Thinking about, and preparing answers to, common interview questions.

Most interviews are structured around common questions designed to allow the employer to find out more about you and your potential to be a good fit with the organization. While speaking with you, the interviewer will most likely take notes on your answers. With good preparation for interview questions, you have the opportunity to portray yourself in the best light and to have clear and concise responses practiced and at the ready.

In section 4.3, we discussed preparing for the open-ended self-description question. In addition to this self-description category there are a few additional categories of common interview questions:

  • Strengths and weaknesses
  • Future/commitment
  • Work ethic/work personality
  • Biggest accomplishment
  • Ethics
  • Psychology
  • Fun/Leisure
  • Your questions

Strengths and Weaknesses: “What is your biggest strength?” “Name three weakness and tell me how you are working to improve on them.”

To prepare an answer to these types of questions, begin by referring back to section 1.5. Review the Skills and Abilities assignment. Think about which skills will benefit the organization and the position the most, and think about how best to talk about these skills clearly and concisely.

The more challenging part of this question is talking about your weaknesses. It’s best to start by phrasing positive attributes as weaknesses. Some interviewers will call you out on this and you’ll need to have an alternate answer, but it’s safest to begin with positives. How do you spin a positive as a weakness? Here are a few examples:

  • “I can become compulsive about performing well at work.”
  • “Because work is something I am so passionate about, I tend to work too many hours.”
  • “I have a hard time saying, ‘no’ to work assignments and I end up taking on a lot.”

When developing an answer for weaknesses, make sure not to re-use a quality or qualities you’re using as a strength.

You should also prepare a less-positive weakness so you can explain how you deal with or are working to improve. Here are some examples:

  • “I tend to overextend myself at times, but I’m getting better at achieving a good balance.”
  • “My spelling is not the best, but I use spell check and an online dictionary to counteract this issue.”
  • “I sometimes do not budget my time well, so now I use a personal planner to keep on top of things.”

Future/Commitment: “Where do you see yourself in five (two, ten, fifteen) years?”

Companies want to hire people who are interested in making a long-term commitment and who want to grow with the company and participate in its success. Be imaginative when answering this question: what are your aspirations, ambitions, and vision for yourself at the company? They’re not going to follow up with you in five years to see if you’ve accomplished what you state in your interview, so don’t be shy! One example of an answer:

  • “In five years I see myself in an upper-management position that allows me to have a wider influence on the company’s growth and direction.”

Work Ethic/Work Personality: “How would you describe your work personality? Can you give me examples from your prior positions?” “Why did you leave your last position?” “What did you like about your last job? What did you dislike about it?”

Employers ask these sorts of questions to try to get a sense of the kind of employee you’ll make. The interviewer is looking for qualities that will be a good fit for the position and the company, and a personality that will fit in with the professional culture of their workplace.

If you do not have prior work experience, you should answer these questions by explaining how you have demonstrated work-appropriate skills through volunteering, organizations, clubs, school, and other activities.

Beware of over-sharing in your answer to questions about your prior positions. If you were fired, then you should be honest about it, but portray it as a learning experience that has made you a better employee.

If you resigned or moved on to a different position, here are some examples of short answers that don’t give too much information:

  • “I left the organization because I felt under utilized.”
  • “I felt it was time to move on to a better opportunity.”
  • “I was offered a better opportunity.”
  • “I went back to school.”
  • “I relocated … “

Ethics: “If you found out another employee was stealing or lying about their hours, what would you do?”

Some employers have had issues with employees taking advantage or being dishonest while on the job, e.g., lying about the hours they work, skimming money from the register, stealing company supplies, using company resources (cars, credit cards) for their own needs, or observing coworkers doing these activities without reporting them. While most applicants will not admit if they’ve done these things, employers will try to get a sense of your ethical sensibilities by talking about your standards for reporting coworkers. An example of an answer:

  • “I would report any employee I felt was behaving dishonestly in the workplace. I think trust between an employer and employee is very important and I’m not comfortable working in an environment where employees take advantage of an employer.â€?

Biggest accomplishment: “Name the one accomplishment of which you are most proud so far in your career.”

Choose an accomplishment that shows your work ethic, determination, or skills related to the job. If you don’t have a work history yet, choose an accomplishment such as completing training or getting a degree. An example:

  • “My biggest accomplishment so far is successfully completing my training as a chef. It took a lot of discipline and hard work, but I learned a tremendous amount and feel it has left me well-prepared for my chosen career.”

Psychology: “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”

Psychological questions can be hard to prepare for and may seem strange. They have become less common in the interview process because most employers don’t know how to grade an answer to this type of question. If you do get this sort of question in an interview, take it seriously and keep in mind that the employer is looking for an answer that shows who you are or how you see yourself as a person or employee. Some possible answers could be:

  • “Palm, because they are flexible, yet strong.”
  • “Teak, because it is considered one of the hardest trees and I can bear a lot of weight on my shoulders.”
  • “Ebony, because it is considered one of the strongest and can produce extremely beautiful wood.”
  • “I would be a Jack Russell Terrier because they are considered the most intelligent dogs.”
  • “I would be a German Shepherd because they are loyal and obedient working dogs.”
  • “I would be a work horse such as the Clydesdale because I mean business when I am at work and intend to get the job done.”

Fun/Leisure: “What are your favorite hobbies? What do you do with your free time?”

These questions help employers get to know more about you. Choose a hobby or leisure activity that is appropriate and not controversial. Remember that this is a job interview and you will be judged on your answer. Some safe areas are typically sports, music, literature, crafts, movies, theatre, hiking/camping, writing/arts, and philanthropic work. Philanthropic or volunteer work is always a thing good to mention, as it shows you are interested in helping other people.

Your questions: “Do you have any questions for me?”

Usually interviewers ask this sort of question towards the end of the interview. If you are meeting with multiple people, each person may ask you this question. You should always have a list questions prepared for the interview. Some may be answered as you work your way through the interview, but some will not. Here are some sample questions:

  • “Is this a new position? If yes: Why did you feel the need to add it? If no: How long had the prior employee held the position? Why did he or she leave the position?”
  • “What are the hours typically?”
  • “Are there specific areas you’d like to see this position pay attention to? Areas that you would like to improve?”
  • “What is the turnover rate like for this position?”
  • “Why do you like working here?”
  • “Describe the ideal employee for this position.”
  • “Does this position have the opportunity to grow?”
  • “What is the possibility of advancement within the business?”
  • “Can I provide you with any more information to help you get a better idea about the quality of work that I would provide?”
  • “Does the company offer benefits? What kind?”
  • “What is the next step in the hiring process (only if they have not mentioned this prior)?”

It’s extremely important to prepare for an interview by making sure you have good answers to the most common questions. Your goal is to make sure you are not caught off-guard in an interview and therefore likely to give a less-than-ideal answer, and also to be able to conduct the interview with less anxiety because you’ll know you are well prepared.

Next: Assignment  Previous: Answering Interview Questions

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