A job interview is not a one-way road for the recruiter to find out more about you - it`s also a great opportunity for you to learn more about the company, the vacancy and the culture! This is your chance to present yourself and ask any questions you might have. Here are just a few tips to prepare for your interview, followed by 50 essential interview questions:
- Be prepared: make sure you did your homework and are well-informed about the company and the position. Get a good night`s sleep as well before.
- Presentation: you never get a second chance to make a first impression! It`s better to be overdressed than underdressed.. Be confident and show an open body language.
- STAR methodology: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Questions which are best answered using this methodology will certainly appear to test your actions in certain situations. Come up with good examples from prior experiences.
- Ask questions: make sure you have prepared a list of questions you would like to have answered.
- Show respect: listen to your recruiter, be friendly, positive and show interest.
- Tip: send a thank-you email after the interview. You can confirm your interest for the vacancy and say your enthusiasm for the position has increased. This will definitely distinguish you from other candidates.
Click on the questions below to see sample answers and further advice.
1. How would you describe yourself?
This is a typical first question. Though it might look simple, many candidates don`t know whether to recap their entire life story, or get to the point about why you are fit for the job. Important is to stick to the present tense: the recruiter has already read your CV, and would not be so interested in your primary school etc. So limit your youth to the minimum and concentrate on your recent academic achievements and ambitions. If applicable, you can combine your past (youth) and current experiences: e.g. "My youth abroad at International Schools, together with my studies of International Politics, determined my ambition to pursue an international career, ideally at a company such as yours."
2. Describe yourself in one word.
Quite difficult question... ! It`s not a question one would expect in an interview, though they do occur. If forced to choose, try to stick to positive generic terms such as "ambitious", "sociable", "assertive".
3. Name 3 of your strengths and weaknesses.
Try not to come across as too arrogant, nor too humble. Be confident about your strong traits, and back them up with examples. This will lead to more credibility, and won`t sound like you memorized the list of most desired traits amongst recruiters (which by the way include: intelligence, communication skills, sociable, dedication etc). Regarding your weaknesses: don`t be too open about these. Recruiters can immediately write you off if you reveal a weakness which is essential to the vacancy you are applying for. When mentioning your weaknesses, a strategy is to turn a strong point into a weakness, e.g. "I love to explore and try new challenging things, also at work, though can sometimes underestimate the additional workload it brings." Another trick is to mention a weakness which is completely irrelevant to the position. For example by mentioning a lack of IT skills for a position which would require none of these whatsoever.
4. What type of books, magazines and newspapers do you read? Which were the latest ones you read?
The recruiter wants to learn more about your interest in national and/or global news, as well as your interest in literature. Depending on the type of company you are applying for, and the sector it`s in, it can be wise to mention some recent influential books in your profession. Don`t fake having read these books, but don`t be too honest in saying you haven`t read a book since high school! Consider it as part of the job in being up-to-date on current affairs in the country/world, and even more important, in the sector you are seeking a career in.
5. Why did you choose your specific university?
Compliment your university on its first-class education and top reputation, and any other factors which might be applicable. Try to stick to this focus of quality and education, and not on factors such as a good sports reputation, no other options, my girlfriend went there as well etc etc. It is best to say that you looked at quite a lot of options, visited many campuses, and enrolled in the university which best met your ambitions, and would be the ideal university to prepare you for your future career.
6. How was your transition from high school to university?
The leap from high school to university can be quite a major one. More freedom and responsibilities, more challenging coursework, and many new people and surroundings. The recruiter is trying to find out how good you were at adapting to this new environment. An ideal answer could be: "The beginning was quite challenging but fun: more demanding coursework, meeting new people etc. I tried to meet a lot of new people by becoming a member of several organizations, though kept my focus on meeting the requirements in class. It was challenging to find a balance between social and academic life, but I believe I managed well. I found my first university semester to be very rewarding and fun."
7. Tell me more about your academic performances.
The recruiter might have taken a good look at your university grades, and would like to hear from you how you look back at your performance in university. If you grades were very good, you don`t need to be too modest about that. However be honest if you grades weren`t all that good.. Highlight your specific achievements, and have an explanation ready for those where you didn`t perform that well. Remember: recruiters are mainly interested in those subjects which really matter and reflect your capabilities best (such as theses and internships), and not in a first-year essay.
