Career Center & Student Employment

Sample Interview Questions

We would like to assure you that if you practice the answers to these questions, you will ace the interview. Unfortunately, we can't do that. The interviewer may include questions about your subject knowledge that we cannot anticipate, nor would we have space to list them. The current interview trend places more emphasis on behavioral questions, questions that ask how you have faced certain issues to determine how you will react in similar situations. We have included some of those, but our best advice is to have examples from past experience that demonstrate the skills you included on your resume. Questions you can ask are included at the end of this page.

General Questions You Might Be Asked (Q) with Guides for Answering (A)

Your Qualifications

Q. Tell me about yourself.
A. This is not an autobiographical question. Focus on why you would like this job and how you have prepared yourself experientially and academically.

Q. Why should we hire you?
A. Similar to #1. Focus on what your particular contribution will be to company success: hard work, dedication, humor. We all bring something unique.

Q. How have your education and employment prepared you for this position?
A. See #1.

Q. Do you think your grades are an accurate indication of what you have learned in college?
A. If you don't, give examples to illustrate your answer

Q. Tell me about one of your failures and what you learned from it.
A. Be honest but don't bare your soul: this is not a counseling session! Demonstrate that you can use failure to achieve future success.

Q. What do you think it takes to be successful in a company like ours?
A. Reading the company's job announcement or Web page should help answer this question. If you can talk to an employee of the company beforehand, that would be a wonderful way to find out. Career fairs are excellent for this reason.

Q. What qualifications should a successful manager (sales person, engineer, etc.) possess?
A. Read an occupational description then tie that to your own skills.

Q. Which one of your jobs did you like the best? least? Why?
A. For the best, use examples you know relate to the job for which you are applying. For the least, focus on job tasks that you knew were necessary and performed well, but were routine, unpleasant, or required little involvement. Don't criticize your supervisor or employer.

Q. Describe your strongest communication skills.
A. Describe means give an example. Remember, listening is a communication skill also.

Q. Think about a large task you organized. Describe the steps you followed.
A. You can use either a work or school-related project to illustrate. Be specific.

Q. Do you consider yourself a leader? Why?
A. Give an example from your participation in group projects, volunteer situations, clubs, athletics, or your work situation.

Q. Describe your managerial (sales, engineering, etc.) skills.
A. Refer to question #8.

Q. Are you creative?
A. Again, give an example. Creativity is not just drawing, dancing, acting, or playing music. It is also your ability to look at things in a new way and be innovative in solving things.

Q. What are your greatest strengths?
A. Tailor your answer to the job. For instance, if one of your strengths is leadership and you are applying for a sales job, show how your motivational skills work in both situations, or how you hope to reach a regional manager's spot in a few years.

Q. What is your greatest weakness?
A. Everyone has weaknesses, but avoid red flags and show how you have turned your weakness into a positive. Anger, for instance, is a red flag. Remember weaknesses are the flip side of strengths. Faulty time management may be the flip side of concentration and dedication. Procrastination may be the result of wanting to consider all the information and make an informed decision. Downplay the negative and play up the positive.

Q. Tell me about your customer service experience.
A. Tell how and where you acquired the experience and give an example to show your dedication and success.

Q. Do you enjoy routine? Why? Why not?
A. Some routine is fine and necessary, like eating, going to work, etc. After that, it depends on you. Choose a job that fits your needs. If you pretty much hate routine, don't apply for a job that has a lot, like inside claims adjusting.

Q. How do you prioritize your work to meet deadlines?
A. Give an example to demonstrate how you have done this. Pulling an all-nighter is not a good answer. Planning ahead, keeping lists are good.

Q. If you have a customer in front of you, a client on the phone, and a boss who wants to see you, what do you do?
A. To answer this well, you need to know the company's policy. If you don't know how that company would do it, say that you would find out, but give an example from a past experience to demonstrate your ability to stay calm, juggle tasks, and set priorities.

