How to Answer Interview Questions

How should I answer questions?

During the interview the employer will ask you a variety of questions to determine your interest in the job and your qualifications. Make sure you answer the questions clearly and concisely, supported by example(s) and that you maintain strong eye contact. Below you will find strategies for answering questions in a job interview and a link to sample questions that are often asked by employers.

Tell me about yourself: The 90-second response

An employer may begin the job interview with an open ended question such as, “tell me a little about yourself” or “why are you interested in this organization?” Respond as though the employer were asking, “why do you want to be in this interview room?” Responses to this question should show how your skills, interests and experiences would contribute to the position and organization. It is encouraged that you use a 90-second guideline when answering this question. Here's how:

  • Focus the first 15 seconds on relevant and appropriate personal information you wish to share (e.g., where you are from)
  • Focus the next 30 seconds on your academic experience (e.g., what you are studying, relevant courses, study abroad experience, relevant research experience)
  • Focus the next 30 seconds on your professional experience (e.g., leadership positions, relevant extracurricular involvement, internships, part time jobs)
  • Use the last 15 seconds to discuss why you are interested in the position, given the background you just discussed
Remember, this is a short answer. Give highlights of your experiences and remain focused on the answer. You can prepare ahead of time by writing down specific experiences you wish to discuss and then practice how you want to answer the question.

The STAR Technique

Behavioral questions are questions that ask you to describe a past experience. The theory behind these questions is that answers about your past experiences will give the interviewer an idea of how you might respond to a similar situation in the future. To respond to a behavioral interview question such as, for instance, “Tell me about a time when you were on a team and one of the members wasn’t carrying his or her weight,” use the STAR technique. The STAR technique is a useful way to provide a structure to your answers.

S/T = Situation or Task
Describe a situation or task which will allow you to illustrate your strengths.
Example: “I was assigned to lead a team to perform 30 hours of community service for a class. One team member wasn’t showing up for meetings, despite constant reminders of the importance of attendance.”

A = Action
Describe the action you took to address the situation.
Example: “I decided to meet with the student in private and explained the frustration of other team members, then asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He said he was preoccupied with another course, so I found him some help with that course.”

R = Result
Explain the result of your action. Make sure the outcome reflects well on you.
Example: “After I found that student help, he not only was able to attend the meetings but he also was grateful to me for helping him. We were able to complete the project on time.”

Lastly, make a connection between the story you just told and the position for which you’re interviewing: “My ability to respond to team members and find creative solutions would help me in this position.”

Talking about Strengths and Weaknesses

Oftentimes a question about your strengths and weaknessess will come up in an interview. It is important to consider ahead of time which of your strengths would be most relevant to the position and provide brief examples to illustrate your claims.

If asked to share a weakness, share honestly. However, also be sure to include concrete examples of your efforts to overcome or compensate for your weakness; interviewers want to know that you have the self-awareness to acknowledge your struggles and that you're proactive enough to take steps to improve them.

Check out some sample questions here.