TYPICAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS.

Commented version of James Lap (jtlny@cunyvm.cuny.edu) article on this subject
Dec 2, 1994

ON QUALIFICATIONS:

1. Tell me something about yourself.

This one of the most frequently asked questions. It is an excellent opportunity to sell yourself, showing how your background fits the needs of the interviewer. Your presentation should be concise, well- organized, and should not take more than five minutes.
TT: Be brief, don't ramble. Cover the main topics, for example:
Work experience
Recent accomplishment
Education, if you are a recent graduate
The interviewer will be impressed by a structured, intelligent response that stresses your experience and qualifications as they relate to the company's needs. I'd prefer to make it under 2 minutes.

2. Why should we hire you?

Again, in a sound, concise manner you must describe why you are the right person for the job.
TT: Focus on specific experience, skills and knowledge. Relate your past experience and accomplishments to the employer's problems and needs.

3. Why are you interested in this company?

Know about the organization, especially the area where you want to work.
TT: your earlier research (see MT#5) will help you formulate 3 or 4 good reasons.

4. Why do you want to work for us?

If you have done your homework, you will be able to explain how the company's goals match your personal goals. You should try to show why this particular firm is important to you over all other firms. You must convey the fact that you are not just looking for a job, but you are looking for this specific job.
TT: Emphasize a high interest, because of the contribution you can make. Say you want to focus on a problem your research or the interviewer's statements have revealed. Illustrate your ability to contribute towards a specific, realistic goal.

5. What is your strongest asset?

TT: This is another question you should be glad to hear, since it provides you with an opportunity to sell yourself. Select at least 3 strengths, all of them demanded by the job in question. Be able to support your claims with specific examples of past achievements.

6. What is you major weakness?

Your strong points should be of importance to the performance of the job and your weaknesses should not be severe or related directly to the performance of the job. If you show a weakness, you should explain what you are doing to correct it.
TT: To a naive candidate, this question can be suicide. Remember you are screened out because of weakness. Don't avoid the question. Disclose something that could be a weakness, but don't specifically call it a weakness. Choose a weakness which is unrelated to the job, or one which is really a strength, for example" "I'm not very patient with people who waste time on the job" (not recommended for job counselors though!).

ON FUTURE PLANS:

7. What future vocational plans do you have?

If you are applying for a job that fits your needs, then your future interests should be parallel to the needs of the employer. In general, personnel departments want a person who has the potential to grow with the company. However, the immediate supervisor is not as interested in growth. S/he wants someone who will do a particular job, and not try to use it as a steppingstone. To the supervisor, a promotion means hiring and training a replacement. Since the immediate supervisor wants a person who can go to work with little training and will stay, you should not bring up your future goals unless asked.
TT: The interviewer wants to assess your maturity, how realistic you are and your career planning. Of course, the best answer will reflect goals you can achieve in the employer's company. If your contacts have taught you what you can realistically expect to achieve, answer accordingly. Better yet, if your research into the company has revealed where you might be in their organization in 5 years, state that as your goal. Show interest in professional growth, as well as growth within the company.

8. What is the minimum salary you would accept?

If you have done your homework, you should know what salary range to expect. If you are too high, you can expect not to be hired. If you are too low, the interviewer is going to wonder what is wrong with you. It is best to avoid talking dollars. You can state that you should expect a fair salary; while salary, of course, is important, you are primarily interested in job satisfaction.
TT: When the interviewer brings up salary, the company is probably interested in you, except when it is the Human Resource person who always collect data. Get the interviewer to suggest a figure first, if at all possible. Try to avoid being specific about your previous salary until you know what the position will pay, but under no circumstance should you lie.

9. Would you accept a temporary job?

If you say yes, the interviewer will believe that you just want work, any work, and will accept any job. A strong answer would be that you would be willing to work for a trial period to prove yourself but you would be unwilling to consider a purely temporary position.
TT: There are times when due to hiring policy, only temporary positions are open. You need to explore when and how this will become a regular position.