8. How will your university education benefit your future career?
The recruiter wants to know how your education will benefit their company, not your future career. Explain how your major is directly related to the company`s field of work, and possibly how your minor can benefit a market or industry they are tapping into. If your education doesn`t really match the company, you can for example emphasize other aspects in your background or education, for example: "My internship at company x in country y forced me to adapt quickly to new environments and to delve into new matter in a very short period of time. I am therefore convinced that I have the ability to adapt and learn in your company in a short period of time as well.", or: "I know that a business degree is typical amongst applicants applying for a consulting firm as yours. However my engineering education has developed my analytical thinking ability, and taught me to approach problems and cases in a logical manner. Furthermore I think an employee such as me, with a different educational background, can complement your team by adding more variety and unconventional thinking."
9. Do you have any plans to continue studying, for an advanced degree for example?
An ideal answer would be: "Obviously I am always interested in further education to enhance my value as an employee and to develop myself further. I would be very interested in any company trainings to keep up-to-date about developments in the industry, or other courses on management and teamwork. I consider an MBA as an interesting option as well, given that it would fit in well with my career progress within a company such as yours."
10. If given the chance, would you have done anything differently in your university career?
The recruiter is trying to detect any flaws in your university experience. A possible answer would be: "I would not changing anything. My university life was extremely rewarding, both socially and academically. It was the best time of my life, and I would even consider doing it all over again!"
11. What would you have done anything differently in your life until now?
Again, the same tactic as in question 10.. Don`t be open about any mistakes or regrets in your life. "Life comes as it is, which was very rich and rewarding until now. All events have shaped me the way I am now, and I rather look forward than back!"
12. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
The recruiter is testing whether you are looking for either a career or a job in their firm, so watch your answer! Don`t sound clueless or vague - it demonstrates a lack of ambition. Best would be to say you intend on excelling in a certain field/division/position, and cannot think of a better company than theirs which can guide you on your path.
13. What makes you angry?
The recruiter is curious about how you could react in work situations which might anger you. Watch out that you don`t come across as a hothead, but also not as too reserved. Your answer would also need to depend on the corporate culture: is it more loose and cool (don`t be a hothead!), or more hard and strict (don`t be too reserved!). Easy way out is mentioning things like "people who don`t communicate openly and talk behind each others` backs, people who lie, people without the ambition and drive to meet the standards etc etc."
14. Describe your ideal job following graduation.
Tailor this to the company and position you are applying for. For example: "I seek a job where I can combine both my academic and practical experience with my interests. My education in marketing, combined with my internship experience at company x as a marketing intern, and my personal interest in mutli-level-marketing, lead me to pursue a position at a company such as yours. I can think of no better learning environment which complements my previous experience and can help me to excel in this field further."
15. What career goals have you set yourself?
See question 12: again the recruiter is interested in your ambitions, and whether you see the company as a stopover, or as a place to start a career. You should always have goals: recruiters are hiring people with ambitions, not people who have no idea where they`re going. Make sure your goals fit in with the company, and mention that you chose this company because it is an ideal place to help you achieve your goals.
16. What influenced you to choose this career path?
Take a while to think about this question in your situation. If you are pursuing a career in IT: what really triggered your interest in IT? Mentioning specific events from your youth, complemented with recent specific achievements (which boosted your ambitions in that field further) are very likely to catch the attention of the recruiter. Have an answer ready here... saying that your interest in that field was triggered by a single subject in university is not likely to impress the recruiter.
17. What traits and qualifications do you have which will make you successful in this career path?
You need a combination of qualities to be successful in your career path. Mention that you have a combination of the academic qualities (university), practical (internship/work experience), a profound interest in the field, and the drive to excel in your career.
18. Why do you want to work at our company?
An ideal answer highlights the company`s achievements and position in the market, so make sure you did a good background research on the firm. You`ll lose the job on the spot if you didn`t do your homework. Factors you can mention include e.g. "you`re a top company in sector x, you provide excellent employee benefits, great growth opportunities, fun collegial atmosphere etc." If you had the chance before to meet any employees, mention this as well, together with the fact that it `clicked` well and you can see yourself working together with these people.
