Applicant Interview Questions (with answers!)

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

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.

Interview Questions for Everyone

image of Interview Questions to ask by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Whether we are hiring an intern, an employee, a contractor or a vendor we ask similar questions of everyone we work with.  Whether you are the interviewer and doing the hiring or the interviewee and wanting to join the organizations, these questions make a difference and can give you insight into the person.

If you are doing the hiring use these questions:

  1. Who is someone who influenced your career and how did they influence you?
  2. can you tell me about the most successful person you ever hired and what exactly they did to be successful? (you may want to follow up with where is this person now?)
  3. What is your managerial style?
  4. Can you tell me about a time that you and your directs did not agree and how you dealt with that situation?
  5. How do you like your employee to check in with you about projects?
  6. what is the one soft skill or competency you would say is critical for success in this role?
  7. What do you most appreciate from your direct reports or team?
  8. Can you tell me something about this role or your expectations from the person who gets this role that is not on the Job Description?
  9. What does success look like in this position?
  10. What does failure look like?
  11. What are the initial goals for this position? 6 months? one year? five years?
  12. How do you support professional development?

For the interviewee, be prepared to answer these questions:

  1. Who is someone who influenced your career and how did they influence you?
  2. Can you tell me about the most successful person you ever worked with and what exactly they did to be successful? (you may want to follow up with where is this person now?)
  3. What is your working style? How do you like to manage projects (one at a time or multiple at once?)
  4. What do you most appreciate in a manager?
  5. What do you want from professional development? How are you doing this on your own (reading, taking classes, getting graduate certificates, etc.)

Things to note about yourself:
I thrive in an [TYPE such as independent, structured, consistent feedback, etc.] environment where I’m entrusted to complete jobs and deadlines [independently, with supervision, as a team, etc.].  I don’t thrive at all in a position in which I am at all [left alone, micromanaged., etc.]

There are other questions that will give you insight into an organization or a prospective employee, but these are a good place to start.

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars

Pinterest Image of Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle
It has been very cold lately and we’ve received a bit more snow at once than usual. I’ve taken advantage of the extra refrigerator by making some of our favorite treats that need to be refrigerated to set up, like these Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars. There are loads of recipes out there and some include vanilla wafers, graham crackers, flour, oats and all kinds of other items. I like these just like the Case Elementary School Lunch Ladies made them: pure peanut butter and chocolate. The portions were generous and they still taste just as good today.

Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars

These were THE dessert of elementary and middle school. As I've gotten older, I've also learned they were ubiquitious and not just limited to my elementary and middle school. It makes me think there's a lunch lady recipe book all schools received.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Servings 9 people


  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups peanut butter
  • 2- 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


  • Put Butter and Peanut Butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave until butter and peanut butter are melted in 30-second increments, stirring after each 30 seconds.
  • When melted remove and add the remaining sugar and vanilla. Stir together until a large ball of dough forms and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Remove from bowl and spread into a 9x13 pan.
    Image of Peanut Butter Mixture for Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle
  • Pour chocolate chips into another microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring after each, until completely melted. Spoon over top of peanut butter mixture and spread evenly.
    Image of Chocolate topping for Lunch Lady Peanut Butter Bars by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle
  • Allow to cool completely by placing in the refrigerator for about an hour.
  • Cut into squares and serve.
Keyword peanut butter bars
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Miso-Marinated Cod

We had this dish on our trip to Hawaii and have worked to recreate it ever since. The fish takes some forethought and prep, but the cooking time is quick and easy.

Photo of Miso Cod plated by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Miso-Marinated Cod

Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese


  • 1/4 cup sake
  • 1/4 cup mirin
  • 1/4 cup white miso paste
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 4 cod fillets
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon green onions for garnish


  • At least two days BEFORE you plan to eat this dish, make the miso marinade. Bring the sake and mirin to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Boil for 20 seconds to evaporate the alcohol.
  • Turn the heat down to low, add the miso paste, and whisk. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat up to high again and add the sugar, whisk to ensure that the sugar doesn't burn. Remove from heat once the sugar is fully dissolved. Cool.
  • Pat the black cod fillets thoroughly dry with paper towels. We usually use frozen, slightly defrosted filets for this since fresh cod is hard to come by here. Add the fish and the marinade to a sealable Tupperware container. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. We suggest lightly flipping the container when you open the refrigerator during those two days.
  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat an oven-proof skillet, such as a cast-iron skillet, over high heat on the stovetop. Lightly wipe off any excess miso clinging to the fillets, but leave some on (just not big clumps).
  • Add a bit of sesame oil to the pan, then place the fish in the pan and cook until the bottom of the fish browns and blackens in spots, about 3 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the other side is browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the oven and bake for 5 to 10 minutes, until fish is opaque and flakes easily.
    photo of miso cod cooking by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle
Keyword cod, miso, Miso-Marinated Cod
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Ground Chicken Bowl

It’s not a surprise we love Japanese food. We are always looking for new recipes that everyone in the family enjoys. This is a great one that is easy enough for a weeknight and filled with protein and our daughter’s second favorite vegetable, peas.

Photo of oboro Don Ground Chicken Bowl by Aurora Meyer on Dispatches from the Castle

Ground Chicken Bowl

This is a revised version of Soboro Don a delicious, easy protein filled Japanese dish.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 3 people


For Ground Chicken

  • 1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • ½ to 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 tsp ginger We use the ginger in the squeeze bottle, it can be hard to find good fresh ginger here.
  • 1 Tbsp sake
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce Dark soy adds a great depth of flavor to this dish

For Scrambled Eggs

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sesame oil

To Serve

  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • ¼ cup green peas
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds


  • Heat the sesame oil in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat, and cook the chicken until cooked through. Tip: cook without breaking until browned, then flip and cook until browned again. Then break it up.
  • Add sake, sugar, and mirin.
  • Add the ginger (Be careful! The ginger may pop!)
  • Cook until the liquid is almost gone. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  • Beat the eggs in a small bowl and add sugar. Mix well until sugar is completely dissolved.
  • Heat oil in the frying pan over medium-low heat and pour in the egg mixture.
  • Break the egg into small pieces. When it’s cooked through, transfer to another bowl.
  • To serve add some rice to a bowl. Then add the chicken, egg and peas. You can use sesame seeds as a garnish.
Keyword chicken bowl
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!