Q. Tell me about your computer experience.
A. If you don't have much, focus on what you have and the steps you are taking to gain more. Enthusiasm and willingness to learn are key.

Q. Why did you leave your last job?
A. Opportunity for advancement, finding work to fit your skills, moving, downsizing, changing careers are all legitimate answers. If you were fired or hated your job, do not bad-mouth the job, the company, or your supervisor. Talk about the positive first, then the lack of communication and what you learned from it that has improved your performance and outlook. Great people fail often, but they use failure to learn and improve their performance.

Your Style and Personality

Q. How would your friends (or teacher or supervisor) describe you?
A. Keep it honest and positive. Remember this is not necessarily how you would describe yourself. Your friends may see your fun and quirks while your supervisor might see your dedication and adaptability.

Q. What motivates your best work?
A. Consider the job. If you need praise or excitement or deadlines, not all jobs offer these. Give an example.

Q. What is your biggest weakness as a manager or leader?
A. Think about what a manager's responsibilities are, like motivating employees, delegating tasks, setting goals, hiring, firing, preparing budgets, etc. Which do you like least? Why? What have you done to improve your performance.

Q. How do you keep track of things you need to do?
A. You are on your own. Most answers will work, except saying that you just remember everything.

Q. Would you rather write a report or give it verbally? Why?
A. State your preference, but indicate your comfort with either approach as the situation warrants. Knowing the job requirements will assist with this question. Many jobs require both skills.

Your Interest and Commitment

Q. Why are you interested in working for our company?
A. Your research into the company will pay off when answering this question. You can talk about their approach to training, their goals for the future, their success or reputation, but be able to back up your statement with specific examples that include how you can contribute to the company's success.

Q. Why did you choose your major?
A. If possible, talk about how you perceived your major would increase your skills and further your career goals. If you selected a major because you liked the subject matter and didn't have a clue how that would further your career, you can indicate that, but talk about how the skills you learned apply to the job for which you are interviewing. If you changed majors more than once and ended with one you didn't think was right for you or if you were influenced by someone else's preference, talk about what you learned about yourself from that situation and how it will help you make better decisions in the future.

Q. If you had to choose a school or major again, what would you change?
A. Most answers are appropriate, but avoid negativity or blaming the school, teachers, town, etc. Talk about what you learned from the experience if you do not feel one of these was perfect.

Q. Do you have plans for continued study?
A. Employers are interested in people who have a commitment to life-long learning, but may not support your education plans if they are not related to the goals of the organization. Tie your own goals in with those of the employer. Unless you are applying for a temporary position, it is inappropriate to mention that you plan to work for a year then attend graduate school.

Q. How do you feel about travel or relocation?
A. Knowing the job requirements will help you avoid the wrong answer. For instance, most management positions require both. Some sales and most consulting positions require extensive travel, but may allow you to return home at night, while others require significant time away from home. You can ask what the travel requirements are if you have not been able to determine them ahead of time.

Q. How do you deal with stress?
A. Your skills in organization and prioritization of tasks, your willingness to request your supervisor's assistance with establishing priorities, or ability to stay calm in pressure situations, are all appropriate, but you can also mention activities you engage in that help reduce stress, such as running, walking, working out, etc. You can mention boxing, but not punching someone out; karate, but not fighting in a cage or being a member of a fight club; dancing, but not exotic dancing.

Q. What area of this position would be the most difficult for you?
A. Again, knowing the requirements is essential to answering this question. Answer truthfully, but indicate your reasons along with your willingness to perform the difficult task and how your approach to it will help minimize the difficulty.

Q. How long do you plan to stay with us?
A. As long as you can grow and contribute to the goals of the organization.

Behavioral Questions You Might Be Asked (Q) with Guides for Answering (A)

Design a STAR statement (Situation or Task, Action, Results) for these questions.

Q. Tell me about an accomplishment from the past year that you are the most proud of? Why?
A. Focus on work-related. You can use a personal example if related in some way to the job description.

