How to Answer the 15 Most Common Interview Questions: Part 2

Updated: May 10, 2019



Welcome to Part 2 of our blog “How to Answer the 15 Most Common Interview Questions.”

The answers to these five questions are all about telling great stories. The story of you, navigating complex work situations. It might sound a little tricky, but we’ll help you through!

As before, we’ll share what the interviewer really wants to know, tips on how to respond,

and a sample answer to bring it all together.


1. How does your experience prepare you for this position?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

Naturally, the interviewer wants to make sure you’re a good fit for their open position. But that’s not all. They also want to see how thoroughly you’ve read the job description. Do you really understand the requirements and expectations? When you do, it shows that you’re prepared

and serious about the job.


Answer Tips

• If you have relevant work or internship experience, be sure to highlight that first. However,

you don’t have to limit yourself to paid employment – think about volunteering, unpaid internships, classwork, or personal experiences.

• Review the job description line by line and identify specific tasks you’ve done before.

You wouldn’t respond in this much detail. This is just the first step in preparing your answer.

• Look for themes in your experience. Can you tie together a set of experiences under leadership, customer service, or communication? What theme would be most relevant to the job? This makes it easier for your interviewer to remember what makes you qualified. “He’s the guy with a lot of customer service experience.”


Sample Answer

During my final internship, one of the Assistant Editors had to leave unexpectedly, so I had a chance to do some higher-level work, like writing press releases, finding sources, and managing writer deadlines – all of which is part of this job. Also, I read on your website that your company values flexibility above all else. I wanted to add from a personal perspective that I grew up in a military family, so I moved six times before I was 18. I had to adapt constantly to new surroundings and people. I think that experience shaped my ability to calmly adjust to whatever comes my way.


2. How do you deal with conflict?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

Everyone appears like a delightful person during an interview. (Well, we should hope so!) With this question, the interviewer wants to peel back the nice exterior, and make sure you’re capable of handling difficult people and stressful situations without becoming unprofessional.


Answer Tips

• Don’t say you’ve never had a conflict. Even if this is somewhat true, you may appear meek

or inexperienced.

• Don’t get too personal. If you spend five minutes describing an awful coworker or boss

(even if it’s valid), they’re not interested and will probably be turned off.

• Focus on how you resolved the conflict. That’s what they really want to know. Employers know that disagreements are bound to happen. They need employees who can handle them quickly and without drama.


Sample Answer

I worked in a call center part-time through college, so I’ve definitely had my share of unhappy customers. I’ve learned to rely on the procedures of the company, remember it’s not about me, and escalate to a supervisor if I can’t resolve the issue myself. As an example, a customer called and was immediately using inappropriate language. I used the standard statement from the company to

de-escalate him, and he apologised. Although still angry, he was rational enough to provide the information I needed to resolve his issue. He even thanked me at the end of the call!


3. How do you handle pressure?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

Especially for new graduates, interviewers want to know if you can handle the workload and expectations of a full-time job. They’re looking for candidates who anticipate stress and have productive ways to manage it effectively.


Answer Tips

• Don’t say pressure doesn’t affect you. The interviewer will see through your answer.

It could also imply that you haven’t been in a challenging work environment.

• Don’t choose an example that reflects poorly on your time management skills.

For example, “I was under a lot of pressure because I forgot about two papers for this class.”

• Talk about the positive aspects of pressure as a motivator, if this is true for you.

• Talk about how you recognize the early warning signs of too much pressure and how you prevent

it from getting worse.


Sample Answer

The rigorous architecture program has taught me a lot about how I respond to pressure and how to ask for help. For example, in my freshman year, I was completely overwhelmed with the volume of assignments. I burned through two nights without sleep and then crashed for a full day, missing several classes. I talked to my advisor and he helped me with a planning calendar. It had built-in breaks for eating, downtime, exercise, and sleep. Ever since, I’ve been much better about balancing the pressures of work with my physical, mental, and emotional needs. But most importantly,

it taught me how important it is to ask for help right away.


4. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

While this might feel like a trick question, the interviewer just wants to know if you’re capable of acknowledging and learning from your mistakes. It also tells them a lot about your personality. Are you the type of person who never wants to be wrong or wants to blame your mistakes on others? Can you bounce back after a mistake?


Answer Tips

• Don’t talk around the answer, trying to make it appear that you’ve never made a mistake.

Be human and authentic.

• Take responsibility for your mistake. You might think that by diverting the blame to someone else, you’re making yourself look better in the interview, but that’s not the case. Showing that you took responsibility is a much better impression and demonstrates your maturity.

• Don’t focus on the mistake, focus on what you did to resolve it or what you learned from it.

Just provide enough detail for them to understand. Then, talk more about the positive outcome.


Sample Answer

In the first week of my internship at a non-profit, I was asked to research the addresses of a long list of prospects. After working on it for a full day, my supervisor asked to see how far I’d gotten. She realized I was compiling home addresses instead of work addresses. I was embarrassed because I checked the original email and it did specify work addresses. We decided that I’d do a quick check-in at the beginning of each project for a while to make sure I understood all the requirements. Since then, I’ve learned to be better about reading emails more closely.


5. How do you handle competing priorities?


What the Interviewer Wants to Find Out

On the surface, the interviewer wants to learn about your methods for managing a lot of tasks from different people in the organization. But within your answer, they’re really looking for the type of assertive employee who can communicate effectively when priorities conflict.


Answer Tips

• If you haven’t been in a work environment with competing priorities, talking about your classwork is a great substitute. Interviewers understand the demands of a college student, especially at

mid-terms and finals. Showing your ability to handle this translates well into a professional job.

• Don’t focus on how challenging the situation was for you. Even if you want to vent about your terrible workload, an interview is not the time. Give the interviewer a little context, and then talk about what you specifically did to resolve the problem.

• Mention how calm and professional you were, despite the stressful situation. Employers don’t want negativity and office gossip in their work environment.

• Find a way to discuss how you learned from the experience, whether that’s not waiting until the last minute or being more vocal when you can see there’s a problem.


Sample Answer

Just recently in my final internship, my supervisor asked if I was willing to take on a higher-level marketing campaign since one of her employees was about to go on maternity leave. I was thrilled and immediately said yes, without really thinking through the implications. After a few weeks,

I was really struggling to keep up. I made a clear list of what I thought I could accomplish.

I presented the list to my supervisor and she was totally understanding. We worked through the

list together and she reassigned part of the campaign to someone else on the team.


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When answering questions with specific examples, be truthful above all else. You don’t have to share your worst moments, but even if you do, framing them as learning experiences will show the interviewer that you’re someone who’s humble and wants to grow.


In our next post, we’ll cover five more common questions near the end of the interview. Be prepared and make a great final impression.


PART 3

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