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8.2 Different Types of Interviews

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the three types of interviews you will experience and learn strategies for succeeding at each of them.
  2. Learn the difference between behavioral and case interviews.
  3. Learn how informational interviews can lead to real interviews, and, at the very least, strong networking contacts.

You can experience three main types of interviews. Become familiar with each type and you will be more prepared and more successful:

  1. Behavioral
  2. Case
  3. Informational

Behavioral Interview

The vast majority of interview candidates will participate in a behavioral interviewThe most popular form of interviewing, as it is based on specific past performances versus hypothetical situations. Behavioral questions follow the premise that past behavior is a clear indicator of future behavior.. Behavioral questions focus on past performances versus hypothetical situations, following the premiseA logical conclusion. that past behavior is a clear indicator of future behavior.

Later in this chapter, a comprehensive list is presented of the most-asked behavioral questions, along with strategies to answer them. Just about any other question asked is a derivative of these questions, so carefully review that section and practice your answers. Questions will relate to aspects of your past work and educational experiences. Here are four typical behavioral interview questions:

  1. What was the toughest project you ever completed? Tell me about it.
  2. Who was the most difficult customer you ever helped? Tell me about that situation.
  3. What was your most challenging class? Tell me why it was challenging.
  4. Were you ever a member of a team? What was your role, what was the goal of the team project, and did it go smoothly or was there an issue? What was the end result of the project?

The following strategies will help you answer behavioral questions successfully:

  • Never mention anything negative about your past managers, past professors, or past clients. Even if a particular individual was difficult, speak instead about the challenge and the subsequent approval you received when you succeeding in satisfying that person.
  • Focus on presenting an image of an enthusiasticYour excitement or interest in a topic. and optimisticYou see the positive possibilities in a situation, a person, or an outcome. problem solver. Interviewers aren’t interested in someone who was downtrodden or didn’t get along with the team in general.
  • Answer questions directly, and include a beginning, a middle, and an end in your answer.
  • Quantify your answers whenever possible. For example, if you worked in your school’s library and you are asked about this work, include the number of books you managed per day, whether it was ten, one hundred, or one thousand. It’s fine to estimate.
  • Ensure your answer is tied to the bottom line. Using the library example once more, your answer could include that using the electronic checkout system decreased lost books by 75 percent.
  • Focus on the question asked to help you avoid going off on tangents.
  • Ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you think you have gone off on a tangentThat you are digressing, or getting further away from the question. or if you didn’t quite understand the question.

Case Interviews

Case interviewsCase interviews are used to understand a candidate’s ability to problem solve and develop a strategy to solve a difficult situation. are predominately used in management consulting, though they are sometimes used in a variety of fields, including financial services, healthcare, consumer products, and education. A case interview is a hypothetical business problem, or case, that the interviewee is expected to solve during the interview. The case tests a variety of the interviewee’s skills and expertise, including analysis, logic, structuring of a problem, math, accounting or economics knowledge, specific industry knowledge, communication, creativity, and ability to deliver under pressure.

Case interviews might include short questions to estimate the size of a market:

  • How many teenage Americans bought hiking boots last year?
  • How many Christmas trees are sold in December in California?
  • How many disposable cameras are purchased in London on a single day?

The interviewer does not expect you to know the specific answer, but that you estimate a final answer based on different facts (e.g., the population of the United States). The interviewer wants you to break down this broad request into smaller steps that can be calculated to see how you structure a problem. The interviewer is also testing your basic math skills and ability to work under pressure. The following information applies to the question on hiking boots:

  • The population of the United States is about 300 million people.
  • It is less obvious how many of those are teenagers, so you have to estimate. If life expectancy is approximately eighty years and equal numbers in each decade (ages zero to ten, eleven to twenty, and so forth) are estimated, then there are eight buckets of ages, including a teenage bucket, so the number of people in the teenage years represents 12 to 15 percent of the total population.
  • Fifteen percent of 300 million is 45 million, but not every teenager wears hiking boots and not every teenager buys boots every year.
  • If you estimate that 25 percent of teenagers wear hiking boots, then teenagers who purchase hiking books number about eleven million.
  • If you estimate that a typical hiker buys a new pair every other year, then about five and a half million teenagers buy hiking boots each year.

Remember that the interviewer does not expect a specific answer, but rather wants to see the process you follow to estimate the answer.

Case interviews might also be as long as thirty to forty-five minutes of broad strategy or operations questions about a detailed problem. You may be asked how to manage a hypothetical teaching situation. You may be given a hospital scenario and asked how to streamline processes. You may be given data about the company or industry involved in the question presented. You may be asked to review charts, accounting statements, or other background material, such as in the following question: The CEO of a leading national toy company is considering acquiring a popular neighborhood toy shop in Austin, Texas. How would you advise the CEO whether or not to purchase the shop?

