pr writing, publications

Common Interview Questions & How to Answer Them

The following blog post was written during my internship at Indiana INTERNnet and was originally published here


Interviews are often the deciding factor for whether you get a position, no matter how well-qualified you may appear on your resume. It is very normal to feel nervous before your interview, especially since a lot of the common questions asked can feel like trick questions. The best way to excel in an interview is to come across as confident. To accomplish that, you should prepare for the interview as much as possible. Start out by simply considering what your answers might be to common questions like the ones below.

“So, tell me about yourself.”

Almost every interview will start off with this type of prompt; do not be thrown off by the apparent open-endedness of it. Employers want to understand why you’re there, sitting before them. An easy way to answer this question is to backtrack: start off with the earliest fact about you that is still relevant to the position. For example, a person interviewing for a communications internship might start off by saying, “I have always been passionate about reading and writing, which lead me to a major in journalism.” Even though that’s a personal detail, it’s still relevant to the reason you’ve been called in to interview.

The employer doesn’t want your whole life story – just a few sentences should cover it. Practice your elevator pitch in the mirror and time yourself. You should whittle down everything you want to say into concise sentences and be able to give a complete answer in less than thirty seconds. Alison Doyle of The Balance advises that you be prepared to share “three or four of the personal qualities [or] skills which would help you to excel in the job for which you are interviewing.”

Note: This speed-talking is only for practice; when you’re in the actual interview it’s OK to take your time as you speak so that the interviewer can hear you clearly and you don’t come across as overly anxious.

An important thing to recognize with all interview questions is that reading the room is the best way to give the employer the type of answer they’re looking for. This is especially pertinent for “Tell me about yourself,” because some organizations are more casual than others. It is always best to start out with what is more relevant to the internship in question, but if you feel that the interviewer is more laid-back and wants to understand who you are as a person, don’t be afraid to sprinkle in some personality.

“What are you hoping to get out of this internship?”

This question presents an opportunity to showcase your aspirations as a young professional. Your first instinct might be to say something like “I need internship credit to graduate,” but you should avoid those types of answers. Instead, try to frame your reply in a way that presents as a benefit to the employer.

For example, “I know that your firm works closely with several tech companies. Although I have experience working with clients of a variety of backgrounds, I am particularly interested in learning more about how the work you all do applies to technology.” Not only are you answering the question in a way that shows you have done your research on the organization, you’re giving them two reasons why you’re a good fit for the role: you’re experienced and passionate.

Check out these eight internship takeaways, courtesy of Business Insider, for more ideas on how to answer this question.

“What is your greatest accomplishment?”

Perhaps even more intimidating than being asked to tell someone about yourself, questions about your successes can be overwhelming. The best way to prepare for this type of question is to be familiar with your track record. When you’re asked something like this on the spot with no preparation, there’s a good chance that your list of accomplishments will escape you. This is a good opportunity to use the STAR method, which stands for situation, task, action, result.

First, give a brief description of an experience you’ve had to explain the situation you were in. Try to select something that the interviewer would recognize from your resume. After you’ve set up the situation, share what you were tasked to do in this role. Follow the assigned task with an action step – how did you handle the situation? Lastly, share the result of your actions. This is the most important part of the STAR method, because you’re proving that your initiative yielded positive results for the organization you worked for. If possible, quantify the results that you give in your answer.

For example, “As vice president of the botany club at my university, I managed our annual membership drive. Based on research I conducted about my campus, I implemented changes to the recruitment process that resulted in the club gaining 50 new members.”

Preparing for a big interview by practicing answering questions will significantly increase the chances of you doing well, and thus getting the internship. If you are not confident in your speaking skills, it helps to create a document of common questions like those discussed here and type out your answers. Once you have them composed, you can practice saying them out loud. Remember, the best way to ace an interview is to be confident, so do everything you can to limit your interview anxiety.

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