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How to Answer Common Interview Questions

A woman shaking hands with another woman in an office.

Answering common interview questions presents the greatest challenge in the employment search for emerging professionals today. In fact, BestCollege's 2022 survey indicates that almost a third (29 percent) of Generation Z workers say interviewing is their biggest job-search challenge.

Having tactful strategies for answering common interview questions will lessen the discomfort that arises with this stage of the employment search. While it isn't feasible to fully predict what the interviewer will specifically ask, practicing your answers to frequently asked open-ended and behavioral interview questions will prepare you for any inquiry.

Nicole Belyna, talent acquisition and inclusion manager at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) with more than 20 years of experience, suggests how students should construct their responses to common interview questions.

Open-Ended Interview Questions

Emerging professionals can expect to answer some of the most common open-ended interview questions that delve into their past experiences and who they are as individuals. These inquiries pop up frequently, since open-ended questions also prompt the interviewee to demonstrate communication skills. 

Questions About Personality

Interviewers tend to ask questions about the candidate as a way to learn more about their personality. Open-ended interview questions may include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What motivates you?
  • Why are you interested in this role?

Tell me about yourself.

"Discuss who you are—talk about accomplishments that you are proud of," Belyna advises. "This includes any volunteer work you may have done, and also anything that you may be able to align with the position you are applying for. Sports, groups and extracurricular activities should also be discussed."

What motivates you?

Belyna encourages students to "discuss what you are passionate about—maybe it's your studies or a role you may currently hold." Similar to the previous question, your answer should "circle back to the position you have applied to, with regard to skills and abilities."

Why are you interested in this role?

Belyna emphasizes the need for emerging professionals to research the company either before or shortly after applying, since "companies and organizations look for candidates who are passionate about them as a whole and what they do.

"Mention two things that stood out to you from the job description that drew you in, then speak to the organization's mission/values and what you admire most about the company. Then, you can describe how your skill set and background can contribute to not just the individual role, but the organization."

Questions About Qualifications

In order to measure abilities and qualifications, employers often ask questions that help determine why the candidate is the right fit for the position. Questions about qualifications include:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • What is your greatest strength/achievement?
  • What is your greatest weakness/failure?
  • What makes you qualified?

Why should we hire you?

"Use this opportunity to highlight what makes you stand out from other applicants," Belyna suggests. "Is it your innate ability to connect with others? Or is it your ability to manage multiple projects at one time effectively?"

As an additional tip, Belyna also reveals that this question presents "a good opportunity to speak about why you admire the organization you are interviewing with."

What is your greatest strength/achievement?

Specificity here is key, since "it is often easy to point out your greatest strengths, since you obviously want to showcase them as to why you should be hired," Belyna says. She encourages students to go beyond and provide relevant examples that substantiate their strengths.

While it may be difficult to identify any notable achievements in your early career as an emerging professional, she says, "perhaps you can share an accomplishment regarding your other activities, such as contributing to efforts to improve your community or school, being part of a winning sports team, or leading a special interest group."

What is your greatest weakness/failure?

Discussing your weaknesses may feel almost taboo during a job interview. "However, it is equally important to also show humility and understand there are always areas for self-improvement," Belyna notes. "Be honest where those areas are, but then also identify how and what you do to overcome them."

As for failures, Belyna advises students to "acknowledge the failure and the reason behind it; wrap up your response with what you learned from the experience and how you grew from it."

What makes you qualified?

"Highlight your work experience in the past and think about anything you have learned in a previous role that could also be transferable," Belyna says. "If there is limited work experience, speak to your educational background and bring out specific examples of things you enjoyed about classes that could pertain to the job you are interviewing for.

"Discuss this answer with strengths that you can align with the position—maybe it's your volunteer work, captain of a sports team, or a club or group that you were a key member of." Belyna recommends that students ask themselves, "What were my strengths in this role that I can relate to the position I'm applying for?"

Questions About Salary

Questions about salary during interviews are almost inevitable, because they allow employers to determine whether your expectations align with the company's allotted budget for the role.

What are your salary expectations?

Disclosing salary expectations is a sensitive topic for some; however, Belyna provides a couple of strategies for students to utilize that effectively answer this question while also leaving room for negotiation:

"I am expecting to make a salary that aligns with the responsibilities and duties of the job as well as my skills and abilities. Can you share the salary range with me?"
"Yes, I am happy to share my salary expectations, and I would also like to learn more about the total compensation package and other benefits of working at your organization. For example, what professional development opportunities do you offer?"

Behavioral Interview Questions

Emerging professionals can also expect to encounter behavioral questions while interviewing. This type of question asks about a situation or outcome to understand candidates' soft skills and predict their behavior, as interviewees can illustrate a more realistic and nuanced image of how they work. Some examples of behavioral questions include:

  • Describe a situation where …
  • How do you …

Describe a situation where ...

"In all these 'Describe a situation where …' questions, specific examples are important," Belyna says.

"Discuss the situation. What steps or procedures did you take to help navigate through? What was the outcome? Discuss what you learned. This could be something about yourself or others, anything that you may do differently next time."

You worked with a team to complete a project.

"When you are asked a question about team projects, it is important to mention two themes," Belyna says. "First, you want to demonstrate how you are reliable and a natural leader in a team or group setting. That involves how you are successful in group environments, able to motivate others, ensure the group stays on track, etc. Second, it is good to show that you can take your individual contribution to the project to benefit the entire group."

How do you …?

Similar to the previous response, when asked a question starting with "How do you … ," students should provide an example showcasing how they have dealt with the situation being asked about, Belyna suggests. She also encourages emerging professionals to include their takeaways from the example in their response. 

Resolve conflict at work.

"Maintaining professionalism must always be a priority," Belyna says. "Throughout your career you will face conflict from colleagues, managers, clients, etc. It is important to demonstrate that you move forward with a productive solution and stay focused on the mission and objectives at hand.

"Communication with your manager is key. This involves keeping your manager informed and updated, what has happened that caused the problem, suggesting a solution, and how you will avoid this in the future."


As you prepare for your interview, remember the STAR framework, which assists in formulating organized, specific and thoughtful responses. Students should utilize this approach for answering behavioral interview questions:

  • Situation: Relay the situation you were involved in that had a positive outcome.
  • Task: Describe the goals or tasks you sought out to achieve or complete.
  • Action: Specify the actions you took to complete the task or reach your goal.
  • Response: State the results that followed due to your actions.

Using STAR to answer common interview questions will help you showcase your accomplishments, skills and knowledge in a concise, practical manner.


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