Applicant Interview Questions (with answers!)

Image with Applicant Interview Questions with answers by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle AuroraMeyer.com

When I shared these interview questions, I wasn’t quite expecting the response! I’ve enjoyed hearing practice answers and working with those who have reached out to make their answers stronger from both sides of the table.
I have another list of questions I like to ask when I’m interviewing candidates. I particularly like these questions for entry-level positions.  The ones in bold have a right and wrong answer (more on that below).

  • Why are you here?
  • If you had only one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
  • Is it better to be perfect and late, or good and on time? Why?
  • What’s the biggest decision you’ve had to make in the past year? Why was it so big?
  • When have you failed? Describe what happened and what you learned from it.
  • Tell me about a time you set difficult goals. What did you do to achieve them? Walk me through the process and purpose.
  • When I contact your last supervisor and ask which area of your work needs the most improvement, what will I learn?
  • How do you take advantage of your strengths? How do you compensate for your weaknesses?
  • What’s one thing you would like to do better? What’s your plan for improving?
  • What do you think are the most important attributes of successful people? How do you rate yourself in those areas?
  • What would you do if you made an important business decision and a co-worker challenged it?
  • What would you do if management made a decision you didn’t agree with?
  • Describe a time when you were asked to do something you weren’t trained to do. How did you handle it?
  • What will make you love coming to work here every day?
  • What frustrates you in an office environment?
  • How do you like to be managed?
  • If you get the job, how could you lose money for me?
  • Are you fully prepared to start if you are hired?
  • Is there anything you need to know in order to do the job?
  • Is there any special training or any classes you’re going to be required to take if you’re hired?
  • What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
  • Is there any question I haven’t asked you that I should?
What I’m looking for in the right or wrong answers:
  • It is better to be on time than late and perfect. There is no perfect. Being late is disrespectful to your team and in some cases can cost you a client. Deadlines are implemented for a reason, don’t be the person who blows it for everyone.
  • The biggest decision question is about your process. Tell me the steps you went through and how you weighed the pros and cons and how you ultimately made the decision and what the outcome was. Many entry-level applicants don’t have the industry work experience to detail a project so asking this question gives them the opportunity to tell me how they work. Some examples the applicant can use include applying for this position (make sure to talk about your research!), changing your major, adding a minor, moving across the country or leaving a previous job.
  • The question about the applicant’s previous supervisor gets at the things you want to improve. The key for the applicant is to tell me how they are already improving it. So if your previous supervisor would say their work is great but they could work on asking for more stretch projects or needing less supervision, I want the applicant to tell me how they are advocating for themselves and proving they can take on more responsibilities and trusting their knowledge and work. All supervisors know entry-level positions need more guidance and that isn’t a bad thing! But applicants should know that as they get more comfortable in the organization and in their role, they can trust themselves and their work more than they previously did.
  • We all have things we want to do better. When I ask this question I’m looking for work-related answers. Not how tidy you keep your living space! Tell me how you are working smarter. Tell me a tip you learned that changed how you manage your time or your day. Tell me how you are overcoming not speaking up in meetings. Tell me how you are tracking and keeping up with multiple projects. If I were answering this question, I would talk about how I’m working to avoid burnout. This year has added extra levels of stress to an already stressful job. I would talk about how I’m making it a point to take time away from email and my phone. To tune out of work in order to keep a good work-life balance. In answering this way, I am telling a potential employer that I will work hard and give my best effort at the office but that I value my off time too.
  • For the management decision-making question, I am looking for two things. First, how do you handle disappointment. Second, how will you fit in our team. Supervisors are not often going to be willing to sit down and go over all the reasons why they made every decision. Often, there may be additional information they can’t share with you. If an applicant answers with they would ask me for the reasoning behind the decision I would ask why they would go that route. What I am ultimately looking for in this answer is the word trust. I want to know my employees trust me to do what is best and what is right at all times. They may not fully understand why that decision is best or right at that moment, but I hope they trust that it is. Of note, for those reading this encountering a situation where they disagree with their manager currently, think about your current relationship. If that door is opened and feedback is requested, absolutely take advantage of it, but don’t assume your supervisor needs to explain themselves to you.
  • The question about describing a situation where you are asked to do something you aren’t trained to do is a way to highlight a skill that doesn’t read well on paper and that you have a willingness to learn something new.  Make sure to emphasize the results and what you learned in the process.
A few more general interview tips I wish I had known earlier in my career:
  • Your skills get you the interview the interpersonal relationships and fit get you the job. The goal is to make sure you are a good fit for the organization and will integrate well into a team.
  • Don’t speak too fast.
  • It is ok to take a few moments and pause to think about your answers. Remember to take a moment and take a few deep breaths and slow down.
  • Make sure you think about the question and don’t rush ahead to answer without making sure you are answering the question that was asked.
  • Be careful not to get suck on filler words and phrases. Rather than use a filler phrase, stop and think before answering.
  • You will also want to make sure you find ways to get a good sense (asking questions, getting a facility tour, etc) to see if this organization is a good fit for you. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.
  • ALWAYS write a thank you note. Always.

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