An interview is an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths through examples of your experiences and accomplishments, as well as convey how you would add value to an organization. It is also a chance to learn more about the company’s culture and the expectations for the position. During the interview, the employer wants to know if you have the relevant knowledge and skills for the position and your motivation and interest in doing the work.
Examples of interview questions
During an interview, you may encounter these four main types of questions:
Use the resource below to familiarize yourself with common interview questions and prepare how to respond.
Traditional Interview Questions
Traditional interview questions focus on getting to know you and your background. Some will be based on your application materials, so know your resume thoroughly in order to answer eﬀectively. Use examples to illustrate your points and give the interviewer a sense of who you are as a person and potential employee.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you decide to go to Columbia?
- Why did you major in _____________?
- Tell me about your job at ___________?
- Why did you leave your job/internship at ___________?
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
- What are your long-term and short-term goals?
- How do you plan to achieve your goals?
- What do you see yourself doing ﬁve years from now?
- Why did you choose the career for which you are preparing?
- What qualiﬁcations do you have that will make you successful in your chosen career?
- What three adjectives best describe you? Why?
- Why do you want to work for us?
- What can you oﬀer our organization that no one else can?
- What do you think it takes to be successful in an organization like ours?
- What have you learned from your mistakes?
- Do you think your grades are a good indication of your academic achievements?
- How would you describe the ideal job for you following graduation?
- What criteria are you using to evaluate the company for which you hope to work?
- What do you know about our organization?
- Why should I hire you?
Behavioral Interview Questions
Behavioral interview questions ask for specific examples that demonstrate skills or qualities. These questions are based on the premise that past behavior predicts future performance. To prepare for behavioral questions, start by assessing your skills and abilities. Then, identify the skills the employer is most interested in. Think about examples from your past where you used these skills and abilities. You can draw examples from your academic coursework, internships, volunteer work, and student activities. When you answer a behavioral question, you will share a short story that shows that skill or ability in action.
Your answers should be organized and illustrate your thought process. The SARA (Situation, Action, Results, Application) framework can help you guide your answers. Detail your situation, your tasks, your actions, and your results, and then summarize your overall experience.
Sample Behavioral Questions
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond what was expected of you.
- Describe the most significant leadership role you’ve held.
- When have you had to mobilize other people around your goals?
- Tell me about a time when you had to make a decision or recommendation using data.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle it?
- Describe a time you faced a diﬃcult situation, how you resolved it, and what you learned about yourself in the process.
- Describe a situation in which you found yourself challenged. How did you handle it?
- Tell me about a project that you persevered through after wanting to abandon it initially.
- Describe a time when you worked on a project with minimal direction or guidance.
- Tell me about a time you came up with an idea for how to improve a process or program.
- Tell me about a time when you set a goal for yourself. What steps did you take to meet this goal?
- Describe a situation in which you had a conﬂict with someone in an academic or professional situation. How did you resolve it?
- Describe a situation in which you had to convince others that your view, approach, or ideas were right.
- Tell me about a successful presentation you’ve made. What made it successful?
- Tell me about a time when you worked under deadline pressure.
- Tell me about a time when you have worked on multiple projects. How did you stay on track?
- Describe a time when you managed a long term project.
- Describe a time when you worked successfully on a team
- Tell me about a time when you worked on a project with people from outside your team/department. How did you make sure you were on the same page?
- Tell me about a time when a team member disagreed with you. How did you handle it?
- What role do you like to have on a team?
- Describe an accomplishment that you’re proud of.
- Tell me about a time you failed at something.
Situation: Explain a situation/problem/conﬂict you dealt with in the workplace.
Action: Concisely describe the actions you took and the tasks that needed to be completed to respond to the situation.
Results: Share the positive outcome that resulted in the actions you took in that situation.
Application: Describe the lessons you learned and the skills you gained throughout the experience and how the situation is applicable to the future.
Example Interview Response Using the SARA Framework
Situation: During my international internship last summer, I was a marketing and social media intern at a non-proﬁt art gallery based in Beijing. One of my primary tasks was to create and implement a marketing plan for the gallery. Because I was new to the company, I was not familiar with their current practices in this area.
