How to Answer Common Interview Questions to Slay Your Job Interview

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Interviews go one of two ways: so horribly wrong you’ll still kick yourself about it weeks later, or wildly successful with the promise of a real adult job. How do you escape the constant terror of forgetting what you wanted to say or accidentally calling your potential boss by the wrong name? Preparation. Preparing answers to common interview questions and knowing about the company, your employment position and your own skills will let you walk in and out of an interview with confidence and a smile on your face.

First, research yourself. It sounds crazy, but doing some soul searching will help you figure out what you want to say.

Think about the common interview questions the interviewer will ask.

What skills do you have that make you qualified for this job position?

You’ll definitely want to bring specific examples to the table. AbbVie Inc. employee Lisa Filar is the Director of Compliance and holds extensive interviews for her team. “I’m looking for candidates who can articulate their contributions to a solution. Typically, superstar candidates can be very specific about what they personally did as part of a team,” said Filar. To be a “superstar candidate,” when you bring up the skills required for the position, give examples of when you’ve successfully used these skills to totally kill it, whether it was a group assignment or a volunteer position.

When was a time that you showed leadership skills?

No matter what position you plan on applying for, you’ll definitely get hit with this question. Everyone looks for leadership in a hire. It can mean anything from being president of a club to organizing a group project for a class. Syracuse University Career Development Center’s Director Kelly Barnett explains the best option is to use examples that relate to the position you want so the interviewer can see how your past experience will help with your future. “Draw parallels between yourself and the job description. This shows preparedness as you clearly know what the job is looking for and how to show this in your past experiences,” said Barnett.

Tell me about a time you failed to meet an objective?

Being able to talk about how you failed in the past, and how you came out stronger and better prepared afterwards says a lot about how you work. Interviewers use this question to catch people off guard. People who prepped to show their strong points may not have thought about their weak points as much. “Lots of people hate talking about failures, but showing your interviewers you have self awareness is vital,” said Barnett.

Talking about weaknesses also shows how you’ve learned from these experiences. “There is no perfect candidate, so if someone says that they don’t have any ‘weaknesses’….that is a red flag for me. We all can improve on some aspect of ourselves,” said Filar. Follow this up with how your failure helped you grow, and what you did to prevent it from happening again. The only thing better than self-awareness is self-improvement.

What prior experience experience do you have with _____?

If you just hit the job market, this can feel like a killer. You may feel like you have nothing to say because you haven’t held a professional job before, or even a job in a similar field, but keep in mind that any work experience or experience with leadership in a club or activity will teach you helpful skills you need for the job. “When I was interviewed for a job at the clothing store Lester’s, they asked about my previous experience and, not having any previous sales associate jobs, I instead talked about my experience babysitting. I related working with kids to being able to successfully engage the clothing store’s target audience,” said Syracuse University freshman Sydney Kaplan. Draw connections between experiences to show your preparation for the new role.

Additionally, prepare thorough, honest yet flattering answers to the following questions.

What’s your greatest strength and weakness?

Tell me about a time when you created something out of nothing?

Why are you interested in this job?

Why are you leaving your previous job?

How would people describe you?

Next, research the company and position.

Being knowledgeable about the company will show your passion and interest in their mission, and if you prove you know what you’re going into, they’ll trust you actually want their job, not just any job. To research a company, start with their website. You’ll often find their mission statement, a key to the types of questions you might be asked and what they are looking for in a hire with just a little bit of Google stalking. Confidence grows from knowledge, so research is the best way to cure your anxious nerves. A deep conversation will come much easier with familiarity of the company and their product or service.

The interviewer might as you the following questions about the company.

What are your ideas on how we can improve ____?

As a potential employee, the company wants to see what you in particular can bring to the table. Start by thinking about new ideas for a product or service, or even how you’ll bring a fresh perspective to the company. “The uniqueness in your ideas will make you stand out from the rest of the applicants and bring you to the top of their list,” said Barnett.

What are you looking for in your next job?

You want this specific job for a reason. You didn’t just randomly point at a list and apply to something on a whim. Talk about why you want this position in particular. Filar explained this is one of her favorite questions to ask to see if applicants are passionate and if the job will fit what they are looking for. “Someone should be able to articulate the top five things they want out of their next job,” said Filar. For this question, make sure the job description meets your goals, and also how it’ll help you, personally. Here’s the time to show your passion—make sure they know why you really want this job.

Some more questions you might be asked about the company:

What is your favorite thing about our (company/product/service)?

Why do you want to work here?

What do you know about us?

Lastly, read more tips when preparing to interview.

Dress the part

You should look professional, but understanding the company’s aesthetic and purpose will help show that you know what the job requires. “I wore khakis and a button down to my interview for a job as a camp counselor, but did not dress too fancy because it was a camp for children,” said Syracuse University freshman Jordan Schaffer.

Dress for success—if you walk in already looking the part, there’s a higher chance you’ll get the job. “For my interview with Lester’s clothing store I wore clothes similar to they one’s sold in the store, or that I had purchased there. I looked professional and did not wear anything too revealing, but still looked on trend to show my familiarity with current trends and my style,” said Kaplan.

Don’t Ramble

People deal with nerves and unpreparedness by rambling on and on. Make sure you get to the point organically, but concisely. “I think through the “STAR” methodology: Can I describe the Specific Situation, Task, Action that I took, and the Result for each example. This helps me not to ramble,” said Filar.

Show Your Eagerness

Companies want to know about your genuine passionate to join their team. Unlike dating, you don’t want to hide how interested in the job you are at the start. You won’t scare them off like you might with a potential date. Showing someone how eager you are for a job will only help you land the position. “When I work with students on pre-interview prep I tells them to be straightforward about how eager they are. You’ll stand out as a passionate candidate,” said Barnett.

So, future me, I hope these tips on how to nail your interview questions are finally coming in handy. Take a deep breath and start prepping. You’ve got an interview to nail!


Amelia is a Syracuse University freshman and a Magazine Major, which means you can find her hoarding Vogue magazines in her dorm room. That room also features some of her favorite things, pictures of her dog, warm blankets, and lots of Goldfish.

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