So, you landed an interview! Congratulations—that’s no small feat. Getting an interview is an incredible feeling, but it can also be a stressful experience. You want to be 100% prepared when you walk through the door or turn on that video chat.
Today, we’ll prepare you for your interview by reviewing the most common interview questions and answers. And don’t worry if you lack relevant experience. In this article, you’ll find advice that’s tailored to new college graduates and early-career job seekers.
Before we get to the questions, let’s review a few interview basics:
- Be sure to bring extra copies of your resume, cover letter, and work samples to the interview.
- Do your research beforehand. Review the company website, local business news sites, and your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile.
- Arrive a few minutes early to show that you’re reliable.
- During the interview, listen carefully, stay on topic, and use the STAR method. Be positive and enthusiastic, no matter what.
- Send a thank-you note within 48 hours of the interview. If you don’t hear back, wait at least two weeks before following up about next steps.
Now, onto the top interview questions and answers:
- What are your strengths?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why did you apply for this position?
- Do you prefer to work on a team or independently?
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
- How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
- What are your hobbies?
- Do you have prior experience?
- Who was the most difficult person you ever worked with?
- How would your professors/friends/co-workers describe you?
- 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. This question provides an excellent opportunity for you to demonstrate your personality, expertise, and preparation for the interview.
Choose two or three strengths that reflect you and are directly related to the job. Then, support at least one of them with evidence, such as awards, metrics, or specific anecdotes. Stay away from clichés and focus on substantive answers. The interviewer is looking for quality, not quantity. Here’s a good response:
I believe one of my greatest strengths is time management. For example, last semester I managed to earn a 3.8 GPA while working 20 hours a week at a local coffee shop, serving as president of my fraternity, and acting as a teaching assistant for a freshman writing course. I’m also very organized and detail-oriented.
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 your greatest weakness, the hiring manager is not as concerned with what you say as how you say it. They’re looking for honesty and confidence, so watch your body language and maintain eye contact.
Be sure to avoid clichés and cop-out answers like, “I’m a perfectionist.” Hiring managers want something real. At the same time, don’t get overly candid; this is still a job interview, not a therapy session. Additionally, stay away from true deficiencies or anything that could impact your ability to do the job well. Practice your answer ahead of time and always give an example of how you’re working to improve upon your weakness. For example:
I’m an organized person, so I have trouble with last-minute changes and ambiguity. In school, I scheduled out all my work, but in an office environment, deadlines and priorities are always shifting. So, I’m working to get more accustomed to those changes. I’m taking an online class in project management, and it’s helped me make room for changing priorities. Now, if a last-minute change crops up, I know how to reprioritize.
Tell me about yourself.
This common interview question often kicks off an interview. It also tends to trip up interviewees because they say too much or not enough. Hiring managers don’t want to hear your entire life story, so just present the highlight reel. Use the opportunity to show how you’ll add value in the role by sharing career highlights and key accomplishments. At the same time, try to personally connect with the interviewer and convey your enthusiasm for the job at hand.
Unlike most interview questions, you don’t need to focus solely on work and school. It’s fine to mention your interests or accomplishments, too. In other words, this question is perfect for those with limited or no work experience. You want to make a lasting impression by showing your interviewer that you’re well-rounded. An example answer 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! What a small world. I graduated from ABC University one year ago, then moved here to be an executive assistant at XYZ Organization. It fit well with my passion for analytics and conceptualizing creative campaigns. Now, I’m looking for my next professional challenge, and believe I’ve found it at your company.
>>>Read More: How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”
Why do you want to work here?
Consider this question an invitation to share your research and knowledge about the company. Show the hiring manager that you’ve done your homework and truly want to work here and only here. As you share specifics that drew you to the company, highlight how your own skills, goals, and beliefs align with the company.
