15 Common Interview Questions and Answers (for New Grads)

There is plenty of advice on common interview questions and answers out there. But finding advice that’s relevant to new college graduates and early career job seekers isn’t as easy.

That’s why we put together this list of 15 job interview questions and how to answer them even if you don’t have much or even any relevant experience.

Because here’s the good news:

Even someone who has never had a job before can ace their first interview with the right mix of preparation using the star method, honesty, and self-awareness.

Feel free to skip ahead to the exact interview question and answer you are looking for:

  1. What are your strengths?
  2. What is your greatest weakness?
  3. Tell me about yourself.
  4. Why do you want to work here?
  5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  6. Why should we hire you?
  7. What are you looking for in this position?
  8. Are you a team player?
  9. What type of work environment do you prefer?
  10. How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
  11. What are your hobbies?
  12. Do you have prior experience?
  13. Who was the worst classmate you have ever worked with?
  14. How would your professors/friends/co-workers describe you?
  15. Do you have any questions for me?

What are your strengths?

Don’t look at this common interview question as a trick, but rather a gift.

Many candidates stumble on this question, but you should see it as a showcase for who you truly are.  It provides an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate your personality, expertise, and preparation for the interview.

DO: Keep it short. Choose two or three strengths that best reflect you. Support one of your strengths with a short, yet detailed, example, such as:

I believe one of my greatest strengths is time management. For example, last semester I managed to earn a 3.8 while working 20 hours a week, serving as president of my fraternity and also acting as a teaching assistant for a freshman writing course.

DO NOT: Overwhelm the interviewer with too many adjectives and not enough substance.  The interviewer is looking for quality over quantity here.

What is your greatest weakness?

The key to nailing this dreaded job interview question is to not let it psych you out.

When it comes to identifying your greatest weakness, the hiring manager is not as concerned with what you say as how you say it. They’ve heard all the answers before, so they’re looking for someone who gives one with confidence, self-assurance, and honesty.

This question is so disdained; interviewees often display body language that shows nervousness or fear (such as looking downward or mumbling words). While you should make eye contact with the hiring manager throughout the interview, it’s especially important to maintain it when discussing possible uncomfortable topics like personal weaknesses.

DO: Avoid clichés and broad, cop-out answers like I’m a perfectionist or I’m a workaholic. Hiring managers want something real and specific to you. Practice your answer ahead of time and always give an example of how you’re trying to improve upon your weakness. Here’s a good response:

I believe my greatest weakness is time management. Sometimes I get so focused or involved in a big project I forget to do simpler tasks and let them slide. I’m working really hard to improve this, though, and am extremely conscious of this weakness.

DO NOT: Say anything too weird, candid or personal. The hiring manager wants to get to know you as a prospective employee.  They don’t want to know that you have a fear of spiders or overindulge in ice cream when you’re stressed.

>>>Read More: How to Answer “What is your greatest strength and weakness”

Tell me about yourself.

This common interview question often trips-up interviewees because they say too much or not enough.

Hiring managers want to hear 30 seconds or less about your life. They don’t want to hear your entire, ten-minute, life story.

Remember:

When it comes to “Tell me about yourself,” just present the highlight reel.

DO: Use this question as a time to personally connect with your interviewer. Do your research ahead of time on your interviewer. If you find out he/she went to your school, had the same major, was in your sorority/fraternity, or shares some other connection, this is the time to make that personal connection. That personal connection may very well make you more memorable and desirable than other candidates.  An example would be:

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York most people have never heard of, but I know you’ll recognize it because I saw it listed as your hometown on your employee bio! It’s a small world! 

DO NOT: Just focus on work specific information. This is the time to share some personal things, like hobbies, accomplishments, hometown, etc. In other words, this question is perfect for those with limited or no work experience. You want to show your interviewer you’re not a one-dimensional robot, but someone who is well-rounded and will add flavor to the team already in place.

>>>Read More: How to Answer “Tell me about yourself”

Why do you want to work here?

If asked this question, consider it an invitation to share your research and knowledge about the company.

This is your opportunity to show the hiring manager you’ve done your homework and have a genuine, sincere interest in their employer.

DO: Focus on aspects of the company values and goals that align with your own beliefs and ambitions, such as:

One of the main reasons I want to work here is that your company’s commitment to the community really sets you apart from your competitors. I love that you all volunteer at the Special Olympics each spring. Giving back to others is something really important to me.

DO NOT: Mention money. Even if the lucrative salary was a main motivator to apply to this company, you never want to say that (or even joke about it). You’ll most likely come across as shallow, short-sighted, and inappropriate.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

You may be wondering why hiring managers ask this very common question. Yes, they’re interested in you, but they’re really more interested in their company.

