Interviewer Questions

Questions the Interviewer May Ask

You can make the entire interview process easier and less stressful if you approach it the same way you do the rest of your professional life:  Study the problem; do your homework; get training; apply the techniques you learned; reach a successful solution.

This part of the Interview Tips section is really pretty simple:  All you have to do is figure out what questions the interviewer may ask you – and then be ready with terrific responses.

We’ve done most of the hard work for you here.  The lists below break down questions by type and cover most of the topics that an interviewer is likely to want to talk about.  You can come up with some additional questions that will be specific to the position and company you’ll be interviewing for.

Interviewers will have different backgrounds, different personalities and different ways of approaching the interview process.  Regardless of those variables most interviewers are going to be interested in getting your responses to many of the questions that follow.  They’ll also be listening for more than simply your answers.  The way that you respond will be important, too.  Do you stumble and fumble and hesitate before finally coming up with an acceptable response?  Or are you prepared and professional, ready with thoughtful and well-considered answers?

Don’t fall into the trap that so many interviewees do.  An interview is not adversarial.  The interviewer isn’t trying to trick you or trap you.  The interviewer simply wants to know enough about you to be able to make a decision about your qualifications for the position that has to be filled.

Think of an interview as a conversation between two professionals who are discussing a serious business topic.  That’s all it is – or at least what it can be if you’re prepared.

Study these questions and be ready with thoughtful, concise and professional answers.  If you do, you’ll be ready for almost anything an interviewer may ask you.

As you’re practicing how to respond to questions like these, take a look at our list of questions that you might want to ask the interviewer.  Integrating those questions with your responses to the interviewer’s questions will result in an actual conversation about the position and your qualifications for it.

Questions about your job search 

  • What is most important to you in a job?
  • What type of position are you most interested in?
  • Describe your ideal position
  • Exactly how would the job we’re discussing fit your career plans?
  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • How long have you been looking?
  • What have you been doing since your last job?
  • Are you talking with anyone else right now about a position?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What do you know about our company? or
  • What’s so special about our specific company?
    • Here’s the perfect opportunity for you to discuss the research you’ve done on the company:
      • Annual report, Google News, within your network, etc.
    • You also now have what is essentially an invitation for you to ask some of the questions you should have prepared in advance, to assist in your discussion of the company and its opportunities
    • Again, wrap all of this up by relating your own skills and competencies to the organization’s goals, and to the needs expressed in the job posting
  • What’s so special about this specific position? or
  • What do you expect from this job?
    • Questions like these are extremely important
    • Don’t respond with a bland generalization
    • Be ready with a clear, concise and positive response
    • Demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm
    • Relate your skills and experience to the position you’re interviewing for
    • Questions about what you want or expect from the positin are not about money
    • Don’t talk about what you want
    • Talk about what you can contribute
  • Why should we hire you?
  • What qualities do you consider most important in a colleague?
  • What qualities are most important in a manager?
  • What unique skills or experience can you bring to our organization?
  • Are you willing to travel?  How much?
  • What hours can you work?
    • Are there any other specific demands on your time?
    • How many hours a week can you devote to this position if you absolutely have to?
  • How long would you plan to stay with our company?
  • If we made you an acceptable offer right now, would you say yes?
  • We’ve reviewed your resume, and have decided that you’re really not qualified for this position.  What do you think?
    • This may, of course, be true, and you’ll have to be ready to respond to that
    • Sometimes, though, confrontational questions like this are used to evaluate how you react to stress
      • They’re not really about your qualifications for the job
      • They’re designed to see how you handle yourself
      • Again:  Practice will help you be ready for this kind of interaction

Questions about your current position

  • What’s your job title?
  • What are your responsibilities?
  • Who do you report to?
  • Were you hired for this position, or promoted to it?
  • How long have you been in this position?
  • How long have you been with the company?
  • How good are you at doing this job?
  • What do you like about the job?
  • What don’t you like about the job?
  • What kinds of problems have you encountered doing the job?
  • What kinds of successes or accomplishments have you had?
  • What kinds of things could your organization – or your department – do to be more efficient?
    • Don’t miss this golden opportunity to provide specific examples
    • You must have come up with some ideas during your time on the job
    • Avoid setting a negative tone
    • Emphasize positive solutions, not current problems
    • Relate your proposed solutions to the position you’re interviewing for
  • Why did you leave – or why do you want to leave – this job?

