Career Development Center

Interview Skills

SAMPLE APPROACHES TO COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

1.  Tell me about yourself.

This question often bewilders interviewees because of its’ open ended nature. When you’re prepared for it, this type of question offers you a great opportunity to sell yourself.  Do not tell the interviewer your life story.  Instead, offer a brief (1 to 2 minutes) overview of your background as it relates to the employer’s needs.  Include current career goals and major achievements.

2. What are your qualifications and why should I hire you?

Before you answer this question, it’s important that you are aware of organizational needs. If you are unable to get a detailed job description prior to the interview, then explain that you first need to know more about the job and the organization before you can answer the question. In answering the question, focus on their needs and how aspects of your background can help them to meet their needs.

3. Which of the qualities that you possess makes you feel that you would be successful at this job/career field?

With this question, focus on qualities which are important to this type of work and then highlight those qualities. For example, an orientation towards detail and accuracy are important qualities for an accountant to possess. Try to illustrate that you possess these qualities through examples of accomplishments in which these attributes were displayed.

4. What interests you about our organization and why do you want to work for us?  What do you know about our organization?

It’s important that you are familiar with the products/services offered by this organization and that you convey an interest in this particular position within this particular organization. Indicate how the position can help you meet your own career goals as they relate to organizational goals. Discuss what impresses you about the organization (i.e., quality of product or service, progressive in industry, strong manufacturing, etc.). Also, express an interest in learning more about the organization from the interviewer’s point of view.

5. Why are you applying for this position? What is it about this position that appeals to you?

Once again, your research on the position and the organization is helpful here. From the job description, refer to the responsibilities which appeal to you. In addition, explain what appeals to you about the organization. Avoid denoting salary as the only merit – rather highlight other rewards and challenges.

6. What are your strengths? Your weaknesses?

When discussing your strengths, emphasize strengths that are important to the work for which you are applying. If you are forced to discuss weaknesses, offer a weakness that’s relatively minor and not directly related to the position. Show how you’ve worked to improve in this area so that this weakness turns into a positive.

7. What are your future plans or… how long will you stay with us?

A direct supervisor may ask this questions out of concern that you will not stay in the position for a reasonable length of time. Try to focus on your short term plans in this instance. A human resource department representative may ask this question to determine your long term potential with the organization, so consider the role of the interviewer in determining how to approach this question. A potential employer is interested in knowing you are ready, willing and able to make a commitment. State that you are planning to be fully committed as long as you are mutually in agreement about your contributions and ability to succeed in the job.

8. What are you looking for in a job?

Try to relate the connection between your needs/wants and the qualifications desired in the position for which you are applying. This is a chance to see if you will integrate well with the job and organization, so be honest if there’s not a good fit, you would be dissatisfied in the long run. Describe how the job compliments your top values (i.e., variety, challenge, creativity, etc.), as well as allowing you to utilize your skills and competencies.

9. What is the minimum salary you would accept?

Again, do your homework and know the salary range for the type of position for which you are applying. Explain that you would expect a salary that is based on the job responsibilities, your experience, education and the current market value of the job. Tell them that you realize that each job description tends to have a corresponding salary range and ask what salary range has been set for this job. If you know the salary range for this type of position, you could also say something like, "I understand that a position like the one you’re describing may pay in the range of $ to $. Is this in the ball park for you?" Whenever possible, try to get them to throw out a figure or a range first. If not possible, speak in terms of a potential range for the job based on your research. Try to negotiate where you would fall within that range after you’ve been offered the position.

10. What previous jobs have interested you most and why?

Attempt to recall elements of the old positions that carry over to the new position for which you are interviewing. Show how your past job experience successes could relate to contributions for this position and organization.

11. Why did you leave your last job or why are you looking to leave your present job?

Don’t be negative and don’t point a blaming finger at current or former employers. Keep it short. Speak in terms of your search for growth and knowledge. Focus on what you want to do rather then what you’re trying to get away from.

