How to Answer Job Interview Questions

How to Answer Job Interview Questions

During the interview, the employer will ask you a variety of questions to determine your interest in the job and your qualification for the job. Make sure your answer the questions clearly and concisely, supported by example, and that you maintain strong eye contact. Below you will find strategies for answering questions in a job interview and a link to sample questions that are often asked by employers.

Tell me about yourself: The 90-second response

An employer may begin a job interview with an open-ended question such as, “tell me a little about yourself” or “why are you interested in my organization?” Respond as though the employer were asking, “why do you want to be in this interview room?” Responses to this question should show how your skills, interests, and experiences would contribute to the position and organization.

Use a 90-second guideline when answering this question:

  • Focus the first 15 seconds on relevant and appropriate personal information you wish to share (e.g., where you are from).
  • Focus the next 30 seconds on your academic experience (e.g., what you are studying, relevant courses, study abroad experience, relevant research experience).
  • Focus the next 30 seconds on your professional experience (e.g., leadership positions, relevant extra-curricular involvement, internships, part-time jobs).
  • Use the last 15 seconds to discuss why you are interested in the position, given the background you just discussed.

Remember, this is a short answer. Give highlights of your experiences and focus your answer. Prepare by writing down the experiences you wish to discuss and then practice how you want to answer the question.

Answering Behavioral Job Interview Questions: The STAR Technique

Behavioral questions are questions that ask you to describe a past experience. Your answer about your past experience will give the interviewer an idea of how you might respond to a similar situation in the future. To respond to a behavioral interview question such as, for instance, “Tell me about a time when you were on a team and one of the members wasn’t carrying his or her weight,” use the STAR technique. The STAR technique is a useful way to provide a structure to your answers.

S/T -- Situation or task
Describe a situation or task which will allow you to illustrate your strengths.

Example: “I was assigned to lead a team to perform 30 hours of community service for a class. One team member wasn’t showing up for meetings, despite constant reminders of the importance of attendance.”

A -- Action
Describe the action you took to address the situation.

Example: “I decided to meet with the student in private and explained the frustration of other team members, then asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He said he was preoccupied with another course, so I found him some help with that course.”

R -- Result
Explain the result of your action. Make sure the outcome reflects well on you.

Example: “After I found that student help, he not only was able to attend the meetings, he also was grateful to me for helping him. We were able to complete the project on time.”

Lastly, make a connection between the story you just told and the position for which you’re interviewing: “My ability to respond to team members and find creative solutions would help me in this position.”

Talking about Strengths and Weaknesses in a Job Interview

Employers will often ask you in an interview to list a few of your strengths. Consider which of your strengths would be particularly relevant to the position, and give brief examples to illustrate your claims.

If asked to share a weakness, share honestly, but be sure to include concrete examples of your efforts to overcome or compensate for your weakness. Interviewers want to know that you have the self awareness to acknowledge your struggles and proactive enough to take steps to improve them.

To look at sample job interview questions and practice your answers to them, visit our sample job interview page.

What are your career goals 5-10 years from now?

Employers are not expecting that you will still want to be in the same position years from now, or that you know exactly what job title you want to have. They want to get a sense of how this current position fits into your career plans. Think more generally about the skills you want to develop, how you want to grow professionally, and share how this position can contribute to that growth. 

Highly technical questions

During a second round or in-person interview, it is more likely that an interviewer will ask more in-depth questions related to the industry or organization. Be prepared for this by familiarizing yourself with common terms and be ready to discuss recent trends. If you do not know the answer, it is better to be honest than to avoid the question.

If you get a question that you are unsure how to answer, take a moment to gather your thoughts. A little silence is okay. Consider what information the employer is trying to learn about you and provide an answer that conveys that information.