37 During the Interview: Answering and Asking Questions

First Impressions Count!

Your first impression should spark the interviewer’s interest within minutes of your initial meeting. Therefore, in the first couple of minutes, you can do many different things to make a confident first impression. Consider these valuable suggestions on body language, verbal communication skills, and interview etiquette:

  • Be punctual.
    Arrive for your interview 10-15 mins before your scheduled interview time. It’s important to show that you’re prepared. If you feel that you might be running late, be courteous and contact the interviewer to let them know; this will give them the opportunity to reschedule if it is more convenient.
  • Ask if they shake hands. If they do, give a firm handshake.
    Introduce yourself with a solid handshake. Remember not to grip too hard or too soft. If your hands perspire when you’re nervous, be sure to keep a tissue on hand to absorb the moisture while you’re waiting to be introduced. Note that since COVID, some people prefer not to shake hands.
  • Be friendly, smile, and maintain eye contact.
    You’re not just concerned about making an impression on your interviewers; ensure that you are friendly to any individual you are in contact with from the moment you walk in the door to the moment you leave. Smiling will create a warm and positive impression, and maintaining eye contact will demonstrate your self-confidence, focus, and respect.
  • Be aware of your posture.
    Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor, hands on your lap, and your back against the chair. This open position will convey interest and engagement. Poor posture, such as slouching, may come across as too casual and imply disinterest or defensiveness. Avoid closed body language, such as crossing your arms or sitting angled away from your interviewer(s).

Types of Interview Questions

Introductory Questions

Introductory questions give you an opportunity to describe yourself and your accomplishments as they pertain to the job you are applying for. These questions are used to assess your background, your experience, and your organizational fit. Such open-ended questions give you an opportunity to sell yourself.

Examples of common introductory questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How has your education prepared you for this role?
  • What do you know about our organization?
  • Why are you interested in working for our company?
  • What experience do you have that relates to this position?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

Behavioural Questions

Behavioural questions will ask you to describe a specific situation or experience and require you to provide an example of how you handled it in the past. Behavioural interviews are founded on the idea that the best predictor of future behaviour is based on evaluating past behaviour. The key is not to get the “right” answer but to demonstrate how you came to an appropriate result. To answer these questions well and completely, you need to be prepared with specific examples or experiences.


Examples of common behavioural questions include:

  • Give an example of a situation where you had to deal with a conflict with a customer or coworker. How did you handle it?
  • Describe a situation where a coworker or supervisor had expectations that you felt were unrealistic. How did you deal with that?
  • Give an example of a goal you reached and tell me how you achieved it.
  • Describe a stressful situation at work and how you handled it.
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. What did you learn from it?
  • Describe a situation in which you had to balance multiple priorities.
  • Provide a situation in which you managed a tight deadline.
  • Give an example of a time when you collaborated as part of a team.
  • Give an example of an occasion when you used logic to solve a problem.
  • Share an example of how you were able to motivate employees or coworkers.
  • Tell me about a time you have gone above and beyond the call of duty. If so, how?

The key to answering behavioural questions, the S.T.A.R. Technique:

When answering behavioural questions, you should use the STAR technique to ensure you’ve included the appropriate amount of information and detail.

  • Situation – Briefly describe the event or situation and include information on the who, what, where, and when.
  • Task – Give a clear explanation of the task you had to complete and any challenges that accompanied it.
  • Action – Speak about the actions you took to complete the task, purposefully mentioning qualities or traits that the interviewer is looking for.
  • Result – In summary, emphasize what the result of your efforts was and quantify it when appropriate.

Situational Questions

Situational questions are focused on hypothetical scenarios and they require you to demonstrate sound judgment with a response or solution to a problem that you may not have experienced before. Sometimes these questions require you to think outside the box, and carefully consider what is really being asked.


Examples of situational questions include:

  • What would you do if you discovered your supervisor was breaking the company’s code of conduct?
  • As the team leader, how would you deal with the situation if you are faced with a situation where two team members are arguing?
  • How would you prioritize your tasks if you had two important deadlines?

Job Knowledge or Technical Questions

These questions typically assess the particular technical or professional skills and knowledge you will need to perform a job. Hands-on tests, simulations, and questions are phrased to find your level of experience with specific equipment, software, processes, procedures, etc.

Examples of technical questions include:

  • Are you adept at scheduling for a multi-practitioner office?
  • Which presentation software have you learned?
  • How do you properly use a blood pressure monitor?
  • Which EMR programs have you used?
  • What is your typing speed and accuracy? (Do not lie since you may be asked to take a typing test during the interview!)

Sample Interview Questions and Suggested Answers

Question 1: Tell me about yourself.

This question is often used at the beginning of the interview as a way for the interviewers to get to know you. When answering this question, avoid being too general, and don’t go into irrelevant personal details. Use your 30-second elevator speech. Focus on describing your related education, experience, and personal traits, and emphasize your interest in this position or company.

Example answer:

“I am in my final semester of the three-year Dental Hygiene Diploma program at Algonquin College. Throughout my program, I had the opportunity to complete a number of clinical placement hours in a dental clinic where I gained practical experience in providing various preventative oral health care procedures and patient education. Additionally, I have previously worked as a receptionist in a dental clinic and in a variety of customer service environments including Reitman’s and Loblaws. I wanted to pursue this line of work because I have a passion for helping people live healthy lives. This has always been obvious in my previous work experiences, as I have often been regarded by my managers and colleagues as welcoming, approachable, and kind. I believe I bring many qualities to the table, for example, having successfully balanced my school schedule and maintained two part-time jobs, I know my time-management skills will be an added benefit to your team on a daily basis. I am excited for an opportunity to work with a family-oriented team that is committed to making a positive impact on their community through a number of preventative dental care initiatives.”

