A Definitive Guide to Interview Questions

There’s a lot of interview advice out there. And, to be fair, there’s a lot of types of interviews to prepare for: informational, behavioral, traditional, working, stress, Skype, lunch, group, and more. How can you possibly be ready for all of them? Yet most people, even when they are experts in their roles, are not experts at interviewing.

We put together this list of commonly asked questions, to give you a sense of what you’re really being asked. Questions start the minute the interview does, and to show that you are a top candidate, you need to be prepared to answer not only the typical questions, but also the unexpected. You can expect questions regarding your qualifications, your academic experience, career interests, previous roles, and personality.

Ready?

Tell me about yourself.

The number one question in interviews, and usually the first one too. This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it’s crucial. Here’s the deal: Don’t give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead, have a short statement prepared to avoid the trap of a meandering narrative. However, be careful that it doesn’t sound too rehearsed. Limit it to work-related accomplishments, unless instructed otherwise. Talk about things you have done and jobs you have held that relate to the position you are interviewing for.

Why did you leave your last job? | Why are you looking?

There’s a wrong answer here and a right one.

The wrong answer is to share anything negative that might be propelling you out of your existing role. If you say you’re leaving your current job because you dislike your boss, or you don’t get along with your colleagues, you’ll be giving your interviewer a reason to dump you. And the same goes for answers that have even a tinge of negativity (e.g. “I find the commute is just too long,” or “The job is too demanding, and I want to spend more time with my family.”) These may be true, but they won’t help.

Instead, paint a picture of yourself as an aspirational employee who has done all there is to do in your current role, but is ready to take the next step in building your career. Talk about your accomplishments, your game plan for moving to the next level in your career, and how the job you’re applying for will require the skills you have already developed.

What do you know about [our company]?

This question is a great reminder to do research on the organization before the interview. Find out where they have been and where they are going. What are the current issues and who are the major players? Don’t stop at a cursory Google search – you want to know some substantive things about the organization.

Then, in your answer, start with one line that shows you understand the company’s goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.

Why do you want to work for [our company]?

This is a similar question to the previous one, but you still might get both in one interview. Essentially, the interviewer wants to know whether you care enough about this position and the business to take the time to do your homework.

So do your homework! While this isn’t a test, you should be aware of the business’s major initiatives, mission, and qualities. You should also look into all aspects of the business that are related to the position or function you’ll be performing. For example, if you’re interviewing for a marketing role, make sure to look at all of the company’s social media accounts.

Also, just as in dating, the other person wants to hear that you’re excited about getting into a relationship with them. First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you are doing great things”).

This may take some thought and certainly should be based on the research you have done on the organization. Sincerity is extremely important here and will be sensed. Relate the company’s needs to your long-term career goals.

What are your greatest strengths?

Have you heard of the STAR format? This is a way to answer interview questions that otherwise might sound like bland generalities by telling a story with Situation, Task, Action, Result. Let’s say that your ability to prioritize is a top strength. Instead of just telling the interviewer that you’re good at prioritizing, tell them about a time where your prioritization really shined, with a clear context, the goal, your actions, and the result of the actions you took. Make sure your strengths relate to the qualifications of the job and always stay positive.

If you’re not sure about your strengths, ask coworkers and family what they think your strengths are – you can even weave in a quote into your response. This is also a great way to answer another common question: “How would your boss/coworkers describe you?”

What is your greatest weakness?

Similar to the omnipresent question about strengths, but with a tricky edge. We’re all people; we all have flaws. However, the interview isn’t a place to be too honest. It’s better to answer in a STAR formatted response about a weakness that doubles as a strength (e.g. “I’m not great with details, because I’m often focused on the bigger picture” for a role that doesn’t require strong detail-orientation) or with a true weakness that you’ve taken concrete steps to improve (e.g. “I’m often too focused on the big picture, so I’ve started to track details by starting a daily planner, using Outlook’s reminder function, and double-checking emails before I send them.”). Do not say that you don’t have any weaknesses.

What have you done to improve your knowledge in the last year?

Try to include improvement activities that relate to the job. A wide variety of activities can be mentioned as positive self-improvement. Even books you are reading or have read. Have some good ones handy to mention.

What are your salary expectations?

A loaded question, particularly after the Oregon Equal Pay Act, which prohibits an employer from asking about your salary history. A nasty little game that you will probably lose if you answer first. So, it if at all possible, do not answer. Instead, say something like, “I would be lying if I said money didn’t matter, but I’m if you’re at market for this role, I will be happy with your range” or “Boly:Welch gave me the range for this position and it is at the same level as other jobs I am interviewing for.” In most cases, the interviewer, taken off guard, will tell you. If you have to give a number give a very wide range!

Have you ever been asked to leave a position?

If you have not, say no. If you have, be honest, brief and avoid saying negative things about the people or organization involved.

Tell me about your dream job.

Stay away from a specific job. You cannot win. If you say the job you are contending for is it, you strain credibility. If you say another job is it, you plant the suspicion that you will be dissatisfied with this position if hired. The best is to stay generic and say something like: A job where I love the work, like the people, can contribute and can’t wait to get to work. However, do include some specifics about what kind of work you like, the type of people you like to work with, and what specifically you can offer – people don’t remember generic answers very well.

Tell me about your ability to work under pressure.

You may say that you thrive under certain types of pressure, or you can discuss strategies for dealing with pressure that you’ve used before. Give a STAR example that relates to the type of position you applied for.

What books are you reading or have you read lately?

Be sure to have examples. If you aren’t reading a book, do you follow what’s going on around you? Portland Business Journal, etc.

What other companies are you interviewing with?

Companies ask this for a number of reasons, from wanting to see what the competition is for you to sniffing out whether you’re serious about the industry. Often the best approach is to mention that you are exploring a number of other similar options in the company’s industry. It can be helpful to mention that a common characteristic of all the jobs you are applying to is the opportunity to apply some critical abilities and skills that you possess. For example, you might say, “I am applying for several positions with marketing firms where I can analyze client needs and translate them to teams.”

Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a coworker. How did you handle it?

There might be any number of behavioral interview questions asked at the interview. Be ready with anecdotes (in the STAR format!) about your experiences for these kinds of situational interview questions. They don’t have to be about the most interesting days you’ve had at work; instead, think of situations that have highlighted the fact that you’re mature and capable of working with a variety of people.

Are you planning on having children?

Questions about your family status, gender (“How would you handle managing a team of all men?”), nationality (“Where were you born?”), religion, or age, are illegal—but they still get asked (and frequently). Of course, not always with ill intent—the interviewer might just be trying to make conversation—but you should definitely tie any questions about your personal life (or anything else you think might be inappropriate) back to the job at hand. For this question, think: “You know, I’m not quite there yet. But I am very interested in the career paths at your company. Can you tell me more about that?”

Do you think you are overqualified for this position?

Regardless of your qualifications, state that you are very well qualified for the position.

Do you have any questions for me?

Always have some questions prepared – you are trying to figure out if this is a good fit for you as well! How did you get started with this organization? What do you enjoy most about working here? What has not worked with other people in this position? What has worked best with other people in this position? What type of projects will I be able to assist on? How would you like to see this position develop over the next couple of years?

Additional Questions:

• Do you prefer working independently or on a team?

• Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you dealt with it.

• Describe a situation where you didn’t have enough hours in a day to complete what was expected of you. How did you handle this situation?

• What do you like to do outside of work?

• What would your first 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this job?

• Describe a time you had to make a difficult decision at work.

• Why should we hire you?

Check out our additional resources on resumes, cover letters, and more!