Recruiting and training new employees is a considerable investment of time and money. The interviewer wants to ensure you’re serious about them and in it for the long haul. They also want to know that you’re realistic in your promotional expectations. It’s okay to have high aspirations, but saying that you expect to be in a VP role within five years can indicate to an employer that you’ll be quickly dissatisfied when faced with a slower rate of career advancement.

DO: Show ambition, goals, and that you’ve put thought into your professional future (especially with their company). Use sites like LinkedIn to find more senior people at the company with titles that you’re interested in and how long it typically took them to get there. Here’s an example:

If I were hired by Your Company, in five years I see myself still here contributing to the team, but in the role of associate instead of assistant. I’d love to grow with the company as I grow as a professional.

DO NOT: Ever say something like, “I see myself in your seat.” While you may think you’re being witty or clever, you’re not. You’ll simply come across as arrogant or disrespectful.

>>>Read More: How to Answer “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

Why should we hire you?

This timeless job interview question is so open-ended it leaves a lot of space for you to stumble if you’re not prepared.

You’ll want to answer it with a two-pronged approach: First, you’ll want to highlight the strengths and attributes or experiences that make you unique. Second, you’ll want to show how that uniqueness will enhance the company.

DO: Highlight characteristics you have that would make you a great fit for the company culture in the particular position you applied for.  Here’s a good example:

Your Company is so revered in the advertising world for its commitment to creativity.  I am such a creative person myself. I was in charge of event planning for my sorority and coordinated over a dozen events last year. I’m excited to think how my creativity could enhance what’s already phenomenal here.

DO NOT: Ever respond by shooting back a question like, “Why shouldn’t you hire me?”  Such a flippant response reflects a bravado most hiring managers would not be impressed with.

What are you looking for in this position?

This question can seem a bit nebulous, almost to the point you want to ask “What are you looking for exactly?”

What hiring managers are seeking is that you’ve done your research on the specific job you’re interviewing for.

DO: Tailor your answer to the job. Responding with something that follows the lines of the job description is a good start. But, make sure to take it a step further and show how their company is the right place for you to hold this job. For example

I’m looking for an opportunity to utilize my strong writing and editing skills to craft key messages for your clients. I’m so passionate about the work you do for the Specific Firm and would love to contribute my talent.

DO NOT: Appear uneducated or uninformed about the specific job you’re applying for. A failure of an answer would be, “I don’t really know, but I’m open to whatever the position entails.” 

Are you a team player?

This question may seem like a no-brainer for those who love people. However, if you’re shy, answering it may be scary or challenging.

Regardless of whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, it’s crucial your answer clearly shows you’re able to work well in a group and independently (depending on the task or situation at hand).

DO: Give a positive example that illustrates exactly how you’re a team player. For example:

Yes, I am definitely a team player. When I interned with That Company there were issues with a few fellow interns not getting along. Their tension was hindering a project we were working on. I intervened, organized a social gathering for the group, and it really helped them put their differences aside. We finished the summer and the project on a great note.

DON’T: Fall back on clichés. Yes, the word team is often equated to sports, but unless you’re applying for a job in the sports industry, try to come up with a different example than saying, “I’m definitely a team player. I played four years of club basketball in college.”

What type of work environment do you prefer?

Doing your research is the key to answering any question about work environment preference.

No matter what your answer is, you need to make sure it jives with the established work culture and reputation of the company. For example, you don’t want to say you like a fast-paced work environment if the company you’re interviewing with is known for its laidback, chill atmosphere.

DO: Share a preference you’re confident the interviewer will appreciate based on your research of the company.  Here’s one:

My ideal work environment is one that really values communication and input from its employees.  I know that Your Firm has a Feedback Friday lunch with interested employees once a month and I really love that.  Communication is really important to me too.

DO NOT: Over-elaborate. This isn’t the time to get into the nitty-gritty things you’d prefer in a work environment–like a Keurig over a traditional coffee maker in the breakroom or a standup desk over a sit-down.

How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?

Hiring managers love this interview question because they want to make sure:  1) You have handled stressful situations in the past and 2) You’ll be able to handle stressful situations with their company.

The key to making a good impression with your answer to this question is honesty and a well-thought-out example.

DO: Come to the interview prepared with a solid example of how you’ve managed pressure or stressful situations in the past. This example can come from school, a part time job, internship or leadership role. Here’s an example:

I deal with stressful situations by using the pressure to my advantage. For example, when I was the features editor at my college newspaper, I had writers fail to make deadline a few times. Instead of panicking, I approached the problem calmly but urgently and wrote the article myself. Later I sat down with the writer and we came up with a plan so that wouldn’t happen again.

