Job Interviews

 

Sample Job Interview Questions and Answers


Ready to get familiar with some common interview questions, as well as some of the tricky ones?

Questions generally come in several flavors. They deal with

  • Introductory information about you
  • Basic qualifications and work experience
  • Job function / subject matter expertise
  • Your work processes (reasoning, behavior, organization, creativity)
  • Other

Below we will cover each type of question and strategies for how to answer them.

General and Introductory Questions

These questions are intended to break the ice, see if you relate what is important quickly and cohesively, see if your telling of events corresponds to your resume and application, and to give the interviewer a “feel” for your personality.

Your basic communication skills and demeanor will be observed and noted.

General and Introductory Questions
Sample Questions
() Tell me about yourself and what you’ve been doing.
() I see on your resume that you grew up some distance from here.  Tell me what it was like growing up in Anchorage / the Florida Keys / Boise / etc.
() Tell me why you’re looking for a change.
() Why are you looking to come to ABC Company?
() So give me the five-minute life story.
() What are your long-term goals?
() Variation: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Your Answers
Be sure to focus on qualities, accomplishments, and credentials that apply to the opening. Be brief, and stick to the “themes” and main points you want to make about yourself.
First job / Early career variation
General questions may include subjects like how your friends would describe you, what your favorite coursework was in college and why, and more about your school experience.

Basic Qualifications and Work Experience Questions

These interview questions get into more specifics about your work and educational history. If this is your first job, you will be asked about relevant coursework, part-time jobs, and projects that have given you the skills for the job, or, that demonstrate your potential to excel in the job.

If you have a work history, the interviewer will use these questions to gauge the quality of your performance, pace of advancement, and whether or not you are a job hopper. In certain fields, it is now commonplace to stay in a job for only a year or two. But a resume that shows twenty years of one and two-year job experiences will invite some explanation.

Basic Qualifications and Work Experience Questions
Sample Questions
() How does your education and work experience qualify you for this job?
() What additional training do you foresee if we hire you?
() What do you consider to be your greatest strengths?
() What do you consider to be your weaknesses, or areas for improvement?
() What accomplishment are you most proud of?
() What was your most difficult challenge?
() With what you know now, what would you have done differently?
() How long were you at your last employer?
() Why did you leave?
() Variation – what have you been doing in the past five years, since your last job?
() Do you think your career is on track?
Your Answers

Be sure to focus on specific skills, accomplishments, and examples. If you are just out of school, use projects, internships, grades, prizes, summer jobs, work-study, community service, or similar accomplishments to illustrate your value. Note that questions about why you left a former employer, as well as career progress can be very tricky. Be sure to stay POSITIVE. Never trash a former employer! And position any career setbacks or digressions as times used to regroup, refocus, polish skills, and so on.


Job Function / Subject Matter Specific Skills Questions

These questions get into the nitty-gritty of knowledge, skills, and abilities in your chosen field. Questions will probe to determine the breadth and depth of your experience and proficiency.

These questions are also designed to show the way you think, the way you learn, your planning skills, motivations, and so on. 

Some questions may include role-playing for a few minutes, or a brief period of testing. For example, if you are interviewing for an entry-level sales position, you may be asked to “sell a widget” to the interviewer. If you are applying for an editing position, you may be given a page of text to edit.

In some instances, you will actually be asked to take a test of some sort. It may be a test of your skills (typing, translating), subject matter knowledge, or a test which is designed to assess your managerial style, reasoning, or other important behavioral elements.

Here are more examples of questions falling into this category:

Job Function / Subject Matter Specific Skills Questions
Sample Questions
() Why do you think you’d be good at XYZ job?
() Sell me this stapler / computer / coffee mug.
() Take me through this financial planning scenario.
() Translate these documents for me.
() Take the next 20 minutes and give me a 3-point presentation on this article.
Your Answers

Make sure you are clear, and follow the instructions. Show your stuff! Don’t be afraid to differentiate yourself with a little creativity, if the job would call for it.   


