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 might 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 (for example: what you are studying, relevant courses, study abroad experience, relevant research experience).
  • Focus the next 30 seconds on your professional experience (for example: leadership positions, relevant extracurricular 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 SOART 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 SOART technique to give your answers structure.

S – Situation

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.”

O – Obstacle

Describe any obstacles or challenges you encountered.

Example: “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 overcome the obstacle.

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 concrete 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. My ability to respond to team members and find creative solutions would help me in this position.”

T – Takeaway/Tie-in

What you’ve learned and how it makes you a strong candidate for this role.

Example: “I learned that being a leader includes having difficult conversations, as well as how to navigate distributing tasks on a team.”

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.

Examples of strengths: being proactive, being a good listener, being a team player, being enthusiastic, attention to detail, being personable, leadership experience

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.

Think of it as an 80/20 rule: 20 percent of the answer should focus on the weakness, and 80 percent should explain how you have compensated for it. Make sure your weakness is not your strength (you can’t say your attention to detail is your strength and that being a perfectionist is your weakness), and that you choose a real weakness (perfectionism is not a weakness).

Examples of weaknesses: lack of confidence, uncomfortable in large group settings, dislike of public speaking.

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

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

Employers are not expecting that you will know exactly what job you want to have years from now. 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.

For example, you could respond by saying, “While I have not yet learned about that skill/trend/news, I am a fast learner and would look forward to learning more from others in the industry.”

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.

*SOART technique adapted from an article on Forbes.