19. What do you know about our company?
Again, make sure you did your homework...! Check out the company`s website, their annual reports, do a google search, etc. You can impress your recruiter if you are aware of recent achievements/awards/projects of the company - a good source would be press releases.
20. Why should I hire you?
This is a tough and direct question, but without a doubt the most important one in the interview! Whether or not the recruiter asks you this question directly, this is the question which is going through his mind during the entire interview! So you`ll need to sell yourself well here! Know exactly what the company is looking for in their new hires: a sales person?, entrepreneurial type?, supply chain expert?, market researcher etc.? Be clear in how your academic and practical experience perfectly meet their needs, and add on any other relevant value-adds you might have. Example: "I see you are looking for someone to develop the business and sell your IT products in China. I have spent the past 2 years living and working in China, I know the culture and understand the business. Furthermore my university background in IT gives me the necessary knowledge to understand what I am selling and how it meets customer needs. I would love to return to China to work for your company."
21. I can also hire someone internally in the firm. Why should I hire an external person such as you?
The recruiter might not really be facing this dilemma, but wants to hear again from you why you are fit for the job. You probably already listed your unique selling points (you can concisely repeat these), but then you still need to beat the competition (the internal employee). Current employees have the advantage that they know the company and the environment, but new employees bring in fresh ideas and experience and greater variety. Focus on these value-adds which you would bring.
22. What changes would you make in our company if I hired you?
Dangerous question! Always remember: you`re not hired yet, you don`t know the firm well enough, nor the market it is in, so you don`t have a clear answer here either! Best is to reply that you can`t give a clear answer for these reasons, and would need to be working in the firm for a couple of weeks/months to make a good assessment of what can be done. Depending on what the firm exactly is seeking, you can mention your prior experience in achieving similar goals.
23. You`re standing in an elevator with your potential future boss - how would you sell yourself in 10 seconds?
Another sales pitch: see questions 20 and 21. Just now you have a time constraint! Practice this beforehand - be concise and summarize your background and how this meets the company`s demands.
24. You are allowed to ask someone in history a single question. Who would you choose and what is your question?
This is a question in the category "unexpected questions". The recruiter would like to test how you react to a question you didn`t expect. Don`t worry, you won`t lose the job if you don`t have an answer, but answering something (no matter how dull it may be) is always better than having no response whatsoever.
25. How many airplanes are there in the world?
Typical `case` question. The objective is to witness your analytical thinking: how do you structure the case and solve the problem? The key is transparency: let the recruiter know exactly how you intend to solve the problem, which assumptions you make, and take him through the entire case. Remember: the recruiter is not looking at your final answer, it doesn`t matter if you are miles away from the real answer! They look at your ability to structure problems! See the brainteaser section for more of such questions.
26. How would you gain the confidence of a client who has over 30 years experience?
You`ll need a perfect balance between confidence and modesty here. You can`t make up for 30 years experience, so you`ll need to bring forward other traits to gain the client`s confidence. These would include your knowledge of the sector (impress him/her with your insights which you gained in a relatively short amount of time), your grasp of recent developments (younger entrants tend to be more open to these), and by respecting his/her experience and trying to learn more from it.
27. Do you prefer working alone or in a team?
Choosing either one of them is rarely the right answer, however this depends on the position you are applying for! The ideal answer usually highlights a combination of the two, for example: "I love the energy that comes with working with people, which is visible through both the synergy of different perspectives and the fun that comes with it. I`m also perfectly capable of working alone however, holding my own responsibilities. I however prefer a combination of both, and am confident of my abilities in both as well."
28. What is the role you adopt whilst working in a team?
This is a question designed mostly to test your communication skills and personality. The recruiter wants to hear that you highly value the efforts of every team member, and that open communication and an equal say is the most essential in every team. You ensure this by trying to coordinate that the entire team process is democratic, tasks are divided evenly, and that everyone works towards the desired result. Whether you are a natural-born leader or not isn`t most relevant here, though some recruiters would like to hear this. Important is efficient teamwork, and the assurance that everyone is heard and contributes. You`ll need to explain that the role you adopt assures this!
