Interviews can be the most stressful part of finding a job. Surprisingly, it doesn’t have to be! The key to having a successful interview is being confident in yourself and your abilities. The more comfortable and confident you are talking about your experiences, knowledge, and skills, the easier interviews will be. 

To know how you should answer an interview question, it’s important to understand why the employer or interviewer is asking the question and what they are expecting. These are five common interview questions, what they mean, and how to answer them. 

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This is a common prompt to start off interviews and a lot of people struggle with figuring out how much to share. Sorry to say, but employers don’t really care how many siblings you have. That’s not to say you can’t talk about personal things, just make sure it ties to the job you’re interviewing for. Other things to talk about in your answer include education, current and previous employment, passion for the job field, career goals, and other experiences. You don’t want to list off your experiences like a grocery list, so remember to expand on them in order to highlight things you’ve learned or skills you’ve gained which can be applied in the job you are interviewing for. 

Due to the open-ended nature of this question, it is important to practice your response in order to be prepared to communicate your skills and abilities. A great way to keep the employer’s attention and to keep track of what you want to say, is to format your response in chronological order (past – present – future or future – present – past). Ultimately what the employer is looking for with this type of question is a brief overview of your experiences and skills, as well as getting to know you as a person.  

2. “Why are you interested in this position or company?”

Employers want to see how much you know about the company and the position. In turn, this shows the employer how much you really want the job. The key to impressing an employer or interviewer with this question is to do your research. Look up the company‘s website, social media, and LinkedIn to learn more about their services, who they serve, and any new projects or research. A great place to get to know the company at its core is to read over their mission and vision statements. These statements are designed to reflect the values and goals of the organization and should exhibit the type of company they are and the type of employees they’re looking for. Using keywords from the company’s mission or vision statement will impress the interviewer and show that you are prepared and educated.  

3. “What are your weaknesses?”

The daunting weaknesses question – how does one answer without making themselves look bad? The solution is to make sure you don’t pick a weakness which is a skill you need for the job. For example, if you are interviewing for a job where you need to be dealing with numbers daily like an accountant, don’t say your weakness is math.  

Debatably the most important aspect to this question is to expand on what you are doing to improve. By talking about what you are doing to improve yourself, your weaknesses start to look more like strengths. Interviewers like asking about your weaknesses because they can assess how self-aware you are. If you expand to talk about how you are improving your weaknesses, the employer will see you as not only self-aware, but motivated to improve yourself.  

4.  “What skills or experience do you have to succeed in this role?”

When answering this question, it is important to talk about experiences and skills related to the job. However, this doesn’t mean your experiences all have to be from the same fieldIf you can identify transferable skills you have developed in past experiences, you can talk about how those skills relate to the job. In fact, most jobs have transferable skills you can identify – it is all about how you communicate those skills to the employer or interviewer.  

For example, if most of your work experiences are waiting positions, you can talk about your communication or interpersonal skills. Waiters and waitresses interact with other people constantly, so you must have some type of communication or interpersonal skills to be successful. Identifying the transferrable skills you’ve gained from past experiences and talking about how they can help you be successful in the position you are interviewing for, will help you stand out from other applicants. 

5. “Tell me about a time you worked with someone with different points of view or beliefs than yours.”

Interview questions which ask you to give a specific example, must be answered thoroughly. Articulating your answers using the EAR method is a great way to maintain structure and conciseness. 

The EAR method follows three steps:

  • Example: Give an example of a situation you were involved in
  • Action: Describe the action you took and the specific skills you utilized
  • Result: What was the end result?

By following the EAR method, you will be able to give a thorough example of your experience to help the interviewer visualize how your skills can be applied in this job. 

The second aspect of this question is the cultural diversity experience the interviewer is asking you to elaborate on. These types of questions are asked by interviewers in order to gain a better understanding of your cultural awareness and comfortability working with people from diverse backgrounds. Due to the broad aspect of this particular question, a “differing point of view or belief” can mean many things. You could talk about experiences working with people who value and believe in a different religion, political affiliation, or cultural norms/expectationsPractice talking through your example before the interview in order to help articulate your answer using respectful language. 

BONUS: “Do you have any questions for us?”

Whether employers ask at the end of an interview or not, always bring questions to ask the interviewer. Bringing questions to the interview shows passion and interest in the job/company. Try not to bring “surface level” questions – those that can be answered by reading the job description or looking at the company website/social media. This is the perfect time to clarify any questions you have about the role, responsibilities, or expectations as well as understanding more about the company and your potential superiors.  

Some good examples of questions to ask an interviewer are:  

  • How would you describe the culture or work environment at this company?  
  • What does success look like in this position, and how do you measure it? 
  • Are there opportunities for advancement or professional development?  
  • What are the next steps in the interview process?  

Interviewing can be very stressful but, if you become comfortable talking about your experiences, skills, and abilities, it will be much easier. Relaxing and letting some of your personality shine through really helps you stand out from other applicants 

Winona State University has many great tools to help students and alumni be successful in their careers. If you ever have any questions, need assistance, or just want to practice, WSU’s career advisors are always more than happy to help! 

Check out WSU’s Career Services and other resources: 

  • Mock Interview Monday’s – Practice interviewing with a career advisor and get immediate feedback in order to improve your skills
  • Interview Stream – An online tool to help students practice interviewing independently

Authored by Alexis Olson

  • Career Services Graduate Assistant

  • Warrior Success Center