Questions and Answers
Q What was your first job?
A My very first job was in a deli. I worked there every summer from ninth grade until I graduated from college. At first I was hired to do odd jobs, but once I was old enough, I worked behind the counter serving customers. I was the youngest employee there, but my boss always said I was the hardest-working one.
By discussing his longevity on this job, as well as his former boss's favorable opinion of him, this candidate lets the interviewer know he was a valued employee. He doesn't dwell on the fact that the job was not in his current career field.
Never Say: “It was just in a deli.” This candidate needs to give more details about his job and use it to show off his attributes.
Q Out of the jobs you've had, which was your favorite?
A My favorite job was teaching at the Wee Ones Preschool. I like my current job at Parkside Elementary, but I realize now that I prefer to work with preschoolers. That's why I want to work here.
This candidate has chosen to discuss a job that is related to the one for which she is being interviewed.
Never Say: “I loved working at Sam's Steakhouse in college. The other waitresses and I had so much fun together.” Not only does this candidate choose a job unrelated to her chosen field, she doesn't sound very serious about working at all.
Q Tell me about your current job.
A I am a junior architect at James, Jones, and Johnson. I work in the commercial building division. As part of a team of five architects, I help design shopping centers and office complexes.
The interviewee describes his current job as he is asked to do. He discusses his work as part of a team because he knows that this prospective employer also utilizes a team structure.
Never Say: “I work at James, Jones, and Johnson. It's right there on my resume.” The interviewer wants the candidate to give a detailed description of his current job. Since it is probable that he has already read the resume, it does the candidate no good to simply reiterate what is there.
Q Tell me about a typical day at work.
A Every day is different. The one constant is that I spend from two to three hours working at the reference desk each day, assisting patrons. That leaves either four or five hours to tend to what I refer to as “behind the scenes” work. I'm in charge of library publicity, so I might have to write and send out press releases or update our mailing list. If it's the middle of the month, I'll be working on the monthly newsletter. When I'm not working on publicity, I'm selecting books to order or weeding outdated material from our collection.
The candidate takes this opportunity to discuss her many responsibilities.
Never Say: “Every day is different. I do so many things, it's hard to say what a typical day is.” This person indicates she's busy, but she needs to talk about what her responsibilities are.
Q What do you like about your job?
A I like it when I can successfully resolve a customer's problem. If the customer walks away satisfied, I'm happy.
By giving this answer, the candidate shows that keeping customers happy motivates him. This is surely something this employer will see as a positive trait, since happy customers are repeat customers.
Never Say: “My boss is nice.” While speaking well of your boss is good, this candidate should have chosen something about his job that gives him satisfaction.
When you are asked to discuss something you like about your job, choose something that is related to your work. Talk about job duties, specifically ones that are related to those you will have if you are hired by the company with which you are interviewing. Try to demonstrate how you have benefited your employer by performing these tasks well.
Q What kinds of jobs did you have during college?
A I had a variety of jobs while I was going to college, and since I was paying my own way I sometimes had more than one job. I worked as a waiter, a door-to-door salesman, and a data entry clerk. I learned a lot about interacting tactfully with different people, and I also developed my office and computer skills.
In addition to demonstrating how industrious she is (working her way through school), this candidate shows how she developed skills in different areas through her experience.
Never Say: “I just had some menial jobs.” No matter how menial she thought those jobs were, she should have taken the time to figure out what skills they helped her develop.
Q Describe your favorite boss.
A That would have to be my boss at Triangle Optical. Paul was the most demanding boss I've ever had. He expected so much from our department. What set him apart from other supervisors was that he worked tirelessly alongside us and he was just as demanding of himself. He always gave everyone the credit they deserved.
This applicant values having a demanding boss. In addition, by telling her prospective employer what traits she valued in a former boss, this applicant is letting him know what she will be like as a supervisor if she is hired for this job.
Never Say: “I like a boss who is flexible and fair.” While the candidate doesn't reveal anything negative by giving this answer, she should be more specific.
Q Describe your least favorite boss.
A I'd rather not mention names since this industry is so small. I had a boss who never planned anything in advance. We were always racing to meet deadlines, running out of supplies, or finding ourselves short staffed because she couldn't say no to anyone who asked for a day off.
