Job Interview Questions

A Multi-Perspective Analysis of Common Questions

In the following table we've taken the list of frequently asked interview questions and added another perspective. In addition to the question, we have listed variations of each question, indicated some expectations the interviewer would have as applicants answer the question, and then offered suggestions on how the interviewee should craft an answer to each question. By looking at the interviewer's and interviewee's perspectives, you can gain greater insight into what would comprise an appropriate answer.

No. Question Question Variations Interviewer's Motives Job Hunter's Perspective


Tell me about yourself.

Tell me about your background. Tell me why you think you're qualified for this job. Give me an overview of your skills and experience. Why should we hire you?

Determine overall fit for the job. Listen to how well the candidate presents themselves and get a first impression of the candidate's qualifications.

Think about the needs of the job and craft your response around those needs. Use keywords found in the job description in your response. Demonstrate your fit with the requirements of the job. Don't dwell on things that aren't related to the job. Don't bring up anything negative. This is an excellent opportunity to market yourself.


What do you think is your greatest strength?

What are your three strongest skills? Why are you a better choice than other candidates? What personal attribute best qualifies you for this job?

Understand the applicant's perception of their greatest strength: Does the perceived strength fit with the needs of the job?

Try to match your greatest strength with the most important aspect or aspects of the job you are applying for. See if you can include more than one personal strength as part of your answer. Relate how your strengths can help achieve company goals.


What is your greatest weakness?

What areas would you most like to improve in? If you could improve one thing, what would it be? What skill would you like to add as part of your background?

Seeking a potential problem area or skill deficit that might preclude the candidate from further consideration, or place another candidate in higher standing: Also, would the candidate require additional training, if hired?

This question will almost always follow the question about your greatest strength. Do your best to pick a personal trait or issue that has a positive side, for example, "I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. I'll admit I am pretty picky about quality. Occasionally, I spend too much time helping others achieve the same high quality standards."


Tell me about your last job.

What were you responsible for in your last job? What duties did you spend the most time on? What duties in your last job relate to this position?

Attempt to see how close previous work and responsibilities match the needs of the new job: Which skills used in the past are relevant to the open position.

Think about the requirements of the open position before you answer this question. Focus on past job accountabilities that match the needs of the new job. To the extent possible, mention accomplishments and recognition you've received for past performance.


Management Question: How would you describe your management style?

How would your staff describe your management style? What management style to you think is most effective? What management skills are most important?

How well the applicant's management style matches the management culture of the organization: Also, will the management style fit the particular needs of the employees being managed?

Since it is seldom that you will know the management style-related needs of the new employer, demonstrate flexibility. For example, you might acknowledge that no single style works all of the time. You would start by evaluating the needs of the organization and your new staff, and then adopt a management style to fit those needs.


Why are you interested in working for this company?

What made you consider our company as a possible employer? Tell me what you know about our company? What is it about our company that appeals to you the most?

How well the applicant evaluated the company before applying for a position: Is the company special in the eyes of the applicant, or just a place of possible employment? Has the applicant taken the initiative to learn about the organization? Is there a good fit?

Employers tend to be impressed with applicants that know about the organization's products and services. Demonstrate your interest and initiative in learning about the organization. Show how the organization is a good fit with your background and long-term career aspirations.


What to do you think qualifies you for this job?

What special skills will you bring to the table? How can you help us achieve our goals? What differentiates you from other applicants?

How well the applicant fits with the needs of the employer: If hired, will there be a need for additional training? Does the applicant have special skills that should be considered?

Always answer this question with the requirements of the job in mind. Use keywords from the job description or ad in your response. Demonstrate your ability to apply your skills by highlighting past accomplishments or special recognition you've received.


Tell me about your educational background, including any training you're received on the job.

What is your formal education? How does your education relate to the needs of the job? How current are you in your field?

Does the applicant have the core education necessary to perform effectively on the job:? Will additional education or training be required? Has the applicant kept current with their skills and training?

Focus on educational achievements that relate specifically to the requirements of the job. If past education isn't specifically related to the job, draw upon parallels that might apply. Try to demonstrate your education and skills are current and that you're ready to start the job and be productive very quickly.


What aspect of your previous job did you like the most?

What do you enjoy most in a job? What part of a job are you best at? What kinds of tasks or projects do you enjoy the most?

The applicant's likes and dislikes: Does the applicant like doing the kinds of things that can be expected in the new job? What are the applicant's particular aptitudes? Will the applicant be successful and happy in the new job?

Ideally, the successful candidate will like doing the kinds of tasks that are most important to the success of the new job. Relate your answers to the most important aspects of the job. Give examples of past successes or accomplishments in performing these tasks. Show enthusiasm when talking about what you like to do.


What aspect of your previous job did you like the least?

What tasks or projects do you tend to avoid? What was the most distasteful part of your last job? If you could eliminate something from your job, what would it be?

The applicant's likes and dislikes: Are there any tasks, projects, or responsibilities in the new job that the applicant might not enjoy or want to do? The applicant's overall fit with the requirements of the job.

Carefully think about the requirements of the job. It would be unwise to say you dislike any of the core requirements of the job. As a general rule, avoid negative comments of any sort. Any dislikes should be things that the average person would also dislike, e.g., company politics, gossip, etc.


Give me three words that best describe you as an employee.

