How to Answer the 15 Most Common Interview Questions: Part 1

Updated: May 10, 2019



You got an interview! Nothing beats the feeling of that magical call. You’ve worked hard to get here. After you’ve finished your happy dance and told everyone the good news, it’s time to prepare.


In Part 1 of our blog “How to Answer the 15 Most Common Interview Questions,” let’s focus on five questions that get to the heart of who you are as a person and a professional. For each question, we’ll discuss: what the interviewer really wants to know (it’s not always what you think),

our expert tips on how to respond, and a sample answer for inspiration.


1. Tell me about yourself


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

The interviewer already has your resume, so what do they really want to know? They’re looking for your “story.” Bear in mind – this shouldn’t be a long-winded life story. They want a brief summary that says who you are, what you’re all about, and where you’re headed. This helps the interviewer decide what follow-up questions to ask and gives them a first impression.


Answer Tips

• Start with your present status. Are you recently graduating, about to graduate, or working

at an internship?

• Talk about an important experience that clarifies your motivation for seeking this job.

It could be a leadership role with a volunteer organization or a specific skill you learned at

your internship.

• Based on this experience, transition into why you feel this position would be a great fit and

how it connects to your longer-term career goals.


Sample Answer

I’m just a week away from graduating with my bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Michigan. I’m also wrapping up my final internship at a residential treatment facility for drug and alcohol addiction, where I’ve had amazing opportunities to design and implement group therapy sessions. It’s increased my confidence and made me feel more certain that this is the right field for me. That’s why I was so excited to see the group therapist role open up at your organization. I love this type of therapy because it empowers everyone to help each other heal.


2. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

The interviewer wants to find out what sets you apart from other candidates and assess your level of experience and skills. Think of it as your greatest selling point. This question also gives them a sense of what you value. Did you choose an accomplishment based on knowledge, relationships,

or innovation? What matters most to you, and does the interviewer value that too?


Answer Tips

• If you’re feeling shy or unsure about answering this question, don’t worry. It’s totally normal.

Just remember – you’re not bragging. Interviews are very different than a regular conversation. You’re expected to sell yourself.

• Have two or three possible accomplishments lined up, so you can choose the one most related

to the position. This will keep you from saying whatever comes to mind first, which might not

be the best example.

• Use the STAR interview technique to structure your answer. STAR stands for Situation/Task, Approach, Result. Here’s how to use STAR. First, describe the event, situation or problem. Then, talk about what you did and your approach. Last, explain the outcome using stats or a compelling story. See the example below.


Sample Answer

During my internship at Smith Accounting, my supervisor asked me to add a new section to their procedure manual. I noticed there were several outdated resources. I offered to revise it completely, researching and adding hyperlinks so it would always be current. By making these updates, we were able to avoid a costly mistake with a large client. The CEO was so pleased he decided to use my format for all internal documents.


3. What’s your greatest weakness?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

No interviewer expects that you’ll be 100% transparent when you answer this question. What they’re really looking for is how you answer it. Does it show that you think about your weaknesses and how to improve them? Do you have high standards for yourself? Dodging the question might make you appear overconfident. Giving an answer like, “I work too hard,” will make them roll their eyes. Let’s talk about how to do it right.


Answer Tips

• Be truthful and authentic. This will come through in your body language and they’ll

appreciate your honesty.

• Select a weakness that’s not critical to the responsibilities of the position. It should be related,

but not something that would make you seem unqualified.

• Talk about a weakness that’s easily improved with mentoring, education, or practice.

• Follow it up with how you’re working on this weakness.


Sample Answer

I’ve recognized that my public speaking skills are not the best. Like most people, I get nervous when I’m presenting to a large group. I’ll have plenty of practice in the next few weeks though because I’ve volunteered for the United Way as a community fundraiser. I figured talking to groups of friendly people is the best way to get through my fears.


4. What’s your greatest strength?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

The interviewer will ask about your strengths to find out if they match up with the job description, but they also want to know what makes you different from other applicants. Equally important is how you answer the question. Do you appear humble or arrogant? Do you think about ways to leverage your strengths?


Answer Tips

• As with the weakness question, be honest. This will serve you well if you’re selected.

You don’t want to over promise and under deliver.

• Think about your strengths overall. Which ones are most relevant to the position?

Which ones would be most valued by the organization’s culture? For example, if you’re applying

for a sales role, you might focus on building relationships. If the position is fast-paced, you might talk about your ability to multi-task.

• Back up your answer with examples. Anyone can say they work well with others.

Give the interviewer a story they’ll remember about how you do that.


Sample Answer

I think my greatest strength is working with all kinds of people. I seem to have a natural ability to strike up a conversation and find a connection with anyone. I’ve done a lot of volunteering with my sorority. We’ve worked at homeless shelters, senior centers, and after-school programs.

I think these experiences will help me build trust with our customers and handle difficult

people with respect.


5. What motivates you?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

With this question, interviewers want to find out if the factors that motivate you will be present in your position and within the company culture. If not, you won’t stay. Your answer also gives them some insights into your personality and style, helping them understand you as both a person and a potential employee.


Answer Tips

• Take some time to reflect. When you had a great day at work or in college, what made it feel

so satisfying? Did you help someone? Did you learn something new? Did you check something

big off your list?

• Narrow it down to one or two. It’s usually a combination of factors – making a difference,

seeing tangible results, helping people, overcoming challenges, prestige/title, money, learning,

or growing.

• Add a story to bring it to life. This is a great question to show a bit of your personality.


Sample Answer

My best day is when the hours fly by because I’m so busy working on an application. I love thinking through the user’s needs, solving problems, and creating something new and useful. My motivation is seeing the application in place, working perfectly.


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For these five questions, the advice is similar. It comes down to having several short, compelling stories about your experience ready to go and deciding which ones match best with the position and company’s culture. Be truthful and concise with your answers and you’ll make a great impression.

In our next post, we’ll cover five more common interview questions to help you nail your

next interview.


PART 2

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