Interview Guide

Purpose of an Interview

Whenever an employer brings you in for an interview, they’re trying to determine three things:

  • Can you do the job?
  • Are you motivated to do the job?
  • Will you be a good fit for the company?

Consequently, each question they ask is aimed at gathering information to answer one or more of these questions. Your goal is to tailor your answers strategically to address these underlying questions so you can demonstrate to an employer that you are the best candidate for the position.

Interview Tips

  • An interview is like a first date—the company is trying to get to know you, and you’re trying to get to know the company. This means that you want to pay attention to:
    • The questions they’re asking, which can tell you a lot about what they value and what they will expect of you.
    • The way they interact with you—if you’re having trouble connecting with them during the interview, you’ll probably have trouble connecting with them on the job as well.
    • The way they answer your questions—if something seems off or they mention something that seems like a red flag, remember that the issue or mismatch you’re seeing now is highly likely to impact your day-to-day work.
  • Practice, practice, practice! Write your answers down beforehand, say them in front of a mirror, and grab a friend or family member who can give feedback on body language, eye contact, etc.
  • Have at least three questions ready to ask the employer at the end of the interview. This will show them that you’re serious about the company and will give you a chance to learn important information.
    • Make sure your last question is “What’s the next step in the process?” or “When would be a good time for me to follow up with you?” This will give you an idea of the expected time frame in which you should expect to hear an answer (and will give you the opportunity to follow up with them if you haven’t heard anything).
    • Don’t ask about salary or benefits! Wait until you have an official offer before you attempt to negotiate any kind of salary.
  • Always send a thank-you note at the end of an interview! Remember that the employer sacrificed both time and resources in order to interview you for the position. The purpose of the thank you note is not to fulfill an obligation or to make yourself look good, but rather to show gratitude for the fact that the employer saw your potential and gave you an opportunity for consideration.
    • If emailing a thank you note, send it within 24 hours of the interview.
    • If mailing a hand-written thank you note, drop it in the mail as soon as the interview is over. Even though it will take a couple of days to arrive, this could be a beneficial reminder to an employer of your interest in the position.
  • There are three primary kinds of interview questions:
    • Skills-based questions (what can you do?)
      • Employers ask these questions to verify that you have the requisite qualifications to be successful on the job.
      • If you don’t have a certain type of skill they’re asking about, try to identify a related skill you have and how that can be transferable to the role requirement (e.g., “While I don’t have direct experience with Adobe Photoshop, I have had the opportunity to use other photo editing software, such as GIMP, in my current position. My photo editing experience has given me the foundation I need to learn this software quickly so that I can produce meaningful images for your company.”).
    • Behavioral questions (what did you do?)
      • To answer these questions, use the acronym CAR (i.e., describe the Challenge or situation you faced, the Action you took in response, and the Result you achieved)
      • Come up with a collection of stories that demonstrate your success in difficult situations. If you must tell a story where you failed, be sure to describe what you learned from that situation (and be prepared—an employer may ask you how you’ve done things differently since then!).
    • Situational questions (what would you do?)
      • The employer is not necessarily looking for a right answer; instead, they are focused on seeing how your knowledge and experience lead you to process through problems.
      • Pay careful attention to the questions you’re being asked—odds are these are common issues you’ll face in this role!

Practice Interview Questions

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
    • Hint: this is a great question for addressing can/will/fit.
      • Fit—mention a couple of hobbies
      • Can—education and experience
      • Will—desire to join the company and help the team reach its goals
    • What is your greatest accomplishment?
      • Hint: choose an accomplishment that is either related to the job you’ll be performing or that demonstrates that you’ll be a good fit with the company
    • What do you know about our company?
      • Hint: Make sure you’ve done your company research ahead of time! Focus on their mission statement, their values, the clients they serve/products they provide, etc. The point here is not to repeat everything you’ve learned, but to demonstrate that you know about (and care about) the essentials of the company.
    • What is your greatest weakness?
      • Hint: Employers aren’t asking this to see if you can provide the “right answer” and turn a negative into a positive (e.g., “I’m a perfectionist”)—they’re asking this to see how well you know yourself and to see if you’re pursuing personal development. Employers know you’re human and expect you to have weak areas, but they also know that the best employees find ways to grow and mature in spite of their limitations. Rather than choosing your absolute worst weakness, choose a weakness that you are actively working on so that you can show the employer your dedication to self-improvement.
    • Why should we hire you?
      • Hint: this question should also address can/will/fit
    • Why did you leave your last job?
      • Hint: being “let go” only applies to layoffs due to budget cuts. If you left for a negative reason (e.g., being fired), be prepared to talk about the specific action that led to your firing, focusing primarily on how you have taken steps to work on it and how your life is different now. (e.g., “I did not meet the attendance requirements of my last job due to car trouble; however, I now own a reliable vehicle and am ready to excel in the responsibilities of this position in order to benefit your company.”)
    • How would your previous supervisors/coworkers describe you?
    • In five words or less, share with me what you’re all about.
      • Hint: if you’ve taken the StrengthsQuest or StrengthsFinder, your top five results can be a great answer to this question!
    • How well did you get along with your last supervisor?
      • Hint: focus on the positive interactions you had with your supervisor. Even if you and your supervisor didn’t get along, try to find something redeeming about your time together. In the event that you can’t find anything positive to say, be gentle and fair in how you describe your interactions, then talk about what you learned about yourself and how you’d like to get along with your future supervisor.
    • What were your supervisor’s strengths and weaknesses?
      • Hint: briefly touch on one weakness, then spend most of your time discussing 1-3 strengths (ending on a positive note is always a good thing!).
    • What did you like the most about your last job? What did you like the least?
      • Hint: briefly touch on one thing you didn’t prefer, then spend most of your time discussing what you liked and tie it in with the overlap you see between that job and the one you’re applying for.
    • Tell me about a time when you…
      • Made a mistake
      • Had a conflict at work
      • Had to handle a difficult situation
      • Went above and beyond at your job
      • Had to make a major decision
      • Worked on a team
      • Achieved a goal
      • Had to meet a deadline
      • Disagreed with your boss

Questions to Ask the Employer

  • What’s your favorite part about working at ___?
  • What does success look like in this role?
  • What are you looking for in a team member?
  • Disagreements are inevitable in any office—how does your team handle conflict?
  • What are some of the challenges I might face in this role?
  • What are some of the short-term and long-term goals you have for your team?
  • What does a typical day/week look like in this role?
  • What’s the next step in the process?