Acing an Interview: Popular job/internship interview questions and how to answer them

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

The employer is trying to gauge your drive as a person. This is not where you talk about your love of kayaking and dogs.

What to say:

Talk about where you are right now, and where you want this job to take you.

Begin by stating what you’re doing. Are you at a university? What are you studying? If not, what is your current job? Your employment passion?

Next, say what your broad future goal is, and what you are looking for by searching for a new job. Don’t be afraid to be a little vague here, because you can open up later.

Example:

I’m spending an extra year at the university to wrap up my microbiology degree and attain a minor in chemistry. I plan on someday working in a laboratory, but right now I’m looking for an employment opportunity that will allow me to gain greater interpersonal skills so that I can grow as a person.

2. What do you know about our company?

Don’t repeat the website’s “about” page. Don’t state what the company does, or what they sell. They want to know what you like about the company, what you think is a unique and standout feature about them in particular.

What to say:

What about this company do you like in particular? Think about them compared to a competitor company. What thing does this company do that is different and better? Say that. Say the thing.

Example:

Since I have shopped at (store name) my entire life, I’ve really grown to appreciate the organization and variety of departments of (company). I really enjoy the efforts that your company has made to incorporate local businesses into their stores, especially in the produce department.

3. How did you hear about the position?

Time to be honest. Don’t bluff and say an employee told you.

What to say:

Tell them where you first saw the opportunity. Was it a general job site? Did you stalk their website one day? Why did the job jump out at you?

Example:

I saw an ad for the position on an online job website. Since I’ve shopped at (store name) my entire life, it really jumped out at me and I decided it would be a great opportunity to pursue.

4. Why do you want this job?

Hint: “I want money” and “It’s in a convenient location” are NOT good answers.

What to say:

You want to state what you are looking for in a job, and how the position fits that criteria.

Example:

I am looking for a position that will allow me to grow as a person through social interactions and customer service. I believe that working here at (store name) will allow me to grow relationships with my coworkers and the management, while simultaneously helping me to gain better social skills with customers.

5. Why should we hire you?

Not a trick question. Back up your answers with evidence.

What to say:

What skills do you possess that fit the job requirements? How will you be a valuable asset to the team? What specific experience in your history backs that up?

Example:

I have experience in customer service from working at (company), and I would love to bring my skills to your team here at (store name). I feel that my positive attitude and desire to grow as a person will affect not only my work,  but will be a good influence on others around me. When I worked at (company), I was often praised by the management for my optimism, and I hope I can bring that optimism to your team here.

6. What are your greatest professional strengths?

You can claim whatever strengths you want, but remember to back your claims up with specific examples.

What to say:

Tell them what you’re good at. This is not a list, so decide on two to three things and have complete examples to explain them. You can’t simply say “I’m a team player” and expect them to believe it. Give them an example of a time you really showed your skills, and why you have those skills.

Example:

I’m very precise in the work that I do, and I think that stems from my chosen field of education at the university. By studying a science that requires both precision and dexterity, I find that I am more thorough in my tasks within all aspects of life. I also excel at maintaining positive relationships with others. I have remained calm throughout stressful occasions in the past, such as dealing with counterfeit money and helping impatient customers. My ability to remain calm helped my coworkers to lessen their own stress.

7. What do you consider to be your weaknesses?

Here’s a tough one: you want to tell them a true weakness, not a sort-of weakness. “I’m too much of a perfectionist!”

What to say:

The trick here is that you own up to a real weakness. You struggle to keep track of time sometimes, you try to juggle too many tasks, or you let emotion get the best of you. However, you ALWAYS follow up your weakness with a “but—” and then go on to explain how you are improving and the steps you are taking to conquer that weakness.

Example:

I have found that I struggle to allow other people to assist me in my assigned tasks—sometimes I get overwhelmed because I believe I can do everything. I follow the old “if you want it done right, do it yourself” mantra. However, lately I have been working to share tasks with others because I am beginning to realize the true benefits of teamwork. By sharing tasks with others, I become less stressed and am able to work even better than before.

8. What is your greatest professional achievement?

Brag! Talk about that time you were AWESOME.

What to say:

Even if your greatest accomplishment isn’t a real award on a plaque, you can bulk up your accomplishment to feel important and admirable. Tell a story here. Start from the beginning, explain how you met a challenge, and tell about the praise you received. If you don’t have “work” achievements, take an educational challenge and make it sound extra-rad.

Example:

I began working as a door-knocker for (company) last year. I thought of it as a flexible, on-the-side job to my schoolwork. Thus, I only worked occasionally. This did not allow me to really grow as an employee. However, over the last couple of months I have set a strict schedule for myself and I began working full days every weekday. As a result of my effort, I became the region’s most efficient canvasser and was recognized by my boss and his supervisor for my hard work.

9. Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how you dealt with it.

This is not where you talk about that really stupid guy your boss hired. This is not where you talk about disagreeing with your manager about everything.

What to say:

Talk about a moment where you were unsure, a moment where you felt frustrated or scared. This is a moment of weakness that you overcame. Be vulnerable here. Tell the interviewer about that time you made a mistake, or that time you ran out of change in the register when you were the only one in the store. Then, follow up your concession with an explanation of how you overcame the odds and came out on top.

