Discover how to answer interview questions in a powerful, memorable way.
Don’t get bogged down thinking about how you might answer an infinite number of possible interview questions. Instead, rehearse some good stories you can share with the hiring manager that help illustrate your work ethic, your skillset, and your unique talents. Did you ever pull an all-nighter to get a key project finished in time? Have you ever helped rescue a failing campaign with a great new idea? Where are you from, and what have you learned? What are your values? If you can tell an entertaining story that also showcases what you have to offer, you’ll be ready for any question.
When crafting your stories, think “PAR,” or Problem, Action and Result. This means you briefly describe the problem you faced in a past or current position, the actions you took to fix that problem, and the results. Jot down some possible stories onto notecards and practice with them. For example, one story about teamwork, another about top achievements, one on conflict resolution, and so on. They don’t have to be long either, a paragraph you can describe in five minutes or less is ideal.
Here’s an example of a story structure that you can use to answer almost any kind of interview question. Note the use of the PAR technique!
Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you worked in a group.
Interviewee: I did lots of group projects in my degree program. In my child psychology class, my team of five had to develop a presentation about childhood behavior problems and present it back to my class. My role was to ensure everyone completed their sections on time, complete my own section, and then compile everything into a slideshow, while keeping it to 30 minutes (problem). To stay on schedule, I sent out reminders, made sure no one was having difficulty with their assigned topics, and emailed my piece to everyone well in advance so they could use it as an example (action). Thanks to this, everyone met the deadline, and we got an A (result)!
Interviewer: Describe a situation when you have gone above and beyond your normal duties.
Interviewee: A customer called to complain that they had waited for more than two weeks for a reply from our sales team regarding a product inquiry (problem). I needed to address the client's immediate inquiry and investigate what had happened in our normal process. I apologized, got the details and passed them to our head salesperson, who contacted the client within the hour. I researched why no one had originally contacted the customer two weeks prior and discovered that it was a combination of a wrong number and a generic email address. I let the client know and we offered a goodwill discount on her next order. I also set a report within our system to do a weekly check to cross reference name, phone number, and email for our customers (action). The client not only continued to order from us but posted a positive customer service tweet. Now, if there is a discrepancy in our system, our team will proactively reach out to confirm customer contact information (result).
Make sure you know your stuff when it’s time for the interview.
Research is essential preparation for any interview – because the more you know about the company, the more impressed your interviewer will be. It shows that you are truly interested in the job, and that you take initiative. To really stand out, demonstrate your knowledge of the company throughout the interview, especially at the end, where you can delve even deeper by asking questions around what you’ve already learned.
Follow these steps when conducting your company research:
Visit the company website. Review its history, mission and vision statements, management structure, products and services to make sure you have a good understanding of the organization. If you know the names of individuals you are interviewing, check out their LinkedIn profiles to learn about their background and experience.
Research the company online. Start by Googling the company’s name, and then branch out by searching news sites like Google News, CNNMoney.com and the Wall Street Journal. The business section of your local paper can also be a good source. Don’t just focus on the company, read up on how it fits into its industry and the marketplace. Who are the major competitors? What new products are trending, and which ones are on their way out?
You can do advanced research on companies for final round interviews with the following resources:
SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis Reports: These provides in depth reports on companies, competitors, and the industry. You can find them in the University Library.
Hoovers Overview: Hoovers provides research reports on more than 40,000 companies. You can find these reports in the University Library.
Glassdoor.com:Glassdoor provides a snapshot of what it’s like to work for a company, and salary information.
The Interview Prep tool will help you practice common questions and learn strategies for tackling each of them.
The Interview Prep tool gives you access to thousands of interview questions and tips on how to answer each one. We have handpicked the most common interview questions for you to go through and practice. Going through these common questions should dramatically improve your interview performance.
If you want to practice more questions, you can search through the thousands of questions and responses in our bank. Interviewing for a Project Manager position? Search by the job title to find questions that have been added for that role. Does the job description mention that strong analytical skills are needed? Search for "analytical" to see what questions an employer might ask you.
