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What are some typical interview questions?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Every interview is going to be different, so it’s difficult to provide you with a list of “typical” interview questions. However, most are going to include a variety of questions on topics you can anticipate, and it’s good for you to be prepared to talk about these topics. For more details about specific interview questions and how to answer them, refer to “Learn Interview Strategies” in the Resources section.

A few years ago I sat in on interviews with more than a dozen different employers to get a sense of what types of question they ask and how they ask them. While no two interviewers asked the exact same questions, I was able to identify some fairly distinct categories that were covered in just about every interview.

Interviewers wanted to learn ....

  • ... that you had done some research about the organization and the position. They wanted interviewees to demonstrate familiarity with the organization’s mission, structure, and specific aspects of the position in such a way that the interviewer could see how that individual would fit in. They asked questions such as, “Why are you interested in working for this organization?” 
  • ... more about the your skills, talents, and attributes. Many of them asked about strengths and weaknesses, but another popular question was something like, “Can you tell us why you think you would be the best candidate for this job?”
  • ... how well you work with others. They often asked applicants to describe their experiences working on a team, either at an internship or other job or in a classroom situation.
  • ... about your long-term goals. This can be a difficult question to answer honestly, especially if your long-term goals involve going to graduate school or starting a family, but the interviewer is trying to determine if you would be worth their investment of time and money to train you for the job. They want to hear that your intention is to stick around for a while. 
  • ... how you respond to “behavioral” interview questions. Many organizations, especially large corporations, conduct structured interviews with questions that ask applicants to describe how they behaved in a particular situation. These questions take the form of “Tell us about a time when….” For example, they might say, “Tell us about a time when you took a unique approach to solving a problem” or “Tell us about a time when you went beyond expectations.”
  • ... how well you think on your feet. That is, they want to see how interviewees respond when asked a surprising or unusual question. These questions are typically not related to the position or the organization in any way. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of variations on this type of question, but for all of them, there is no specifically "correct" answer. Examples include “How tall (in feet) do you think this building is?” or “What do you think of garden gnomes?”

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