Practice Interview Questions: How to Tell Your Story

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Crafting a professional narrative can help you stand out in your next interview. Learn how inside.

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An interview is your chance to demonstrate why you’re a great fit for the job. But, how do you prepare for an interview when you don’t know what questions the interviewer will ask? 

The answer lies in preparing responses to types of questions rather than every possible question an interviewer will ask you. A good interview is a give-and-take that flows naturally and comfortably from topic to topic, not a fill-in-the-blank questionnaire. At their best, job interviews allow you to show an employer who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and how you can contribute to their workplace. 

This article will introduce to you some of the most common types of interview questions and strategies to prepare for them. All great performances require preparation before the big day. By taking the time to think through your responses, you’re already on the path to improving your odds of standing out. 

Practice interview questions: types and tips

Employers and hiring managers use interviews to learn more about an applicant’s skills, experience, and to determine if they will be a good fit for the company culture. Interviewers don’t simply want you to rehash your resume. Instead, you should expand on it in a meaningful way and connect your experiences with the work you would do in this new position.

The best way to prepare for your interview is to write your own story. By thinking about your interview as an opportunity to tell a focused story about yourself, your experiences, and your future at the job, you’ll cast a more memorable picture of yourself to an interviewer. Recent research even indicates that stories flood our brains with the “love” hormone oxytocin, which has the power to encourage people to help one another [1].  

As you review the following interview question categories, think about how you can use them to tell your story. Every new question offers an opportunity for you to flesh out another aspect of your professional narrative and convince the interviewer that you’re the right one for the job.  

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A lecture on behavioral questions from Big Interview's "The Art of the Job Interview" course.

Q1. Tell me about yourself.

Questions about who you are as a person are trying to get a sense of your character, personality, and identity. More specifically, they are trying to understand the core qualities you will bring to the job. 

Did you support yourself through college with two part-time jobs? That signals you’re a hard worker who is willing to take on a challenge for long-term gains.

Did you study engineering because you’ve loved tinkering with systems since you were a teenager? Perhaps you are dedicated to refining your skills and the projects you work on.

Do you relax on your weekends by taking nature photographs? That suggests you’re a balanced individual who knows the value of taking time out to re-energize and observe the world around you. 

To prepare for these questions, you should first identify the core attributes that make you a good candidate and then pick moments from your life that demonstrate these qualities in action. You will want to pick the most relevant qualifications from your past that make you a good candidate for the job and some stories that demonstrate your most authentic qualities. 

Some common interview questions in this category include: 

  • "What do you like to do outside of work?"

  • "Tell me how other people would describe you."

  • "Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision at work. What did you do?"

  • "What are your biggest weaknesses/strengths?"

Q2. Tell me about your previous work experience. 

Interviewers want to know about your previous work experience because it demonstrates how prepared you are for the position. More specifically, they want you to connect your previous work with your future work for them. 

Questions of this kind are all about showing how you will work for your prospective employer by describing how you developed your skills elsewhere.

For example, someone applying for a project manager position might describe their previous work experience as a project coordinator while focusing on the details that prepared them to handle even more responsibility in the future. In describing this experience with strategic information, the candidate is helping the interviewer visualize them in the position for which they are applying. 

To prepare for questions about your previous experience, you should first identify the core qualifications and work experience that make you a good candidate for the position. Next, pick a handful of experiences that showcase your abilities, make a list of your relevant duties, and practice describing them. Keep it short and sweet, but make sure to include plenty of concrete details and examples to help your interviewer visualize your experience. 

Some common interview questions in this category include: 

  • "Why do you want to leave your current job?"

  • "What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievement?"

  • “What environment do you work best in?” 

Tip: Lack relevant experience? 

Occasionally, you may enter a job interview knowing that you lack relevant work experience. If this is the case, then you should thoroughly research the position, industry, and business before the interview to identify the transferable skills you already possess that overlap with the job. Afterward, practice pitching how your previous experience or transferable skill set prepared  you for the position, focusing on your best achievements.

During the interview, highlight your skill set and achievements. If the interviewer asks you about a skill set that you haven’t yet developed, either highlight overlapping experiences that familiarized you with aspects of the skill set or simply note your confidence in quickly learning on the job. 