12. In what areas do you feel you need additional experience?

Inquire as to their description of an ideal candidate for the job. It could be that they don’t expect a candidate to be highly skilled in every aspect of the job. Instead, they might prefer someone who will learn on the job and grow in the position.

13. What particular aspect of the job appeals to you most? Which aspect appeals to you least?

Let the employer know you are interested in using your training to help them meet their needs while also offering you professional growth. Focus on what appeals to you rather than what does not appeal to you. Try to list at least three (3) attractive features and briefly state why you are a good fit. Mention only minor unappealing aspects, avoiding skills and duties (i.e., longer commute, slight adjustment to hours, etc.).

14. What was your greatest accomplishment while working on your last job?  What was your greatest challenge?

When referring to your greatest accomplishment/challenge, consider the SIR approach. The "S" relates to the situation or the challenge that you faced. The "I" relates to your input or how you dealt with the situation or challenge. The "R" relates to the quantitative or qualitative result of your input (i.e., how did you help increase sales or profits, reduce costs, provide better services and so on). Prior to the interview, consider potential SIR’s that would relate to the position for which you are now interviewing. Try to offer an accomplishment that involved challenges similar to those that you would face in this new position. In this way, the employer can see how you might apply past experiences towards future challenges.

15. Why did you select your college/university?

Focus on the quality of the academic training received and on decision-making factors such as affordability, convenient location, and the positive reputation of the institution. Do not speak negatively of your alma mater as this would reflect negatively on you.

16. How did you choose your college major? Did you change your major?

Relate to the employer that you put some thought into your decision and that it was not based on pressure from someone else to go into the field. In asking you about changes to your major, they’re trying to determine how you approached the decision-making process and the steps you took along the way. Your answer to this question can help them determine your level of initiative and effort when making a decision such as this one.

17. What activities did you engage in while in school? Which courses at school did you enjoy the most?

You are most likely to be asked these types of questions if you are a recent graduate. Participation in school activities can demonstrate leadership skills as well as other transferable skills that relate to the job opening. In addition, participation in school activities can present you as an active and energetic person who has initiative and who likes to get things done. Varied activities can also demonstrate that you are a well-rounded person. When speaking about school courses you can focus on courses that directly relate to the job at hand as well as liberal arts courses that offer wonderful problem solving and communications skills.

18. What do you do in your spare time?

In asking this question, an employer may be looking to determine whether you are a well-rounded person. If asked in the beginning of the interview, it might be that the interviewer is using this question as in icebreaker. In this case, the interviewer wished to increase your comfort level as well as to begin to get a sense of you as a person. Do not spend excessive time talking about leisure interests. Follow the interviewer’s cue as to when to turn the conversation to the job opening. Should you find that the interviewer is spending too much time on topics that do not relate to the job in question, try to politely switch the subject to the questions that you need answered in order to determine your level of interest in and qualifications for the job opening.

19. What do you think of your boss (past or present)? What do you think of the organization you work for (past or present)?

If you liked him or her, say so. Find something positive to say about your supervisor and/or place of employment. If you can only think of negative comments, try to refer to the valuable experience you have gained while with this employer/organization. Refrain from speaking negatively about either your boss or the organization.

20. What are you currently doing, or what have you done in the past, to reach your career objectives?

Describe formal education, workshops, conferences, professional association involvement, related reading, mentors and advisors.

21. Describe a situation where you had to work under pressure, meet deadlines, or work with challenging personalities.

Refer back to question #15 and consider potential SIR’s. Remember to highlight positive results or to emphasize what you would do differently next time if again faced with a similar challenge.

22. Why haven’t you found a new position before now?

I’m not looking for just any old job. I want to find a position that’s a good fit for my background and skills. I want a position that meets my individual needs and the needs of the organization.

23. How long would it take you to make a significant contribution to our company?

Stress you are a quick learner and able to adapt to new challenges and expectations. Speak about establishing measurable objectives with target dates. Note that you are willing to identify and take on responsibility.

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