Frequently Asked Interview Questions
The best way to ensure success in a job interview is preparing substantive, concise, and honest answers to frequently asked questions. Below are some questions you're likely to encounter no matter the job, along with ideas on how to develop responses. (For questions specific companies like to ask, try searching Glassdoor.)
Tell me about yourself.
- Employers ask this question to get the conversation started and find out what, in general, qualifies you for the job.
- To answer this question: Prepare an "elevator pitch," a minute-long (or so) speech that summarizes your most marketable skills and experience. Make sure you tailor the response so it's relevant to the position.
Why do you want to work for this company?
- Employers ask this question to determine what motivates you, your level of interest in the job, and if you've taken the time to research the company.
- To answer this question: Mention duties/responsibilities listed within the job description and explain why you find such work interesting and meaningful. Also bring up specific aspects of the company you find appealing. Showing you've done your research will reflect your genuine enthusiasm for the job.
How has your previous experience prepared you for this job?
- Employers ask this question to determine how well you understand the nature of the job and how likely you'd be to succeed in the role.
- To answer this question: Relate specific aspects of prior jobs/internships to specific aspects of the opportunity you're hoping to secure. Employers will seek candidates who can seamlessly assume the job's responsibilities.
What are your greatest strengths?
- Employers ask this question to give you an opportunity to detail your most marketable skills/attributes. It also gives them a glimpse of your personal values.
- To answer this question: Don't be modest. Give an honest account of what you think you do well, making sure to tie your answer into the job's demands. Also be mindful of how your answer reflects your character -- demonstrate your pride in strengths which the company values as well. Last, avoid repeating yourself as much as possible. Many common interview questions, like this one, are variations on your personal strengths and preparedness for the job. Rather than recount the same things each time, try illuminating different attributes.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
- Employers ask this question to see how you approach difficult situations and, again, get a glimpse of your personal values.
- To answer this question: Provide a specific -- and preferably recent -- example that exhibits skills relevant to the position. (Our guide to behavioral interviews [keep scrolling down] may also be helpful for questions like this.)
What is your greatest weakness?
- Employers ask this question to determine your ability to engage in genuine self-reflection, how you approach more persistent challenges, and if there is something that would limit your ability to perform the job's essential responsibilities.
- To answer this question: Avoid insincere answers like "I'm a perfectionist." Employers will recognize this as a roundabout boast. Instead, offer an honest weakness (though not one you think might be a deal-breaker) and detail the steps you've taken to improve upon it.
Where do you plan to be five years from now?
- Employers ask this question to determine how closely your own aspirations align with the company's.
- To answer this question: Think of ways the position meets your goals, both on a micro- and macro-level. Is it the specific responsibilities of the job you find intriguing, or more so the company's overall mission? Neither is necessarily the "right" answer, employers will simply want to see that one is true -- genuine interest in the position is a strong indicator of future success.
Why did you leave your last job?
- Employers ask this question to determine how you imagine this new job fitting into a larger career trajectory, as well as if your past experiences raise any flags.
- To answer this question: Be genuine yet humble. For example, it's OK to imply that you want a job with greater responsibility, but avoid phrasing your answer in terms of how boring you found the old job. Instead, mention that while you appreciated the learning opportunities that position offered, you feel ready to take on something more challenging. Doing so will reflect both modesty and positivity. And last, avoid any wholesale condemnations of your past employer, and don't rehash personal disputes -- these might make the interviewer question your ability to mesh with the office.
What are your salary expectations?
- Employers ask this question to determine whether your salary expectations are in line with what they're able to offer.
- To answer this question: Generally you will want to avoid answering this question until the job has been offered to you, as that is when you have the most leverage in a negotiation. If you aren't able to dodge this question, you can give a range based on research you've conducted on the industry (use resources like Glassdoor, PayScale, and Salary.com). More details on answering this and similar questions can be found here.
Do you have any questions?
- Employers ask this question to give you a chance to clarify any job-related details, as well as determine the extent of your interest in the position.
- To answer this question: As a general rule, it's good to have a least three questions prepared going into the interview. Ask questions that help clear up any gaps in your understanding of the position and company, along with ones that reflect enthusiasm for the potential opportunity. Some possibilities:
- What do you like most about working here?
- Is there anything I can in the meantime to prepare myself for success in this position?
- On your website, I saw your company recently launched a new initiative. Could you tell me a bit more about that?
- What improvements or changes do you hope the new candidate will bring to this position?
- Is there anything I didn't cover earlier that you wanted to hear about?
A mix of questions like this will both provide you with useful information in determining how well the job/company fits you, and show the interviewer that you're taking the opportunity seriously. On a final note, you should always feel comfortable asking the interviewer about next steps in the process, and when you might hear back from them.
Source: Career Choice Guide
Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral interview questions ask you to tell the interviewer a story about a time when you handled a specific type of situation. The theory behind these questions is that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Employers who ask these questions are trying to assess how well you would handle situations that may come up on the job.
Behavioral interview questions can be effectively answered using the STAR interview technique. This technique provides you with a framework to tell a story that highlights your ability to manage specific, challenging, work-related problems. STAR stands for:
- Situation, or
In general, to use the technique, you would:
- Describe a challenging, work related situation or task
- Describe the actions you took to resolve the situation or complete the task
- Describe the positive results of your actions
Situation or Task
Describe a specific, challenging, work-related situation that you resolved or task that you accomplished. Sometimes behavioral questions are neutral, such as, "Tell me about a time when you worked as a part of a team." Other times, employers ask about a negative or challenging situation, such as, "Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer." You have to be extra careful with these negative behavior-based interview questions.
- Choose a situation that is as similar as possible to the type of work situations you would likely encounter at the job you are seeking.
- State the problem or situation as briefly as you can while still ensuring that the employer understands the circumstances.
- Be as specific as possible. Avoid generalities like, "I have always worked as a part of a team."
- Do not discuss a situation that angered you. No matter how careful you are, the negativity will make a poor impression.
- Also, do not discuss a problem that arose due to your mistake.
Describe, in detail, the positive and appropriate action you took to resolve the issue or get the task completed.
Here, it's good to focus on showing, rather than telling. For example, rather than just saying that you increased office communication, detail what that looked like. Did you get everyone on your team on an email thread? Put two departments in contact for the first time? Set up a brainstorming session?
Describe the positive result of your actions (and if there was no positive result, don't tell that story.)
Do your best to quantify the results. Telling an employer that your actions resulted in "increased productivity," or something similarly vague, won't leave much of an impression. However, if you can say that the steps you took increased sales by x amount, or resulted in increased employee satisfaction on internal surveys, the interviewer is left with something tangible.
Below is a list of several common behavioral interview questions that you can use to practice. Tell me about a time when you:
- Used effective communication skills to solve a problem
- Had to work with a difficult supervisor
- Had to work with a difficult coworker
- Dealt with a challenging customer or client
- Demonstrated effective leadership qualities
- Worked as a part of a team
- Failed to meet a goal
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Career Services Resources
Check out our recordings of some past Career Services events related to interviewing, such as Behavioral Interview Workshop.