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Interview Q & As

Here is a list of the types of questions that you’ll most likely be asked during your interviews. There are several different types of interview formats and we have included typical questions for the most common interview formats. Write out the answers to each until you’re comfortable with your response. Keep your responses short and to the point, and always showcase your strengths. Review your answers before each interview, but understand that you’ll probably have to modify a few to fit the particular situation. Additionally we have provided you some sample answers to the most common interview questions.

Ready to begin?
Behavioral Interview Questions

The following is a list of questions that employers may ask when they are looking for certain traits/behaviors/skills from a potential new hire:

If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve Around Leadership

  • Tell me about a time when you accomplished something significant that wouldn’t have happened if you had not been there to make it happen
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to step into a situation, take charge, muster support and achieve good results
  • Describe for me a time when you may have been disappointed in your behavior
  • Tell me about a time when you had to discipline or fire a friend
  • Tell me about a time when you’ve had to develop leaders under you
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Initiative and Follow-through
  • Give me an example of a situation where you had to overcome major obstacles to achieve your objectives
  • Tell me about a goal that you set that you took a long time to achieve or that you are still working towards
  • Tell me about a time when you won (or lost) an important contract
  • Tell me about a time when you used your political savvy to push a program through that you really believed in
  • Tell me about a situation that you had significant impact on because of your follow-through
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve Around Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Tell me about a time when you had to analyze facts quickly, define key issues and respond immediately or develop a plan that produced good results
  • If you had to do that activity over again, how would you do it differently?
  • Describe for me a situation where you may have missed an obvious solution to a problem
  • Tell me about a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventative measures
  • Tell me about a time when you surmounted a major obstacle
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve Around Communication
  • Tell me about a time when you had to present a proposal to a person in authority and were able to do this successfully
  • Tell me about a situation where you had to be persuasive and sell your idea to someone else
  • Describe for me a situation where you persuaded team members to do things your way What was the effect?
  • Tell me about a time when you were tolerant of an opinion that was different than yours
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve Around Working Effectively With Others
  • Give me an example that would show that you’ve been able to develop and maintain productive relations with others, though there were differing points of view
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to motivate others and get the desired results
  • Tell me about a difficult situation with a co-worker, and how you handled it
  • Tell me about a time when you played an integral role in getting a team (or work group) back on track
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Work Quality
  • Tell me about a time when you wrote a report that was well received. What do you attribute that to?
  • Tell me about a time when you wrote a report that was not well received. What do you attribute that to?
  • Tell me about a specific project or program that you were involved with that resulted in improvement in a major work area.
  • Tell me about a time when you set your sights too high (or too low)
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Creativity and Innovation
  • Tell me about a situation in which you were able to find a new and better way of doing something significant
  • Tell me about a time when you were creative in solving a problem
  • Describe a time when you were able to come up with new ideas that were key to the success of some activity or project
  • Tell me about a time when you had to bring out the creativity in others
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Priority Setting
  • Tell me about a time when you had to balance competing priorities and did so successfully
  • Tell me about a time when you had to pick out the most important things in some activity and make sure those got done
  • Tell me about a time that you prioritized the elements of a complicated project
  • Tell me about a time when you got bogged down in the details of a project
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Decision Making
  • Describe for me a time when you had to make an important decision with limited facts
  • Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision
  • Describe for me a time when you had to adapt to a difficult situation. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a bad decision
  • Tell me about a time when you hired (or fired) the wrong person
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve Around Ability to Work in Varying Work Conditions (stress, changing deadlines, etc.)
  • Tell me about a time when you worked effectively under pressure
  • Tell me about a time when you were unable to complete a project on time
  • Tell me about a time when you had to change work mid-stream because of changing organizational priorities
  • Describe for me what you do to handle stressful situations
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Delegation
  • Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively
  • Tell me about a time when you did a poor job of delegating
  • Describe for me a time when you had to delegate to a person with a full workload, and how you went about doing it
If They are Looking for Behaviors that Revolve around Customer Service
  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an irate customer
  • Tell me about one or two customer service-related programs that you’ve done that you’re particularly proud of
  • Tell me about a time when you made a lasting, positive impression on a customer