Questions about previous positions

  • Have you had jobs similar to this one?
  • What were your most important responsibilities?
  • Did you acquire any skills that specifically relate to this position?
  • Why did you leave your previous position?
    • The interviewer may want to know about problems you might have had
    • Did you relocate, and if so, why?
    • Here’s a perfect opportunity to talk about how a subsequent position gave you more responsibility, or let you learn more, or presented new challenges
    • Be completely honest, but
    • Emphasize the positives, not the negatives
  • What kinds of problems have you had with supervisors?
  • Have you had any problems with subordinates or team members?
    • If you’ve had problems in the past, be honest in your responses
    • Accept responsibility for any part you may have played
    • Try to avoid speaking negatively of your previous employer or colleagues
    • Point out how problems can offer opportunities to learn and develop new skills
  • What lessons have you learned from previous jobs?
  • Why have you held so many previous jobs?
  • Which of your jobs did you find the most interesting?  Why?
  • Which job or jobs did you find the least interesting?  Why?

Questions about your education and training

  • What is your degree in?
  • Where did you go to school?
  • How did you decide what to major in?
  • Were you active in any extracurricular activities?
  • Did you take part in any internship or on-the-job work experiences?
  • What was your grade point average?
  • Do you have any graduate or other degrees?
  • Do you have any plans to continue your education?
  • Do you have any professional certifications?
    • How long have you been certified?
    • Are your required continuing education credits up to date?

Questions that explore your professional competence

  • What are your qualifications?
    • Be sure that you relate your response to the position and company
    • Provide specific examples to demonstrate qualifications
  • What are your technical skills?
  • How many years’ experience do you have for each skill?
  • Are you current in these skills?
  • Do you have any certifications or licenses in these areas?
  • Have you developed any new skills recently?
  • What courses or workshops have you taken recently in areas that are new to you?
  • Are you active in any professional organizations?
  • What are your best or strongest skills?
    • Having researched the organization, you know what skills and areas of specialization the company values most highly
    • Relate your strengths to the company’s goals and needs
    • Don’t offer merely general answers
    • Provide specific examples from your work history to demonstrate your skills and competencies
    • Connect your skills to specific accomplishments
  • How, exactly, do your skills relate to this position? or
  • Just how does this particular skill relate to this position?
  • What aspects of a job do you consider most important?
  • Under what type of circumstances would you say you do your best work?
  • Are you a team player?
    • Point to some recent experiences that were successful
    • Relate these to the position you’re interested in
  • Do you prefer to work alone?
    • Give an example, and use it to show your strengths
  • What kind of a manager are you?
  • How do you lead people?
  • How do you motivate people working for you?
  • How well do you get along with other managers?
  • What are your strengths as a manager?
  • What are your weaknesses as a manager?
  • How would you handle a situation where you had to lay off several hundred employees?
  • What do you look for in someone who will be working for you?
  • What qualities do you value most highly in someone who’ll be a member of your team?

