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Interview Questions

There are two categories of interview questions: those the interviewer asks you and those you ask the interviewer.  Think about both in advance!

Questions For You

The exact questions you will be asked in any interview will vary according to the type of interview, type of position, and career field. However, the following questions occur frequently across a wide spectrum of interview types, so be prepared with strong answers!

  • Can you tell me a little about yourself?
    The employer is looking for general information about your academic history and interests that ultimately led you to choose your major and career path.  Avoid answering this question by providing personal details about where you grew up, likes/dislikes, etc.
  • What do you know about our company and why do you want to work for us?
    Has the company been in the news lately? Who are the key people in the company?  Make sure you have done your homework!  Emphasize the strengths and experience that you would bring to the company rather than talk about what the company would do for you.
  • Why should I hire you?
    Present at least three examples of your strongest personal qualities or skills that would be relevant to the position, e.g., "I have excellent organizational skills; I developed the business model for our student project, assigned 12 group members to tasks, and followed up on training with each person."
  • How would you describe your ideal working environment?
    The interviewer wants to know what type of workplace is most comfortable for you—noisy, quiet, formal, casual—in order to figure out whether or not you'd be a good fit for the company. Be honest! It's as important to be happy with your workplace as it is to be happy with the work itself.
  • Can you tell me about your three greatest strengths?
    Be positive and focus on examples of at least three strengths that would be valued in almost any workplace—you work well under pressure, you motivate others, you have outstanding attention to detail, etc.  Additional personal qualities that most employers look for include honesty, collegiality, reliability, integrity, common sense, and enthusiasm.
  • Can you talk about your weaknesses?
    Be careful with the weaknesses you choose to discuss.  For example, don't say that you're not a morning person or that you are always late. If possible, focus on one work-related weakness and talk about how you are working to improve.
  • How would someone who knows you well describe you?
    Think of how a former boss or colleague—rather than a friend, family member, or significant other—would describe you.  Focus on attributes that would be useful in the workplace, e.g., "When I was a work-study student, my supervisor always appreciated my creativity on projects and the attention to detail I showed in my work."
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
    Emphasize any volunteer work you like to do (if applicable) or your involvement with student organizations related to your major or field of study.  If you don't participate in extracurricular activities, emphasize positive personal interests that contribute to your own health or well-being, such as reading, working out, playing sports, or playing a musical instrument.
  • How did you choose your university?
    Your response should focus on Penn State's good academic reputation and strong engineering program.  It's also okay to say that your parents and/or grandparents attended Penn State and it's a family tradition.
  • Can you describe a challenging situation that you have faced during your college years, and how you resolved it?
    This a behavioral question designed to see how you approach and solve problems. Choose a fairly benign situation, such as a conflict with a roommate, and focus on how you worked collaboratively to find a solution.
  • What are your salary requirements?
    Although the topic of salary doesn't usually come up in an initial interview, some recruiters will want to know whether or not you are aware of the average pay rates for students or recent graduates in your major.  Try not to give a specific salary figure; if you are pressed to do so, give a range. See our average starting salary information for guidelines.

Questions for the Interviewer

As your interview comes to an end, the interviewer will likely ask whether or not you have any questions. Always have at least three questions prepared. Good questions to ask include those about the working environment and on-the-job training. Here are some examples:

  • How would you describe the company culture?
  • What might a typical day be like for me, if I were to obtain this position?
  • Is the work structured in this department, or can I generally work at my own pace?
  • What personal qualities would you consider ideal in the candidate you choose to fill this position?
  • What have past employees/interns who have held this position liked best and least about it?
  • How much travel is required for this position?
  • How often are performance reviews given?
  • If I were to be offered this job, how long should it take for me to learn the basic duties to be productive and make a contribution to the organization?
  • What is the typical career path for this position within the company?
  • When do you expect to make a hiring decision?

 Be careful not to ask questions that inadvertently send the wrong message about your personal motivations or your level of interest in the employer or the job. Don’t ask about:

  • Basic information that is covered on the company website—especially on the home page!—or in promotional literature
  • The interviewer's educational background or extracurricular interests
  • Salary, vacation, or other benefits. Asking about these topics before you have received an offer can give the impression that you are more concerned about benefits than about the job itself
  • How much overtime you might have to put in or how often you might have to work on weekends

Finally, don't be pushy! Asking about your chances of getting the job, for example, puts the interviewer on the spot, especially if there are still additional candidates to interview.

 

Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032