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FREQUENTLY ASKED INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

You may find some interview questions harder than others, and someone else may have a different sense of what would fall into their definition of tough questions. Career Services can help you with your specific troublesome questions and interview scenarios in drop-ins or appointments, but here are some suggestions for some of the questions a lot of students say are the tougher ones to handle. Be sure to read our related pages on Resume-based Interviews and Behavioral Interviews.
  1. Tell me about yourself

    More of an invitation to talk than a specific question, this always comes at the beginning of an interview when first impressions are being formed. The interviewer poses this to get an impression of your poise, composure, energy level and your communications skills. This can be a tough question because no specific content is requested.

    You should demonstrate the things mentioned above but the content should help them assess your interest in this work, your foundation of skills and knowledge that may enable you to perform this work, or even your future career goals for which this position would make a good starting point. Unless it has already been asked, you could treat this invitation as if the interviewer has said “Why are you interested in this position or career path?” or more simply, “Why are you here today?” You should formulate an outline of your answer to this predictable invitation in advance.

    • Don’t restate your resume; the interviewer already knows your basic profile. If the interviewer poses this invitation, first tell the interviewer what you are going to describe before actually launching into the content you will offer since this will focus his or her attention on the point you will be making.
    • Keep your response to 10 to 20 seconds
    • Reference specific elements of the position or opportunity, and close with a restatement of the point you are making, perhaps “So that is one reason why I am so interested in learning more about this opportunity.”
  2. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

    Interviewers usually pose this question near the end of their questions, and it serves to help them measure your self confidence and objectivity. They do not expect your response to the weaknesses portion to be something that eliminates you from further consideration.

    Strengths

    • Highlight 3-4 skills, traits or experiences that relate as specifically to the position as possible. Knowing the job, the company, and yourself should give you clues on how to answer this. (link to Exploring Careers section of Resources)
    • Don’t relate traits that every applicant will claim or that any employer expects their employees to exhibit, i.e. “I’m hard working.” It is, of course, important but doesn’t differentiate you from other candidates.

    Weaknesses

    • Treat this as if the interviewer has said “What can you improve?”
    • Identify something with which you might have had some basic experience with but present it as something that you will pay attention to improving or have already taken self-initiated steps to improve.
    • Examples might be teaching yourself some software application or taking a course or joining Toast Masters to improve your presentation skills.

    You should figure out this response in advance but take your time to present it thoughtfully and sincerely. You could even ask a question in return as to the importance of the chosen item to this job and how future improvement is supported by this employer. Such a thoughtful response will reinforce the interviewer’s impression that you are committed to this opportunity.

  3. Describe yourself in 3 words.

    This is really a variation on the strengths question but calls for an answer framed with adjectives like detail-oriented, outgoing, flexible, ambitious or something similar. A variation on this would be to relate how others might describe you.

    • Use adjectives, traits, characteristics that you genuinely feel are applicable to you, to the opportunity or the work culture.
    • Ideally you should be able to provide examples of situations in which you have exhibited these characteristics to achieve certain goals or outcomes.
    • As with the discussion of strengths above, avoid using descriptors that most candidates will use like “hard working” since they are not position-specific and will not differentiate you from others.
  4. What salary are you looking for?

    Interviewer’s pose this question to see if you have a realistic sense of market value, the field, of course, whether they may be able to meet your needs or preferences. Small employers may not have the same financial resources as larger employers and there are other variables that might influence their ultimate ability to make a competitive offer.

    • Do your homework and research salaries. Info from surveys is likely to be accurate than anecdotal remarks made by friends in the same field or miscellaneous salary figures from a sampling of advertised jobs.
    • Phrasing your answer like this: “I have done some research on salaries in a number of resources and have come to estimate that the salary range for a position like this in this geographic area might be between $____ and $_____. I realize there might be specific variables in your situation but this is what I’ve found. What range are you working with?” Since they brought salary into the discussion, it is okay to ask for information in return.
  5. Where do you want to be in ten years?

    Interviewers ask questions about career goals to see if you've done any homework on possible advancement paths and how serious you are about their position and its likely growth. They may use your answer to see to whether you are naturally a goal setter. While your career path may not be a straight line, they will want to see that you have some ambition to achieve a leadership role. A time frame may be introduced to evaluate how realistic you are about the time it takes to achieve career growth.

    • If you are in a field that has a specific language for certain roles, you must use that language in order to increase your credibility.
    • For example, in the retail industry, If you say “a senior buyer or merchandising manager” instead of “some kind of manager” when asked about goals you demonstrate your knowledge and true commitment to the career path the field may have to offer.
    • Your networking, related experience, and research into such positions (link to Exploring Careers section of Resources) should give you clues to this answer.