Traditional Interview Questions

 Regarding Experience:
  • Why should I hire you?
  • How do you fit the requirements of this job?
  • What would you do to improve our operations?
  • Who has exercised the greatest influence on you? How?
  • What duties performed in the past have you liked the best/least and why?
  • What are your three greatest strengths/limitations for this job?
  • What are the strongest limitations you have found in past supervisors?
  • Which supervisor did you like best and why?
  • What kinds of people appeal most/least to you as work associates?
  • How many people have you supervised? What types?
  • What are your greatest accomplishments to date?
  • Tell me about your technical skills.
  • Why have you changed jobs so frequently?
  • Have you ever been fired or asked to resign?
  • Describe the biggest crisis in your career.
  • What were you doing during the period not covered in your resume?
  • Why were you out of work so long?
  • Whom can we check as references?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • What salary are you looking for? What were you earning in your last position?
  • Why did you leave your last job?
  • What do you do in your spare time?
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?
  • What aspects of your last job did you enjoy the most/least?
  • What were some of the problems you encountered on your last job and how did you handle them?
  • Why do you want to join our company?
  • Describe your management style.
  • Why do you think you’re the best person for this job?
  • What kind of boss do you prefer?
  • Who is the best person you’ve ever worked for and why?
  • Are you open to traveling and/or relocation?
  • What were your responsibilities and duties?
  • If we called your last employer, what would he/she say about you?
  • Do you have any questions for me?
  • Would you have any concern whatever about a full background investigation?
  • How many days have you been off the job for illness in the past two years?
Stress Interview Questions

Remember, stress questions are designed to determine how you manage yourself in pressure situations – be prepared and you won’t fumble!
  • “Can you work under pressure?” A simple, closed-ended questions that requires just a yes/no answer, but you won’t get off so easy.
  • “Good, I’d be interested to hear about a time when you experienced pressure on your job.” This is an open-ended request to tell a story about a pressure situation. After this, you will be subjected to the layering technique—six layers in the following instance. Imagine how tangled you could get without preparation.
  • “Why do you think this situation arose?” It’s best if the situation you describe is not a peer or manager’s fault.
  • “When exactly did it happen?” Watch out! Your story of saving thousands from the burning skyscraper may well be checked with your references.
  • “What, in hindsight, were you most dissatisfied with about your performance?” Here we go. You’re trying to show how well you perform under pressure, then suddenly you’re telling tales against yourself.
  • “How do you feel others involved could have acted more responsibly?” This is an open invitation to criticize peers and superiors, which you should diplomatically decline.
  • “Who holds the responsibility for the situation?” This is another invitation to point the finger of blame.
  • “Where in the chain of command could steps be taken to avoid that sort of thing happening again?” This question probes your analytical skills and whether you are the type of person who always goes back to the scene of the crime to learn for the next time.
These represent just a few questions—there are an unlimited number to ask. Just recognize what a “stress” question is so you can take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and answer intelligently.

Informational Interview Questions
  • What type of skills and knowledge does one need to perform this job?
  • What are some of the particular advantages and disadvantages of this type of work?
  • What is the future outlook like in this line of work?
  • Could you describe a typical work day for me?
  • What do you like about your work?
  • What do you dislike about your work?
  • What are the normal salary ranges for entry into this type of work?
  • How would I best acquire the necessary skills to perform this job?
  • What type of objections might employers have to my background?
  • What might be the best way to approach prospective employers?
  • How did you go about finding this job?
Illegal/Legal Questions

Familiarize yourself with the questions that can be legally asked… and those that can’t.

