Preparing in advance always makes for a good interview. This page will help you to answer diﬀerent types of common interview questions with confidence.
Two types of questions you are almost guaranteed to be asked in a job/internship interview: “Tell me about yourself,” and a behavioral question, such as “Tell me about a time you worked on a team.” To prepare your answers for both questions, reﬂect on your experiences and be able to describe:
- What you did
- How your experiences inﬂuenced you
- How your experiences shaped your thinking about your career direction
- Workplace behavior and attitudes
Tell me about yourself
Prepare an answer that provides:
- Some relevant background information about your interest in the ﬁeld and position
- Your relevant experience
You will tell the employer a brief story about what has shaped your interest and motivation to pursue this job. Use some or all of your answers to these questions to craft your response:
- How did you become interested in this industry/job function?
- What experiences (classes, internships/jobs, books, etc.) piqued your interest in this ﬁeld?
- What have you done in this ﬁeld to pursue/explore this interest or that has conﬁrmed your interest?
- What experiences/accomplishments (activities/leadership, internships/jobs, volunteering) have given you the skills the employer is looking for?
- Why is this position of interest to you now?
Behavioral questions usually start with “Tell me about a time when…” or “Give me an example of a time/experience when…” The interviewer is looking for a concrete example that demonstrates a speciﬁc skill or quality that could make you an asset to their team. It is very important to give a speciﬁc example rather than to speak in generalities.
SARA: Situation, Action, Result, Application
Develop a story using the “SARA” structure (Situation, Action, Result, Application) that includes your experience and what you learned from the experience.
- Situation: What was the situation/problem/conﬂict you were facing?
- Action: What action did you take?
- Result: What was the outcome based on the action you took? (Be sure to provide details and quantify your results where possible)
- Application: What lessons did you learn, what skills did you gain, and/or what qualities did you develop through this experience that will help you contribute to the prospective employer’s team in the position for which you are interviewing?
Remember the employer wants to know if you have certain transferable skills and qualities that will help you be eﬀective in the job.
- Read through the job description of a position you are interviewing for/interested
- Identify all the skills and qualities they are seeking (usually in the responsibilities and qualiﬁcations sections)
- For each skill and quality you list, think of two concrete examples from your past experience that demonstrate those skills and qualities. Examples can come from internships, school activities, volunteer work, and even personal hobbies.
- Construct your stories/answers according to the SARA structure
Talking about Employment Gaps During Interviews
A lot of people have to stop working for periods of time in their careers. There are a wide range of reasons why this happens. You may be asked about your employment gaps during job interviews. It is important to be prepared to answer questions like “What have you been doing for the past three years?” The key is to prepare a response that you feel comfortable with, without providing too much information. To successfully address such inquiries, here are a few ways to explain your time oﬀ:
- I made the decision to take a time oﬀ from the workforce in order to provide care for a sick family member/young children.
- I was out of the workforce due to a health issue, which is now resolved.
If you took time oﬀ to take care for family members, whether for children or an adult, think of all the skills you used: multi-tasking, solving problems, managing time, handling stress, negotiating and mediating (especially with healthcare issues); you can point out these skills as well and how they will be useful in your new job. Be sure to mention any professionally related activities you did during this time like volunteering working on projects, serving in a professional association, and taking classes. Describe what you did and the skills that you gained: e.g., my volunteer experiences during this time have been rewarding and have allowed me to build my leadership and management skills.
The most important aspect in this conversation is to emphasize that you are ready and excited to get back to work.
To learn how to address employment gaps on your resume, check out Working with Employment Gaps.