Entry-Level Job Interview Questions and Answers

A job interview may be one of the most important conversations of your life, and even though you may be articulate and intelligent and confident that you can handle an interview without preparation, your performance will be enhanced and your chances increased if you take the time to prepare.  Consider in advance the questions which you are likely to be asked, and reflect on the most complete and constructive answer you might make to each question.  Mental preparation ahead of the interview will save you the occurrence of after-the-fact regrets about what you “should” have said.

Regarding former employment, make sure you have with you the name of each company or employer, your own job title and responsibilities there, and your dates of employment. Although this is basic information, it’s all too easy to fumble the details like dates if you haven’t refreshed your memory before the interview.  Consider in advance what specific aspects of your previous job are useful to mention in the context of preparation or suitability for this job.

A primary principle is to be sure to be accurate with your facts; your interviewers may have information from reference-checks with your previous jobs, from professional relationships with former employers, and from public records.  Don’t embellish or exaggerate, and refresh your memory on details like pay rates so you don’t inadvertently misrepresent any facts.  The following are common job-interview questions (and question-types), accompanied by suggestions regarding recommended answers.


Q: What was your pay at previous jobs when you started as well as when you left?

A: For this question, simply have your numbers fresh in mind. An interviewer may be looking for indications that you earned raises while at a job, but stick to facts.


Q: What expectations did you have of each previous job when you started, and how were those expectations met?

A: Discuss what you expected from each job, in terms of tasks, responsibilities, training, and possibly advancement.  If a job didn’t match your expectations, speak about the job itself, rather than speaking negatively of previous managers or co-workers.


Q: Describe your responsibilities at previous jobs.

A: Be specific in talking about the actual experiences at each job, including specific tasks or projects you managed, professional developments or trainings you received, and recognitions you earned.  Focus particularly on responsibilities and skills that are relevant to the job for which you’re applying.


Q: Describe a memorable problem or challenge you faced in a previous job, and how you dealt with it.

A: The question itself might be posed in any of a number of particular contexts, such as “challenge with a co-worker,” “challenge with a supervisor,” “challenge with time management,”  “challenge with technology,” or other specific angles, so it’s wise to consider in advance the different examples you might use to talk about each.  An interviewer is going to be looking for evidence of problem-solving skills, communication skills, and evidence that you can meet challenges effectively.


Q: Describe a professional experience in which you learned from your own error.

A: The interviewer is looking for your ability to convert a negative situation into a positive–including how you rectified (and learned from) a mistake, as well as how you handle the question itself, for which you have to share something (initially) negative about yourself. Talk about the specifics of the situation (how you corrected your error) as well as a “bigger-picture” lesson you learned from it.


Q: Discuss what you liked least about a previous job.

A: Tread carefully with this question; you don’t want to come across as a complainer or blamer (even though they DID ask the question).  Try to focus on aspects of the job itself, rather than seeming to complain about other people.


Q: Discuss what you found most rewarding (or least rewarding) in previous jobs.

A: Stay aware of the specifics of the job for which you’re applying, and share how you thrived with a task or responsibility that will also be applicable in the prospective new work environment.  If you are asked about least rewarding, take care again not to sound too negative, and take care also not to name as a “least rewarding” item a responsibility that is likely to be a significant part of the new job.


Q: What do you expect from a supervisor? Describe a challenge you have faced with a previous supervisor, and how you resolved it.

A: This is another topic for treading carefully, particularly since you are likely sitting across from a potential future supervisor as you answer it.  Your expectations of a supervisor can also reflect well on yourself–such as your appreciation of clear communication of expectations in the workplace (which additionally implies you are willing to work and meet those expectations).


Q: Describe why or how your previous position ended, or why you are looking to leave your current position if you’re still employed.

A: Be truthful about any previous firing, including what you have done to address any issues since that point.  In discussion reasons for wishing to leave or move, focus on the positive aspects (what you look forward to with the new job) rather than dwelling on the negative (complaints about a previous job. Examples could include seeking more challenging work, shift in professional focus, ready for more responsibility and opportunity for advancement, interest in the specifics of the job posting, or other reasons for moving toward a positive change.  Even when your dissatisfaction with a previous workplace is entirely legitimate, you don’t want to leave the impression of an overly negative worker.


Q: Describe your greatest professional strength.

A: A job interview isn’t a place to be modest! Discuss your positive attributes–with specific examples–as they will apply to the job for which you’re applying.


Q: Describe your greatest professional weakness.

A: This is a tricky question–you want to be honest while leaving a positive rather than a negative impression with your answer.  In talking about a weakness, talk about how you address it or manage it, or how it works to your advantage.  For example, perhaps you tend to be a perfectionist about your work (an attribute which has positive ramifications in a work environment) and you work on time management to ensure you don’t spend an excessive amount of time in checking details.


Q: Describe yourself.

A: As you answer this question, keep the job description in mind, and describe yourself in the context of the job.  Highlight characteristics that an employer would appreciate in the work environment, such as organization, communication skills, creative thinking, efficiency, problem-solving, or interpersonal relationships.


Q: Describe your work style.

A: Be specific in your description.  You might talk about your focus, work pace, organization, work process, communication and collaboration within a team, habits regarding deadlines and reporting, and other aspects relevant to the job for which you’re applying.


Q: Describe how you handle pressure or stress on the job.

A: Keeping in mind that an interviewer is looking for workers who can handle stress positively, you might talk about how time-pressure works to motivate you, how you handle personal feelings of stress (yoga? a trip to the gym?), or other positive aspects of how you react to or manage stress on the job.


Q: Where do you see yourself in five years? In ten?