Go through the common interview questions
Then use the search box to find questions specific for the job you're interviewing for
What happens when you leave a job? Whether you quit, you’re fired, or you’re laid off, it’s called a “transition.” Employers will be curious about your job transitions, and for good reason. If your resume shows you’re a job-hopper who changes positions every year (or even more!), that can be red flag for hiring managers.
You should be able to tell a story that sums up why you left each job, and how each one of those situation impacts your career today. Always focus on the positive, like what you learned from a job or employer, even if you were fired. Being negative or bitter during an interview can knock you out of contention, fast.
Here are some professional ways to explain why you left past jobs that cover both positive and negative circumstances:
My company went through some restructuring, and our team/position was eliminated (layoff).
My manager and I had a very in depth conversation about what my future career goals are and we decided it made sense for me to find a position that aligns more with my future goals (you got fired).
I am seeking to advance my career and this position will allow me to maximize my talents by making an immediate impact (you can’t get promoted at your current company so you’re looking elsewhere).
I took the last few years off to raise my children full-time. During that time I stayed current in my field and now that they are more independent, I am ready to focus on my career goals (you left for maternity leave and elected not to return).
After doing some research and speaking with people in the industry, I’ve determined that my skillset could really add value to this industry (you want to move up the ladder or change industries).
My spouse got transferred to another city so I chose to leave my position and look for something in our new location. After researching many organizations, I found that yours is a great fit for my skills (this is a common situation for many spouses, especially military spouses).
I’ve been doing some project-based consulting (if you’ve been self-employed, or did short-term freelancing or temp work between jobs).
Be prepared to expand on any of these situations when asked, always focusing on how each situation helped you grow professionally. But no matter the situation, your explanation must still be true. If you feel that you cannot be truthful about a past employer, don’t mention them at all.
Coming prepared with questions shows a true interest in the position.
You’ve learned about common interview questions as well as how to respond to them. Now it’s crunch time. At the end of the interview, the hiring manager may say, “Well, that’s all I have. Do you have any questions for me?”
DON’T shrug it off and just say “no.”
Employers expect you to have questions, and you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and the company by asking thoughtful ones. So it pays to prepare accordingly.
Watch this video to hear one hiring manager’s take on why it’s important to ask questions during your interview:
Here are some examples of good questions to ask during an interview, and why:
“How would you describe success in this position?” When you ask this question, you identify yourself as someone who expects to be successful. Pay close attention to the hiring manager’s response, because it will give you a good indication of how your job performance could be judged in the future.
“What are some of this position’s key challenges?” This shows you understand and accept that no job is without challenges. After the employer responds, you might have the opportunity to share a similar challenge from your past experience, and how you addressed it.
“How is the company responding to [insert current trend/event]?” Asking this question shows hiring managers you’re up-to-date on industry trends. The interviewer might turn it back to you, saying, “Great question, what do YOU think?” Be prepared to give a thoughtful answer. Stay away from anything too negative or controversial, like bad press or pending lawsuits.
“How does this department support the overall company mission and vision?” Refer to specific points within the company mission and vision when you ask this question. For example, you could say, “I see that AT&T has a strong commitment to improving local communities. How do you support that mission? Do you do volunteer work, or donate a portion of profits to charity? How can I help?” You’’ll show engagement and enthusiasm with this approach!
“What are the next steps in the hiring process?” This should always be the last question you ask. When you ask this question, you demonstrate enthusiasm and a desire to move the hiring process forward. Whether the hiring manager says the company will call you when it makes a decision or you choose to follow up in a week or so, always send a thank-you note to the interviewer(s) within 24 hours of your meeting.
When you’re finished asking your questions, be sure to thank the hiring manager for answering them. End the interview with a firm handshake, and thank them again for their time and consideration.
Do NOT ask any of these questions during an interview. They’ll make you look unprofessional and hurt your chances of getting hired.