While it's generally best not to say something negative about a former employer, the interviewee must answer the question. In saying he won't reveal the name of his least favorite boss, he demonstrates tact and discretion. He is also somewhat restrained in his criticism. All this candidate says is that he prefers someone who is more structured. Rejecting his former boss's management style implies that this is not what he'd be like as a manager.
Never Say: “Her name was Josephine Josephson and she was my boss at BRK Audio. She was too demanding.” This applicant doesn't hesitate to reveal his boss's name and doesn't give enough of a reason for choosing her as his worst boss. The interviewer may be left wondering why he considered this person too demanding.
Q You seem to be climbing the corporate ladder in your current job. Why leave now?
A I'm choosing to leave now because my goals have changed. I feel I can better use my public relations skills at a nonprofit organization such as this one.
This applicant is making a change to another industry, but shows how she can still utilize her skills to meet her new goals.
Never Say: “My bosses are crazy. I can't stay there anymore.” Remember that making negative comments about any employer is a bad idea.
Q I see three jobs listed on your resume. Can you tell me what you learned from each of them?
A I learned a lot on each of my jobs, so it's hard to pick one thing from each, but I'll try. When I worked in customer support at CSV, I learned how to help our software users troubleshoot problems. When I worked as a software trainer at Circle Tech, I learned that I needed to find a common ground when teaching a large group of people, because not everyone has the same level of skills. I learned to manage employees at my job as assistant to the head of training at APCO.
Knowing about the job that he's applying for helped the applicant answer this question. He has picked one skill from each of his previous jobs that will be required for the position with this employer.
Never Say: “I learned to be at work on time from my first job. Then from my second job, I learned to keep my mouth shut.” While it's good that the applicant has learned these things, they don't demonstrate why he will be a valuable employee.
Q Do you find your job rewarding?
A I found my job very rewarding for a long time, but lately it hasn't been as rewarding. While I love my new responsibilities, I miss working with clients. That is what attracted me to this position—the combination of supervisory responsibilities and client contact.
It's okay for the interviewee to say she doesn't find her current job rewarding. She explains why she feels this way without placing blame anywhere. With this answer, she also shows she knows about the position for which she's interviewing and explains why she is better suited for it.
Never Say: “No, I don't. When the new manager came in he took away everything I liked about my job.” This candidate sounds angry.
Q What about your current job isn't very rewarding?
A I think every job has something about it that isn't rewarding. There is a lot of paperwork and I don't find that particularly rewarding, but I know it needs to be done.
This candidate understands the reality of work. Some job duties are rewarding, while others are not. She chose something that many people don't find particularly rewarding—paperwork.
Never Say: “Everything about it is rewarding.” The interviewer, who knows every job has things about it that are not rewarding, will question this applicant's sincerity. Furthermore, he will wonder why the applicant is leaving her current job if she finds everything about it rewarding.
Q How have your other jobs prepared you for the one at this company?
A I've worked on the retail end of the office supplies industry for the past ten years. I know what customers want and what the retail outlets want. I know the industry and I know the products. That is what qualifies me to be a sales rep for Roxy Staple Company.
This candidate shows confidence in her abilities as a salesperson and in her knowledge of the industry of which the prospective employer is a part.
Never Say: “I learned a lot on my previous jobs. My skills qualify me for a job with your company.” By giving such a brief answer, the interviewer will have to follow up with the question, “Which skills would those be?”
Q Your last job was very different than the ones you had before it and very different than this one. Why did you take that job?
A I was thinking of going back to school to be a veterinarian. I mentioned this to my neighbor, a vet, and he offered me a job in his office. I love animals, but before I made the commitment to go to veterinary school, I wanted to make sure I'd be happy working with them and especially dealing with sick ones. It turned out that wasn't right for me after all.
This candidate has a good explanation for why she took a job that deviated from her career path. In providing it, she also shows off her decision-making skills—she didn't jump into a new career without careful consideration.
Never Say: “The job was available and they wanted to hire me.” This candidate had no particular reason for taking a job outside her field, leading the potential employer to question her goals.
Q How do you feel about the way your department was managed on your last job?
A I think it was managed effectively.
This isn't a glowing review, but the candidate didn't say anything negative, either. Even if he thinks his manager was a bumbling fool, he avoids saying so. Badmouthing his boss would make the applicant look bad.
