The 5 interview questions you need to answer well

Dr. Joseph Barber

Interviews are full of uncertainty, but you can feel pretty certain that at some point someone is going to ask you one of these 5 questions. In fact, I would be fairly confident that you will be asked all five of these:

  • Who are you? Tell me about yourself
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • What do you bring? What is your greatest strength? What are your relevant strengths?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

It is a good idea to have really solid answers to these questions that sound natural, spontaneous, and authentic, but that you have actually rehearsed out loud on more than one occasion. You may be asked far more challenging questions during the interview process, but if you cannot get these basic, foundational questions answered successfully, then you are always going to be on shaky ground for the rest of the interview. Here are some very quick tips to help you answer these questions effectively:

Tell me about yourself

There are a couple of strategies you can take with this question, and it is fine for you to take charge of how you answer since the interviewers have basically handed you the proverbial microphone, and given you 1-3 minutes to impress them. One approach is to use this as an opportunity to answer a more specific question of your choosing. For example, you might say:

Great, thank you. Let me tell you about why I find this position so interesting, and why experiences are a great fit.

This is a valid response, and feels much more focused than the vague “who are you” question. With a well prepared answer, you can make a good impression. The other approach is to provide a relevant overview of your experiences that may be connected more thematically. If you are applying for a science communication position, you might start by saying: “I have always been interested in the way people understand complex medical research…”, and then continue by talking about the different experiences you have had where you have played an active role in this (e.g., a course you took, an experience you had trying to adapt your own complex science for a broader audience, and so on). And you definitely want to end your answer by explaining how all of the experiences you have mentioned make your application for the position make sense:

And that is why I find this position so interesting, because it would give me the opportunity to use my experience working not only with scientific researchers, but also the medical community as a whole.

Why do you want this position?

Obviously it depends on the position, and you, but here is some general advice. Focus on what you bring to the job before you talk about what you gain from it. Saying that you are interested in consulting is a benefit for you if you are applying for a consulting position, but it doesn’t necessarily provide any benefit to the company. Your interests are not as relevant as your skills, abilities, knowledge, and experience to the people you are talking to. You can think of an answer along these lines:

Based on what I know about your company from my research, and chatting with a couple of your staff, what I think you are looking for is someone who can do X, Y, and Z. I have had great experience doing X (for example…), and have recently done a lot of Y (for example…), and will be really interested in doing more of Z in working with the clients your firm works with.

What do you know about our organization?

Don’t just repeat what you have read online. You are not trying to demonstrate that you remember how many employers they have, or where their HQ is based. Try to show them that you have taken some extra steps.

I recently spoke with your director of research, and she was able to share some great insights. It was great to hear that your organization is…

I was actually reading about one of your projects the other day, and so I know that you are expanding into the medical device field – I think that is a very interesting new direction.

What is your greatest strength?

There is actually no such thing as a list of strengths, on top of which is your greatest strength. Each of your strengths can have different value in different contexts. You want to pick the one that you have that will be of greatest relevance to the interviewers. And you can even say, “in terms of this position, my greatest strength is…”. If you talk about a great strength, remember to provide an example of this in action. After all, if it is your greatest strength, then there should be many examples of you using it.

Do you have any questions for us?

Yes…, always yes. Ask questions that help the interviewers picture you doing the job. For example:

What projects would I be working on for the first 3 months?

How big are the project teams, and who would I be working with in this role?

Within this department, where do people who have had this role in the past move onto next?

How would you describe the culture of this organization?

If no-one mentions anything about next steps, then you may want to say something like this at the very end:

It has been great talking to you today. I am really very interested in this position. Please can you give me an idea about what the next steps are in this interviewing process.

Take a look at our interviewing resources here, and call Career Services to set up a mock interview with an advisors to practice what you have learned

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).

1 thought on “The 5 interview questions you need to answer well”

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