Don’t ask any questions that are easily answered on the company’s website or via a basic Internet search – or worse yet, don't ask things you should already know, like the name of the company’s CEO or whether it’s profitable! It will make you seem unprepared and uninterested.
Do not ask questions about salary, vacation, or benefits at this stage of the process – wait until you have an actual offer on the table to discuss these. (If the hiring manager asks you for your salary requirements first, however, it’s okay to respond.)
Do not ask any personal questions unless the interview initiates this type of dialogue (e.g., inquiring about their family, favorite hobbies, etc.) of the hiring manager or other interviewers. This is very unprofessional.
The best way to improve your interview skills is practice, practice, practice.
With something as important as a job interview, it’s important to set aside as much practice time as possible to make sure you’re prepared to knock the hiring manager’s socks off! Here are some resources for practicing your interviewing skills:
Use the Interview Preparation tool
You’ve already seen our Interview Preparation tool. Come back to it often during your job search to keep your interview skills fresh. You’ll go on many job interviews throughout your career, so it’s important not to get rusty!
You can record a practice video of yourself answering interview questions and get feedback from one of our Career Advisors. (You'll need a webcam and microphone.)
We have created two different playlists of interview questions, common interview questions and behavioral interview questions. There is a good chance you would hear questions from both playlists in a typical interview, we recommend that you practice both.
Here's how it works:
Choose an interview question playlist (Common questions or behavioral questions) .
HireVue software will open in a new tab and make sure your webcam and microphone work.
You'll start with a practice question to get comfortable with the recording system.
You will then be prompted to answer 5 interview questions (you can re-record each answer as many times as you like).
When you're comfortable with each answer, you can submit your practice interview for review.
A Career Advisor will review your answers and email you feedback within 3 business days. (Don't forget to check your spam/junk folder).
Career Advisors will be looking for the following:
Did you communicate how your work experience is relevant for a specific job opening?
Are you knowledgeable about the company and industry?
Do you discuss how your strengths and goals align with the position and company?
Do you appropriately acknowledge any weaknesses or past mistakes?
Do you speak clearly and confidently?
Take all your practice sessions seriously — dress professionally and behave just as you would on a real interview.
Connect with a Mentor
Find a mentor with experience working in your chosen field who can help give you feedback while you prepare for interviews. You can find mentors via instructors, classmates, your LinkedIn network, or the University alumni mentor network, which you learned about during Milestone 5. Friends and family who are further along in their careers may also be able to help.
Give your mentor a set of sample questions to ask you, and then answer them as if it were a real interview. Your “interviewer” can provide feedback on how you did, and maybe even some additional advice or sample questions based on their own work experience.
Leading up to interview day
There are a few things you should keep in mind before your real interview:
Plan every detail of your interview day well in advance. For example, several days before the interview, do a “dry run” to see how much time it takes you to get to the interview location and how long it takes you to find parking if you’re driving.
Get there 30 minutes early, and check in with the receptionist 10 minutes before the interview.
Go for a run, take a walk, or listen to music so you are relaxed. Be sure to eat a good breakfast, and do your preparation well in advance -- don’t cram the morning of the interview!
Bring a few paper copies of your resume to the interview. One for yourself, and one for each person interviewing you.
Bring a professional-looking notebook and pen so you can jot down key points during the interview, or things you want to ask questions about later.
This is a great way to learn about a company and career, and whether a job is a good fit for you.
Know what kind of job you want, but don’t know how to get it? Puzzled over which major or degree program to pursue? Thinking about possible employers as graduation approaches, but aren’t sure where to start?
All of these situations call for informational interviews! Why? You can get answers to all of these questions, plus maybe even an inside connection to your next job by booking a few.
The following video discusses the benefits of informational interviewing – including how to set one up:
If you aren’t sure where to find your first informational interview candidate, the Alumni Mentorship Program is a great place to start. Now get out there and start interviewing!