You might then be given more information about the national toy company, or you might be expected to ask for what you need. The questions you ask are part of what the interviewer is testing because your questions reveal the types of data you think are important to assess to make the purchase decision. You are trying to assess if the neighborhood shop fits into the national company’s strategy, and, if so, whether the cost of buying and integrating the neighborhood shop will be offset by potential future revenues.

Many large consulting firms, such as McKinsey and Bain, put sample cases and solutions on their websites. Books also offer sample cases and solutions. Many schools offer case-preparation workshops via either career services or extracurricular consulting clubs. Case interviews are very different from general job interviews but are rarely used except for management consulting jobs. Therefore, don’t spend any time preparing for case interviews unless you want a management consulting job. If you do want a job in management consulting, case interview practice is absolutely necessary. You will not get hired by a consulting firm without successfully completing several case interviews.

If you are interviewing outside the consulting industry, meet with a friend who is in your chosen profession. Ask them to tell you about when they were interviewed, and ask them to interview you. This can be a tremendous learning experience and can prepare you for success, so your time will be well spent in arranging a mock interview ahead of time.

Informational Interviews

Informational interviewsEnable you to gather important research about your desired job. An informational interview is an opportunity for you to ask five to ten questions of someone who is performing the very job you think you want to perform or someone who started out at the same level at which you want to start your career., by their very name, give you the opportunity to gather information about the career you think you want to pursue. The more prepared you are, the better your session will be because the best informational interviews are two-way exchanges, more like a conversation than an interrogation. Your research will allow you to share vital information with your interviewer, and you both will benefit from the time spent.

Some informational interview questions focus on the interviewer:

  • How did you get involved in this job, organization, or industry?
  • What do you like most about it? What has been most rewarding?
  • What is most challenging? Was there anything that surprised you?
  • What is a typical day, week, or month?
  • What skills are most critical to have, develop, and maintain to be successful?
  • What personality types are most successful?
  • What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started? (This is a great question to ask because it forces people to reflect on the arc of their career. It is unexpected and people appreciate this question.)

These types of questions establish rapport and will help you dig deeper and learn more about the job, the industry, and the career.

Some informational interview questions focus on the job and career:

  • According to my research, the top competitors are [name the competition]. Am I missing anyone you think is significant? Is there a new player I should know about?
  • I’ve read that [name a trend, challenge, or innovation] is a major trend, challenge, or innovation. Does this affect your job or organization? Is this overestimated in the media? Are there are other trends, challenges, or innovations I should be concerned about?
  • Compensation isn’t the biggest factor in accepting a job, but I’d like to have a better sense of this. I’ve read that it is customary for people in this job to make [name salary range] and experience [name lifestyle, travel, work culture]. Is that accurate? Are there any nuances to this that are not publicized in the general media?
  • According to my research, it is customary for people in this job to have [name skills and experiences]. Is my background of [summarize your skills and experience] competitive? If you had an opening in your group, would you consider me? What do I need to do to improve my chances?
  • What department are you in (i.e., the specific name if it’s not revealed in their introduction or on their business card)?
  • Who oversees this department?
  • How does it fit in with the rest of the organization?
  • Is this the typical structure or are your competitors organized differently?
  • I am doing research on [name another organization] and trying to find who runs the [name department you want]. Do you know anyone there whom I could ask?

Perhaps the most important question to ask during an informational interview is this one:

  • I’m currently planning to speak to [name the people]. Should anyone else be on my list? May I use your name when I contact them?

Typical informational interviews lasting about thirty to forty-five minutes can be a vital part of the research you conduct to ensure you are targeting the right types of jobs.

Key Takeaways

  • Knowing the different types of interviews is important to succeeding at each.
  • A behavioral interview is the most expected interview form for the vast majority of positions. Behavioral interviews rely on past performance as an indication of future performance.
  • Case interviews are most widely used for consulting positions. The goal of a case interview is to test your logic and ability to problem solve quickly and effectively.
  • Informational interviews, reviewed in Chapter 6 "Step 3: Conduct In-Depth Research", the section titled Informational Interviews, are a useful way to learn about an industry and a specific job through someone who has built their career in that area. You ask most of the questions, so you must prepare well in advance to get the most amount of information possible and impress the person with whom you are meeting.
  • Some interviewers may merge aspects of behavioral and case interviewing into one interview session. Knowing how to succeed at each type of interview is a wise strategy.


  1. Participate in mock interview workshops given by career services.
  2. Practice answering behavioral and case interview questions.
  3. Prepare for an informational interview by deciding who you would like to interview and preparing the questions you will ask.
  4. Pair up with an interview buddy to practice each type of interview. Critique each other’s performance.