Perhaps one of the most unnerving parts of the interview process is when the employer takes out a long sheet full of interview questions and smiles. Right then you know it’s time for you to either sink or swim. In order for you to swim—float even—you need to understand the purpose of the question-and-answer phase of the interview. The questions posed by employers, no matter how mundane or unusual, simply give them a chance to gauge the following:
- Your personality
- If you can help meet the company’s wants, needs, and goals
- Your wants, needs, and goals
- If you will fit into the company’s culture
Just as your cover letter should be tailored to an employer, so should the answers to the questions posed. The more you’ve researched the company and its needs, the better you’ll be able to answer the questions to an employer’s liking.
For example, if you know the job requires you to work a lot in teams, then of course you “work well collaborating with other colleagues to complete assignments.” The employer doesn’t need to know you prefer working alone! If the position requires you to learn new software programs, then you certainly “are sure learning new programs will not pose a problem for you.” The employer doesn’t need to know you’ll have to re-read the software manual a dozen times at home! Employers know that people are rarely perfectly suited for a position. However, you don’t want an employer to eliminate you as a candidate because of preferences or small weaknesses you blabbed you have. Now, if the employer asks you if you speak Spanish and you say yes when you don’t know what “agua” means, then you’ll be in trouble.
Answering the interview questions can be like walking on a tight rope. You want to appear confident but not cocky, knowledgeable but not a know-it-all, energetic but not wired, and poised but not “posed” for the interview. And just as important, you don’t want to say anything incorrect or silly. This is why practicing for each interview is so important.
The following are sample interview questions and tips for how to answer them. Have an older professional ask you the questions during a mock interview.
Sample Interview Questions
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Focus on what led you to the career you’re entering, and then briefly talk about your career-related goals. You can also talk about anything interesting/unusual about yourself that is positive, like you’ve traveled to several countries, speak more than one language, are a trained dancer, or volunteer in community service programs. Do not give the interviewer your whole life story, say anything negative about yourself, discuss your political or religious views, or divulge private details of your life.
- Why are you seeking a position with this company?
Discuss certain aspects of the company that you admire, such as its reputation or mission, and how working for the company will help you reach your career goals.
- What makes you qualified to apply for this position?
Discuss how your educational background, work history, and the skills you’ve acquired have prepared you for the exact position you are applying for.
- Why do you want this position?
Explain why the position is a perfect fit for you, given your educational background, work history, or interests. Talk about specific aspects of the job that you’ll enjoy and what you like about the company.
- Why should I hire you?
Again, discuss how your educational background, work history, and the skills you’ve acquired have prepared you for the exact position you are applying for. However, also highlight your positive character traits, like your creativity or perceptiveness, and how having someone in the position with these traits will benefit the company. You should also talk about anything else that you think may set you apart from other candidates.
- If hired, how long will you stay with the company?
Stress to the employer that you can really see yourself growing with the company, and that you see the company as a great place to start and build your career. Employers know you don’t know the answer to this question; they just want to make sure you aren’t using the position as an “in-between” job until you find something better.
- What are your career ambitions?
Discuss your ultimate career objectives and how the position you are applying for, and the company itself, will help you meet those objectives. Do not discuss career goals that have nothing to do with the field you’re in (e.g., you are applying for a financial counselor position, but you say your career goal is to become a wedding planner).
- Why did you choose this career field?
Discuss what first drew you to the field you’re in, and what aspects about the field made you passionate enough to want to build a career in it.
- What is your ideal type of company?
The ideal type of company you describe should closely resemble the company you’re trying to join. After describing this “imaginary” place, you can talk about what you like most about the company you’re hoping to be a part of.
- What kind of people do you enjoy/dislike working with?
First, stress that you are able and enjoy working with all types of people. Next, describe the type of people you enjoy working with most (like flexible or very resourceful people). Then pick a type of person that no one wants to work with (such as someone who is negative or isn’t respectful of other people’s time).
- What things are most important to you on a job?
Discuss what you need most in a position to enjoy it (as long as the position offers these benefits), such as the ability to interact with lots of people, room to grow, autonomy, or supportive co-workers and managers.
- Do you prefer working alone or with a team?
Stress that you are able to work well in a team or alone and talk about what you like about both. Then consider the position. If it requires you to work most often in teams, then that’s what you prefer, and vice versa.
- What qualities do you look for in a manager?
Discuss the positive attributes that you most admire in people and why you look for these attributes in a manager (such as someone who provides constructive feedback). If you have worked for a manager who you really liked, you can briefly talk about him or her.
- What is your greatest strength/weakness?
Tell the employer you don’t like trick questions. Just kidding! Discuss your strengths first, such as your unflappable nature or ability to explain hard-to-understand concepts simply. Next, resist the urge to say “perfectionism” or some other trait that really is not a weakness. The employer not only won’t believe you, he or she probably heard the same canned response from the candidate interviewed right before you. Instead, pick a minor weakness that you really do have but would not be considered a character flaw, such as a slight fear of public speaking. After you’ve stated your teeny-weeny weakness, tell the employer how you are working to improve in this area.
- Do you have any additional skills that make you a good candidate for the position?
Discuss any talents or skills you may have that aren’t a requirement for the position, and explain how they can add to your effectiveness on the job.
- What did you like most/least about your former boss?
Discuss the qualities you liked most in your boss first and what you learned from him or her. If you had a particularly good working relationship with your former boss, then you can talk briefly about how well you worked together. When asked what you liked least about him or her, pick something relatively minor, like your boss’s forgetfulness. Do not badmouth your former boss or co-workers.
- In what ways did you contribute to your last company?
Discuss specific ways you helped the company, such as increasing profits, implementing a new service, or finding a great solution to a problem that was hurting the company. You can also talk about how you performed well in your position day to day, and how doing your job well positively impacted your co-workers, managers, and the company as a whole.
- What problems did you encounter at your former company, and how did you deal with them?
Discuss problems you had that didn’t involve confrontations with your boss or co-workers, such as having an inflexible schedule or not being given enough direction on hard assignments. Then explain how you dealt professionally and maturely with whatever problem you mentioned.
- How would your co-workers describe you?
Pick your best qualities that your co-workers generally liked, like your good sense of humor or friendliness. If possible, pick qualities that would have made you well-respected, such as being a hard worker or straightforward and honest.
- Are you comfortable working with a diverse group of people?
The answer is always yes. Talk about why you enjoy working with people from different backgrounds (you’re exposed to different cultures or beliefs, which can help you grow as a person). You can then briefly share any positive experience you have had that allowed you to work with a diverse group of people.
After the practice interview session, ask the person helping you the following questions:
- How confident did you come across?
- How was your demeanor while answering questions?
- Did you answer the questions intelligently and concisely?
- Did you fully answer all of the questions?
- Which questions did you seem to have difficulty with?
- In what areas do you need to improve?