29. Tell me about a problem you faced whilst working in a team. How did you resolve the problem?
The recruiter is keen on seeing your communication skills, as well as your ability as a mediator. You can give an example of how a certain team member (during a university course for example) failed to contribute. You resolved the conflict by having a personal talk with him first (not involving the professor), and tried to see exactly what the problem was. Was the work too difficult or were there other issues at stake? The recruiter wants to hear that you first analyzed the problem, without jeopardizing the success of your co-student. Once you discovered the problem, you proposed a solution to your co-student, in which you might even have offered your assistance (i.e. if the coursework was too difficult). If the problem still wasn`t solved and your co-student clearly had an attitude problem, you might have showed your hard side and kicked him out of the team.
30. How good are you at solving conflicts?
Again, a test to see your ability as a mediator. You can mention examples from university, work, family etc. The structure and output should however always be: there is a problem A which I analyzed, the source of the problem turned out to be person B. I had a personal talk with B and proposed several solutions. My communication with B was honest and open. In the end I steered towards situation C which was beneficial to all of us, and most importantly solved problem A.
31. What would you do if a colleague is underperforming, which is hurting you and your division as well?
This questions tests your integrity, as well as your social skills and adaptability to office politics. Again, open communication is essential, so you can answer that you first had a personal talk with the colleague to explain the situation. You suggest that the output could be better if your colleague could perhaps do his work in a different way. Depending on his reaction, you can go on to say that the alternative would be a lower output, and a shift away from the desired result the entire team is striving for. If the problem persists, you would start to increase the pressure by involving more people (maybe also your boss) into the problem insights and your proposed solutions.
32. Are you good at dealing with stress? Give me several examples which demonstrate this.
Never answer no! Of course you are used to dealing with high-pressure situations, whether it was in university, on a job or any other situation! Just have some good examples ready, whereby you didn`t lose your cool, stayed focused and delivered the result as planned!
33. Are you willing to travel for the job?
If you are, say so! However if you have any reservations for any reasons, be careful about being too open about them - it might cost you your job! You can voice a certain reservation for being away for too long, but confirm your understanding that travel is often vital as an employee. If you get the job offer, and travel does turn out to be a bigger problem than expected, you did at least voice this concern during the interview.
34. Are you willing to relocate for the job?
Similar to question 33. Relocation is of course a bigger step than business travel! If you have any reservations you can mention these, and say that you are always open to the right opportunity to relocate. This is a safe way to play it - you can always turn down offers because they weren`t the `right opportunity`.
35. What was the biggest challenge you ever faced?
Try to memorize one beforehand, and especially one which would be of use or applicable to the company/position you are applying for. Try to mention recent examples (for examples university/job experience).
36. Describe a situation where you successfully convinced others of your ideas.
This is a very common interview question - have an example ready here. The recruiter wants to hear for example: "Our team had an option of doing either A or B. The whole team was going for A, I was the only one who preferred B. I had individual talks with everyone in my team to convince them why B would give us more efficiency and higher quality. Slowly I managed to convince team members until the majority supported my idea and we switched to B."
37. Describe a situation where you arrived at a compromise with a colleague.
Compromise is a key to problem resolution - the recruiter wants to see that you have the ability to communicate your thoughts, show understanding for the other party while at the same time making sure that you achieve important parts of your own interests within the compromise. Mention an example whereby you mediated, showed understanding for the other party and managed to use your skills to convince the other party to reach a compromise.
38. Please give me some examples which show that you can adapt to a variety of people, cultures, and environments.
An easy question - make sure you have some examples ready. This can include for example: quick adaptation to new university (made friends easily by becoming member of association) or in a new country (for example during an internship abroad). Make sure you explain how you adapted to the new culture, and how you crossed any hurdles.
39. Which areas of the world would you like to explore and why?
This is a question to get to know you better as a person. Be honest, let loose more about your personality or hobbies - you might even find more common ground with the recruiter. Also, the recruiter is more likely to remember interesting answers, so have a good answer/story ready!
