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Interview Questions

Common Interview Questions

The following are sample questions to help you prepare for your interview. You may not be able to find the exact questions they’ll ask you on an interview but practice typical interview questions. Although employers may state questions differently, the kinds of information covered during the interview may be similar.

Education

  • Why did you decide to major in ________?
  • Why did you choose to attend James Madison University?
  • What courses did you like the most? the least? why?
  • How has your coursework prepared you for this position?
  • What are your plans for graduate study?
  • Why were your grades in (___ course, ____ semester, college) low?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest achievement in college? Why?
  • If you could begin college again, what would you do differently and why?

Work Experience and Activities

  • How has your previous work experience prepared you for this position?
  • Why did you choose your particular field of work?
  • How do you determine when you are successfully doing your job?
  • What qualities might a supervisor have to relate well to you?
  • How did your previous employer treat you? Why did you leave that job?
  • How would your supervisor (co-worker, friend) describe you?
  • What types of activities have you participated in outside of class?
  • If you had more time, in what types of activities would you participate?
  • What leadership roles have you had?

Self-Assessment and Goals

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your short and long-range goals?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • On what criteria would you wish to be evaluated?
  • What have you done that shows initiative and willingness to work?
  • What qualifications do you have that make you think you will be successful in your field?
  • Describe what is most important to you in a job.
  • What are your greatest work and non-work accomplishments?
  • Is there anything else you would like me to know? Any other information you wish to share?

The Position

  • Why do you think you would like to work for our organization?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • In what geographic area do you prefer to work?
  • What aspects of this position would you find the most challenging? The easiest?
  • What do you think would be the most demanding aspect of the job for you?
  • What would be the two most important aspects of this position that could influence you to accept or reject the position?

Behavioral Interview Questions

Employers commonly ask behavioral questions to learn how you might behave in a certain work situation based on past performance in similar situations. These questions provide the interviewer with a close-up view of your skills, experience, management style in particular situations, decision-making skills, and how you deal with stressful situations.

  • Describe a time when you were faced with problems or stresses at work that tested your coping skills. What did you do?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to be relatively quick in making a decision.
  • Tell me about an important goal you had to set and your progress in reaching that goal.
  • Give me an example of when you felt you were able to build motivation in your co-workers and subordinates.
  • Describe a situation in which you felt it necessary to be very attentive and vigilant to your environment.
  • Give me an example of when you used your fact-finding skills to gain information needed to solve a problem; then tell me how you analyzed the information and came to a decision.
  • Describe the most significant written document, report, or presentation that you've ever completed.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision but didn't have all the information you needed.
  • Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult person.  How did you handle this situation?
  • Describe your method of time management/organization.  How do you handle multitasking?

Legal Issues

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, sex, or national origin. The law prohibits the use of any pre-employment inquiry, which disproportionately screens out members of a minority group or members of one sex, and is not a valid predictor of successful job performance. Employer's questions must be related to the job that you are applying for.  The following table will help you identify which questions are legal and which ones are not.


Subject

Illegal Inquiries

Legal Inquiries

Age

How old are you?

What is your birth date?

When did you graduate?

If hired can you provide proof that you are at least 18 years of age?

Citizenship

Are you a US citizen?

What country are you a citizen of?

Are you or other family
members naturalized citizens?

Are you authorized to work in the US?

If hired, can you prove eligibility to work in the US?

National Origin

Where were you/your parents born?

What is your ancestry,
parentage or nationality?

What is your native language?

What languages do you speak, write, or read fluently? (must be relevant to performance of the job)

Disability

Do you have a disability?

How is your/your family's health?

Tell us about you medical
history.

Have you had any recent
illnesses or operations?

Are you capable of performing the essential functions of this position with or without reasonable accommodation?

(A medical exam may be required after a job offer has been made)

Arrests & Conviction

Have you ever been arrested?

Have you ever been charged
with any crime?

Have you been convicted of any crime? (Must be considered as it relates to fitness to perform the job in question.)

Religion

What is your religious
affiliation or denomination?

What religious holidays do you observe?

What church do you belong
to?

NONE. (If an employer wants to know about your availability to work on weekends he/she may ask 'Are you available to work on Sat. or Sun?'. This question must be asked of all applicants.)

Marital/Family
Status

What is your marital status?

Who do you live with?

What was your maiden name?

Do you have/plan to have
children?

What are your day-care
arrangements?

Would you be willing to relocate?

Would you be able to travel? (must be a job requirement and be asked of
all applicants)

Would you be able to work overtime as necessary? (same restrictions as
above)

Race/Color

What is your race?

What color is your hair, eyes, or skin?

NONE.

Personal/
Affiliations

How tall are you?

How much do you weigh?

What clubs or social organizations do you belong to?

Are you able to lift and carry a 50lb. weight as required by the job?

List organizations you belong to that you consider relevant to your ability to perform this job.

Adapted from the NACE Job Choices "Handling Illegal Questions" feature by Rochelle Kaplan.

If you are asked an illegal question you can approach it one of three ways:
  • Answer the question, but realize that the information is not job related and your answer may harm your candidacy if it is viewed as a "wrong" answer.
  • Refuse to answer the question (which is within your legal rights), but you run the risk of being viewed as confrontational or uncooperative.
  • Think about the intent behind the questions and try to respond with an answer that might apply to the job. For example, if an interviewer asks, "What country are you from?" you could respond with "I am authorized to work in the US."