What adjective best describes you as a person? What words would others use to describe you? How would you describe yourself as an employee?

Applicant's self-perception and how that perception relates to the requirements of the job: Overall match of personality and work traits with company needs.

Where appropriate, use keywords from the job description or ad. The company is looking for compatibility with the needs of the job. Talk about personal characteristics that specifically address job needs. Expand your answers to include examples of those traits in action.


How would you describe your ideal career position?

What kind of work do you most enjoy doing? Are you happy with your choice of career paths? If you could start your career over, would you make any changes?

Match between the applicant's ideal position and the position they are applying for: Potential for job satisfaction and professional growth. Identification of tasks and duties the applicant likes doing vs. those required in the new job.

Relative consistency between an ideal career position and the position applied for is important. Future job growth and development is OK, but there must be reasonableness between what you want to do and the job you are applying for. Be sure you consider the requirements of the job before answering.


Do you prefer working alone or in teams?

Are you more comfortable completing projects where you have sole responsibility, or are part of a team? When part of a work team, how do you interact with your team members? What role do you take?

Is this a person who does better as an independent worker, or as part of a team? Is there a match with the requirements of the job?

For clues, think about how work is typically performed in the job you are applying for. Most jobs entail a need for both working styles. It may be reasonable to assume that for some tasks, you prefer working alone, and for others, you prefer working in groups. The size and scope of the task will usually dictate the preference.


Where would you like to be in three-to-five years?

What are your career goals? How long do you think you would be happy in a position like this? Do you see yourself being promoted in a few years? What are your long-term career aspirations? What do you see as the next logical step to advance your career?

Determination of the applicant's aspirations vs. the likely progression on the job. Will there be turnover due to unfulfilled expectations? Is the applicant being realistic about their advancement potential?

Generally, it is wise to avoid stating expectations of quantum leaps in career advancement. Look at realistic job progression potential. Organizations want to avoid turnover and hope to hire employees for the long-term, but also appreciate a desire to advance in one's career. Reasonableness is usually the best approach in answering this question.


How would your former boss describe you?

What would your former boss say if we called him/her for references? What would your boss say were your strongest and weakest points? Where would your boss rank you compared to others? How would your co-workers describe you?

This provides an indication of what might be expected if their boss is called for references. Perception of how others view their performance. How consistent is their former boss' view with the needs of the new boss?

In the context of the open position, evaluate what the new boss would like to see in an ideal candidate. Get clues as to these needs from keywords in the job description. Try to use these keywords as part of your discussion of how your boss would describe you.


Why did you leave your previous employer?

Did you leave your last job voluntarily or involuntarily? Why are you looking for a new job? What was there about your last job that made you leave? What could your last employer have done to make you want to stay there?

Motivations for leaving the past job: What aspects of the last job were considered negative? Were there undesirable conditions at the last job that might be similar to conditions in the new job? Did their employer initiate their departure?

Reasons for leaving a current or previous job can be predictive of satisfaction with a new job. Be sure the reasons you give aren't the same things you're likely to encounter in the new job. Avoid being overly negative about a previous employer or boss. Bashing of former employers is normally poorly received.


What salary level are you looking for?

What is your minimum acceptable salary? What salary range were you expecting? How flexible are your salary requirements?

Indication of whether the applicant is within an acceptable salary range: Is the applicant's salary expectation realistic? What salary might the applicant accept if an offer is extended?

Do some research to find out what going rates are for like positions. It is best to avoid a specific answer to this question, but you might be forced to respond. If in doubt, you might say you are flexible, and that the employer and position are more important than salary. Another response might be that you don't know much about going rates, but whatever the going rate is for a person with your experience will be acceptable.


Tell me about your previous boss and what you liked and disliked about him/her.

How well did you get along with your previous boss? How did you and your boss deal with differences of opinion or conflict? Describe the ideal boss.

Preferences for the type of person the applicant will report to: How well the applicant's preferences match the attributes of their prospective new manager. The level of management direction the applicant might require.

Since it is unlikely you'll know the management style of the new manager, flexibility is probably the best choice for an answer. Talk about successfully working for various types of managers, how you learn their management style, then work within their expectations.


What would you say was the biggest accomplishment in your career?

What are you most proud of in your career? What accomplishment has resulted in the greatest recognition for you? Tell me about your greatest career success.

The applicant's perception of a significant accomplishment and how it might predict future success: How does the accomplishment compare to what might be expected in the normal scope of the new job?

Applicants that focus on accomplishments vs. duties have a greater chance for selection. The more accomplishments you can incorporate into your responses, the better. Include enough details so that it is clear you know what you are talking about. Include pertinent facts from start to finish. Try to give an example of how you could bring about similar successes in the new job.


What would you say was the biggest failure in your career?

If you could take back something you did in your career, what would it be? If you could change something in your career, what would you change and how? What would your boss say was the one thing he/she wishes you hadn't done?

The applicant's perception of a past problem or mistake. How large was the mistake, was it avoidable, and what did the applicant do to mitigate the problem. Has the applicant learned from the experience?

Anyone can make a mistake, but successful people do something about it. Minimize the impact of any mistake that you bring up. Demonstrate what you learned from your mistake and what you did to overcome it. Explain that it was a learning experience that has made you a better and more effective employee in the long run.