CAN ASK:
  • Place of residence and length
  • General distinguishing characteristics: scars, etc.
  • Vocational education or professional education
  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Have a Visa
  • Fluent in languages
  • Any felony convictions
  • How well do you handle stress
  • How many days you were absent from work last year
  • Do you drink alcohol
  • Are you currently illegally using drugs
  • Do you suffer from any disability that would prevent you from safely and efficiently performing the job for which you are applying
As you consider a question that seems to verge on illegality, you should take into account that the interviewer may be asking it innocently, and may be unaware of the laws on the matter. Your best bet is to be polite and straightforward, as you would in any other social situation. You also want to move the conversation to an examination of your skills and abilities, not your status. Next are some sample illegal questions—and some possible responses. Remember, your objective is to get job offers; if you later decide that this company is not for you, you are under no obligation to accept the position.

CAN’T ASK:
  • Birthplace
  • Naturalization papers
  • Race
  • Color of skin, eyes, or hair
  • Photos with application (OK before hiring)
  • Age – only if minimum age is required (over 18)
  • Unless education is required for the position, cannot inquire about education completed, years attended, or graduation
  • Intent to become a U.S. citizen
  • Ancestry of nationality (spouse or parents)
  • Native language
  • Clubs, organizations
  • Sex or marital status of dependents
  • No financial information
  • How many days you were sick last year
  • How much alcohol do you drink per week
  • What medications do you take
  • Any stress related illness
  • Are you pregnant or plan to become pregnant
  • Do you have children
If the questions become too pointed, you may want to ask—innocently—“Could you explain the relevance of that issue to the position? I’m trying to get a handle on it.” That response, however, can seem confrontational; you should only use it if you are extremely uncomfortable, or are quite certain you can get away with it. Sometimes, the interviewer will drop the line of questioning. For more strategies about responses to illegal questions, please contact a Staffing Solutions, Inc. staff member!

SAMPLE ANSWERS TO THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS

Why did you leave your last job?
  • This query might also be phrased more bluntly as “Why do you feel you were let go?” An effective response will depend on the individual circumstances surrounding your dismissal. Never say anything negative about your former boss or company in your reply. Never.
  • Even if you feel that your termination was completely unjust, this is not the time to display your emotions. Instead, say something like, "Ms. Winters and I had different styles. She works best adhering to very clear-cut guidelines, whereas I prefer to take a more flexible approach, assessing all the options and choosing the most appropriate for whatever problem. But I'm glad I worked for her because she taught me (or I learned) __________ (you fill in the blank).”
  • You and I know that you're really saying "Ms. Winters was a pain in the neck and I'm not." In fact, your interviewer will probably read it that way too, but he or she will appreciate your tactful style.
  • Note something else about this script: Not only didn't you say anything bad about Ms. Winters, but you said something positive about yourself and your ex-employer and that will earn you points and head off any more probing questions about your past situation.
  • WIN TIP: In order to keep yourself in check, make believe that the person you are interviewing with is your former boss's best friend and that the minute the interview is over he or she may pick up the phone, call your ex-boss, and say, “Guess who I just interviewed?” then answer all your questions accordingly.
  • Another possible approach is to reply, “The company is taking a new direction and my expertise (and explain what your expertise is) no longer fits their firm’s needs. This plays up your strengths and wins you points.
  • If you’ve been involved in a restructuring or downsizing, or if your company simply closed, then your answer can be more straightforward. Again, use the opportunity to emphasize your contributions to your past firm.
Why have you been out of work so long?

Being out of work less than three months is not long. Simply reply, "It's interesting that you should think that --- months is a long time. I used to think that too, but I've been doing a lot of reading about this recently and I've learned that in today’s economy, being out of work for 3 to 5 months is the norm.

If, however, you’ve been out of work for many months, even up to a year, you'll need to come up with a more creative response, such as "When I first began my job search, I decided that at this point in my career I would only accept a position if it offered me the kinds of career opportunities I most wanted, such as a chance to be involved in a start-up situation where I could have a voice in the company’s direction. (Fill in your own goals, but try to tailor them to something you feel this company offers.) Thus far none of the offers I've had has filled the bill, and that's why I was so interested in your company and meeting with you.