Questions about you as a person

  • Tell me about yourself
    • Have a brief response prepared
    • Mention your relevant education and training
    • Reveal some personal information that’s relevant to your work
    • Refer virtually everything back to your professional accomplishments
    • Finish by describing the contributions you believe you can make to the organization
  • How do you think a colleague or supervisor would describe you?
  • What recent accomplishment are you proudest of?
    • Be specific
    • Show how this accomplishment relates to the job you’re interviewing for
    • Show how the accomplishment is in line with the company’s goals or values
  • What motivates you in your work?
  • How do you decide if you’re successful?
  • What are your short term professional goals?
    • When do you think you will achieve these?
    • What do you need to do in order to get there?
  • What are your long term goals? or
  • What are your career plans?
    • Often, the interviewer wants to make sure that your goals and the company goals are compatible
    • Here’s your chance to demonstrate to the interviewer that you can plan ahead, and that you’re ambitious yet enjoy being part of an organization
    • Emphasize your commitment to learning new skills
    • Talk about how you enjoy working in different environments
  • What do you see yourself doing five years from now?
  • What do you see yourself doing ten years from now?
  • For any of these “goals” questions:
    • Do not settle for run-of-the-mill generic answers
    • Be specific when you respond to these questions
    • Offer examples and/or specific plans to demonstrate that you’re serious about your goals and about your future
  • Give me an example from a previous job where you demonstrated initiative?
    • What were the results?
    • Be sure to provide specific examples
    • Relate this to the job you’re seeking, if at all possible
  • Describe an incident where you were criticized by your manager or a colleague
    • How did you feel?
    • How did you respond?
  • How do you handle customer or user complaints?
    • What do you do when the complaints are unjustified or unreasonable?
    • What about when they’re legitimate – and substantial?
  • How about stress?
    • How well do you handle stress?
    • Do you have ways of dealing with stress, or reducing stress?
    • In what ways does stress affect your work?
    • In what ways has stress affected your relationships with co-workers?
  • What kinds of people do you prefer to work with?
    • Here’s a great opportunity to state your preference for working with fellow professionals who are committed to the success of the project
    • Don’t forget to state that you have worked with all kinds of people, and have generally done well in those circumstances, too
  • What are your favorite hobbies? or
  • What sports do you enjoy playing?
    • Questions like this can help the interviewer learn about skills or attitudes that may relate to how you do your job
    • If you like chess or complex card games, you’re probably intelligent and have an analytical mind
    • If you like to paint, or play an instrument or enjoy music, or even if you simply read everything you can get your hands on, you’re probably creative and intuitive
    • Think about the kinds of activities you enjoy.
      • Do you engage primarily in group or team sports?
        • This obviously suggests that you’re a good team player
        • It tells the interviewer that you’ve had some real-world experience working as part of a team
      • Do you prefer individual sports and hobbies, like reading or hiking or even water skiing?
        • You may be more independent, and more of a self-starter
        • This can sometimes even indicate that you’re more capable of sustained commitment to a project
    • The interviewer may also be trying to find out what your life is like away from the office
      • Do you, in fact, have a life?
      • Do you have ways to relieve stress and refresh your mind?
      • Do you have friends and/or family available as a support group?
      • Questions like these may merely reflect an interest in you as a person.
        • For guidelines on questions that the interviewer should not be asking, refer to our Prohibited Questions page
  • How do you think people will remember you?
  • How do you think your friends will remember you when you’re dead?
  • How will colleagues and co-workers remember you?
  • What do you think people might say about you behind your back?
  • What do you think your headstone or epitaph would say?
    • What would you want it to say?

