Most questions you will ever be asked in an interview can be anticipated beforehand. This means that you can develop effective answers and practice your responses before you are sitting face-to-face with a prospective employer! This is like having the questions in advance for a final exam! (Some sample responses are given for answering some of the more difficult questions.)
This list of frequently asked interview questions is a good starting place in preparing for interviews. Once you have developed good answers (in writing) to each relevant question, practice giving your answers out loud. Have a friend pose as the “interviewer,” and use a tape recorder or camcorder to record the mock interview.
Listen to the recorded “interview” and modify any of your responses that: (1) are too long (most answers should not exceed 60 seconds); (2) do not clearly answer the question being asked; and/or, (3) do not market your skills and abilities effectively.
Prior to an interview, think through the 3-5 things that you most want to communicate to the interview about your qualifications for the position. Make sure you emphasize those points in your responses to his/her questions. And, if the interviewer isn't’t asking questions that elicit good information about your qualifications, take the initiative in talking about yourself. For example, you could insert a statement like this into the interview: “This position really is of interest to me, and I believe I could do it well. Some of my strengths are....”
- Can you tell me about yourself? (In your mind, re-word the question to “Can you tell me about your qualifications for this position?” Do not mistake this question for being an inquiry about your personal life or life history!) Use your Contact Card to develop your answer.
- Bad answer:
“Well, I was born into a family of four children. I was the youngest, so learned some cute tricks to get attention. Then when I turned 21 I left home and hitchhiked across America...My first job was a doozy, let me tell you...” (The interviewer is now either asleep or is waiting for an opportunity to show this person the door!)
- Good answer:
“I have more than 15 years of accounting experience, and am proficient with several different software programs. I have previous experience in this industry working for the Barnsworth Company, which is about the same size as your organization. There, I supervised a staff of five employees and streamlined the accounts payable process, reducing the paperwork and staff time required by about 20%. I have a strong work ethic, am detailed-oriented and skilled at finding ways to improve efficiency.”
- Bad answer:
- What are your greatest strengths? (Be prepared to talk about at least three strengths you have that relate to the job. Develop an example for each area of strength.)
Sample response from a person interviewing for a Copy Editor position:
“I have strong skills in using proper grammar and punctuation. In my previous position, my manager asked me to edit the departmental policy manual, even though it wasn't’t part of my job description. He said he recognized that I was very good in making sure writing was correct.
I also have strong attention to detail and a commitment to doing a project well. I consistently receive recognition from my superiors for the quality of my work.
Lastly, I take initiative, when appropriate. When working on the departmental manual, for example, I noticed that it was missing information on working with certain vendors. I pointed this out to my manager. He said it was a major oversight, and was very glad I had said something.”
- What are your greatest areas of weaknesses? (The strategy in answering this question is to think of job-related weaknesses that are genuine, but that will not eliminate you as a candidate. Weaknesses can be in terms of skills, knowledge areas or personal qualities. Always talk about how you are working on this weakness. Be prepared with at least two or three examples. If you only prepare one example, you might be caught off-guard in an interview if you are asked to give “a couple of examples of weaknesses.”)
- Bad answers:
“I really don’t think I have any!” (No one is perfect– this answer shows either a lack of self-knowledge or a lack of humility!)
“I’m short-tempered with my kids and my house is usually a mess!” (Talk only about work-related weaknesses; do not talk about personal shortcomings!)
“I resent having to be at work right at 9:00 a.m. I’m usually at least 10-15 minutes late.” (If this has been true in past positions, the job candidate definitely needs to correct this attitude and behavior! And, even if true, this would not be something to share in an interview unless the person did not want the job!)
“Wow! Where do I begin. . .there are so many!”
- Good answers:
(Weakness in skill area): “I have not worked on this type of phone system before, but I have used several other systems and am confident that I could quickly get up to speed.”
(Weakness in knowledge area): “I am not yet very familiar with your product line, but I have been studying your catalog so that I would be able to talk intelligently with your customers.”
