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Sample Interview Questions

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Practicing answers to typical interview questions will increase your confidence and potential for a successful interview. In addition, employers seek candidates who ask well informed questions based on research of the organization and career field.

Interview questions

Personal and Career Objectives

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself?
  • Why did you choose to study at Cornell? Why did you major in X?
  • What is the greatest personal challenge you have faced in college? How did you handle it?
  • What are your goals for the next three (or five, or ten) years?
  • How does this position fit into your short and long-term goals?
  • What do you like to do in your leisure time?
  • Who are your role models?
  • What is your definition of success? Of failure?

Abilities and Achievements

  • What organizational strategies do you implement to ensure success in academics, work, athletics, extra-curriculars, etc.?
  • What are your current or past leadership roles and what have you learned from them?
  • Have you had to sell your idea to others who had differing points of view? What was the outcome?
  • Describe a time when you successfully balanced several competing priorities.
  • Describe a frustrating experience or conflict and how you handled it. What was the final result? 
  • What is your greatest strength?  What is your greatest weakness?

Work Experiences

  • Did you work while going to school? What positions did you hold?
  • What is the best job you ever had? Why?
  • What did you enjoy most or like least about your last employment?
  • Have you ever quit a job? Why?
  • What has been your experience with working in a team?
  • In what extracurricular activities are you involved? Why did you choose those activities?

Knowledge of the Organization

  • Why do you want to work for our organization?
  • What do you think it takes to be successful in an organization like ours?
  • In what ways do you think you can make a contribution to our organization?
  • Do you prefer a large or small organization? Why?
  • What qualities do you seek in a supervisor?
  • How do you feel about working in a structured/unstructured environment?
  • How do you feel about overtime/traveling/relocating?
  • What are your salary requirements? How did you determine that?

Sample questions to ask employers (don't ask questions that are easily answered by viewing the organization's website)

During the Initial Interview

  • Can you give me examples of past projects on which employees in this role have worked?
  • What are the priorities over the next year?
  • Where does this position (or department) fit into the organization and its objectives?
  • What does it take to succeed here? Can you give me some examples?
  • How is success measured in this position and in this organization?
  • What kind of orientation or training is provided?
  • How much travel is required? How often is overtime required?
  • Does this position function mainly alone or in a team setting?
  • What is the greatest challenge currently facing this department or organization?
  • What are the major strengths/weaknesses of this work group?
  • How would you describe the organizational culture?
  • What is this organization's management philosophy?
  • Tell me about your own experience with this organization. What do you enjoy most/least about working here?

During Subsequent Interviews

  • What is the history of this position, and what changes do you anticipate?
  • How are geographical location assignments and transfers determined?
  • How much decision-making autonomy would I have? What is the growth potential for this position a few years from now?
  • What percentage of employees take advantage of the educational tuition assistance program? (Ask only if you know such a program exists.)
  • What kind of staff will be available to me or to this department?
  • Assuming that you received resumes from many qualified applicants, what qualifications from my resume did you find of interest, resulting in this opportunity to interview for the position? (Ask at the end of an on-site visit.)

At Any Point During the Interview Process

  • What is the next step in the interview process? What is your time frame?
  • What can I do to further demonstrate my interest in this position?
  • Can you describe some aspects of living in this community?

Behavioral Interview Questions

Behavioral questions ask you to discuss a situation that you encountered in the past to help employers predict how you may conduct yourself in the future. Use the STAR method to effectively tell your story and respond to these types of questions.

S = Situation

T = Task

A = Action

R = Result

Here’s an example:

Tell me about a time you worked in a team with a successful outcome.

Situation: I am a member of the Baja SAE Racing Team at Cornell and serve on the mechanical sub-team with 6 other peers.

Task: Our team was responsible for designing the off-road vehicle frame.

Action: Each team member brainstormed and presented ideas and hand sketches of different designs, and as a group we determined the components of each design we liked best.

Result: By combining the best features of each member’s design, we successfully reduced the weight of the frame by 5% while maintaining safety standards.  Having a lighter frame meant that our vehicle was faster and we ultimately placed higher in the national
competition this year.

You may also want to add what you learned or what you would do differently. Examples can be drawn from work, personal, volunteer, student organizations, classroom experiences, etc.

Below is a sample of behavioral questions that you may be asked. To prepare for these types of questions, review your entire resume and consider instances that you are proud of, that were difficult, or from which you have learned important lessons.

  • Technical Mastery
  • Tell me about a time when you applied a theory you learned in the classroom in a real-world setting.
  • Leadership
  • Tell me about a time when you accomplished something significant that wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been there to make it happen.
  • Describe a time when you were able to step into a situation, take charge, muster support, and achieve excellent results.
  • Initiative & Follow Through
  • Tell me about a goal you set that took a long time to achieve or that you're still working towards.
  • Give me an example of a situation where you had to overcome major obstacles to achieve your desired objectives.
  • Thinking & Problem Solving
  • Tell me about a time when you had to analyze facts quickly, define key issues, and develop a plan which produced good results.  If you had to do that activity over again, how would you do it differently?
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Tell me about a time when you implemented a new approach to a problem.
  • Describe a time when you came up with new ideas which were key to the success of some activity or project.
  • Working Effectively with Others
  • Tell me about a time when you were able to motivate others to get desired results.
  • Provide an example that shows you've been able to develop and maintain productive relations with others, even though they might have differing points of view.
  • Communication
  • Tell me about a situation when you had to be persuasive and sell your idea to someone else.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to present a proposal to a person in authority and were able to do this successfully.
  • Priority Setting
  • Tell me about a time when you had to balance many competing priorities and did so successfully.
  • Describe a time when you had to pick out the most important tasks in an activity and make sure they were completed.

Common & Difficult Interview Questions

The interview questions below were compiled by Cornell Engineering Co-op students.

  • Interviews may begin with "Tell me about yourself." Be prepared to say something interesting.
  • What sets you apart from other Cornell Engineers? (Be specific: foreign language, project team, leadership experience, etc.)
  • What do you know about our organization? Why are you interested in working here?
  • What is your favorite activity on campus? What is you favorite and least favorite part of that activity/job?
  • Tell me about a time when you used your engineering skills to solve a real life problem.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Give an example of a project where you worked in a group. What was your role? Did you encounter any difficulties?
  • Write code to reverse a linked list in C (and the structures). What's the difference between Java and C++?
  • What was your favorite class? Least favorite?
  • What will you bring to our team/organization?
  • What do you want from this position?
  • In a group situation, when there is negative tension between members and you're the leader, what do you do?
  • Talk about an event when you disagreed with an authority figure and what you did to resolve the issue.
  • Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
  • Name a time in when you failed. What did you do to overcome your failure?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Why did you decide to major in x? Why did you choose Cornell?
  • Describe a time when you gave up personal goals for the good of a team.
  • What was the most difficult decision you ever made and why?
  • What would you value in an employer?
  • Do you work best on your own or in a group? Give examples.
  • Do you like constant feedback or can you work without it?