One of the main reasons I want to work here is your company’s commitment to the community. It really sets you apart from your competitors. I love that you all volunteer at the Special Olympics each spring. I’ve volunteered with the local animal shelter every week for the past four years. Being a part of a company that also values giving back to others is really important to me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Interviewers ask this question because they want to get to know you—but they’re also looking out for the best interests of their company. The truth is that recruiting and training new employees costs a lot of time and money. So, 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 expectations. It’s okay to have high aspirations, but saying that you expect to be in a VP role in five years is a warning sign.
A great response should put the employer’s fears at ease. Tell them you expect to be with the company. Then, show that you’ve done your research and have ambition by discussing your specific career goals and desire to grow with the company. Use sites like LinkedIn to find more senior people at the company with titles that you’re interested in. Here’s an example:
In five years, I see myself here at XYZ Company, contributing to the team and adding value for the branch. I love that you offer so many opportunities for professional development, and I want to grow with the company. So, I plan to master my role as an assistant in the next few years, and hopefully become an associate after that.
>>>Read More: How to Answer “Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
Why should we hire you?
You’ll want to answer this open-ended interview question with a two-pronged approach: First, you’ll want to highlight the attributes or experiences that make you unique. Second, you’ll want to show how that uniqueness will add value for the company.
To show that you’re heads above the other candidates, be sure to highlight characteristics that would make you a great fit for the company culture. This is another question where doing your research and being genuinely enthusiastic can make a big difference. Here’s a good example:
ABC Company is revered in the advertising world for its commitment to creativity. Since before I can remember, I’ve prided myself on being a creative person myself. In college, I was in charge of event planning for my sorority and coordinated over a dozen distinct, themed events last year. In a typical year, the sorority does five events. I’m excited to think how my creativity and ambition could enhance what’s already great here.
Why did you apply for this position?
Here, hiring managers are really asking, “Have you done your research and do you know what this specific job entails?” Whereas “Why do you want to work here?” is about the company, this is about your role. And this is a question where you need to tailor your answer carefully. The best way to stay on track is to keep the job description in mind.
Mention key tasks, goals, and requirements that resonate with you. Then, emphasize how the role aligns with your career goals and is a perfect fit for your skill set. And one more note: Don’t mention money. Even if paying the bills was your main motivator for applying to this position, you never want to say that (or even joke about it). A strong response might be:
I’m an experienced writer, who loves what she does. And I’m looking for an opportunity to utilize my strong writing and editing skills to craft compelling messages. I was especially drawn to the cross-industry clients you support, as it will allow me to flex my writing muscles and work on a diversity of projects at once. I know it will be busy, but I also know it will be exciting.
Do you prefer to work on a team or independently?
There’s no right or wrong answer here, but you want to be diplomatic. Regardless of whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, it’s crucial your answer clearly shows that you’re versatile. Share your preference, but also keep the role itself in mind. If you’re an event planner, hopefully you like working with others.
For a great answer, include two positive examples: one in which you worked well with a group and another in which you worked well on a solo project.
I love working on a team. When I interned with XYZ Company, there were issues with a few fellow interns not getting along. I intervened, organized a social gathering for the group, and it really helped them put their differences aside. We finished the summer on a great note and came up with the best ideas by putting our heads together. At the same time, I enjoy working independently when necessary. In school, I prided myself on never missing an essay deadline. That was because I’m able to put my head down and focus.
What type of work environment do you prefer?
No matter how you answer this question, you need to make sure it jives with the culture and reputation of the company. So, be sure to do your research beforehand. 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.
Based on the company website and Glassdoor reviews, share a preference you’re confident the interviewer will appreciate. Stay away from anything that might reflect poorly on you (everyone wants two-hour lunch breaks; keep it to yourself). Here’s an example:
My ideal work environment is one that really values communication and input from its employees. I know that XYZ Company has Feedback Friday lunches with interested employees once a month, and I really love that. Communication and transparency are really important to me, too.