Tough Interview Question Strategies    

The success of your interview will depend in great part on your ability to effectively answer the interviewer's questions. You can prepare for the kinds of questions you might be asked by doing your research on the organization and knowing what the position involves. Since no interview is so completely structured that you can anticipate every question you might be asked, it is important to treat every question as an important one, be honest, and be yourself. Here are some of the most commonly asked questions (and often the toughest) and some approaches to answering them.

"Tell Me about Yourself"
This is commonly used as an icebreaker, an opportunity to see your reactions, body language, etc., and a chance to find out about your job skills. In your answer: give a brief introduction, tell your key accomplishments, key strengths related to these accomplishments, why these are important to the employer, and how you see yourself fitting into the position/organization you're applying for.

"What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"
Don't be negative, however, don't try to give a fluff answer or pretend that you're perfect. Always tell how you are working on your weakness or what you have learned from it. You want to give the picture that you know yourself well.
For example: "Sometimes I ask too many questions about what I am told to do to make sure that I will do it right. As I become more confident in my job I'm learning to work without quite so much supervision."

"What Is the Most Significant Contribution You Made During Your Internship (or "x" experience)? What Do You Consider to Be Your Greatest Accomplishment?"
Try to think of accomplishments which might be most related to the position you are applying for, something that will be an asset to the organization and will demonstrate initiative or resilience. If possible tell about a specific accomplishment that added value to the organization, be sure to tell about outcomes.

"Where Do You See Yourself 5 Years from Now? What Are Your Future Goals?"
The interviewer may be trying to ascertain whether your goals fit with the organization, what expectations you have of the organization, and if you are goal directed and plan ahead. If you desire advancement and have leadership aspirations try not to come across as too pushy. For example: "I understand that my growth within this organization will depend on my job performance and the growth of the organization. I have demonstrated leadership characteristics in my past jobs and activities and hope to have continually greater management responsibilities in the future."

"Why Are You Interested in Our Organization and This Position?"
The employer wants to see what you know about the organization and that you're genuinely interested in the organization and position. This is where all your hard work pays off. Show that you have researched the organization and thought about how it fits with your goals, skills, etc. Example: "I have been reading about your new training program and am really excited about...." or "After talking with other people who work for _____ I feel that this is a good company for me because..."

"Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult person.  How did you handle this situation?"
This is a behavioral interviewing question. For this, and many other questions, the “STAR” technique can be a helpful way to gather your thoughts. STAR stands for:
  • Situation- describe the past situation
  • Task- describe task you needed to accomplish
  • Action- describe the action you took
  • Results- what did you accomplish or learn?
For example, if an interviewer said, “Tell me about a project you initiated,” you could answer as follows:
  • Situation/Task: During my internship last summer I was responsible for managing “ABC” events … I noticed that attendance at these events had dropped by 30% over the past 3 years.
  • Action: I designed a new promotional packet to go out to the local community businesses… collected feedback on our events… organized internal discussions to raise awareness.
  • Result: We utilized ideas from the community, made our internal systems more efficient and visible and raised attendance by 18% the first year.

With each behavioral question asked, think through what information is being sought – and provide an example from your own experience. Don’t ramble; take a moment to collect your thoughts and organize your answer before replying. Also try not to say ‘we’ too often – the interviewer wants to know what you accomplished specifically.


Your Questions

It's important to ask relevant questions of the employer regarding the organization and the position to enable you to thoroughly evaluate the job and determine if it is the right fit for you. If you have done your research on the organization and know what job factors are most important to you, you will be able to ask well thought-out questions. Do not ask questions that are answered by reading the organization's literature or website, as this will only reflect your lack of adequate preparation. Some areas you may wish to ask questions about include the following.

Training Programs and Professional Development
How long is your training program?
What does the training encompass?

Advancement and Transfer Opportunities
What are the opportunities for advancement beyond this level?
In what other areas are you located and would I be eligible for relocation?

Organizational Structure and Growth
How is this department structured and how does it fit into the overall organization of the company?
What new product lines have been announced recently?

Position Responsibilities and Travel Requirements
What are you looking for this position to accomplish?
How much travel is normally expected? Where would I be traveling?

Supervision and Evaluations
Whom would I be reporting to for this position?
What kind of supervision would I receive?
What amount of contact would I have with my supervisor?
How often are performance reviews given?

Salary
Salary is not usually discussed during the early stages of the interview process. It is appropriate to wait until the employer brings up the topic. At the time you learn from the interviewer that you are being seriously considered for the position, inquire about the salary and other compensation, like the vacation time you will earn.  Prepare to discuss salary by doing research and calculations ahead of time.  We cover more of this information in the offers section of the website.

Follow Up
Even after the interview is over, you still have work to do; always send a thank you letter to the employer. If you are not contacted within the specified time, you may call to ask about the status of the position and restate your interest.

When you receive a job offer, take the time you need to consider it before making a decision. If you have received several job offers, acknowledge each one promptly with a note thanking the employer and restating the terms of employment. Request a timeframe in which to make your decisions. Once you have accepted a position, contact all other organizations and thank them for their interest. Remember, the interview is a learning experience, so you may want to consider asking the interviewer for constructive feedback.