If the reason you've been out of work so long is that you're making a career change, the questions “Why have you been out of work so long?” will be easier to answer. In this case, you'll want to say something like, "This has been a most exciting period in my career because I decided to redirect all my efforts toward making a career change. But doing it right is also very time-consuming. These past several months I’ve been researching the industry and meeting with many wonderful professionals who have been very helpful. I’ve had several interviews but to date, no offers that I felt were right for me. And that's why I'm so interested in your company and have looked forward to our meeting.”

What salary are you looking for? Or, what were you making at your last job?

Remember that you want to appear open and flexible. The idea is not to lock yourself into any specific figure. You can respond by saying something like “I’m looking for something in the thirties, but I’m open, because at this point in my career finding the right position with the right company is my top priority.”

The only way you’ll know for sure what the job pays is if a recruiter has sent you. Beyond that, you can only use your professional expertise or your contacts within the company to get a sense of the salary involved. So when you give that ballpark figure, make sure you would be happy accepting it.

Sometimes during a salary discussion, you will be asked what you were earning on your last job. Give a ballpark figure for your entire “compensation package,” that is, salary plus perks. Then offer to break it down. Don’t lie about your base salary – the interviewer can check it out – but don’t sell yourself short either. Keep in mind that more and more companies contact your former employer for salary verification.

But remember, your honesty won’t necessarily hurt you, even if you’re going for a sizable salary increase. If you bring important resources, skills and contacts to the new position, you’re a valuable asset no matter what you were earning previously.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

You may not get asked about both strengths and weaknesses, but be prepared just in case. First, let’s discuss strengths.
This question offers an ideal chance for you to discuss your strongest skills, but you should tailor your response to the specific position. For instance, if you’re interviewing for an administrative job, stress your computer skills, your ability to multi-task and prioritize, that you managed the calendar of three of your supervisors, and/or that you prepared reports and spreadsheets for last year’s annual company meeting. Your answers should be brief, professionally oriented and clearly demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the job.

Weaknesses are trickier to discuss. Sometimes you can use humor to take the sting out of it. When someone asks, “What are your weaknesses?”, think of something that really is a weakness but won’t risk your chances of getting this particular job. Then name that weakness and explain how you’ve either overcome or corrected it. One person used to say, “I’m not good with numbers, but thank heaven my calculator is.”

Or if you get so excited about a new project that you want everything done yesterday, you can share that, adding, “So I’ve developed a system whereby I map out all the pieces of the project on a calendar. Then I can look forward to completing each part rather than needing to go from zero to one hundred overnight.”

Tell me about yourself…
In interviewing language, this request is called an “open question" because, without directing you in any way, it forces you to make some revealing statements about yourself. But beware--you can sink or swim with your answer.

To reply wisely, bear in mind two important rules:
  • Keep your answer short, no more than three minutes in length.
  • Keep it business-oriented and as targeted to the particular position as possible.
Also, don't lead off with "Where would you like me to start?” and PLEASE don't begin with where you were born. Even though the interviewer is sitting there with your resume, don't assume that he or she has read it thoroughly, ­or recently, for that matter. Use this opportunity to highlight your professional accomplishments.

If you were interviewing for the producer's spot on a network TV show, you might say, "For the first half of my career, I worked in front of the camera as a local weathergirl, interviewer, and newscaster. It was really exciting and I learned a lot. But I feel I came into my own when I stepped behind the camera as an assistant producer for KWIN. Even though my title was assistant producer, Alex, my producer, was involved in so many other projects that I was often left to my own devices. As a matter of fact, I actually wound up producing nearly half the shows. And every one of them was done under budget. Last year I was hired as the producer of my own local cooking show, for which I won my first Emmy. And now I feel I'm ready to make the move into network."

This entire response took less than a minute. Which goes to show you just how much you're able to say in a very short time if you’re prepared properly.

Do You Have Any Questions For Me?