How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
Hiring managers love this interview question because they want to make sure: 1) You’ve 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 is honesty and a strong example.
So, in advance of the interview, come up with a solid example of how you’ve managed pressure or stressful situations in the past. Be honest, but stay positive. It’s okay if you struggle under pressure, as long as you are working to improve. And don’t pretend you’re so put together that you never buckle under stress. Here’s an example:
In stressful situations, I do my best to stay calm and focus on a solution. 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 and wrote the articles myself. Later, I sat down with each writer and we came up with a plan so that wouldn’t happen again. In time, I didn’t have to deal with that type of stress again because we’d addressed what caused it.
What are your hobbies?
Try not to overthink this question. Hiring managers don’t ask it to trip you up. Rather, 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.
Avoid anything political, religious, or that could have a negative connotation (such as gambling), unless you’re applying to a job where you know such answers are appropriate. Simply share two or three 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. It helps me relax and get outside of my head. I especially love running to raise money for causes I’m passionate about, like the Humane Society. I have two rescue dogs, who are really fun, so I love spending time with them, too.
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 one you’re interviewing for. However, you do have experience! Share your relevant experience through school, volunteer work, part-time jobs, internships, and extracurriculars.
Whenever possible, try to quantify your previous accomplishments with specific outcomes and metrics; it lends credibility to your response. At the same time, don’t fall back on good grades. The hiring manager is more interested in your hands-on experience.
Yes, I do have prior experience in the research field. In college, I spent eight semesters interning in ABC Lab. While I was there, I co-authored two papers that ended up getting published.
Who was the most difficult person you ever worked with?
Approach this question with an abundance of caution. You’re going to be working with a lot of people in your new role, and you won’t get along with everyone. But you’ll still need to work together productively.
The “who” here isn’t important—and no matter what, do not give a specific name. Rather, the interviewer wants to know how you managed to work with this person despite the difficulty. After all, if you worked through a challenging work relationship in the past, you can do it again. Don’t be petty and be sure to end on a positive note.
I had a challenging lab partner last year. He was disorganized, and we kept missing deadlines because he didn’t update me on his progress. Eventually, I insisted on weekly, in-person check-ins to stay on track. He found it annoying at first, but we got the work done, and in the end, we walked away on good terms.
How would your professors/friends/co-workers describe you?
This can be a challenging question if you haven’t thought about it ahead of time. Consider recent feedback you’ve received, both positive and negative. The interviewer’s main goal is to ensure you have a clear understanding of how you’re perceived by others and understand how your actions impact them. To prove that you’re self-aware, consider answering with two positive traits and one area for improvement. For example:
The other members of student council might say that I’m an extremely effective leader as president. They also nicknamed me “Mr. Congeniality” because I get along with everyone. But they’d also say that I sometimes take on too many things at once. I’m trying to delegate more.
Do you have any questions for me?
Warning: This is pretty much a guaranteed question—and a potential dealmaker or breaker. So be prepared.
This is your final opportunity to really stand out to the hiring manager. Come to the interview with a list of prepared questions to ask. We suggest having at least 10 in mind since many will get answered throughout the course of the interview. If you can come up with questions on the spot, based on what you’ve learned during the interview, that’s even better.
Finally, don’t ever say, “Nope, you covered everything.” Not asking questions shows a lack of interest, a lack of preparation, and a failure to engage in the interview itself. Here are a few great questions to get you started:
You mentioned there are quite a few opportunities for ongoing professional development at ABC Company. Can you tell me more about these?
What would you like to see me accomplish in the first 60 days? By the end of the year?
Can you tell me what a typical day looks like in this role?
Interviews are a crucial part of the hiring process.
We’re not saying this to scare you. Instead, it should 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 land your dream job.
Begin by practicing the 15 questions above. Then, it’s about being honest and confident. Show the hiring manager the best version of yourself and that you’ve done your homework. You’ll make their decision easy—and, of course, in your favor.