Those “trick” questions

  • There’s a whole category of questions that aren’t so much “trick” questions as questions that the interviewer shouldn’t be asking you.
    • Read our Prohibited Questions section for more on those
  • For the rest of these, just keep in mind a simple rule:
    • Don’t focus on your weaknesses or mistakes
    • Emphasize your strengths and what you learned
    • Look forward – not backward
  • What are your greatest professional strengths?
  • What are your strongest technical skills?
  • What are your best personal skills?
  • How good a manager are you?
  • Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
    • Be careful with this one: Almost any simple answer can sound wrong
    • Just because the question sounds like an either-or, doesn’t mean that you have to answer it that way
    • Find ways to emphasize your flexibility
    • Use specific examples, such as:
      • “I’ve found that almost any job has components of individual work and teamwork.  I would usually develop a project plan by myself, and then work with my team to refine it and then implement it”
      • “I’ve had shorter-term contracts where I’ve worked almost entirely by myself. I don’t mind this, and often find that I can get a lot of work done this way. But I also really enjoy leading a group, and learning and getting feedback from other people”
      • “This really depends on the type of work. I enjoy being part of a team, and working toward a shared goal.  But if I have several pages to code, I really like to do it alone, with fewer distractions”
  • What are your weaknesses? or
  • What is your major weakness?
    • Be positive in your response
    • Focus on a skill or competency that you want to improve
    • Turn a “weakness” into a strength
      • The interviewer expects you to do this
      • It’s part of the game, so don’t fail to play your part
    • Do not look on questions like this as an opportunity to share, or bare your soul
      • Don’t confess to unsuccessful interpersonal relationships
      • Don’t admit that on days off you don’t brush your teeth
      • Don’t acknowledge that you can’t write very well
    • Instead, focus on the positive aspects of any situation.  For example:
      • Confess that sometimes you get so wrapped up in a project that it’s all you can think of for awhile
      • Admit that even on days off – not all the time, of course, but sometimes – you find yourself working on a project instead of lying in the hammock
      • Acknowledge that writing a professional-quality report can sometimes be hard work for you, since you have dyslexia
        • Describe the techniques you use to compensate for this
        • Show – or offer to show – samples of your work
    • As you can see, almost any “weakness” or flaw can be turned into a plus
      • You don’t have to lie, but simply by focus on the positives
      • And isn’t that what any employer wants you to do?
  • What was one of your biggest mistakes?
    • How did you handle it?
  • Have you ever resigned from a job?
  • Have you ever been fired or let go from a job?
  • After reviewing your resume and references, we think that you’re probably over-qualified for this position. What do you think?
  • It’s obvious that you couldn’t do this job. Why did we even set up this interview?
    • Stop!
    • Stop and think about what’s going on
    • Would an interviewer really speak that way to a competent professional – and mean it?
      • Almost certainly not
      • And you know that
      • Like all of us, you’ve heard the nonsense about “we’ll call you”, which is how you’d get turned down in real life
      • Interviewers don’t attack interviewees like this
    • So what’s going on?
    • This is the kind of “trick question” that a few interviewers may ask in a few situations.
    • They want to observe how you handle stress and personal threat
    • The interviewer wants to see how you respond to a tough situation
    • All of this means that once again you have been given a wonderful gift by the interviewer:
      • A chance to shine, and stand out from almost all other interviewees
      • Don’t pass up this great opportunity
    • Be ready for this question, and stress-generating questions like it
    • Nail the response, and you’ll probably end up near the head of the short list