(Weakness in personal skill area): “Paper work and record keeping are weaker areas for me, but I understand that I must keep accurate records of my billable hours. I would make it a priority to set aside time during each day to keep my records current.”
- Bad answers:
- Why are you interested in this particular area of work (in this job)
(Do as much research on the company and the position as possible so that you can give a knowledgeable answer. Share your enthusiasm, telling why you are enthusiastic about the position and how your qualifications fit the position)
- Why should we hire you (instead of the other candidates we are interviewing)?
(This question may be asked toward the end of an interview. The interviewer is asking you to “sell” yourself! Summarize and highlight again what your key qualifications are and how they equip you to do a good job and to meet the employer’s needs. Make sure to express enthusiasm about the job, as well.)
- What interests you about our organization? or What do you know about our company?
(Do your homework on the company so you can answer this question intelligently.)
- What did you like about your last job?
(In particular, talk about aspects of your last job that relate to the job for which you are interviewing.)
- What didn't't you like about your last job?
(Be careful with this question! Negativity is a “red flag” to employers. Talk only about relatively minor things (such as, “I wish they would have used a software system that was more efficient. We weren't’t able to access customer records as quickly as I would have liked.”) that won’t label you as a complainer.
- What were your major contributions to your last job? or What are your three greatest accomplishments in your career?
(Be prepared to talk about at least three contributions and/or accomplishment that are relevant to the job for which you are interviewing, including their impact on the department/company.)
- What kind of contribution can you make to our company?
(Think through how your past experience relates to the new position. Also, the more you know about the needs/problems of the prospective employer’s department and/or company, the better you can answer this question.)
- How did you help to increase sales and/or profits at your last job?
- What interests you most about this job?
- What interests you least about this job?
Employers frequently ask questions related to personal skills (personality traits, etc.). Think through what personal skills are most relevant to the position for which you are interviewing. Prepare examples that illustrate your personal skills in key areas. The following are examples of questions that relate to personal skills:
- Are you creative? Cite some examples.
- Do others think of you as being analytical? Why or why not?
- Give me some examples that illustrate your communication skills.
- Do you consider yourself to be a “people person”? Why or why not?
- Can you work under pressure?
- Give me an example of a time you were criticized, and tell me how you reacted.
- How would your former boss describe you? or How would your references describe you?
If applying for a supervisory or management position, you may get questions such as:
- How well do you delegate responsibility? Cite an example.
- Do you feel about managing people? How would you assess your management skills?
- Have you ever hired anyone? Tell me about it.
- How many people have you trained? Tell me about a time when the training didn't’t go well. What could you have done differently?
- Tell me about a project in which you worked with people from different levels of the organization.
Employers want to have a sense of your career goals. They may ask questions like these:
- What are your long-term objectives?
- What are your short-term objectives?
- In what ways would you like to improve your job skills or knowledge?
- How long do you envision yourself working for this company?
- What do you hope to get from this job?
- How far do you feel you can go in this company?
- If you could choose any company for which you could work, which would you select?
Hiring someone is a big responsibility. Employers look to find any potential problems in a candidate. When asked questions such as the following, you need to speak to the employer’s concern in order to answer the questions effectively.
- Why have you changed jobs so frequently
(The employer’s concerns are that for some reason, you may be unable to keep a job successfully and/or that you are a job-hopper, and would leave this company after a short time also. If you have changed jobs frequently, you need to develop a brief, concise explanation about your job history and reassure the employer that you are looking for a long-term position.)
- Do you have a degree?
(If you do not have a college degree, you can respond with an answer such as: “I had to go to work at an early age, and was unable to complete my formal education. I have made it a point to attend seminars and training sessions to develop my professional skills. All of my past managers have been very satisfied with my knowledge level and work performance.” A great follow-up question for you to ask is: What are the key qualifications you are looking for in the person you will choose to fill this position? Once the manager has answered, you can then present (with examples) how your qualifications fit what he/she is looking.
- Have you ever been fired?