DO NOT: Pretend like you’re so put-together you’ve never had a stressful situation arise in your life. We all have. And if you pretend you haven’t, that will raise a red flag of dishonesty or denial to the interviewer.

What are your hobbies?

Try not to overthink this question. Hiring managers don’t ask it to trip you up, but because they genuinely want to make sure you’re a good fit for their company personality wise.

Again, honesty is the best policy here. You don’t want to lie and say something you think is impressive—like that karate is one of your hobbies—only to find out the hiring manager is a black belt and wants to know more about your dojo.

DO: Share a few hobbies that show commitment and illustrate you have a life outside of work. For example:

One of my favorite hobbies is running. I try to run every day and run about ten 5Ks a year. I absolutely love running to raise money for causes I’m passionate about, like the Humane Society.

DO NOT: Divulge hobbies that are illegal, shady, or could possibly be interpreted having a negative impact to your work-life (such as gambling). Also, stay away from mentioning hobbies that are in the political or religious realm (unless you’re applying for a very specific job where you’re certain this information would be appreciated and appropriate).

Do you have prior experience?

Don’t let this question scare you.

If you’re applying for your first job after college, it’s unlikely you’ve had a job that’s identical to the full-time one you’re interviewing for. However, you most certainly have had experiences through school, part-time jobs, internships, and leadership roles that can be used to answer this question smoothly and successfully.

DO: Try to quantify your experiences when possible. Hiring managers like to have concrete reasons for hiring the people they do. Here’s an example:

Yes, I do have prior experience in the research field. In college I spent eight semesters interning in This Lab and helped write two papers that ultimately ended up getting published.

DO NOT: Downplay the experience you may have gained through volunteer work or unpaid internships.  Just because you didn’t get paid for work you did doesn’t mean you didn’t learn from it or gain valuable skills that you can apply to your first, big paid job.

Similarly, do not just fall back on good grades to illustrate experience in a particular subject or area. A hiring manager will be more impressed learning about research experience you had in biology, rather than simply the A you got.

Who was the worst classmate you have ever worked with?

Use an abundance of caution if asked this interview question. Most importantly, do not give a specific name.

It’s OK to say, “The worst classmate I ever worked with was someone in my biology lab.”

It’s not OK to say, “Joe Smith was the worst classmate I ever worked with.”

Joe Smith could be the interviewer’s nephew. And, even if the hiring manager has never heard of Joe Smith, naming him could give the impression you’re a vindictive person.

DO: Answer the question, but make it clear that while you did have problems with the classmate, you don’t hold a grudge.

DO NOT: Act as though the experience you had with this classmate was all negative. Try to find something positive to conclude your answer with, such as, “Even though Joe Smith was extremely challenging to work with in lab, interacting with him taught me greater patience.”

How would your professors/friends/co-workers describe you?

This can be a challenging question if you haven’t thought about its answer ahead of time.

In preparation for this common interview question, consider the feedback you’ve received recently (both positive and negative) from professors or peers or ask for fresh input.

The interviewer’s main goal in asking this question is to ensure you have a clear understanding of how you’re perceived by others and if you understand how your actions impact them. Demonstrating strong self-awareness is crucial during a job interview and in answering this question most particularly.

DO: Include an area for improvement in your answer. By sharing a perceived weakness you’ll come across as real and insightful. For example:

My sorority sisters might say that while I’m an extremely effective leader as president, I sometimes take on too many tasks. I’m trying harder to delegate more.

DO NOT: Lie or exaggerate. If you say something untrue or exaggerate the truth, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Do you have any questions for me?

WARNING:

This question is a potential dealmaker or breaker. Do not underestimate its importance.

This is your final opportunity to really stand out to the hiring manager. While it’s good to come prepared to the interview with some questions to ask, the hiring manager will be most impressed if the questions you ask are culled from the interview itself.

DO: Show the hiring manager you’ve been listening and paying attention to him/her throughout the interview by asking two or three pointed questions. An example of one would be:

You mentioned there are quite a few opportunities for ongoing professional development? I’d love to hear more about these.

DO NOT: Ever say, “No, I think I’m all set,” or “I don’t have any questions; you covered everything really well.”  If you fail to ask any questions, you may not be called back. Not asking questions reflects disinterest, a lack of preparation and a failure to engage in the interview itself.

Final Thoughts

The importance of interviews as part of the job hiring process cannot be understated.

This is not said to scare you, but rather to inspire and encourage you. With the right preparation and mindset, you’ll be able to look back on your interview and know it helped you get the job.

Begin with the 15 questions above as preparation and add honesty and your authentic self to your answers.

Above all, go into your interview with a positive, prepared and confident mindset. Show the hiring manager the best version of yourself and that you’ve done your homework. Make their decision easy and, of course, in your favor.

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