40. Are you good at handling several tasks and responsibilities simultaneously?
This question looks at your ability to plan tasks efficiently. You can give an example of how you had a part-time job next to your university, which required very efficient time allocation. To be specific, you might have used "to-do-lists" to structure your priorities and track your daily progress.
41. How do you determine priorities in your planning?
A good answer on how to organize your planning: you structure your to-do-list according to a matrix of importance and urgency. Those tasks with the highest combined degree are done first. Perhaps you have done a time-management course as well before, or you receive compliments from friends on how efficiently you allocate your time?
42. How would your friends describe you?
Be honest, but just point out your positive features! The recruiter might have already done a background scan of you on several social networking websites, and might already have quite a good idea of your friends and what they think of you!
43. Have you ever considered starting your own business?
Your answer should depend on the company culture: is assertiveness and entrepreneurship valued highly? If yes, you can affirm your enthusiasm for entrepreneurship, but don`t go too far! The recruiter might think you are more fit to be an entrepreneur rather than a colleague. Don`t be too averse against an own business either - the recruiter might think you lack ambition. In that case it would be better to answer "if prefer to develop myself within a company, where I can enjoy mentorship, (horizontal) growth opportunities, and more colleagues to share experiences with."
44. Tell me more about your prior internship/job experience. How would your previous colleagues describe you?
Similar to question 42, though here the recruiter would like to learn more about what others think of your professional side rather than your social side. Remember to stay positive, tell enthusiastically about your previous experiences and the good relationships you had with colleagues (if applicable of course!). Your previous colleagues` views need to match with what you earlier told the recruiter regarding your strong points - try to avoid your weaknesses obviously. A possible good way to end the answer would be to say "I`m still in touch with my previous colleagues and the boss was even open to a prolonged stay on my side - I however preferred to seek a larger elsewhere".
45. What is the most significant contribution you made in your previous company?
The recruiter wants to hear about your specific contribution - so don`t just mention the results of your entire team or division. For example: "I wrote a recommendation about how to achieve x within our company. This was approved by my division-leader and is currently being implemented, leading to a increase in efficiency by x%."
46. Could you have done better in your previous job?
Don`t be negative about your previous performance! You can for example say: "It`s always easier to look back and find room for improvement. I learned a lot at my previous job and gained more experience, which would definitely be beneficial at your company for example. However I cannot think of anything major that I could have done better." If you really need to mention an example, you can always blame external factors beyond your control; e.g. "I was responsible for organizing a conference for 200 people, which got cancelled the day before. A very unfortunate event in my previous job, though I guess it was beyond my control".
47. What would you like to improve professionally about yourself?
The recruiter is trying to find out more about your weaknesses. Again, don`t be too open about your weaknesses. You can either turn a strength into a weakness, or talk about a weakness which would be irrelevant for the company (see question 3).
48. Your boss tells you in confidence that he is considering firing a colleague, who happens to be your best friend at work. How would you handle this situation?
Such hypothetical questions try to trap you into judging situations on the spot. Try to stick to a mere rational and methodological course of action, for example "I would try to analyze exactly what the problem is, why is my friend not living up to expectations? I need to be careful not to lose the trust of my boss, but I also do not want to withhold my friend essential information relating to his career. I would analyze several solutions, maybe I could even see if I can help/train/complement my friend with his apparent deficiency. After reviewing all possible solutions, I would need to select the best course of action." Remember that you often cannot give your interview a definite answer, since the question is hypothetical and you don`t have all the facts on the table!
49. Tell me a joke.
You weren`t expecting such a question right? They are intended to catch you off-guard! How many people can tell a joke on the spot, especially during a stressful interview...? Not many probably.. It`s difficult to prepare for such questions since they can vary so much. Best is to know that such questions do appear in interviews, and to react lightly and with humor to it. Don`t worry about it, the recruiter probably wouldn`t be able to tell a joke on the spot either!
50. What would you do with 1 million ping-pong balls?
This question is intended to gauge your creativity! It doesn`t matter what you say exactly here, just try to be humorous and come up with something the recruiter hasn`t heard before!