ON EXPERIENCE:

10. Why did you leave your last job?

The interviewer expects a sound reason, such as an opportunity to expand your knowledge or a promotion. Your employment history should show a steady progression either in position or training so that you appear to be working toward a goal. The job for which you are applying should be the goal. If you were fired, don't blame your previous employer. It is far better to say that you got into the wrong job or realized your limitations.
TT: Focus on the positive. Never vent hostility or make accusations. Avoid giving the impression of a clash or conflict. If possible, offer a reason you share with others; e.g. "Our office was closing". If a problem between you and your superior was the cause, use such phrases as: "My boss and I agreed to disagree" or "Our management styles differed" or "Our philosophies just weren't compatible". Focus on the positive ("I'm seeking a position in which my contributions are recognized and my talents challenged") Talk about greater responsibility, more challenge, the desire for growth.

11. In what areas do you feel you need additional experience?

If you mention an area that is essential for proper performance of the job for which you are applying, you could be in trouble.
TT: Mention some courses that you would like to take to enhance your experience. Look in catalogs from continuing education companies for courses you would like to take, or night classes at you local universities. If you have taken a class, the next class in the series should have relevant subjects for you to discuss with the interviewer.

12. Which aspect of the last job did you like the least?

You should name some aspect of a job that is completely unrelated to the position for which you are applying. If a job you disliked was similar to the job for which you are interviewing then you are looking at the wrong job
TT: If you are tempted to let off steam, resist. Be truthful, but positive. Mention what you have learned from the negative factors.

13. What was your greater accomplishment while working at your last job?

I suggest you choose an accomplishment that reflects personal initiative.
TT: ditto!

ON SOCIABILITY:

14. What have you done that shows initiative at work?

You should have several items ready to discuss.

ON EDUCATION:

15. How did you choose you college major?

TT: Show personal interest. Don't bring your parents into the picture!

16. Did you change you major? If so, why?

The interviewer is interested in you motivation. A poor answer would be "Because my parents made me." This would not show maturity or initiative.

17. What activities did you engage in at school?

Employers are interested in people with broad interests. Having no outside activities indicates that either you are dull or you needed all your free time just to get by in you studies.

18. If you had the opportunity to start over, would you take the same courses over again?

With hindsight, you can probably think of courses which would have helped you more. However, if you hypothesize a drastic change, you place doubt on your original judgment. Note: this question may be reworded to say "jobs" rather than "courses."

19. What were your goals when you left school?

20. What are your goals today?

The interviewer is questioning your stability. If your goals have changed, you should be ready to explain why they have changed.

ON OUTSIDE INVOLVEMENT:

21. Do you live with your parents?

Living with parents implies over-reliance on them and a lack of initiative and self-confidence. If you are living with your parents, you might indicate that you are currently looking for your own apartment, if this is the case.

22. Which leisure activity do you like most?

23. How do you spend you spare time?

TT: While you want to appear enthusiastic and energetic about leisure activities, avoid any suggestion that you are so wrapped up in them that your career is secondary.

24. Do you like sports as a particular or as an observer?

These questions are designed to find the breadth of your interests and whether you would fit into the company socially. Firms like community involvement. They prefer people who are religious because they feel this means stability. They prefer a person who is a participant rather than a spectator. The "in" sports today are skiing, golf, and tennis. If you have an unusual hobby or sport, bring it out. It gives you character.

ON STABILITY:

25. What books have you read during the last six months?

The interviewer believe s/he can tell something about your character from what you read. Biographies and better periodicals are probably the best to mention.
TT: Don't spend a lot of time on this. But make some comments about the book, whether you like or dislike it, what you found/learned from it.

26. What would you say has been the highlight of your life?

It may be the birth of a child, which would show you to be family- oriented, or it could be something you have done on the job.
TT: this is getting personal!

27. In the past five years, what would you say is the most important way you have changed?

The employer wants to hire someone who is willing to grow and change.
TT: the current (1994) culture in the US is that every employee should be an agent of change. They are looking for people who change proactively!

SOURCE: Work Experience Handbook, William Pivar, Canfield Press, San Francisco 1976, pp. 75-85


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