Answering Interview Questions

Cite this article as:"Answering Interview Questions," in The Business Professor, updated November 23, 2019, last accessed August 3, 2020,


There are a couple of aspects to practicing for an interview. First, you need to be aware of your physical presence during the interview. Second, you need to effectively answer interview questions to achieve your objective.

Let’s look at each of these.

Physical Presence

Through your physical presence, you can demonstrate two very important personal characteristics: Competence and Confidence.

The most important moments of the interview in terms of physical presence are the first 60 seconds. This is how long it will take the interviewer to develop a first impression of you. You want that first impression to be positive.

Here are some tips for assuming a physical presence that demonstrates both competence and confidence, and set a positive tone throughout the interview.

  • Stand up straight – Whenever you enter the room, you should stand up straight and proud. This is a primary physical indication of confidence. It also demonstrates that you are excited by the opportunity. So no slouching or fidgeting during the interview.
  • Smile – Everyone is drawn to others who appear friendly and inviting. The easy way to demonstrate both is through wearing a genuine smile that is warm and engaging.
  • Make Eye Contact – When addressing someone, look them directly in the eye. This again shows a level of confidence and engagement. You do not want to seem like you are staring psychotically. Simply, make certain that you make eye contact and wear a warm expression (possibly smiling) when you are listening to someone else speak or you are speaking directly to someone.
  • Introductory Statement – Make certain to begin every conversation with anyone you meet during the interview process with pleasantries. Generally, this means saying something in the form of, “Hello. My name is ______.” Wait for their response, which will include their names. Then continue, “It’s a pleasure to meet you”.
  • Handshake – Unless you perceive a reluctance from the other party to make physical contact, you should offer a handshake to any new acquaintance. This generally happens as you utter the phrase, “Hello. My name is ________.”
  • Use of Names – Recalling someone’s name and using it appropriately has a strong effect on how another person perceives us.
    • Remember People’s Names – Many of us have the tendency to forget a person’s name moments after hearing it. In reality, we never attempt the commit the name to memory upon hearing it. Rather, we are too focused on crafting a response to pay adequate attention to the other person’s name. As such, you should make a special effort to recall individuals’ names as you meet them. There are numerous tactics for recalling names, such as visual representations, reciting jingles with their names, etc.
    • First or Last Name – You will begin by addressing people by the last names. You will continue to do so unless they invite you to use their first name. Once invited, make certain to use their first name from then on. This is very important. Using someone’s last name has an air of formality. When they invite you to use their first name, they are trying to break down the formality and invite you in. If you revert back to using the last name, it signals that you prefer formality above familiarity. This can be poorly received subconsciously. It also serves to subconsciously subordinate yourself to the person from then on.
    • Sitting in a Chair – When setting in a chair for the interview, you must maintain the physical appearance that you are engaged in the conversation. This generally means sitting up straight in the chair. No leaning back or slouching. Some people make certain to sit up straight by not letting their backs touch the rear of the chair. Keep both feet on the floor. No crossing your legs during the interview.

All of these practices will have the effect of demonstrating confidence and create an impression of general competence. (People who slouch are associated with being lazy or low energy.) You must be conscious throughout the interview process of the other person’s physical presence. If you get the sense that they are tiring, then you should make your answers shorter and more engaging. Some common signs include slouching, leaning back, eyes glazing over or turning red, or yawning.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the most common interview questions.

Types of Common Interview Questions

Interview questions generally consist of job-related, personal, or hypothetical questions. A job-related question simply refers to aspects of the job or application process. A personal question asks about your attributes or examples of how you dealt with a situation. A hypothetical question asks about how you would deal with a question. Below are some of the most common personal and hypothetical questions.


  • How did you hear about the job?
  • What skills do you think are most relevant to this position?
  • What do you know about the company?


  • Can you walk the interviewer through your resume?
  • Why are you interested in working here?
  • What are your greatest strengths? Weaknesses? Skills?
  • What is your single best personal attributes?
  • What do you think you are a good fit for this position?
  • What do you think makes you a good fit for this company?
  • Tell me about a time that you succeeded in ______? Failed in _______?
  • What accomplishment makes you most proud and why?
  • Tell me about a time when you disagree with a superior? What did you do?
  • What were your prior boss’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Give me some examples of when you (or someone else) acted as a leader?
  • Do you see yourself as a leader or a follower?
  • How do you define leadership?


  • How would you/your prior co-worker/manager describe you? Why?
  • What are some ways in which you believe you could improve?
  • How would you handle this situation: ____________. (Deal with an angry customer/direct report?)
  • What is would be your response if an employee/co-worker/superior told you: _________?

How to Answer Interviewer Questions

Job-Related Questions

Dealing with job-related questions is very straightforward. These are generally related to how familiar you are with the responsibilities of the position and the operations of the company.

Personal Questions

Addressing personal questions requires a level of introspection. As we addressed earlier in the article, this is where you will disclose information about yourself through prior experiences or personal story.

Throughout the resume, the interviewer is going to ask you questions. The underlying objectives of the questions are to determine if you meet a minimum level of competence for the desired position and whether you fit culturally within the organization.

The first thing you can do to prepare is to identify the major questions they interviewer may ask. At the bottom of this article, we identify a list of common interview questions.

The next step is to devise a plan for telling your story by answering these questions. In essence, you want to explain to the interviewer:

  • what you did in your prior employment,
  • why you want the position,
  • what skills or knowledge you bring to the position, and
  • why you feel like you would be a good fit in the company.

The best way to do this is to identify parts of your life and experiences and break them into short stories or anecdotes. In telling the story, you should be able to explain what motivated you, what you learned from the situation, why the experience was valuable or impactful, what the experience shows about you (in terms of ability or personality). This task is a lot harder than it sounds. You must be able to use the exact same stories and experiences to demonstrate a time you were successful, a time you failed, something you are glad you accomplished, something you wish you could redo, etc. Believe it or not, a skilled interviewer can artfully craft a personal story to demonstrate any attribute about them or their abilities.

Here are some tips to help you develop stories or anecdotes about your life that achieve the above-referenced purposes:

  • Resume – Start with the experiences listed on your resume.
  • Fluidity – Don’t memorize your stories verbatim. You should be able to deliver the same facts in multiple different manners (quickly, slowly, serious, melancholy, etc). Attempting to memorize your answers can seem too rehearsed or robotic in your answer. You must be fluid. So, don’t memorize.
  • Commonality – Try to address anything relevant you know about the interviewer. One of the most effective interview objectives is to create a sense of commonality with the interviewer. This generally means establishing some level of mutual interest, belief, values, or experience. If you are able to research the interviewer(s) in advance, you may be able to work in stories that are relevant to them. For example, you may have a mutual school, job, volunteer, hobby, interest-related experiences.

Use your standard list of interview questions (below) and conduct mock interviews with friends or family. This will give you the opportunity to practice integrating personal stories into your answers.

Hypothetical Questions

Answering a hypothetical question is often the most difficult for applicants. If you practice, however, you can be very successful in doing so. The most common method of answering a situation question is the STAR method. Below are the elements:

  • Situation – What issue, problem, or situation did you face?
  • Task – What tasks were required to be attempted or accomplished as a result of the situation?
  • Action – What actions did you take to address the task at hand? Basically, what did you do (step-by-step)?
  • Result – What was the result of your actions?

Applying this approach provides an organizational framework for you and the interviewers. It helps to be direct and thorough in your explanation of each point.

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