Answers to Commonly Asked Questions


What are your qualifications and experience?

This question provides the best opportunity to discuss your work history and point out the strengths you will bring to the job. Emphasize those experiences, skills, abilities, etc. that are clearly related to the job you are seeking. This question, or one that is similar to it, will always be asked, so be sure to practice and prepare your answer ahead of time. Know what experiences and skills you want to share, and discuss them in an organized way.

Tell me something about yourself.

This question is generally followed by a shocked silence as you race your mental motor trying to find something about yourself to talk about. This is the time you should be telling the employer that you are happy to talk about yourself and ask him just what it is that he wants to hear about – this approach leaves it less open-ended where you are not floundering about telling him that you like backpacking and rock music. If he tells you what he is interested in hearing, you know how you should respond. But if he says, “Just tell me about yourself.” explain why your skills and background are good for the job. This is the opportunity to show you know something about the company because you can link what you do with what you know about the company. You will seldom have a better opportunity than this to sell yourself.

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Smile when they ask this one – have a list made up for yourself that you have memorized about what it is that you do best, such as , “I work well with other people on a team basis, etc.”  Then make your weaknesses possible strengths – for instance, “One of my weaknesses is that I find it hard to release responsibility, so frequently I spend a lot of time on my own doing the job myself.”

What are your future career plans? What would you like to be doing in 5/10 years?

Generally, state your vocational plans and desires. Know the state or the specific department’s career ladder. This is the time to state, “I see myself (and be realistic) in the position as a —-.”  Departments, like people, are different in terms of what they expect of an individual employee, but the bold truth is that a department does not want an employee past their ability to use their skills, and hopefully, you are not going to work for a department past the time that it is good for you. Almost everyone is interested in more money and responsibility. If asked how long you expect to stay with the department, you may close by saying, “I will stay as long as I am a contributing team player and can grow and learn in the position. It is important to me to be the best possible employee and when the time comes for me to move on, I will take the skills I have learned here and utilize them in another position within this department or with another department.”

Situational or “what if” questions that test a person’s knowledge of the job 

You may be asked questions that begin with “What would you do if…?” Do not panic. Remember that your specific solution or answer is not nearly as important as your attitude in dealing with the question. A calm approach is a best bet – no rush statements like, “Well, I would definitely do this…”  It is far better to cushion your statements with answers like – “One of the things I might consider would be…”, and then give your answer. If you commit yourself to a process of what you WOULD do, and it is not one THEY would like or consider, you are in an awkward position. Giving your answer a cushion of being one of several possible choices is a better answer.

Why did you leave your last job?

This question will not prove a problem if you left for positive reasons – better job, promotion, return to school, etc. If there were problems with your previous employer, however, you really should practice and plan out your answer ahead of time. Never insult or put the entire blame on your past employer. The interviewers may feel that, if you speak badly about your last employer, you will probably speak badly about your next employer. One of the best methods here is to be sure that your answers are always given in a calm, comfortable way, and in a voice without tension. Be honest with the interviewer, but try to present a more positive perspective on your experience, as in “There were mutual scheduling problems,” if you quit because of your hours; or “It was certainly a learning experience,” if you were fired, etc.

Can you explain why you’ve been out of work so long?

Mothers and fathers usually have an easier time with this one than do others because the reason for long unemployment can almost always be related to “raising my family”. However, if you were traveling or not actively looking for work, it is more difficult. You may have sought education, training or pursued literary or artistic goals. Be prepared to defend and explain your lapses of employment. If you were traveling, a good statement could be, “I wanted to get some personal travel and self-education experiences. The travel bug is now out of my system and I am ready to start (or continue) my career.” If you were not actively looking for work, a good statement could be, “I decided I did not want to settle for just any job, so I stopped looking while I decided what I really wanted to do as a career. I (and briefly tell the employer the steps you took to get to your decision).” Whatever your reason, be prepared to answer this question with a reasonable explanation.