In fields where you are dealing with the public - consumers, prospects, customers, patients, students, the press, and others – you may be asked hypotheticals, asked to role-play, or asked to perform a particular task. In managerial positions, or jobs that deal in complexity, you may also be asked hypotheticals.

“How would you handle. . .” or “What would you do if. . .” are typical ways these questions begin.

Job Function Hypothetical – High School Teacher
Sample Questions
() How would you handle conflict in the classroom that turns angry?
() How would you handle a bright student who never turns in homework?
() What can you do about the failing student who needs special motivation?
Your Answers

Make sure your responses are thoughtful, and call upon any experience you have with teen-agers (personal or professional), diffusing conflict, and enforcing discipline. It might involve safeguards and contingencies plans in the classroom, established ahead of time with school administration. Regarding special students and allocation of time, examples of successful methods used previously in teacher training, as well as utilizing guidance counselor resources, parents, outside opportunities and other means to deliver quality to students can be discussed. Again – use examples, and be specific.


Job Function Hypothetical – Supervisory/Managerial Position
Sample Questions
() How would you handle two competing deadlines, and a small team to accomplish them?
() What is your style of leadership when up against tight timeframes?
() How do you resolve conflict when it occurs on your staff?
Your Answers

Make sure your responses are thoughtful and specific. Perhaps you’ve previously used comp time or other perks with your team during crunch periods. Maybe you’ve negotiated resources from the field sales organization, to help staff a software testing project when there were no dollars or resources to accomplish it otherwise. And you positioned it as great training for the sales associates! Hypotheticals can be difficult if you haven’t yet encountered a similar situation. Call upon other areas in your background or experience that deal with prioritizing, managing resources, working smart, motivating, conflict resolution, negotiation, and so on.


Job Function Hypothetical – Payroll Manager
Sample Questions
() How would you handle heavy quarter-end and year-end processing when the flu kicks in and takes out staff?
() How would you handle cutting over to a new payroll system in the middle of the third quarter?
() What do you do first if we open up stores in three new locations, and they’re in Pennsylvania, where we’ve never paid employees before?
Your Response

Make sure your responses consider the “subtext” of the interviewer’s question. The interviewer is looking to see your comfort level with stress and proposed solutions, e.g. use of a great temp agency, or rigorous quarter-end processes so things run ahead of schedule. On the second question, the interviewer may be listening for safeguards, experience with a variety of systems, or to hear that you don’t think this is a good idea, and why! In the third question, the interviewer is testing you for specific knowledge of tricky payroll tax requirements in the state of Pennsylvania.


Career Change Questions

There are some questions that are specific to those who are changing fields, or re-entering the workforce. Be prepared for some blunt questions including the following.

Career Change Questions
Sample Questions
() Why are you changing careers after 15 years?
() Why should I hire you rather than someone whose been doing this work for 5 years already?
() What is it about this field that appeals to you?
() What have you done to prepare for this career change?
() I see a ten year gap on your resume. What have you been doing during this timer?
() What education, training, certification or other experience do you have that is pertinent?
() If this is your chosen interest, why didn’t you pursue a career in this originally?
Your Answers

Make sure your responses include plausible (real!) reasons for why you are taking on a career change at this point in time. Be specific. Perhaps you previously had travel restrictions, and now you don’t. Prior jobs may have steered you into this career change, and you can show a logical progression. Be sure to include transferable skills from your old jobs/careers, continuing education or other training you may have taken, and community service or volunteer work. Point out the applicability of all of it.  


Pay Attention: The Off-the-Wall Question. . . That Isn’t

Some interviewers want to see how well you think on your feet. They may ask an off-the-wall question that seems too vague, too blunt, or completely off topic. You either have an inexperienced interviewer, or a very shrewd one.