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Q3. How do you see yourself here?

Hiring managers ask questions about how you see yourself in the position because they want to get a sense of what you will add to the business. More specifically, they want to know if you understand what the position will entail, how you work, and how you can help them. 

These questions are an excellent opportunity to showcase your knowledge of the industry, the position, and your employer in general. For example, a data analyst applying for a position at a social media company might describe how they first plan to familiarize themselves with the team’s data collection methods, user base, and overall business goals to see how they can best help. Then, they might describe the duties they would perform in different scenarios. This emphasizes their preparedness for the position and paints an image in the interviewer’s mind of how they would perform. 

To prepare for questions of this kind, you should first take time to research the position and the employer to understand what you will be doing in the job. Reading the job description is a helpful way to familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities. Afterward, clarify how you will add value to the position, focusing particularly on concrete details that will allow you to paint a picture of what you will do in the job. Practice pitching this a few times before the interview, making sure to stay focused and value-oriented. 

Some common interview questions in this category include: 

  • "What can we expect from you in your first three months?"

  • "Why do you want this job?"

  • "Out of all the candidates, why should we hire you?"

Q4. What are your goals? 

Interviewers ask about your long-term goals to see whether your interests align with theirs. In particular, they want to see if your goals are the right fit for their business and if you are a viable long-term employee.

Questions of this nature offer a good opportunity to emphasize how much your long-term vision overlaps with your employer. For instance, a digital marketer applying for a job at a tech company might highlight their desire to work in a position that allows them to grow a user base with a long-term marketing strategy. As they describe their overarching goals, they might also explain how they see themselves as leading a team one day, effectively emphasizing they are willing to go above and beyond by accepting more responsibility. 

To prepare for this question, take some time to define your long-term professional goals. If you are uncertain of what they are, writing them down can be a helpful exercise.

Next, review the job description and research your potential employer to understand what long-term opportunities they might offer you. Finally, identify where your future goals overlap and practice what you would say to this question. 

Some common interview questions in this category include: 

  • "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

  • “What is your dream job?” 

Q5. Sell me this pen.

Questions asking you to do something or solve an unusual problem are primarily trying to see how you act under pressure and solve problems on the fly. Interviewers ask this question because it gives them insight into how you think and demonstrates how you might function on the job. 

This is an opportunity for you to showcase your abilities in action. For example, an individual applying for a job as a server at a restaurant might be asked to demonstrate how they place plates, fill glasses, and take orders. A salesperson, meanwhile, might be asked to give a pitch “selling” a pen to an interviewer.  

Preparing for these kinds of questions is tricky because you can’t quite know what an interviewer will ask. That said, you might consider researching online to see if others have reported any unique questions asked in the interview process of the business to which you are applying. A company’s Glassdoor page often includes reviews of the interview process that can shed light on unique questions asked. 

Some common interview questions in this category include: 

  • “Sell me this pen.”

  • “How many tennis balls fit into a limousine?” 

  • “Do [X] task for me.” 

What are your salary expectations? 

Many job applicants are uncomfortable discussing salary requirements during an interview. Nonetheless, it is a question that often comes up in job interviews. 

If an interviewer asks you about your salary expectations during an interview, then it is usually wisest to simply ask the interviewer what their salary range is for the position. If the interviewer asks you about your previous salary, then simply note whether it was above, matched, or under market rate, and make a concrete case based on your skills and experience for your target pay.  It’s important to know your market value and do that research before the interview.

Note, in some places, it is illegal to ask a job applicant about their prior pay history. To find out if asking about prior salary history is illegal in your state or city, consult this running list of states and localities that have outlawed pay history questions compiled by HRDive [2]. 

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Preparation makes perfect

As you plan your next big professional move, you might consider taking a flexible online course to prepare for the job search and your new career. While The Art of the Job Interview teaches proven techniques to help you turn your interviews into job offers, Coursera’s professional certificates help you get job-ready for in-demand careers, such as project management and data analysis

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Article sources

1. Harvard Business Review. “Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling, https://www.hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling.” Accessed February 11, 2022. 

2. HRDive. “Salary history bans, https://www.hrdive.com/news/salary-history-ban-states-list/516662.” Accessed February 11, 2022. 

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