Step 2: Practice

Don't expect to provide polished answers to every question without having practiced first. The best way to practice for an interview is by attending a mock interview. A mock interview is an emulation of an interview used for training purposes. InterviewStream is a free online service that allows you to conduct mock interviews via webcam. After recording your answers, review the video to identify areas of improvement. You can also schedule a mock interview at PREPs by using the button to the right.

To the left, we've gathered a list of common interview questions. Keep in mind that the purpose of the interview is for the interviewer to make an informed decision as to whether or not you would be the best person for the position. Essentially the interviewer wants to know if you are capable of doing the work, you will enjoy the work, and you are a good fit for the program or company. The questions below are simply a variety of ways these basic three questions may be phrased.

How to Answer Tricky Interview Questions

"Tell me about yourself"

Sounds like a simple question, right? This question is not an icebreaker. The interviewer wants to know if you would be a good fit for the position.  This is where having an elevator pitch comes in handy. An elevator pitch is a concise, carefully planned, well-practiced description about yourself.

It’s easy to understand what a good answer to this question is by looking at a bad answer. Here’s a bad way to answer: "I'm engaged and originally from Chicago. My fiancé took a position here in Indianapolis three months ago, and I've been getting us settled in our new apartment. I'm now ready to go back to work. I've worked in a variety of jobs, usually customer-service related. I'm looking for a company that offers growth opportunities” 

Not only is the interviewee’s answer too personal, but it raises concerns as to whether she was an employee who would stay for long. For example, she’s engaged and when her fiancé moves, she moves too. She has some work experience with customers but didn’t emphasize what she did. She’s looking to grow. Will she be content with the job she is applying for? Will she stay long?

What she should have done was come with a prepared elevator pitch in which she emphasizes her strengths. For example, she is warm and easily connects with people. She is highly articulate, and one of her greatest strengths is follow-through. She has a reputation for always meeting deadlines. Here how she could have approached the question.

Mention past experiences and proven success: “I have been in the customer-service industry for the last five years. My most recent experience has been handling incoming calls in the high-tech industry. One reason I particularly enjoy this business and the challenges that go along with it, is the opportunity to connect with people. In my last job, I formed some significant customer relationships resulting in a 30% increase in sales in a matter of months.”

Mention strengths and abilities: “My greatest strength is my attention to detail. I pride myself on my reputation for following through and meeting deadlines. When I commit to doing something I make sure it gets done, and on time.”

Conclude with a statement about your current situation: “What I’m looking for now is a company that values customer relations, where I can join a strong team and have a positive impact on customer retention and sales."

Once you have a polished answer, practice it. This doesn’t mean memorize it (you don’t want your answer to be stiff from rote memorization) but get used to saying the various phrases you want to include.

"Tell me about a time in the past when you demonstrated…"

Questions that begin this way are called behavioral-based questions. Interviewers use these questions to predict your future performance.

We recommend using the S.T.A.R method to best answer these questions.  S.T.A.R stands for:

  • Situation: What were you doing? Who were you working with?
  • Task: What was the goal you were striving to accomplish or the problem you attempted to solve?
  • Action: What did you do to resolve the problem or reach the goal?
  • Result: How did the situation end? What did you learn from this experience?

Don’t expect to go into an interview and use this method perfectly the very first time you try it. It takes practice and preparation. Which is why it’s also important to prepare five or more success stories. List your skills and keys assets, then reflect on past jobs and pick out one or two instances when you used those skills successfully.

You’ll also want to present concrete, quantifiable data. This includes measurable information and details about specific accomplishments. You may already have this information listed on your resume, but practice talking about it.

Practice talking about yourself in front of the mirror. Observe your facial expressions, practice making eye contact with yourself, and pay attention to your posture. Make sure you aren’t fidgeting or playing with your hair. Practice your handshake with friends and family members. Body language accounts for more than half of all our communication, so checking your watch, yawning, looking out the window, giving a weak handshake, etc. communicates that you are not excited about the position."

Why do you want to work for us? or Why do you want to pursue this degree?

In order to answer this question successfully, you have to do your research. Use the following questions to get started:

  1. What are the organization’s leading products or services?
  2. What makes this organization or university different than others?
  3. What has happened recently for this organization? Acquisitions? New Products? Anything newsworthy?
  4. Who runs the organization? How many employees work for the org.? In how many offices? Is it big or small?
  5. What is the school or organization’s mission? Philosophy? Values? Vision?

Prepare by writing facts about the organization on notecards. Include reasons why you want to work for the organization, questions you have about the organization, news bits, and any other tidbits you may want to add. Study the notecards in the days prior to the interview so that you have the information in your brain and can deploy any facts, questions, or figures as necessary.

Here’s an example of an answer that demonstrates the interviewee’s research:  “First, I know what a growth story Evernote is! Didn’t I read recently that you’ve had three straight years of double-digit growth? I read in your annual report that you’re planning to introduce a new line of products in the near future. I jumped at the chance to apply here."

"Do you have any questions for me?"

It’s important to have questions about the company or school you are interviewing for. Not having questions signals that you are not interested in the position. Keep your goal in mind: you want to find a company that will be a good fit for your personality, skills, etc. So you should have questions to ask.

You should have already prepared for this part of the interview when you researched the organization. You probably came across questions along with way, but if not, here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. “Tell me some of the particular skills or attributes the ideal candidate for this position possesses.”
  2. “What do you like best about this organization? Why?”
  3. “What has been the company’s layoff history in the last five years? Do you anticipate any cutbacks in the near future and, if you do, how will they affect my department or position?”
  4. “Does this job usually lead to other positions at the company? Which ones?”
  5. “What major problems or challenges has the organization recently faced? How were they addressed? What results do you expect?”

We have created an extensive list of questions for you to choose from.

Make sure you have several questions ready to deploy in case your other questions were already answered. Three questions you should ask, if not previously addressed, include:

  1. “What are the next steps in the hiring process?” OR “When you do expect to make a hiring decision?”
  2. “If I am offered the position, how soon would you need my response?” OR “If I am offered the position, how soon would you need me to start?”
  3. “May I have your business card?” (Then use the card to send a thank you note to the interviewer afterwards!)

Illegal Questions

Unfortunately, you may be asked an illegal question during your interview. Be aware of what these questions are and what to do if you are asked one.

Illegal Job Interview Questions & How to Handle them