Your answer to this one should always be a resounding yes. There are two types of questions that you should ask: one geared to give information; the other, to get it.

Questions that give information depend on all that pre-interview research and will make you stand out from all the other candidates. While they'll be asking ordinary queries such as "What are the benefits?” and "How many weeks vacation do I get?" you'll be asking questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company and/or the industry. Ideally, your questions should have something to do with the area in which you'll be working. For example, if you're interviewing for a job as vice-president of operations, you could ask, "How much time is the company saving since the introduction of its new computerized shipping system?"

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE EMPLOYER

Job hunters have consistently stated they wanted more information on the company in the initial interview. It is interesting to note that many employers have also commented that candidates have not, as a rule, asked many well thought-out questions. With the many available research tools, a job hunter should have adequate information from which to formulate questions.

Job hunters should obtain as much information from the interviewer about the job qualifications and requirements as possible without being aggressive to the point that employer interest is discouraged. Use discretion in formulating your questions. Save any ticklish questions to ask until after you have built a good rapport. Initially, endeavor to obtain basic information regarding the position. Ask questions about the company's history and performance as the interview progresses. Be aware that it is difficult to determine how an interviewer may respond to some questions, particularly if they mis­interpret your motive for asking the question. If you are in doubt about how a question may be received, hold your question until se­serious interest is expressed or you receive an offer from the company. Some questions about the company might not be answered until an offer is made. It is important for job hunters to conduct a “due diligence” inquiry to obtain as much information as possible before deciding to accept a position. Don’t hesitate to ask questions of knowledgeable individuals not currently associated with the company, or current employers and/or vendors.

QUESTIONS TO ASK CHECKLIST

Check questions reviewed Check questions completed

 ___1. What qualifications are required and what are the general job responsibilities? Ask if you may review a copy of the job description for the position involved. (This is often not provided before the interview, but should be if it is available.) Check to see if the description includes the qualifications for the position. Find out some of the specifics of both the qualifications desired and the duties and responsibilities involved.

Such questions should cover:
___Experience - areas and specific type required and/or desired; the level required
___Education/training - years of formal education required (college, high school, etc.); other degrees or credentials required or desired; special training other than formal education or degrees

___Skills required for position

___Special abilities or skills not included in the position description
___2. In terms of the organization, where is the job located? What are the reporting relationships (the person that the job reports to and other key individuals to which the position relates)?

___3. What is the organizational structure? Ask if there is a non-confidential chart to review. Many companies do not release organization charts. Some companies will release these without individual names and other confidential data, or they may provide one during the interview.

___4. What type of individual is desired? Include any special traits and characteristics desired to fit into the company's organization and culture.

___5. Why is the position available? Inquire about the history of the position, the individual now holding the position, and who previously held it. Has the position involved substantial turnover? Of those who left, what were their pluses and minuses? How well did they perform and was their performance up to expectations or beyond? The answers can be an excellent tip off to the next three questions.

___6. What accomplishments are expected?

___7. What are the expectations for the position and of the new person in the position?

___8. Are there any problems to be aware of and what problems would a new individual encounter in the job?

___9. How are individuals evaluated for this position?

___10. What is the future of the organization?

___11. What is the performance level and reputation of the department and division related to the position?

___12. How do the department, section, and division fit into the overall company hierarchy as to capability, respect, political clout, and ranking?

Additional Questions to Ask

Many additional questions will come up as job interest develops. Here are some that can be helpful as the interview and selection proceeds. It is often helpful to jot down a list of questions on note cards, which can be referred to immediately prior to the interview.

___13. Can you provide more information about the company's marketplace, its markets, customers, competitors, standing, and reputation?

___14. What is the financial condition/stability of the company?

___15. Are there any business conditions or reversals expected that would impact the viability of the position, the division, or business in the near future?

___16. What are the employee benefits and eligibility requirements for health care and life insurance?

___17. Is travel or potential relocation required?

___18. A parting question useful for some interview closings: After reviewing our discussion today, I may have an additional question. May I call you? When would be most appropriate?

