Five Interview Questions You Might Not Expect (But Should Prepare For Anyway)

I.  Love.  Job Interviews.

Call me crazy.  Some people get super duper freaked out about job interviews.  I love them.  Because not only are job interviews a great way to convince companies to hire you, they are also a great way for you to learn about them.  This requires preparing for all sorts of interview questions.

In my professional career, I believe I have attended more than 75 interviews as a candidate.  And I’m really only spit-balling here.  It could be more.  This includes in-person interviews at a placement exchange or on campus.  I’m not counting phone interviews.  But if you count those I’m easily over 100.

The Employer Side

As an employer, I’m quite sure I have facilitated even more job interviews.  Every year in the world of Residence Life, there was at least one pending vacancy that required a job posting and recruitment committee.  So all the years I was a supervisor and manager, there were at least 5-10 on campus interviews happening every academic year.

job interview questions

Don’t even get me started on Resident Advisor searches.  These, too, happen annually and I easily interviewed more than 20 students per search.

I have to tell you, I get really tired of “tell me about yourself and why you are interested in this position?”  There are probably a hundred different ways to ask the same question and get more from the candidate.

So I really dig creating interview questions.

If you read my post on how to prepare for a job interview, then you’ve heard my rant on preparation.  And that includes anticipating and preparing for questions.  All kinds of questions.  I like these five questions a great deal because they require reflection and strategy.  You will need to prepare responses that demonstrate prime examples of the work you have done to date.  It is also important that you indicate your knowledge of their company as well – this proves your interest in the position as well as the organization.

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With these things in mind, here are five interview questions that you MIGHT encounter, but should prepare for nonetheless.

1.  Tell me what you will do in the first day, first month, and first week to get acclimated with this position (or with this team, or with our company, etc.)

This interview question emphasizes the thought process you will use to understand the ropes and get settled in.  I have been asking this question as an employer every since it was asked of me at my own job interview in 1996.  As that employer, I am looking to see how the candidate approaches those early times at the job.  Is he or she looking to meet everyone on the team?  This demonstrates a need for connection and camaraderie.  Is the candidate wanting to spend time going over manuals and files?  This demonstrates that the candidate is detail oriented and a “rules follower.”  Does the candidate stress a need to set up his office and find out where things and places are kept  This designates that the candidate needs structure and routine.

Is this making sense yet?  Good – let’s look at another question.

job interview questions

2.  Tell me about a college course or other learning opportunity that prepared you for this position.

I’ve been asked this interview question only once, but it has stayed with me for years.  It’s always fascinating to me how people prepare for the vocation they have chosen, as well as the kind of education they have prior to landing a job.  My friend Mark has a PhD and is the director of an Asian Student Center in Chicago.  But both his BA and MA are in Linguistics.  My best friend in college was a marketing major and wound up becoming a nurse.

Ask me this question now, I would probably choose to talk about the Chief Housing Officer Institute I attended in 1997.  I was the youngest and most inexperienced professional at the institute.  And I felt like I didn’t belong.  But when I returned to my job, I had so much confidence and faith in myself.  I came to learn that everyone brings something unique to the table and all I needed to do was discover it.

3.  Based on your research of our organization, what is one thing you would change about how we operate?

Obviously, this is question to see how well a candidate has studied up on the company.  And the candidate can respond in a very simplistic way or a very detailed way.  You could learn that, as a new employee, you don’t accrue vacation time for six months.  So, you may share that because you believe that time off is essential to employee satisfaction and engagement.  You might learn that there are no women in upper level management; and if you are a female candidate that could raise a red flag for you.

And if you have identified that one thing you would change, of course you need to have back up on why you feel this way.  This is an incredibly important response since you don’t want to offend your potential new employer.  So – study up on this; but prepare to be diplomatic.

job interview questions

4.  What is the worst mistake you have ever made at work?  What happened, how did you handle it, and how did you rebound from it?

Can.  You.  Take.  Responsibility.  For.  Your.  Mistakes.

From where I stand, this question wants to see how resilient you are and determine your problem solving skills.  Most importantly, this question delves into self-reflection and awareness – what did you learn about yourself from the experience?  Did you cave and cry for a week?  Or did you approach this as a learning opportunity and grow from it?

5.  If you could go back five years and change something about your current career, what would you change, and why?

Honestly, this is something I ask myself all the time.  Would I have done anything different?  If you read my post on changing jobs, you know that I’ve moved around a great deal and that I’m not ashamed of that.  But I’m also not thrilled about it either.  There were jobs I did not want to leave necessarily, but there was no room for promotion.  Or my husband was not happy there.  You can read that post to see more.

This question is seeking self-reflection from the candidate, and I believe actually wants to know what you think you are lacking in your career.  Your response needs to include a very pointed answer.  Would you have studied something different in college?  Negotiated your hiring salary, or relocation expenses?  Or not taken that job in Fredericksburg, Virginia because you didn’t have a good gut feeling about your supervisor (be careful there, BTW).

Let me just reiterate one more time that the more you put into the preparation for your job interview, the more you will demonstrate your competency and genuine interest.  I’ve often been so excited to meet someone based on their phone interview or resume; and when I’m with them face to face, I’m horribly disappointed because the excitement, spark, and composure is just not there.  One of the best ways to kill your chances at a job interview is to “prove” that you haven’t researched them at all.


I hope that this post has given you something to think about where your job search is concerned.  Read up more on career development by visiting some of my other blog posts here and here.

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