to answer—and knowing how to answer them so that you’re the standout candidate.

Three Types of Interview Questions

You should always be prepared for a generic question such as, “What do you know about our company, our competitors, our products, this division, and this position?” If you haven’t done your homework, failing to answer this question will almost certainly shorten the interview and disqualify you in the interviewer’s eyes. That said, at the end of this post, we’ll examine the part of the interview where you turn the tables and you’re the one asking the questions.

There are three primary categories of interview questions that form today’s interviews. What you probably won’t get a lot of are the “Tell me about yourself” kinds of questions that persisted in the past. What you will get are behavioral questions, situational questions, and what I call “wildcard” or “blue sky” questions.

  1. Behavioral-Based Interview Questions are about what happened and what you did.
  2. Situational Interviewing Questions are about what might happen and what you would do.
  3. Wildcard Questions, which are related to situational questions, get at elements of your character and your values.

Behavioral interview questions have been used extensively for the past 30 years or so because it’s been shown that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. So, behavioral interview questions ask about what situations you faced and what you did about them.

Behavioral interviewing consists of a simple, 3-step formula for asking questions, sometimes known as the SAR or STAR method. The interviewer will ask you about:

  1. The Situation (or Task) you were involved in…
  2. The Action(s) you took…
  3. The Results of your actions. Many employers will also ask about what you learned from this experience and how you applied it in other situations.

Another variant you might see is the acronym SHARE:

  1. Situation
  2. Hindrance
  3. Action
  4. Results
  5. Evaluation

Here’s a quick example of a behavioral interview question:

“Tell me about a project you undertook that required an approach that was very different from how you usually do things. Describe the project (Situation/Task), what you did (Action), and the outcome (Results). And then tell me what you learned and how you applied it later.”

A key question: “What would you do on your first day on the job if no one was there to give you direction?” This kind of question is known as Situational Interviewing, and it’s the flip side of Behavioral Interviewing. Your task in this phase of interviewing is to research the company you’re interviewing and get as much information about “pain points” as possible so that you have a general idea about the kinds of situations you might face if you’re hired. See the link below for those kinds of questions.

Probes: Additional or Follow-up Questions

Most interviews will include “probes” or follow-up questions after your first answer. Probes apply to both behavioral and situational questions. As you think about your original answer, be thinking about additional details you might emphasize if you’re asked a follow-up question.

  • Behavior probes (Did Happen / Did Do)
    • Who was involved?
    • Could you or anyone else have done something to prevent the situation?
    • What factors led up to this situation?
  • Action probes
    • How did you respond?
    • What was your role, specifically? I’m not interested in the team’s role; I’m interested in your role.
    • What was the first thing you did?
    • What was the most important factor you considered?
  • Results probes
    • What was the outcome?
    • Is there anything you would have said or done differently?
    • Were there any benefits from the situation?
    • What did you learn that you could use later?
  •  Situational Probes (Might Happen / Would Do)
    • Why do you believe this situation occurred?
    • What do you consider the most critical issues in this situation?
    • What other issues would concern you in this scenario?
  • Action probes
    • What is the first thing you would say or do?
    • What factors would affect your course of action?
    • Who else would you involve in your analysis and why?
    • What other actions could you take?
  •  Results probes
    • How do you think your action would be received?
    • What do you think the benefits would be of your action?
    • What would you do if your action wasn’t received well or was outright challenged?

Wildcard Questions

Wildcard questions are, well, out there. They’re the sort of “blue sky” questions that can stump you if you’re not prepared. Instead, think about your answers to some of the wildcard questions below:

  • When it’s all over, how do you want to be remembered?
  • How do people see you differently than you see yourself?
  • What’s most important in your life besides religion or family?
    • This question is important because what you get from most people about their values is the “faith and family” answer. You can make the case that faith and family are important to everyone. So, what sets you apart? How are you different? What values will bring to this position that other people might not?
  • What kind of work behavior do you not tolerate?
  • How do you learn?
  • What are you curious about?
  • What haven’t you taken the time to learn? What do you plan to do about that?
  • What do you like to read? What’s the last book you read?
  • In what areas of your life are you “settling”?
  • What would you do if you weren’t scared?
  • What’s a question you’d like your boss to ask you? What would you say?
  • What are you really into outside of work?
  • If you could go back in time and talk with your ten-year-old self, what would you say?

 “Do you have any questions for me?” Interviewing-the-Interviewer Questions

Always have several questions that you want to ask the interviewer. It shows you’re curious and that you’ve done some critical thinking about the company and the position you’re interviewing for.

Here’s a general list of questions you might ask the interviewer:

  • Has the job description stayed the same or was it rewritten since the previous incumbent left?
  • What do you like and dislike about the company?
  • How is the company better than its competitors? How is it worse, or what does it need to do better to be more competitive?
  • What do you want the position to be—and the new person to do—that hasn’t been done before?
  • Describe your best employees.
  • What would your direct reports say if I asked them about you? (You might save this one for a conversation if they make you a job offer).
  • What’s a challenge you regularly face in your job?
  • What do you want the new person to do better than the previous incumbent?
  • How will you measure the new person’s progress toward the goals established for the position?
  • If hired, how will my progress be measured? When and how frequently will it be measured?
  • In three months, what will I have done, specifically, that confirms I’m a success in the job?

Interviews are an opportunity for you to shine. With a bit of preparation and thought, you’ll be prepared for just about any question that comes your way. If you want to practice, answer some questions on video or by having a friend serve as the interviewer. Watch the video. What did you see and hear? What would you do differently? Seeing yourself on video will speak volumes about how you’ll come across in a live interview. And, understanding the three types of interview questions can position you as the right person for the job.


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