Never Say: “The manager was awful.” Making a negative statement like this one is generally not a good idea, but if he has to do it, he should give more of an explanation that would back up his claims.
Q You've never worked in widget manufacturing before. How have your jobs in the publishing industry prepared you for this?
A Taking a product, whether it's a widget or a book, from its inception to the hands of the consumer takes a lot of planning. You have to put together a budget and set deadlines. You need to make sure your current staff can handle the work and hire consultants if necessary. You may even have to handle crises along the way, should problems arise. I dealt with such things on a daily basis while working in publishing, and I would be able to use the same planning and management skills to help your company.
By focusing on her job responsibilities and talking about them in general terms, this candidate is able to show how she can transfer her skills from one industry to another.
Never Say: “I had to work long hours in publishing and I know people in your industry work long hours, too.” This doesn't tell the interviewer much about the candidate or what skills she has.
Q How would your current supervisor describe you?
A Mr. Roberts respects me. He would describe me as a diligent worker who takes great care to do an excellent job on every project he assigns to me. I complete all work on time. He appreciates the fact that I am very friendly and usually asks me to be our department's “welcome wagon” when a new employee starts.
A little bit of bragging on a job interview is a good thing. This applicant knows that to answer with anything less than this amount of confidence might lead the interviewer to think she's unsure of himself.
Never Say: “I've worked there for three years and he's never complained.” Saying your boss never complained about you doesn't exactly shout “great employee!”
Q What decisions have you had to make on your current job?
A When I planned career workshops for students, I had to decide what topics to feature, when to hold the workshops, and who would speak at them. I had to decide what software to purchase for our public computers within the constraints of our budget. I also made decisions about hiring and firing student aides.
By giving specific examples, this candidate highlights his skills in planning events, making purchasing decisions, working within a budget, and making personnel decisions.
Never Say: “I didn't really get to make too many decisions.” This applicant should realize the interviewer is asking this question because decision-making is required on this job. He should take a moment to think of one or two decisions he has made. Even if they don't seem significant, it is better than not giving an answer.
Q What were the reasons you went to work for your two prior employers?
A I went to work for Pear Computers right out of college. They had an excellent one-year training program, and I knew I would learn a lot there. After I completed the training program, I stayed there for three years. I went to work for my next employer, Bell Technology, because they offered me a position with greater responsibilities than Pear Computers could.
This candidate takes advantage of the opportunity to mention her participation in a training program where she was able to enhance what she learned in school. When she says she stayed at the company for a while after taking part in the training program, she demonstrates her loyalty—she didn't just take the training and run. Her next job was clearly a step up from her first one, which shows how her career has progressed so far.
Never Say: “Each of my last two employers offered a good salary and benefits.” This applicant should better demonstrate how she makes decisions. More thought should go into choosing to go to work for someone.
Q Why did you leave your last job?
A I left my last job because I knew the industry was facing an uncertain future. I researched this industry, saw the growth potential, and knew I could make a significant contribution.
This job candidate shows that he knows how to plan for the future. He doesn't make decisions without doing his homework first.
Never Say: “I was bored.” Without giving further explanation, this isn't a good enough reason to leave your job.
Q You've been at your job for several years. What makes you want to leave?
A I've completed what I set out to do. When I first started working there, the company was just getting started. They needed someone who had the skills to help them grow. They are very successful now and I feel like I've completed my mission. I know I could better use my skills in a growing company such as yours.
Not only does this applicant show off her accomplishments at her current job, she tells her potential employer what she can do for his company.
Never Say: “I want to make more money.” This may really be this candidate's reason for leaving her job, but it isn't a good enough one to give to a prospective employer.
Q How is your present job different from the ones you had before it?
A As a senior accounting clerk, I supervise three payroll clerks and a bookkeeper. This is the first time I've had to supervise people.
By discussing her increased responsibilities, this applicant shows how she has moved up in her career.
Never Say: “I have to use a computer now and I also have to work late.” Neither of these things illustrates the candidate's growth.
Q What duties of your last job did you find difficult?
A I found it difficult to fire people. Even though I always put a lot of thought into deciding whether or not to terminate someone, I knew I was affecting someone's livelihood.
No one could fault someone for disliking this unpleasant duty. Never Say: “Dealing with my boss every day.” Oops.
Q Describe how your career progressed over the last five years. Was it aligned with the goals you set for yourself?
