Sample Questions

Your chances of interviewing really well are greatly increased when you know what to expect once you walk in the door. Most interviewers ask the same kinds of things, and reviewing this list of commonly asked questions will make a big difference in your ability to answer intelligently and impressively. Here's a sampling of some typical interview questions. Read through these and think about how you would answer, then use them in your mock interview. If you need more questions, consult the interview websites listed below.

Commonly asked questions

Why are you leaving your present position?

Make a positive in your answer, no matter how much you might hate your current (or ex) boss, or feel embittered by your past experiences. One of the worst things you can do in an interview is to bash your past or current employer. Rather than saying something negative about someone else, use your answer to this question to say something positive about yourself, such as "I'm very eager to learn, and my present job doesn't afford me that opportunity…"

What are your strengths?

Using your knowledge of the company and the job description, tailor your answer to hit a few key points that you think are essential to landing the job. If the classified ad mentioned "organized team player with excellent verbal skills," and these apply to you, you'll want to talk about how organized you are, how well you get along with others, and how much you enjoy writing and public speaking. Back up anything you say with an example of how you have demonstrated this ability or strength (and these examples can be taken from non-work experience if your employment history is limited).

What are your weaknesses?

This question is very tricky, and it's meant to be. You're not going to the interview to tell the employer how disorganized you are, or how difficult it is for you to get up early. Yet we're all human and the employer knows this. Answering that you have no weaknesses will be viewed as dishonest or evasive. So what do you say? Try to be honest without incriminating yourself, and show ways in which you've been working on improving yourself. For instance, if you have a tendency to work too quickly and miss mistakes, talk about how you've been proofreading all your work and consciously putting on the brakes if you find yourself whipping along at 90mph.

Why should we hire you?

This is where you apply the Mohammad Ali strategy -- as in, You Are the King of the World. Of course, you're not really going to SAY that, but in so many words, you want to convey that you are the best choice for the job, and will be an absolute asset for the company. Be straightforward about offering a great attitude and a valuable set of skills and abilities.

Where do you want to be in 3 or 5 years?

Don't say "Tahiti," no matter how true it is. Try to tailor your answer to the position you're applying for, and think about where that job might lead you in 3-5 years. The best bet is to remain realistic and positive: "I hope to be a successful (your job here/or natural next-step), with more experience and knowledge, working with a great team, etc."

Why do you want to work here?

This is a good place to show off your knowledge of the company and show what you have to offer. For example, you could say "I want to work here because I'm confident I can contribute to your success in the shaving cream industry. Your profits are based on expanding your distribution, which was one of my biggest achievements at my last job…."

What did you like/dislike about your last job?

Again, be positive and make sure to target your answers to leverage your skills and experience. The safest bet is to say you liked everything about your last job, and describe your departure as a natural progression (I outgrew the position/I wanted to work for a larger company/etc.)

What are your biggest accomplishments?

Make sure to mention things that pertain directly to the job you're applying for, and be honest. You don't want to come off as a braggart or a snob, so talking about what you learned and the ways in which teamwork was involved can help soften the heroism of this answer, and make you feel more comfortable talking about yourself.

How do you work under pressure?

You want to give more than a simple "well" or "badly" answer to this one. Provide some examples of what you do to handle pressure, or strategies you might employ. You could also sneak in some of your positive attributes; saying, for example, "Because I have very strong organizational skills and tend to be a pretty calm person, pressure doesn't really get to me. I enjoy the challenge, and work through it."

How are you at juggling numerous tasks/responsibilities at once?

You want to give more than a simple "good" or "bad" answer to this one; strive to communicate your ability to remain calm and organized in a hectic situation. Provide some examples of strategies you've used in the past when you've "multi-tasked". Bring up any characteristics or personality traits that make you well-equipped to juggle many tasks at once.

How do you take direction/criticism?

The interviewer is basically trying to learn how you are to work with, and what it would be like to supervise you. The best answer/attitude is: you think it's important for a boss to be able to provide criticism and directives; you don't take such comments as attacks; and that you welcome criticism as a way to learn and improve your job performance.

How are you at working with others (are you a team player)?

You want to stress that you are happy working with others, have a great team spirit, but that you're also very efficient and self-directed when you work alone. You might want to consider mentioning how great it is to learn from other people, how important camaraderie is in the office; then give a few examples of successful team experiences you've participated in.

What's the most difficult situation you've ever faced/what are some things that bother you/when was the last time you got angry on the job?

If you're asked a question like this, the important thing is to show the employer that you can handle difficult situations calmly, intelligently, and productively. Try to provide examples that show you coming out of a tough situation as a winner, and avoid talking about co-workers or past employers in a negative way.

Questions the Interviewer Shouldn't Ask

Federal, state, and local laws regulate the kinds of questions an employer is legally allowed to ask you in an interview. Generally, the questions asked must pertain specifically to the job you're applying for and must not ask you to disclose information about yourself that would put you at a distinct disadvantage. However, an employer can word a question so that he or she can find out whether you are able to perform the job at hand, without directly asking you for inappropriate information. The list below contains a number of commonly asked illegal questions:

  • Are you a U.S. citizen?
  • Where were you/your parents born?
  • What is your "native tongue"?
  • How old are you?
  • When did you graduate from (high school/college/etc.)?
  • What is your birth date?
  • What is your marital status?
  • Do you plan to have a family? When?
  • How many kids do you have?
  • What are your childcare arrangements?
  • What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?
  • How tall are you?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • Do you have any disabilities?
  • Please complete the following medical history:
    • Have you had any recent or past illnesses or operations? If yes, list and give dates.
    • What was the date of your last physical exam?
    • How is your family's health?
    • When did you lose your eyesight? How?
  • If you've been in the military, were you honorably discharged?
  • Have you ever been arrested?

Questions You Should Ask

Interviewers will always ask if you have any questions for them, and you should have a few prepared. Asking questions communicates that you're interested in the job and are thoughtful, alert, and insightful. Here are a few example questions you might want to use. You'll find many more on the interview websites listed below:

  • What are the responsibilities that accompany the job?
  • What qualifications are you looking for?
  • What type of person do you think would be best suited for this position?
  • What are the main objectives of this position, and how does the company expect these objectives to be met?
  • What obstacles are commonly encountered in reaching these objectives?
  • What chance is there for advancement or increased responsibilities?
  • What are the fringe benefits?
  • If I'm hired, when would I start?
  • Do you offer a training program?

Questions You Should Not Ask

  • When would I get a raise?
  • How long would I get for lunch?
  • How many breaks are there in a day?
  • How soon will I get a vacation?