Q. Give me an example of a time that saved your employer time or money.
A. If you cannot come up with an example, remember that your own dedicated job performance has saved your employer time and money. Now develop a STAR statement.

Q. Please describe a situation where you used your creativity to solve a problem.
A. Creativity might be related to graphic design, engineering, marketing, or anything. It is your ability to think outside the box and you can use examples from work, homework, class, or your private life to illustrate the point.

Q. Tell me about a time when you went the extra mile to help a customer.
A. If you have not been involved with customer service directly, think about what you have done that affected a customer and develop a situation from that.

Q. Describe a situation where you have gathered and analyzed facts to arrive at a decision.
A. It is O.K. to use educational experience if you do not have a work-related example.

Q. Give me an example of a problem you have had with a team member, co-worker, or employee and how you resolved it.
A. Talking it over with the person involved, using non-accusatory language and a caring, problem-solving approach, is the first step. Discussing it with your team members or a supervisor, as applicable, is next. Get to resolution, whether it was a reprimand, expulsion from the group, firing, your agreement with that person's point of view, or the person's change of behavior.

Q. Give me an example of a high-pressure situation you have faced this past year and how you resolved it.
A. Your skills in organization and prioritization of tasks, your willingness to request your supervisor's assistance with establishing priorities, or ability to stay calm in pressure situations, are all appropriate to mention if applicable.

Q. Describe a situation in which you used persuasion to convince someone to see things your way.
A. Since most of us use persuasion skills often, try to think of a work or group-related activity where you used it. Describe the situation, tell what you did, and describe the result.

Q. Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or exceed it.
A. Again, work-related is best, but a goal you set personally will work, too.

Q. Give me an example of a time when you tried to accomplish something and failed.
A. Remember, at the end of your story, talk about the positive things you learned from the experience and what you would do differently if given the same situation.

Q. Tell me about a time that you successfully dealt with a person when that person did not like you or vice versa.
A. We don't have to like everyone to get along or get results, but we do have to respect them to do so. Understanding what motivates a person also helps get results.

Q. Give me an example of a time that you showed initiative and took the lead.
A. Review the STAR statement in Preparing for the Behavioral Interview.

Q. Tell me about an experience when you dealt with an upset customer or co-worker.
A. Emphasize the skills you have that that helped you with this.

Q. Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
A. Delegating involves effective communication, motivation, goal setting and leadership. Three components of successful delegation are assigning tasks to people that they have the skills to perform, granting them the authority to carry out the tasks, and creating a climate of responsibility. It does not mean dumping a task you do not want on someone and never checking on the progress. Your example should include why you selected the project that you delegated.

Q. Give me an example of a time when you motivated someone.
A. How did you find out what motivated that person? How did you use that to accomplish positive results?

Q. Tell me about a time when you had to make an unpopular decision.
A. What was the situation? What was the unpopular decision? Why was it unpopular? Why did you have to make it? Did the people understand why you had to make it? How did it turn out?

Q. Tell me about a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
A. Be sure to talk about which fact-finding skills you used, such as computer research, interviewing, taking something apart and putting it back together, etc.

Questions You Can Ask —a partial list

Remember, you are expected to find out as much about the company as possible before the interview, but you may not have been able to find the answers to these questions, or you may need clarification.

Q. What are your expectations for the person you hire?
Q. Which specific skills are necessary to succeed in this job?
Q. How do my skills, experience and education differ from those of the ideal candidate?
Q. What level of input would I have in determining my objectives and deadlines?
Q. What kinds of projects might I be working on?
Q. Why do you like working for this company?
Q. What level of client contact should I expect?
Q. Would you describe the typical training program?
Q. How is the company structured in terms of departments or divisions?
Q. Would I work for more than one person?
Q. Please describe the travel involved in this position.
Q. How often is relocation required for advancement opportunities?
Q. What are the advancement opportunities for this position and the typical time frame for advancements?
Q. What type of new product is the organization developing?
Q. Is there a possibility that this organization might be sold or acquired by another organization in the near future? If so, how would it affect the present employees?
Q. What are your policies regarding continuing education for employees?
Q. Is there a tuition reimbursement policy?
Q. Would there be an increase in salary after completion of a higher degree? Would it make advancement easier?
Q. What are some of the biggest challenges facing your company and your plans for meeting them?