Here are some examples:

Question Guidance
“Tell me anything.”
  • Show you can take something unformed and give it structure.
  • Mention background and qualifications, but bring experiences to specific examples of how they pertain to the job and the company.
  • In any personal stories, be relevant to job-related contributions you can make.
  • This is also an opportunity to tell the interviewer things about your personal situation that you want known, but she can’t ask – for example about marital status or children.
  • Be organized in how you present.
  • Read the interviewer’s body language and face. Know when to stop.
“Why should I hire you?”
  • Designed to be blunt, and put you on the defensive; possibly to see how you might deal with a difficult customer, partner, or supplier.
  • Remember: it’s a strategy, not an attack. It’s also the essential reason you are there.
  • Approach each job requirement in an orderly fashion, and how you meet the need and bring value.
  • Since this is open-ended, it’s an opportunity to bring in information you’ve researched, and share your thoughts on how you can help meet those goals, as well as immediate job needs.
“What do you think we’re doing wrong here at ABC Company?”
  • Another blunt question, but clever. Your opportunity to show big picture knowledge of competition, and market opportunities.
  • This is also a test of attitude, and communication skills. Answer positively. Include what the organization is doing right. Phrase problem areas as “challenges” or “opportunities for improvement.”
“Do you really speak Russian / bench press 300 / perform in Shakespeare Repertory?”
  • If you have something on your resume – it had better be true. Some people include areas of interest in a section on their resume or C.V., or, your degree may have been in an area that doesn’t have to do with the career you are now pursuing.
  • Some interviewers will test your honesty by asking a question on these mentions in your background. And they’ll do more than ask. They may call in a colleague to probe with specific questions on the topic, or to speak to you in that unusual language. Are they testing your skills that are not required for this job? No.
  • This is a test of your veracity – and that is a job requirement.
  • This alone - may make or break an otherwise successful interview.

What if you’re interviewing with a small firm, or one person?

You may still get these questions, only more personalized. For example:

  • “So what do you think I’m doing wrong when it comes to my media strategy?”
  • “So how do you think I can increase my patient load, deliver high quality health care, and still make it out for golf on Wednesdays?”

The principles are the same. If you’ve done your homework, and stay focused on how you can contribute to the person’s success, you’ve got it covered.

The Bottom Line on All these Questions

Interview Scheduling Tip

Don’t get sandwiched in! If at all possible, try to schedule your interview first thing in the morning, or late in the day. You are less likely to blend in with the crowd.

Keep in mind that for many questions, there is no “right” answer. And no one has all the answers. The interviewer is listening to the way you reason, how you use previous experience and skills in a new situation, and how you respond to a question you might not have expected.

As for hypothetical situations – if you think the the question is phrased to lead you to a decision or action that doesn’t make sense – the “right” answer may be to say so.

In the Payroll Manager scenario above, if you think changing payroll systems mid quarter is a big mistake, you might say, “My recommendation would be not to cut over to a new system in the middle of the quarter, because. . . . Instead, I recommend. . . . But, if I must do so, I would put the following safeguards in place. . . ”

Note that in each part of the response above, you are showing your confidence, judgment, and knowledge. And you are being specific.

Know Your Rights – Handling Illegal Questions

With very few exceptions, it is illegal for any employer to ask you about marital status, family, or religious beliefs. An example of an exception: you are applying for a counseling position in a religious school, where your beliefs are relevant to your ability to effectively perform in the job.  

While the U.S. has made strides, prejudices of various types remain prevalent. Assumptions concerning an applicant’s abilities, availability, or potential cost to the organization are still made based upon gender, ethnic background, age, place of origin, and other factors.

If you believe you are being asked an illegal question, you have a few choices.

Netting it out:

  • You can answer directly
  • You can redirect your response, or answer indirectly to serve your interest
  • You can refuse to answer.