The dreaded salary and rate questions

  • Never be the one to ask about money first
    • You look greedy self-centered
    • The company wants you to be focused only on how you can help them
  • Sooner or later, the issue of money is going to come up
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss this
  • On the other hand, don’t give a simple answer and state a figure
    • Doing this can lock you into a box if you ever get to serious negotiations
    • You also probably don’t know what the company will pay
      • Why take the very real chance of selling yourself short?
  • Be ready to respond to questions like “Why aren’t you making more money?”
  • Make sure that you’ve done your homework on salary and rates, as on everything else
    • Know the salary or rate range for the job and industry
    • Look at other advertised positions to get a sense of what companies are offering for similar jobs
    • Talk to your recruiter!
      • Is there any “unofficial” information available?
      • What has been the recruiter’s experience with this company, or with jobs like this?
  • Have faith in your own worth!
    • You wouldn’t hesitate to negotiate on behalf of a friend or family member or a valued colleague, would you?
    • You’ve probably actually done something like this more than once in the past
    • There is nothing wrong with recognizing your own value to an organization
    • And don’t you really owe it to yourself to represent yourself strongly and effectively?
  • Don’t give away any more information than you have to
  • If you’re asked questions about your salary history:
    • These can be particularly tough if you’re trying to make a jump to a substantially higher level
    • Don’t compromise your position by stating a specific figure
    • Focus on the future – not on the past
    • Talk about your value, not what you’ve been paid in the past
      • Note specific contributions you made in other positions
      • Relate your experience to contributions you can make in the position you’re interviewing for
    • As in any commercial enterprise: What counts is what a willing buyer – the employer – will pay on the open market
    • Make sure that you’ve done your homework, so you know roughly what the position should pay
    • Try responses like this:
      • “Frankly, I’m not sure my salary history is relevant to my value to your company in this position.  I really prefer to focus on what’s ahead, rather than what’s in the past.”
      • “I have a pretty good idea of what this position should pay – and I believe that I’m worth that in this position.”
  • If you’re asked questions about how much money you want or expect, try employing responses like these:
    • “I’m not quite sure at this point.  What are you planning to pay to the best candidate?”
    • “I’m very interested in this opportunity.  I’d certainly consider your strongest offer.”
    • “I’ve researched positions like this one, and I think I have a pretty good idea of the current compensation range for the position.  I’m confident that we can come to a meeting of the minds.”
    • “I know that I can make a substantial positive contribution to the company.  I’d certainly like to receive a competitive offer that reflects my value to you, and the commitment I’m ready to make.”
  • It’s not all about the money
    • Don’t get fixated on the salary or hourly rate
    • Factor in employer paid benefits.  These might include:
      • Health insurance
      • Gym or health club memberships
      • Dental insurance
      • Long term and short term disability coverage
      • Sick leave
      • Paid holidays and days off
      • Paid vacation
      • Retirement contributions
      • Bonuses and more
  • Don’t lose out on a great opportunity because you negotiated poorly
    • Seek middle ground
    • Work with the interviewer to achieve a compromise
    • If the company can’t meet your salary expectations:
      • Ask for a larger performance bonus
      • Ask for an extra week of paid vacation
      • Negotiate a better-sounding job title
      • Keep your mind open to alternatives
      • Use this process as yet another demonstration of your competence and problem-solving abilities
  • Bottom line: Let the interviewer – or whoever handles this – make the first offer
  • Keep this in mind, too:
    • Money questions are not simply about how much you’re going to cost the company
    • These questions, like every question you will be asked, will tell the interviewer something about you as a person, and about you as a professional
    • If you can’t handle the stress of a question like this, how will you handle complex situations on the job?
    • If you can’t figure out how to negotiate what is essentially a very simple issue, how could you possibly negotiate complex challenges at work?

References

  • Who can we contact for professional references?
  • What current supervisors and/or colleagues can we speak with?
  • Be prepared for questions like this with specific responses
    • Have a list of:
      • Current supervisors
      • Previous supervisors
      • Coworkers
      • Other colleagues
    • Your list should contain the following for each person:
      • Full name
      • Company or organization
      • Full title
      • Years you were associated with them
      • Your professional relationship with them
      • Email address
      • Office phone number and extension, if any
      • Cell phone number
      • Mailing and/or street address
    • If you had the foresight to request letters of reference from some of these people, this is the time to offer them
      • You should have these with you, but still in your folder
      • Never offer these or other documents unsolicited
  • Always ask people well ahead of time if they would be willing to provide a reference for you
  • Don’t hesitate to ask what references will say about you!
    • You have a right to ask.  Whether they answer or not is up to them
    • Remember the first law for trial lawyers:
      • Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to
      • Be sure you know what kind of a reference you’re going to be given by someone

What have I forgotten to ask?

  • What a perfect opportunity for you to restate your strengths and summarize how you can benefit the company in this position
  • Have some response ready for a question like this
    • Study them
    • Be prepared to speak clearly, forcefully and concisely
    • Then stop – and thank the interviewer for the chance to discuss the opportunity with them