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Answering Interview Questions

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Tips for Successful Interviewing

  • Smile!
  • Speak in a clear, confident, and enthusiastic tone of voice.
  • Show you can listen and quickly organize your thoughts to form a response, including pausing briefly if needed.
  • Present a positive demeanor by avoiding negatively-framed language.
  • Limit use of filler words such as "um," "like," and "uh" as much as possible.
  • Be mindful of your body language. Aim for relaxed and confident. Avoid slouching or overgesturing with your hands.
  • View the interview as a conversation where you are gathering valuable information to help you make the most informed choice about the opportunity.
  • Keep in mind that it is impossible to control all aspects of an interview. If you encounter a question you are not prepared for, do your best and then move on.

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.

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 drafting my project plan, I distributed a copy 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 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 of 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!