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Most employers are seeking the same general things from an interview: do you have the technical and interpersonal skills to do the job? Will you be a good fit for the organization? Although you can't know the specific questions that will be asked during the interview, it is wise to prepare answers for the most common interview questions.

Getting the Conversation Started

Interviewers will usually begin with questions like these as a way of introduction. The purpose of these questions is to gauge your interest in the position. The more you know about the position and the company, the more likely your interviewers will remain interested in proceeding.

  • Tell me about yourself.

  • Why did you apply for this job?

  • Describe your ideal job.

  • What's your understanding of this position?

  • What do you know about our organization?

  • Why are you interested in working for our organization?

Understanding What Your Technical Skills Are

Interviewers will likely begin referring to your resume at this point in the interview. Their goal is to confirm that you have the technical skills necessary to fulfill the requirements of the position by exploring your previous experience.

  • Talk to me about your education.

  • What were some of your best and worst subjects?

  • Which courses would you say best prepared you for a position like this one?

  • Could you elaborate a little more on your last position?

  • What were the three major responsibilities of your last position?

  • How did you determine priorities when scheduling your time?

  • Why did you leave your last position?

  • Why did you change career paths?

  • Explain the employment gaps I see in your resume.

Discovering How You've Used Your Technical Skills

Companies are interested in learning more about your skills. Asking you for examples of your accomplishments provides more insight not only into your technical skills, but also how you get your work done. "How" you work demonstrates your transferable skills, and the best way to learn this is to ask for examples. This is a practice called behavioral interviewing.

Behavioral interviewing is used to evaluate a candidate's potential for success. This approach is based on the belief that past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. In service of this goal, questions are structured with phrases like, "Describe a situation where you...," "Provide an example of when you...," or "Tell me about an experience where you...." 

The best response to these types of questions will include a short narrative: a relevant story that illustrates what you did and the outcome it produced. Because your responses are based on actual events, they will illustrate your performance characteristics by past examples. It is best to keep these stories brief and to the point. Take care not to elaborate too much so that you don't find yourself talking too much. If your interviewer is curious to learn more, s/he will ask.

Response to a Behavioral Interview Question

A great response to a behavioral interview question usually follows this pattern. It starts with a sentence or two of context for your example:

  • "When I was..."

  • "A situation arose where..."

It transitions with a couple of sentences that demonstrate your skills:

  • "I determined that the best action would be..."

  • "So I executed my plan by..."

It then concludes by describing the outcomes:

  • "This produced the successful result of..."

  • "My boss positively remarked that..."

Understanding Your Interpersonal Skills
  • Describe a conflict with a colleague that you handled well.

  • Tell me about a conflict you didn't handle well and what you learned.

  • Describe a situation showing how you worked with other people to complete a project.

  • Provide a specific example of your ability to communicate well.

  • There are times when we all lose our composure with another person and wish that we had done something differently. Tell me about a time this happened and what you learned.

  • Provide an example of how you persuaded someone to make a change.

  • How would your previous coworkers describe you?

Determining Your Management Style and Skills

If you are interviewing for a position that will have any direct reports, you'll likely be asked questions regarding your experiences as a manager and how you dealt with difficult employee situations. It will be important for your interviewer(s) to determine how you lead others.

  • Describe your management style and provide an example of why this style works for you.

  • Talk about a specific conflict in which you had to intervene. Describe the problem, how you handled it, and the results of the interaction.

  • Tell us about how you go about building trust and rapport with staff.

  • What actions do you take to encourage openness and allow for individuality on a team?

  • Describe positive and negative responses to your leadership that you have experienced.

  • What is your procedure for reviewing and evaluating staff performance? How have you arrived at this method? What benefits have you found in using this method?

  • Give a specific example of dealing with a direct report who wasn't "on board" or wasn't performing as expected. What was the result?

  • Tell me about your greatest success in delegating.

Establishing Your Comfort Level with Authority

Even the president of an organization has a boss. Your interviewer(s) want to learn how well you work with those you report to and your general attitudes toward positions of authority. Be prepared with examples of interactions you have had with previous bosses in order to speak to this subject.

  • Describe a time when you disagreed with the direction given to you by your boss.

    • How did you respond and what were the results?

  • Tell me about a performance review where you were counseled to improve on something. What was it and how did you respond?

  • Describe your greatest success in working with your last supervisor.

    • What actions on your part and his/her part contributed to that outcome?

  • Describe your best and worst bosses.

  • What are the qualities of a good boss?

  • What type of leadership do you respond best to and work best under?

  • What would your current/former boss tell us about you?

Wrapping Up the Interview

This is the interviewer's chance to do a final check. The goal is to revisit any interesting answers to previous questions and to ensure that your expectations are in sync with the hiring manager, the skill requirements, and the organization's culture.

  • Where do you see yourself in three to five years?

  • How would you first engage this position if it were offered to you and you accepted it?

  • What do you bring to this position that perhaps no one else could provide?

  • Why should we hire you?

  • What are your salary requirements?

  • What is one concern you have about this position?

  • Do you have any questions? (Note: ALWAYS have questions prepared to ask your interviewer.)