A When I graduated from the community college, I knew I wanted to be a store manager. I also knew I would have to work my way up, so I took a job as a sales associate at Dress Corral. After two years, and a lot of hard work, I was promoted to assistant department manager. After being in that job for a year, P. J. Coopers hired me to be manager of the ladies’ accessories department. I've been there for the last two years. With my experience, I'm ready for the next step—store manager.
This job candidate shows exactly how his career has progressed and how he is now ready for a job with this employer.
Never Say: “I really didn't set any goals. I took the sales associate job because it was the only place that wanted someone with my skills. It's been nice to be able to move up.” It's okay if this candidate didn't have a plan to start with, but he should have made one along the way. It seems he's let others set goals for him. If he doesn't have a plan, this prospective employer can't predict what he'll do next.
Q How would those who worked under you describe you as a supervisor?
A My staff at AQA Associates knew I was someone who worked hard and expected the same of them. They also felt I was fair, never asking them to do something I wasn't willing to do myself. My office door was always open and they felt they could come to me to discuss any problem they might have.
This applicant describes the qualities of a good supervisor. Not only does she tell the interviewer how her staff felt about her, she tells him why they felt that way. Notice how sure she is of her answer, never saying, “I think they felt this way.” She knows exactly how she is regarded as a supervisor.
Never Say: “I think they thought I did a good job.” The applicant doesn't provide enough information.
Q This job carries with it much more responsibility than you've had before. Are you ready?
A I am definitely ready. I've been working as assistant registrar for five years. I have learned a lot at Burberry College. I've worked very closely with my boss and I know what his job entails. He is also confident in my ability to move on.
This candidate restates her experience and shares with the interviewer the vote of confidence her boss gave her.
Never Say: “Sure. Why not? I've paid my dues.”
Q Have you had to do any traveling for work?
A I've had to do some traveling for my job. I went to Asia several times. I enjoy traveling and hope to do more of it on this job. I find it helpful to have face-to-face meetings with clients periodically rather than doing everything through conference calls.
This applicant knows that his potential employer requires extensive traveling. Although he hasn't done a lot of it, he makes sure to point out that it's something he wants to do more.
Never Say: “They had me traveling all over the place.” This candidate doesn't sound very enthusiastic.
Q What do you think this job offers that your last job did not?
A This job offers me the opportunity to use my research skills. I have mostly administrative duties on my current job, with some research duties. I look forward to a job that is primarily research oriented with some administrative duties.
This applicant has both administrative and research skills, as she points out to the interviewer. She wants to use them in a different way than she does on her current job. She knows, based on what she has learned about this position, that research is a big part of the job.
Never Say: “This job offers me the opportunity to do research. I've always wanted to do that.” There's nothing to indicate that this person has any research skills. If there are many candidates from which to choose, the employer may not be willing to hire someone who still requires training.
Q What kind of person do you find it difficult to work with? What kind of person do you find it easy to work with?
A I find it difficult to work with someone who does sloppy work, takes credit when he hasn't earned it, or tries to get away with doing as little as possible. I find it easy to work with someone who is ambitious, takes the time to do the best job possible, and does more than is asked of her.
“That's not me” is what the interviewee is really saying when he reveals which traits he doesn't like in a coworker. Ambitious, does the best job possible—”now, that's me,” the job candidate is saying.
Never Say: “I don't like working with someone who isn't friendly. I much prefer someone who wants to hang out after work.” The traits this candidate brings up have little to do with work.
Q How do you think your boss will react when you tell her you're leaving?
A I've already discussed it with her, so she won't be surprised. She doesn't want to lose me, but she knows I'm ready for more responsibility, and she can't offer that to me. The only job with more responsibility than I currently have is hers.
By giving this answer the job candidate clearly demonstrates that he has a good relationship with his boss.
Never Say: “I think she's going to be very upset. I don't know how she's going to replace me.” While it's appropriate to be very confident on a job interview, this candidate is being very unrealistic if he thinks he's irreplaceable.
Q What was your salary when you started your current job and what is it now?
A I earned $40,000 per year when I started and now, after five years, I'm up to $50,000.
As long as this information is accurate, this is a good answer.
Never Say: “I'm not sure what I made when I started, but I'm making $50,000 per year now.” The candidate should be ready to provide this information; if she truly doesn't know the answer, she can offer to provide it later.