Guide to Interview Questions

A Guide to Interview Questions

 Hidden Questions  

  1. Tell me about yourself.
    The real question is "How will your personally fit into this organization?" The interviewer is not interested in your life story. Stay focused on your job-related strengths. A possible response: “I handle pressure well and enjoy taking on challenging projects.”
  2. What are your weaknesses?
    If you say that you have no weaknesses, you are obviously not being honest. The real question is, “Tell be about weaknesses that are actually positives in the work setting.” Example: “Once I’m involved in a project, I find it hard to stop before it is completed satisfactorily.”
  3. What are your strengths?
    The employer is only interested in those strengths that enable you to do your job well. Examples: “I’m good at enlisting cooperation from my co-workers and developing a sense of teamwork.” Or, “I work quickly and accurately in completing tasks.”
  4. Why should I hire you?
    Show the relationship between your strengths and the requirements of the position.
  5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
    Don’t say: “As a manager or in a supervisory position,” especially if you are applying for an entry level position. Your interviewer could feel threatened if he/she thinks you are trying to take his/her job. What they really want to know is that you have a realistic career plan and plan to stay. It would be better to indicate that you are open-minded and want to learn as much as you can.
  6. Why did you decide to leave your last job?
    Stay away from negatives. Even if you were in a very bad work situation, you don’t want to be viewed as someone who has difficulty getting along with management or co-workers. Stress the positive and discuss limitations in objective terms.
  7. What kind of salary are you expecting?
    Naming a salary that is too high can exclude you from the competition. However, if you name a salary that is too low, you may limit your options. In order to negotiate realistically, you need to know what the normal salary range is for the position for which you are applying. Be sure to leave room for compromise.

Illegal Questions & Tactful Responses  

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes discrimination illegal on the basis of race, sex, religion, or national origins. Questions in these areas as well as others, such as age, height or weight are also illegal unless they can be shown to directly relate to bona fide occupational qualifications. Most interviewers are well aware of these restrictions and will not ask you illegal questions. However, you may still encounter such questions either because of ignorance on the part of the interviewer or in blatant violation of the regulation.

Women may face illegal questions more often than men. Some employers still ask questions regarding birth control, child care, or how their husbands feel about their working or traveling. The following questions are considered illegal:

  • Are you married, divorced, separated, or single?
  • How old are you?
  • Do you go to church regularly?
  • Do you own or rent your home?
  • What social and political organizations do you belong to?
  • What does your spouse think about your career?
  • Are you living with anyone?
  • Are you practicing birth control?
  • Were you ever arrested?
  • How much do you weigh?
  • How tall are you?

Following are some suggestions for handling illegal questions:

  1. Your choice may depend on which is more important to you: defending a principle or giving yourself the greatest chance to land the job.
  2. You may decide to answer the question, offensive though it may be, because you really want the job. If you get the job, you vow you will work from within the organization to change such interview practices.
  3. You may believe the employer is purposely trying to see how you will react to stressful questions. Will you lose your temper or answer meekly? Though a rather dangerous practice for employers, this does occur nonetheless. In this situation, you should remain cool and answer tactfully by indicating indirectly that the questions may be inappropriate. For example, if you are divorced and the interviewer asks about your marital status, you could respond my asking, “Does a divorce have a direct bearing on the responsibilities of __________?” If the interviewer asks if you are on the pill, you could respond, “Yes, I take three pills a day – vitamins A,B, and C and I haven’t missed a day’s work in the past year because of them." The interviewer should get the message, and you will have indicated that you can handle stressful questions.

Although we hope you will not encounter these types of questions during your job search, you should consider how you would handle them if they arise. Your decision should be thought out carefully beforehand. It must be your decision - one that you feel comfortable with. If you are prepared for these illegal questions, you may find your answers to such questions to be the strongest and most effective of the interview!

Questions to Ask and Not to Ask

During the first part of the interview, the interviewer is in control and asks the questions in order to determine if you are qualified for the position and fit well into the organization. At the end of the interview, is your opportunity to see if the employer is offering what you are seeking. Every question you ask should demonstrate your interest and show that you are knowledgeable about the organization. Be prepared and have a list of questions ready. If not, you may come across as being unprepared and damage the positive impression you have achieved during the interview.

Questions Not To Ask:

  1. Questions that are already answered in the company’s annual report or employment brochure.
  2. Questions about salary or benefits, especially in the initial interview.
  3. Personal questions that will put the interviewer on the defensive.
  4. Questions that have already been answered during the interview.

Types of Questions to Ask:

  1. Specific questions about the position.
  2. Try to find out as much as possible about the qualities and skills the interviewer is seeking.
  3. Questions concerning management style and opportunities for advancement.
  4. Questions about location and travel required.

Other Suggested Questions:

  • What duties and responsibilities does the job entail?
  • Where does this position fit into the organization?
  • Is this a new position?
  • What kind of person are you looking for?
  • What is the best experience and background for this position?
  • Whom would I report to? Tell me a little about these people?
  • What are your expectations for me?
  • What problems might I expect to encounter on this job?
  • How long have you been with this company?