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Answering Interview Questions

General Tips for Successful Interviewing

Do

  • Smile! A pleasant and relaxed smile will keep both you and the interviewer at ease.
  • Be brief and succinct and try not to ramble.
  • Show you can listen and quickly organize your thoughts, including pausing briefly if needed.
  • Make appropriate eye contact with the interviewer(s).
  • Be positive—avoid negative words as much as possible.
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and articulate how you could contribute.
  • Keep in mind that it is impossible to control all aspects of an interview. If you encounter a question you are unprepared for, do your best and then move on.
  • View the interview as a give-and-take, two-way conversation where you are gathering valuable information to help you make the best career choice possible.

Don’t

  • Speak too quickly or quietly as the interviewer may have difficulty understanding you.
  • Display irritating habits such as tapping your pen, twirling your hair, looking away from the interviewer, moving your legs, or drumming your fingers.
  • Use filler words such as "ummm," "like," "y'know".
  • Display poor body language such as slouching or gesturing too much.

Structuring Your Responses

When answering traditional and behavioral interview questions, the best strategy is to present your skills and experience with a demonstrative example.

The CAR structure helps you to present your example in a concise and easily understood format:

  • Context: Provide a brief overview of the situation and explain what the goal was. Include any necessary background, but be specific and succinct.
  • Action: Describe the action you took to address the situation. This is likely the most detailed part of your answer. What specific steps did you take? If you were part of a team, what was your particular contribution?
  • Result: Share the outcome of your actions—don’t be shy about taking credit for your success.

For more tips, see our video tutorial on answering interview questions.

Here are two examples:

Question: Tell me about a time when you had to cope with strict deadlines or time demands.

Answer One:

  • Context:
    • I had to establish and adhere to strict deadlines in order to complete my doctoral dissertation. Few deadlines were externally imposed, and, as a result, I had to create my own strict deadlines for completion.
  • Action:
    • I drafted a project plan in which I defined the tasks, milestones, and deadlines associated with degree completion. After I had drafted my project plan, I distributed a copy of my plan to my adviser as well as to the other members of my committee, asking for "sign-off" on my plan. Members of my committee appreciated my initiative, motivation, and organization and supported my efforts. I followed my project plan carefully, and I regularly met my self-imposed deadlines. Meeting my goals was difficult and required great self-discipline and hard work, but I responded by prioritizing tasks and asking for support from my colleagues and family. Of course, as my writing progressed, it was sometimes necessary to adjust deadlines, and I kept the timeline up-to-date, and notified my committee of changes. However, while milestone dates sometimes changed, the ultimate deadline—completion—did not.
  • Result:
    • As the result of my project management and adherence to deadlines, I was able to defend, deposit, and graduate on schedule.

 Answer Two:

  • Context:
    • During my internship this past summer, I was asked to complete a project in which I had to evaluate the content and usability of various online learning programs. In order to do this, I had to distribute the programs that met my initial criteria to an international team of reviewers to get their input and perspective. After I did this, I had to compile all of their data and opinions, synthesize this data, and create a report and presentation for my managers.
  • Action:
    • Since each part of the project had to be completed in a specific order, I created a project plan in with structured deadlines for each phase of the project. I built in a bit of extra time for unexpected problems or delays since I knew I had to depend on other people for data. I sent this schedule to my team so they knew my time constraints and sent them reminders before the due date. I made certain that I consistently adhered to the schedule that I designed.
  • Result:
    • I was able to complete the project, although I had to build a few additional days into my timeline since some of the reviewers were slow to send me their data. But I learned to be flexible, figured out how to motivate my team, worked efficiently on the portions of the project that depended only upon me, and was able to give an effective report and presentation to my managers on schedule. Plus I got a great evaluation at the end of my internship!