(If you have, describe it as positively as possible and take responsibility for anything you did that led up to the firing. For example, “Yes, regrettably, I have been. Ten years ago I went through a brief time in which I let personal problems affect my work. I missed an important deadline and my supervisor decided to let me go. I left on friendly terms with my supervisor, and he would verify that my performance, except for that one incident, was excellent. Since that time I have never allowed personal problems to affect my work.””)
- Why were you out of work for so long?
(Be prepared to explain any gaps in your work history. Give a straightforward answer, and steer the conversation back to talking about you and/or the job for which you are interviewing. For example, “I decided to stay home when my children were young. I have really enjoyed my return to the workforce, and am excited about this position because....” or “I was working on my degree, and decided to go full-time so that I would not have to divide my time and attention between work and school. I like to give my job 100%....” or “I had been in a few unsatisfying jobs, and decided to take a “time out” to determine what kind of job would really be a good fit for me. Like my previous position, I believe this job would be a good fit because....”
- How well did you get along with your previous supervisor? What things do you think he/she should have done differently?
(Be careful with your answer, especially if you and your supervisor did not get along well, or if you thought the department should be handled differently. No employer wants to hire someone with a negative, critical attitude. Sample response: “Although my supervisor and I have different personalities, we were able to work effectively together. I guess one thing I would have done differently is be firmer with some people who tended to slack off. My supervisor was pretty gentle in his feedback.”)
Job-specific questions. Depending on the position and/or company, an employer may ask questions such as:
- Are you willing to travel?
- Would you be able to relocate?
- Would you be willing to work the night shift?
“Money” questions--These types of questions are addressed in the salary negotiation section of the website.
Learning to handle these types of questions well can increase your salary by thousands of dollars.
- What is your salary history?
- What are your salary requirements?
- Do you feel you are being fairly compensated at your present job? Why or why not?
- Would you be willing to take less money?
- What do you think you are worth?
“Problem” Interview Questions
Ambiguous questions– Make sure you understand a question before answering it. You shouldn't’t have to be a mind-reader; ask for clarification if you are unclear as to what the interviewer is asking.
Example: A woman was interviewing for a counseling position in a large church. She was asked, “How do you feel about pagers?” Wisely, she did not launch into a monologue about pagers. She could have said, “I’m not sure what you are asking. Could you please explain your question a little further?” Being the intuitive counselor she is, however, she was able to discern what they were REALLY asking, and asked the committee, “Are you asking how I feel about being on call?” to which they responded, “Yes, we are.” They thought that was exactly what they were asking!
Example: How do you feel about the Internet? (Sample response: What aspect of the Internet would you like me to address?)
Illegal questions-- Title VII is a federal law that forbids employers from discriminating against any person on the basis of sex, age, race, national origin, or religion. (An exception is that religious non-profits are allowed to discuss a person’s beliefs within the context of the hiring process.) Nevertheless, you might find yourself in a situation in which an employer asks you an illegal question (perhaps unaware that the question is inappropriate). The best strategy is to answer the question courteously, and then move the discussion to your qualifications. (If you are asked an illegal question and you are very uncomfortable with you, you can try asking, “So that I can better understand what you are asking, could you please explain how the question relates to the position?” There is a risk of this question seeming confrontational, so use it carefully.)
The following are examples of illegal questions and possible responses:
How old are you? (Sample response: “I’m in my forties and have more than 20 years of experience in this field. Some of the ways I see my skills fitting this position are....”)
Do you have children? (Sample response: “Yes, I do, but my previous employer can confirm for you that being a parent does not affect my work performance. I will be able to meet all of the demands of this position.”)
(From a secular employer) I see you worked for a ministry. Are you religious? (Sample response: “Yes, I am and my faith is important to me. I bring to the job a strong work ethic and a desire to be of service in all that I do.”)
© Article copyright by Kevin and Kay Marie Brennfleck, www.ChristianCareerCenter.com. All rights reserved. The above information is intended for personal use only. No commercial use of this information is authorized without written permission.