Common Interview Questions

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Tell us about yourself

Questions like this are common at the beginning of an interview. They act as an introduction, giving you and the interviewer space to ease into the interview process. Your response also allows the interviewer to hear a summary of your background and skills, which can give them insight into the experience and qualifications you think are most relevant to the position.

It’s also a question that can cause some uncertainty in the interviewee. By answering this question well however, you can show the interviewer that you are confident, good under pressure, and attentive to the qualifications of the position.

To prepare, think about your response as a short story that you can share in two minutes or less:

  • Mention your past experiences and successes that relate to the position. Carefully read the position description and pay attention to the required skills it mentions – identify recent professional experiences/actions that demonstrate those skills. 
  • Consider how your current position or volunteer work relates to the job you’re applying for and how your current skills will transfer.
  • Focus on strengths and abilities you can support with specific examples. In your examples, provide details and outcomes that are quantifiable, if possible. Ex: “increased customer service response rates by 10%.” sounds more impactful than  “improved customer service”. 
  • Highlight your personality without going into personal details. You can briefly mention hobbies that demonstrate professional/personal development and/or community engagement (e.g., reading, music, sports league, volunteering) or hobbies that highlight personal determination and achievement (e.g., learning a new skill, training for a half marathon). 
  • Format your response. You want to be clear and concise, so organize your answer in one of two common ways:
    • Present, Past and Future 
    • Past, Present and Future
      • Both are great to frame your response. Choose one way over the other based on our previous work experience and what  is most relevant to the position you’re interviewing for. Ex: If your most recent work highlights more skills and qualifications for the role, you may want to lead with the present. If your past experience is more closely related to the role, consider leading with your past.

Why are you interested in this role?/What experience do you have that will help you be successful?

Questions like this are typically trying to identify the following:

  • How well do you understand the position you’re applying for?
  • Are you excited about it?
  • How your goals and experience align with the role/organization
    • Will you positively contribute to the organization?

To answer, consider what you know about the organization and reflect on the position description. Think about how they both relate to your background and your goals. You can write down your answer for practice but instead of memorizing it, try to remember a few key points. That way you’re able to respond without the information in front of you.

To prepare, consider:

  • How is this position going to help you advance in your career?
  • How does the position align with your future goals?
  • What is unique about this position over similar ones?
  • What makes you uniquely qualified for this organization/role?

Your answer should reflect how thoroughly you read the job description and that you feel the position is the best next step for you in your career. 

Describe a situation when you had a conflict at work and how you handled it.

This is an example of a “behavior-based” question. Your answer should include an example of an event that you experienced that showcases your conflict resolution skills. Your response will help  the employer assess how you respond to conflict and your teamwork abilities. It can also provide them with insight on how you may perform in the future when conflict arises. Your example can come from your work history or from a class project where you worked on a team.

When responding, use the STAR method:

  • Situation: Describe the conflict or challenge.
  • Task: Explain your role in the conflict.
  • Action: Discuss the steps you took to resolve the conflict.
  • Result: Describe the results of your actions.

Make sure to select an example where you played a role in achieving a positive outcome.

Tell us about one of your greatest accomplishments.

This is an example of a “behavior-based” question. Your answer should include an example of a time when you successfully completed a project, achieved a goal, or improved a process – any experience that is related to the position you’re applying for that showcases your ability to achieve results. Your response will help the employer assess your effectiveness on the job and it can also provide them with insight on how you may perform in the future. Your example can come from your work history or from a class project.

When responding, use the STAR method:

  • Situation: Describe the situation and provide context.
  • Task: Explain your role in identifying action items.
  • Action: Discuss the steps you took to achieve your results.
  • Result: Describe the successful results of your actions.

Why should we hire you?

Employers might ask this question to learn what makes you different from other people applying for the position. They might also ask this question to see how you handle difficult situations because this question has the potential to fluster people – it can be challenging to explain why you’re the best person for a job in a thoughtful way.

Consider the following tips to help you prepare:

  • Study the job posting: To understand the specific skills, qualifications, and experience the employer is looking for, review the job posting closely. It’s important to pay attention to the job description and key sections like “Requirements,” “Experience” and “Education.” Find where your skills and experiences align with what is written.
  • Research the company: Make sure you know the organization’s mission and goals. You can use this information to explain how your values are aligned with theirs and how you might help them accomplish their goals.
  • Tie your experience to the job posting: Explain how your experience and skills make you uniquely qualified for the role. You should address each of the requirements listed in the job posting, as well as any additional ways you stand out.
  • Quantify your accomplishments: When possible, support your accomplishments with measurable results. 
    • Ex: “Designed and implemented a curriculum that improved students’ mastery of the 8th grade math standards, leading to a 95% success rate” sounds more impactful than, “helped students improve their math skills.”

What is your ideal work environment?

Employers want to know about your work preferences so they can see if it aligns with the needs of their organization. They are looking to discover your potential to be successful in the role. The more honest you are, the greater your chance of landing a position that you can thrive in. If you like a lot of interpersonal communication,  you may not enjoy a position where the primary function is to input data into spreadsheets and vice versa.

When preparing your answer, consider:

  • What is your ideal work environment? – Do you like a fast paced environment where you are balancing several tasks at once or do you prefer a steadier pace where you have time to deep dive into a few specific tasks?
  • What is the employer looking for in an answer? – Does the position description mention that they’re looking for someone who thrives under pressure or for someone who can focus for large stretches of time

With so many factors making up an environment, everyone’s preferences will be a bit different. Here are some aspects that may affect your definition of your ideal work environment:

  • Communication
  • Work-life balance
  • Professional development
  • In-person or remote work
  • Employee recognition
  • Management style

How would you describe your working style?

You can learn a lot about the organization’s work style from the job posting. You might see key words like fast paced, challenging, flexible, or supportive. When thinking about your working style, it’s important to understand the environment you feel will bring out your best. To help you reflect on your working style, consider the following prompts:

  • Reflect on your ideal work environment: Do you enjoy working as part of a  team or do you prefer working on your own? While many interviewers are expecting candidates to work well in teams, there is nothing wrong with enjoying independent work. If you thrive as part of a team, discuss your experience collaborating with other people and the accomplishments that came from it, while also highlighting your ability to be independent. If you favor working solo, discuss the achievements you’ve made while working alone while also valuing collaboration and getting feedback from colleagues.
  • Consider your relationship with supervision: Do you like to take direction from a supervisor or a team lead? Are you more comfortable working with little or no supervision, apart from pre-scheduled performance evaluations? No matter your preference, be sure to emphasize the importance of teamwork and feedback from your supervisor. 
  • Consider your speed and accuracy: What does your work look like when under a tight schedule, managing several competing deadlines at once? Do you enjoy the challenge or does the thought give you pause? Alternatively, what does your work look like with little to no structured deadlines? Do you like to set your own pace or do you prefer clearly defined timeframes? Whatever your preference, your response should include strategies you have used to achieve success. 
  • Be honest: If you prefer working alone in a quiet environment, let the interviewer know. It is also a good idea to mention your ability to be flexible and adapt to different environments.
  • Be concise: Keep your response brief, to the point, and relevant to the position requirements. Focus on the qualities that make you uniquely suited for the position.