___19. What are the promotional opportunities? How does one advance their career with the company and how does the promotion procedure work (formally and informally)?

CHARACTERISTICS EMPLOYERS ARE SEEKING IN YOU

Often a company is attempting to gather information about how you feel about yourself, your chosen career, and what type of culture suits you. Few of them will arise from direct questions—your future employer will search for them in your answers to specific job performance probes. The following words and phrases are those you should be able to project as part of your successful, healthy personal profile.
  • Drive: A desire to get things done. Goal-oriented.
  • Motivation: Enthusiasm and a willingness to ask questions. A company realizes that a motivated person accepts added challenges and does that little bit extra on every job.
  • Communication Skills: More than ever, the ability to talk and write effectively to people at all levels in a company is a key to success.
  • Chemistry: The company representative is looking for someone who does not get rattled, wears a smile, is confident without self-importance, gets along with others—who is, in short, a team player.
  • Energy: Someone who always gives that extra effort in the little things as well as important matters.
  • Determination: Someone who does not back off when a problem or situation gets tough.
  • Confidence: Not braggadocio. Poise. Friendly, honest, and open to employees high or low. Not intimidated by the big enchiladas, nor overly familiar.
Professional Profile:

All companies seek employees who respect their profession and employer. Projecting these professional traits will identify you as loyal, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Reliability: Following up on yourself, not relying on anyone else to ensure the job is well done, and keeping management informed every step of the way.
  • Honesty/Integrity: Taking responsibility for your actions, both good and bad. Always making decisions in the best interests of the company, never on a whim or personal preference.
  • Pride: Pride in a job well done. Always taking the extra step to make sure the job is done to the best of your ability. Paying attention to the details.
  • Dedication: Whatever it takes in time and effort to see a project through to completion, on deadline.
  • Analytical Skills: Weighing the pros and cons. Not jumping at the first solution to a problem that presents itself. The short and long-term benefits of a solution against all its possible negatives.
  • Listening Skills: Listening and understanding, as opposed to waiting for your turn to speak.
Achievement Profile:

Companies have very limited interests: making money, saving money (the same as making money), and saving time (which does both). Projecting your achievement profile, in however humble a fashion, is the key to winning any job.
  • Money Saved: Every penny saved by your thought and efficiency is a penny earned for the company.
  • Time Saved: Every moment saved by your thought and efficiency enables your company to save money and make more in the additional time available. Double bonus.
  • Money Earned: Generating revenue is the goal of every company.
Business Profile:

Projecting your business profile is important on those occasions when you cannot demonstrate ways you have made money, saved money, or saved time for previous employers. These keys demonstrate you are always on the lookout for opportunities to contribute, and that you keep your boss informed when an opportunity arises.
  • Efficiency: Always keeping an eye open for wastage of time, effort, resources, and money.
  • Economy: Most problems have two solutions: an expensive one, and one the company would prefer to implement.
  • Procedures: Procedures exist to keep the company profitable. Don’t work around them. That also means keeping your boss informed. You tell your boss about problems or good ideas, not his or her boss. Follow the chain of command. Do not implement your own “improved” procedures or organize others to do so.
  • Profit: All the above traits are universally admired in the business world because they relate to profit.
As the requirements of the job are unfolded for you at the interview, meet them point by point with your qualifications. If your experience is limited, stress the appropriate key profile traits (such as energy, determination, or motivation), your relevant interests, and your desire to learn. If you are weak in just one particular area, keep your mouth shut—perhaps that dimension will not arise. If the area is probed, be prepared to handle and overcome the negative by stressing skills that compensate and/or demonstrate that you will experience a fast learning curve.

Do not show discouragement if the interview appears to be going poorly. You have nothing to gain by showing defeat, and it could merely be a stress interview tactic to stress your self-confidence.

If for any reason you get flustered or lost, take a breath, quickly regroup, and keep a straight face and posture; remain engaged until the interview concludes.
 
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