Example:

When I worked at (shop) two years ago, there was a woman who regularly came into the store and attempted to purchase items using counterfeit bills. At first I was afraid that I was wrong in my judgment, so I treated her kindly and expected that she would react to my kindness by ceasing to try to scam us. I was wrong about her. She continued to try to exchange fake hundred dollar bills, and I knew that I had to do something. I told her we could not help her. She grew really angry, but I stood up for the store and told her that she needed to leave. I’m really proud of that moment, because although I was intimidated, I stuck to my guns and protected the store from theft.

10. Where do you see yourself in five years?

“What? How am I supposed to know?” is not the correct answer.

What to say:

They want to see that you have goals, but also that you are realistic. If you say “I want to be a Formula One driver” when you have no record to back that up, they won’t appreciate your answer. Instead, explain what you are sure of, and talk about how their open position will help you get there.

Example:

In five years I see myself working hard to support my family. While I do not know what the future holds for me, I am certain that this position would be a valuable experience that will help me grow socially so that I am prepared for the future.

11. What’s your dream job?

Don’t lie and say that your dream is to be a cashier at a grocery store.

What to say:

Tell them the truth. What is your dream? How will the position give you skills that you require to get to that dream job?

Example:

I would love to work in a laboratory someday to study genetic engineering. Laboratory work requires a great degree of communication, and I think that being a (store) team member would help me to grow in that department.

12. Why are you leaving your current job?

“I hate my manager” is not a good choice here.

What to say:

Bite your tongue and don’t say the thing. Don’t complain about your past manager, or the awful coworkers, or the grimy food. Instead, praise your past job. Say something you really liked about it (or at least pretend you sort of liked it), and then follow up with a “but.” State that the reason you want to change jobs is for growth, never use conflict as your reason. It is always better to seem like you are trying to climb the ladder, rather than trying to jump onto a different ladder.

Example:

While I enjoy the freedom of choosing my own hours, my current position often requires that I drive for significant periods of time in a car by myself. I aspire to find a position that allows me to be more social so that I may grow relationships with coworkers and management.

13. What are you looking for in a new position?

“More money” is not the answer.

What to say:

Tell them the qualities that you are looking for—but make sure they are qualities that the position possesses. If you’re applying at a retail position, don’t talk about your desire to handle food. Explain what skills you are looking to gain.

Example:

I’m looking to grow my interpersonal skills. I would like to develop relationships with my coworkers and the management, while also providing customers with the excellent service that I know I am capable of.

14. What type of work environment do you prefer?

“Laid-back and low-pressure” is not the answer.

What to say:

If you really want the job, you need to say the exact type of environment that the position provides. If it is a social job, don’t say you prefer individual work. If it is a high-stress environment, don’t say that you like to relax.

Example:

I prefer a social work environment where my coworkers and I are teammates. I like knowing that if I don’t know the answer to a question, I will be able to ask someone who does, so that excellent customer service can still be provided.

15. What’s a time you exercised leadership?

“I am always a leader” is not the answer they are looking for.

What to say:

Explain a challenge that you faced, and how you took charge. It might have been a small incident at the time, but if you can turn it into a dramatic story and explain exactly how you saved the day, your small tale will seem impressive. It’s alright to stretch the story a little here to make yourself sound like the hero.

Example:

Back when I worked at a frozen yogurt shop, there was an afternoon where the frozen yogurt machine for a popular flavor broke down. We could not get ahold of the management, and customers were frustrated. My coworkers were unsure of what to do to calm down the upset customers. I took the initiative to offer free samples of other flavors to those customers, because I was confident that they would enjoy them just as much as the raspberry. They did, and we met our sales goal at the end of the day because of my idea.

16. What’s a time you disagreed with a decision that was made at work?

Don’t say “my boss hired an idiot.”

What to say:

This is not an opportunity to slam your previous management and co-workers. Instead, use it as an opportunity to show your humility. Talk about a situation that frustrated you, and then explain how you learned to cope and better yourself by the experience.

Example:

My boss at Red Mango once hired a young man who I felt did not have the qualifications for the position. It was very frustrating to work with him because I felt the shop was held back from its potential whenever he was behind the counter. I did not enjoy working with him. However, I decided to set aside my frustration and I worked on teaching him the ropes. After spending a few days showing him how to take care of customers, he became a much more productive co-worker.

17. How would your boss and co-workers describe you?

“Best employee ever” is not a good answer.

What to say:

Be honest. If the hiring staff calls your references and they say that you are a bit lazy, your claim that you “get things done quickly” won’t go over so well. Try to imagine what they would really say about you—don’t be unrealistic.

Example:

They would describe me as thorough and flexible, because I never leave tasks unfinished. I would stay after regular store hours when I worked at (store) in order to help my manager finish difficult projects. I believe my coworkers would also describe me as calm, because no matter the size of the line or the task in front of me, I approach it with a level head.

18. How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?

“I never get stressed!” will NOT get you hired.

What to say:

Walk them through your stress process. Tell them exactly how you handle moments of pressure, and give an example that demonstrates your ability. Talk about that one bad Black Friday or the time the store flooded, and how you made it through without going crazy.

Example:

I take a deep breath, and remind myself that the situation at hand is for the good of the company. I remember that I am a key player in my work environment, and that I have a responsibility to my teammates to get things done. I approach stressful situations head-on, and I often have a calming effect on my coworkers by reminding them that as a team, we can make it through the problem.

19. Do you have any questions for us?

“No” is a really bad response here.

What to say:

Always ask questions! Shoot for at least three. Ask things that you can’t find online, and strive to make them questions about the experience of working at the store or company.

Example:

What is your favorite aspect of working at (store)?

What is your store’s motto for customer service?

What skills do you most value in your employees?

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