If you think your answer would “hurt” your chances at the job, politely say “I’m not comfortable answering that question.” Or, try “I don’t understand the applicability of that question to the job.” This may lead the interviewer to get to the underlying issue – your ability to travel or work long hours, for example.

If the interviewer persists, try redirecting the discussion back to an element of the job, or your experience. You may also indirectly respond. For example, if the interviewer is asking if you are married, having explained that extensive travel is part of the job and the company wants to avoid family problems, you might say “Long hours and travel have never been an issue for me. If you’ll notice, during my 5 years at ABC Company, I was on the road 75% of the time.”

If you think your answer wouldn’t hurt your candidacy and you don’t mind answering, then feel free to do so.

In many cases, the interviewer simply doesn’t realize that it is illegal to ask an “innocent” question about whether there’s a spouse and kids.

Here are some examples of illegal questions (partial list).

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have kids?
  • Been divorced long?
  • What kind of day care arrangements can you make if we give you this job?
  • Are you living with anyone? Engaged?
  • Planning on having more children?
  • How old are you?
  • How old are your children?
  • Are you a U.S. citizen? 
  • Do you own or rent?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Remember – depending upon the job you are applying for, even some of the above questions may be legitimate, because they are tied to essential qualifications for the job.

In some fields, prospective employers will conduct background checks for security purposes. Certain information will come to light at that time. If you are hired, information including birth date, citizenship, and number of dependents will be required in order to complete the hire, and accommodate your benefits needs.

And if you try saying several times, “I’m not comfortable answering that question,” and the interviewer insists? Consider whether or not this is a place you want to be.

Your Turn - Great Questions to Ask!

Turnaround is fair play, but don’t make your interviewer uncomfortable! Show your interest, show you did your homework, and make sure the job, company, and environment are a good fit for you.

In general, ask about:

  • The job (content, reporting, details of responsibilities)
  • What are the most important qualities for the job
  • What are the top (number) priorities in the job?
  • The team
  • The organizational culture
  • How you will fit into the organizational structure
  • The market, and how it is changing
  • Company’s plans for growth
  • Advancement
  • Particular challenges of the role
  • Company philosophy and values
  • Where you can make your greatest contribution
  • What the interviewer finds most challenging in his job
  • What the interviewer finds most satisfying in his job
  • Typical amount of time to get up to speed
  • Training opportunities you will have
  • What “success” in this job looks like (open-ended – see where it goes)
  • What are the most important qualities to be successful in the job?
  • What “success” in this company looks like

Involve yourself with the organization in the way you phrase your questions. This is a subtle way of showing you are already imagining yourself as part of the team.

For example, rather than “I’d like to hear more about your team,” try this: “I’d like to hear more about my role on the team.” Or, rather than “I’d like to know what you consider to be great performance in this job,” say: “I’d like to know more about how I can contribute immediately to this job, as well as where my performance will have the most long-term value.”

Asking about amount of travel is usually a good idea, but if you do want to travel and the answer is none, make sure you don’t show your disappointment. If you don’t want to travel and the answer is 20%, likewise. If you don’t want to travel and the answer is 50%, you’re in the wrong place.

Don’t ask about time off or telecommuting in an interview! Especially if you are early in your career or it’s a tough market.

Does that mean if you’re getting married in a month and honeymooning for two weeks you shouldn’t speak up? No. Just make sure you time that information appropriately.

Is telecommuting or flex-hours absolutely necessary for you? Know beforehand if the company has a policy on that. If you have previously worked flex-hours or telecommuted, be sure to offer a record of success at doing so, and your methods for staying wired in to the company, to your department, to your manager, and to your team.   

More Resources for Interview Questions

For sample questions in specific industries and subject matter, try these resources:

We also suggest that you find career pages in your field that will have explicit questions pertaining to subject matter expertise. You may, for example, try local nursing schools, technical institutes, and universities that offer undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in your field.

Now it’s time to turn to tricky situations, and strategies for pulling it all off successfully.

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