Or better yet,
Q. While researching your company, I read that one of your challenges is xxx....How do you plan to meet this challenge?
Q. Who are your major competitors? How does your company compare to them?
Q. What are your plans for expansion in the next few years?
Q. Is this a new position? If it is, why was it created? If it isn't, does the company have more than one opening?
Q. I am very interested in this position, what is the next step? (Do not leave the interview without knowing the answer to this question).

Illegal Questions

It would be great if all interviewers avoided questions which they should not ask, questions about your race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, medical condition, physical handicap, marital status, and age. Unfortunately, they do not. Often they ask these questions because they are untrained and they are concerned about a job-related aspect. The tactful thing to do would be to answer their intent rather than the question. If the question is really offensive to you and seems to indicate a pattern of impropriety, you can indicate that the questions are inappropriate to determine your potential as an employee and walk out. Of course, you will not receive a job offer in that case, but that is probably all right with you. Assuming the question is well-intentioned, but ignorant, what do you do?

You need to have a plan of action in case you are asked one of these questions. If you don't want to confront the interviewer, you can just answer the question. There are other options. Following are some illegal questions, why the interviewer might ask them, and how you might answer. Use your own words and style.

If the interviewer asks your age, it is usually because you are older and he or she is concerned that you will not adapt to change well or be enthusiastic.

A. You can say that you are a few years above legal age (which might be humorous if you are well above), but you are enthusiastic about the job and bring a positive attitude and adaptable nature (tactful), or you can answer that the question is illegal or inappropriate and you prefer not to answer it (assertive, but may hurt your chance for the job).

If the interviewer asks about your marital status of if you have children, it is often because of concern that you will get married and leave, that your spouse or children may be a problem if the job requires travel or relocation, or that you will miss work because of sick children or child care problems.

A. You can state that marriage or children will not interfere with your ability and willingness to give 100 percent to the job (tactful) or that you prefer not to answer personal questions but would be happy to address job-related concerns (assertive).

If the interviewer asks about your national origin, it is usually because they are concerned you might not be authorized to work or because they have noticed you speak with an accent or have said you have bilingual skills. They may be trying to be friendly in an inappropriate way.

A. You can either answer that you are authorized to work and are confident you will make a positive contribution to the company or that you need an employer to sponsor you, but are confident that your contribution will be well worth it because of your skills and dedication (tactful). You can also ask how the question relates to the job requirements (assertive).

If the interviewer asks about your health or disability, it is usually because of concern that you will miss work or will not be able to perform the required tasks.

A. If you have an obvious physical disability, you can answer that you have everything you need to perform the job well above expectations, or that with a small, inexpensive adjustment to the work environment, you will be the most productive member of their team and promote a positive image for the company. Health is a confidential matter between you and the doctor, so you can ask if there are physical requirements for the job that you can address.

If the interviewer asks about your religion, he or she will usually do it by asking if there are any days you cannot work or by asking about your non-work or extracurricular activities.

A. You can reply that there will be no trouble with your ability to fulfill the work requirements (tactful) or you can ask how the question is related to the job requirements (assertive).

If the interviewer asks if you have ever been arrested or used illegal drugs, you can reply that you have never been convicted of a felony and your employers have always considered you to be hard-working and trustworthy (tactful), or you can say that you understand that employers can ask if you have ever had a felony conviction if it is related to job performance, but you don't understand the relevance of the question in these circumstances (assertive).

Read other articles on these issues, so you will be prepared if you are asked an illegal or personal question. -- The premier executive career site from The Wall Street Journal(opens in new window)