Action: To get started on the project, I met with several of my colleagues to understand what they felt was best to include in the marketing plan as well as to gauge the level of knowledge of technology used in the oﬃce for the purposes of social media and other web-based marketing. After meeting with others and completing research on marketing best practices, I created a marketing plan in Excel which was broken down by marketing deadlines, who was responsible for the marketing, and the type of marketing.
Results: I provided my recommendations to my supervisor and then to upper-level management. They appreciated the marketing plan and were able to implement it soon after I ﬁnished my internship. I still stay in touch with my former colleagues at the organization and they have veriﬁed that there has been a 10% increase in people viewing the website. They believe this increase in viewers is partially due to the marketing plan that I was able to create.
Application: I learned the beneﬁt of conducting due diligence before beginning a project and how to create and implement a plan while working alongside a team. It is evident that based on the job description, these transferable skills will be incredibly beneﬁcial to the role in which I applied.
Note: It is helpful to tie the “Application” aspect to the responsibilities outlined in the job description.
Hypothetical/ Situational Interview Questions
Hypothetical or situational interview questions ask you to describe how you might approach a situation or solve a problem. As with behavioral questions, review the job description to ascertain what issues you would face in this position. Try to recall similar situations you may have faced in the past to provide a concrete response for how you would act in this scenario. If you haven’t experienced anything similar, try to envision yourself in that role and determine how you might react.
Industry-Specific Interview Questions
Industry-speciﬁc interview questions test your knowledge and skills in your target industry. This is your opportunity to reveal your knowledge! Make sure you research common industry-specific questions online and by talking with professionals in the ﬁeld.
Columbia students often identify “Tell me about yourself,” “What is your greatest weakness?,” “Why should I hire you?,” and “What salary do you expect and/or require?” as the most challenging to answer. Following are suggestions for tackling these diﬃcult questions:
Tell me about yourself.
This innocent sounding question which often starts the interview is one of the hardest questions to answer. However, this question presents a great opportunity to start on the right foot and make a great ﬁrst impression. You want to be sure to capture the interviewer’s attention with a clear, quick, and focused response. This response, sometimes called the “two-minute pitch” or “elevator speech” should give a quick introduction to your background, focusing on why you are a good ﬁt for this position in this organization. Before the interview, prepare an answer to this question. Choose four to ﬁve highlights of which you are most proud (past and present). Be sure to back these qualiﬁcations up with examples, generally from your resume. Then, explain how you believe you can help this employer.
What is your greatest weakness?
When you answer this question, you should be cautious. This is not an opportunity to confess a major ﬂaw about your personality that would disqualify you from further consideration. Prepare an answer that demonstrates your self-awareness. In your answer include ways that you are trying to improve upon this weakness. In addition, anticipate several follow-up questions related to your weakness. Avoid weaknesses such as “I work too hard,” or “I am a perfectionist,” which have become clichéd.
Why should I hire you?
Focus on what makes you unique and what you oﬀer to an employer. Do not attempt to compare yourself with other applicants. Explain the combinations of skills and experiences you oﬀer and why these will be valuable to this company.
What salary do you expect and/or require?
To answer this question properly, you need to do research on the job position and the company. You want to be able to give the employer a salary range that you are comfortable with, but one that also matches the standard rate for this position in this industry. When stating your salary range, also adjust for the cost of living in the city of your choice. For additional help, refer to www.salary.com.
Illegal Interview Questions
Any questions that are meant to reveal your age, race, national origin, citizenship, gender, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, and arrest records are illegal.
- How old are you?
- What are your religious beliefs?
- What is your ancestry, national origin, or birthplace?
- What is your native language?
- Are you single, married, divorced, or widowed?
- Do you have any disabilities?
- Have you ever been arrested?
- What is your sexual orientation?
- Are your parents citizens?
- Do you have any children and/or are you planning on having more?
Sample Questions to Ask During an Interview
At the end of most interviews, you will be given the chance to ask questions. This is a great opportunity for you to get more information about the position or the company and demonstrate the research that you have done. Sample questions include:
- What are the ongoing or special departmental projects?
- What are the top priorities for the person selected for the position over the next three months?
- What do you like best about working for this company?
- What training or development programs are oﬀered?
- What is your timetable for making a decision?