Common interview questions

You’ll run into a lot of the same questions from interview to interview. Take some time to review the following lists of questions to get the wheels turning on how to present yourself in the best light.

Personal questions

These questions target your interests, qualities, goals, strengths and weaknesses.

Tips for answering

  • Whenever discussing weaknesses or failures, be honest and give examples of real weaknesses. Focus on how you work to compensate for or improve those weaknesses, and note what you have learned from your failures. They’ve heard “I’m a perfectionist” one too many times.
  • When telling an employer about yourself, focus on relevant information. Think about your qualities, experiences, skills and achievements and what will be important to the employer.

Sample questions

  1. Tell me a little about yourself. (Keep your answer career-oriented.)
  2. What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  3. What causes you stress and how do you handle it?
  4. Give me three adjectives that describe you.
  5. Who have you been a role model to and why?
  6. What do you like to do in your spare time?
  7. Why are you interested in this position?
  8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
  9. How do you define success?

Employer information

These questions probe your knowledge of the employer and your interest in the organization.

Tips for answering

  • Do your research beforehand!

Sample questions

  1. What do you know about our company/organization?
  2. What do you know about this position?
  3. Why do you want to work in this field/for our company?
  4. What are the most important features you are looking for in a job/supervisor?
  5. What steps do you take to stay informed of new developments within your career field?
  6. What can you contribute to our organization?


These questions focus on your classes and campus involvement.

Tips for answering

  • Anticipate difficult questions. Do you have a withdrawal or failing grade on your transcript? If so, be prepared to explain it. Take responsibility for your grades. Focus on what you learned from the situation and discuss how you have improved your study skills and ability to prioritize.
  • Be prepared to elaborate on anything on your resume. Don’t include a student organization on your resume if you did not participate meaningfully in the organization.

Sample questions

  1. How did you decide on your career/field/major?
  2. What classes have you enjoyed the most/least during college and why?
  3. How have the activities that you have been involved with during college influenced you?
  4. Do you have future plans for furthering your education?
  5. What campus activities were you involved with?
  6. Explain a poor grade (or another failure).


These questions allow you to discuss your work, volunteer and community service experiences, leadership roles, student organization involvement or any other experience that is relevant to the position.

Tips for answering

  • Use specific examples to support your answers.
  • Avoid talking negatively about previous employers or supervisors.
  • Think broadly about your experience. Classroom experiences provide you with relevant skills and can provide some great examples that will support your answers.

Sample questions

  1. Tell me about a time when you had to influence someone to accept your idea.
  2. Give me an example of a time when you had to make an important decision and how you came to that decision.
  3. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person and how you handled it.
  4. Please give me an example where you demonstrated the ability to be an effective member of a team.
  5. Give me three reasons why I should hire you.
  6. How would your coworkers/supervisors describe you?
  7. What did you like the most and the least about your last place of employment?

Case/technical questions

These questions usually involve a business scenario or logic problem, to which you are asked to respond. There may even be role-playing involved, with the interviewer playing the role of the client.

Tips for answering

  • If you don’t know the answer, demonstrate your resourcefulness. What resources would you use to solve the problem? How would you find the answer?
  • Ask for a moment to gather your thoughts before you answer.
  • Ask questions. Business case studies should be interactive discussions.
  • Your thought process is more important than the end result, so talk the interviewer through your approach to solving the problem.

Sample questions

  1. What would you do if …?
  2. What steps would you take to develop a plan of service to meet the client’s social, health, emotional and economic need? (This would be for a counseling or social work position.)
  3. You have a three-liter bucket and a five-liter bucket. How will you measure out exactly four liters of water? Assume you have an endless supply of water and no markings on the buckets. (This is a logic problem.)
  4. Estimate the market for light bulbs in Australia. (Focus on the process, not the result.)

Atypical interview questions

Employers occasionally add unusual questions to see how well interviewees are prepared to think on their feet.

Tips for answering

  • Don’t spend too much time preparing answers to these questions. They are unusual and hard to predict.
  • Be flexible and don’t act surprised.
  • This is your chance to be creative and show your (professional and appropriate) sense of humor.

Sample questions

  1. If you were a fork, knife or spoon, which would you be and why?
  2. Why are manhole covers round?
  3. Sell me something in this room, anything.
  4. If you were a tree, what kind would you be and why?
  5. If the tables were turned, how would you interview me?
  6. What did you do poorly in your last position or on your last project?

So, do you have any questions for me?

Be prepared to ask questions at the end of your interview. Research the company ahead of time to develop some ideas for questions. Avoid asking questions that are answered on the company’s website or in company literature. Your questions should demonstrate that you have prepared for the interview and done your research.

Plan to ask three or four questions, but prepare about 10 questions since some of your questions may be answered during the interview.

Topics to consider

  • Culture and philosophy of the company
  • Training and learning environment
  • Technology used by the company
  • Leadership development
  • Communication within the company
  • Mentor programs
  • Social, work/life balance
  • Vision or future growth of the company

Sample questions to ask

  1. How would you describe the culture of the organization?
  2. What do you like best about the company/organization environment?
  3. What qualities do people seem to have who have done well in this department/organization?
  4. What opportunities exist for advancement?
  5. What is a typical day like in this position?
  6. Is there anything else I should know that would help me understand the position?
  7. Why is this position available?
  8. How many people have held this position in the last three years? (If it seems like there has been high turnover, ask for an explanation.)
  9. Does this organization encourage personal and professional growth? How?
  10. What new tasks or responsibilities do you see someone in this position taking on?
  11. What are the challenges that need to be faced? What types of challenges does this particular position offer?
  12. What type of supervision would I receive in this position?
  13. How did you start with the company/organization?
  14. What do you like about working for this organization? How would you compare it to others you have worked for?
  15. What are the greatest strengths of this company?

Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Student Success
907 Floyd Avenue, Room 143
Box 842007
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2007

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