A: An employer may be looking for a person who displays motivation and ambition, and a person who has clear goals in mind, so consider some specifics about your goals before interviewing.


Q: Describe your teamwork in a previous professional setting.

A: Most jobs will require some degree of teamwork in the workplace, and your interviewer will want a feel for how you work collaboratively.  Speak specifically about a project conducted at a team-wide level, and describe your role in communication, brainstorming, organization, goal-setting, or implementation.


Q: Explain why you are interested in the job for which you’re applying.

A: Your answer should showcase not only your own abilities and interests as they relate to the job, but also the fact that you have done your research and fully understand the nature and responsibilities of the job for which you’re interviewing.


Q: Describe the type of work environment you prefer.

A: Clearly, you don’t want to describe a situation that is completely at odds with the actual environment of the workplace where you’re applying.  Speak to specifics when you’re sure those details don’t conflict with the existing work environment, and highlight your own flexibility and ability to adapt, to whatever extent you possess those characteristics.


Q: Describe the salary or compensation you require.

A: You should know, going into the interview, what salary range has been posted for the job, so in most cases your answer should stay within the reasonable range of parameters already established.  If the posted job is not priced at a competitive level for the job type, you can bring relevant statistics and examples to the table in making a pitch for a higher level of pay.  A more noncommittal answer might run along the lines of being open, depending on the overall details of the compensation package.


Q: Are you willing to travel and/or relocate?

A: The best answer to this question is the honest one, whatever that is.  If the interviewer is asking the question, chances are they’re looking for someone who is willing, so you should weigh the question carefully before your interview.  If you are unwilling or unable, however, it’s important to say so now.


Q: Describe what motivates you.

A: Let your enthusiasm show in speaking of specific examples.  Whether you’re motivated by leadership responsibilities, by creative challenges, by interpersonal interactions, by commissions, by approval, or by any other element of the workplace, take the opportunity to showcase how well YOU perform when motivated.


Q: Describe two or three positive things your last boss would say about you. What negative comment would your last boss have about you?

A: An interviewer asking this question has probably already spoken with your last boss (or will do so shortly) as part of the reference checks, so this question may serve primarily as an exploration of your self-perception and awareness of your effect on other people.  Think about specific comments (both positive and negative) which your last boss has made to or about you, as an indication of what has likely been said (or will be said) about you to the interviewer.


Q: Describe how you stay current on specifics of the industry.

A: The exact content of this question will vary, depending on the specific industry in which you work, but the interviewer is likely looking for indications that you read relevant research or news materials, or maintain an updated level of awareness and professional development in your field.


Q: Describe the qualities of a good leader and/or a poor leader.

A: This isn’t a question with right or wrong answers; an interviewer is looking to get a feel for your own perspective on personal interactions and leadership.  It can be an opportunity to mention qualities which you have demonstrated in the workplace, or it may simply serve as an illustration of your outlook.


Q: What is your own personal mission statement?

A: This question serves several purposes; the interviewer may want to see if you understand the nature of mission statements themselves (as they also apply to business) as well as getting a picture of your immediate aims and overall goals.


Q: If you believed your supervisor to be absolutely wrong about a significant issue, how would you handle the situation?

A: A safe and acceptable beginning to this answer is the observation that it would depend on the individual personalities and the specifics of the situation itself.  Having said that, however, you should go on to describe at least one specific approach which might be appropriate in the situation.


Q: How do you define personal success?

A: This is another question with no right or wrong answer, used to help the interviewer understand something about your mindset and way of thinking.


Q: Describe a situation when your workload was unusually heavy, and describe how you handled it.

A: With this question, an interviewer is probably probing for information about your time-management skills, organization, adaptability, perhaps your ability to team up or delegate in order to accomplish projects, and probably your willingness to put in some extra work-hours from time to time.


Q: Define or describe “good customer service.”

A: Be prepared to describe your picture of high-quality service, and specifics of how you provide that.  Elements of your description might include thorough knowledge, friendly attitude, efficiency, respect, and responsiveness in dealing with customers.


Q: Describe what you know about the company with which you’re applying.

A: An interviewer likely wants to gauge how thorough you have been in preparing for the interview (and the job possibility itself), and the question may serve as a precursor to a follow-up about specifically how your skills and experience would fit in the context of the existing workplace and environment.  Make sure before the interview that your information about the company is current and relevant, and be ready to highlight those areas where you will be a good fit.


Q: If you were offered the job, how long would you anticipate working for the company?

A: Most likely, the interviewer is looking for someone who intends to make a long-term commitment to the company


Q: Describe what you could do in this position that other candidates likely couldn’t.

A: A question like this is an excellent opportunity to showcase any unusual skills, uncommon combinations of training and background, or singular experiences which might set you apart from your competitors.  A person who brings an unconventional mix of background experiences to the table might have a wider variety of capabilities to offer.


Q: Why should we hire you?

A: This summary-question is often your opportunity to highlight again your strengths and experiences and enthusiasm about the job, and leave the interview on a “high note” of a smashing impression.  Because this answer is likely to be your final impression on the interviewers, it may be the most important one of all to plan and even rehearse.  Answer completely and comprehensively, but as concisely as possible; leave them with all your best characteristics in a memorable “closing statement!”


Q: Most interviewers will conclude by asking if you have questions about the job, the company, or the interview.

A: Have your own questions ready to ask.  Take care not to ask about details which you should know yourself (assuming you “did your homework” on the company and the posted job), but ask about additional details that will affect you if you should be hired.  These might include questions about management style, typical work week and hours, travel expectations, opportunities for advancement, when the interviewer hopes to fill the position, and even questions like what the interviewers themselves like about the workplace.

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