Question 2: What are your strengths?

This question tests your self-knowledge. The interviewer is looking for you to describe some of your core skills or traits that would make you an excellent candidate for this job. You should be able to clearly and directly identify your strengths as if you were a product that you were trying to sell to the employer. The best strategy is to speak confidently, and relate your strengths to the requirements of the job. Simply listing a number of qualities is not sufficient. Focus on identifying three strengths that relate to the job requirements and providing concrete examples from your work, school, or volunteer experiences.

Example answer:

“In all of my past jobs, I’ve always considered myself to have a strong work ethic. For example, I remember a situation that occurred during my Culinary Management field placement when I was working with a chef who had my team on a strict timeline. Unfortunately, there was some confusion and we did not receive a delivery of vegetables that we needed to prepare for an upcoming event. After calling the supplier, we learned that the shipment would arrive later that evening, after the time at which everything should have been ready to go. Rather than go home, I volunteered to stay late and finish everything, ensuring that we would be prepared well before the event started.”

Question 3: What are your greatest weaknesses?

We all have weaknesses, that is why an interviewer will ask you about yours to see if you have a realistic picture of your own limitations. In your response, discuss a weakness that doesn’t directly affect your ability to do the job you are applying for and then follow up by demonstrating what you are doing or have done to improve upon this weakness. A thoughtful response shows self-reflection and initiative in overcoming your weaknesses. Avoid overused clichés, such as “I work too hard” or “I am a perfectionist,” which are insincere and do not answer the question.

Example answer:

“When delivering presentations to large groups of people or speaking in front of crowds, I sometimes feel nervous and I have a hard time getting my words out. However, while completing my Diploma Program, I have taken many opportunities to voluntarily present information during my group projects, which involved speaking in front of 30-40 classmates. As a result, I feel more comfortable presenting, however, I know I need to continue to improve my skills further – this is why I have decided to attend a Toastmasters group once a week.”

Question 4: Why should we hire you?

This question provides you the opportunity to give your sales pitch. Reiterate to the employer what benefits they can expect from you. It is your opportunity to show your confidence and highlight what differentiates you from other candidates to an employer.

Example answer:

“I believe there are many reasons why you should hire me. For one, I meet the education and experience qualifications you are seeking for an individual to succeed in this role. I understand that there are likely other candidates that meet those criteria too, which is why I want you to know what sets me apart is my passion and commitment to motivating my team members to achieve their goals. For example, in my past work experiences, I have always exhibited a positive attitude and made it a point to lend a helping hand whenever opportunities presented themselves. My relationships with my team members have always been extremely collaborative and, as a result, we were more productive and efficient in completing our daily tasks.”

Question: 5 Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

This question is asked to address what your future goals or career aspirations are and how you intend to achieve them. Employers may also be looking to get a sense of your long-term commitment to their organization. Avoid speaking about unrelated ideas or ideas that would make the employer question your interest in working for them, such as mentioning your real goal is to start your own business or return to school full-time.

Example answer:

“In the next five years, I would like to become the very best Computer Programmer your company has on staff. I would like to take opportunities to learn and grow so that I can become the expert that others rely on in the future. I aim to learn from this company’s talented team of professionals. In the long-term, I feel like this will prepare me to take on greater responsibilities as those opportunities present themselves.”

Question 6: Tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict with a coworker/supervisor/manager. How did you handle it?

This question is often asked to see how you are able to manage conflict and work cohesively as part of a team. The interviewers are seeking examples of real-life scenarios that have occurred and how you have handled them. Your ability to demonstrate appropriate problem-solving skills in resolving conflicts, while dealing with different personalities, will give the employer confidence that this is something you will be able to effectively deal with in the future. Avoid saying that you’ve never had a conflict or using negative language to describe others in the situation. Your answer should not include relying on your manager to solve the problem – employers want to know that you are able to overcome small conflicts and move forward without interrupting the flow of the workplace.



Situation: “When I was working as an administrative assistant with a large accounting firm, the firm was experiencing some staffing changes. I was asked to support one of the other managers I had not previously worked with. My previous manager had been very diligent in providing me with feedback on my work so I knew what was expected of me. The new manager provided less feedback, which I found challenging. This caused a few disagreements as a result of not understanding what the other person wanted.”

Task: “I knew that I needed to clarify the manager’s expectations of me and identify how I could support him better.”

Action: “I suggested that we meet so that we could have more of a conversation about this. In the meeting, I acknowledged the disagreements and asked for specific feedback on what was and was not working. Being able to have an honest discussion regarding work styles and expectations led to a much better understanding of how we could work together more effectively. Listening and understanding each other’s point of view was helpful in coming up with a solution.”

Result: “After we had this conversation, we successfully worked together for several years. Since that experience, whenever I start a new job, I always take the opportunity at the beginning to discuss expectations.”

Question 7: Tell me about a time when you experienced an angry customer. How did you handle it?

Similar to the previous question, this is often asked to see how you are able to appropriately manage conflict and use sound judgment when faced with difficult situations. Again, the interviewers are seeking real-life scenarios to demonstrate how you were able to think on your feet, find a solution, and maintain professionalism. Avoid saying that you’ve never had this happen, but rather, relate it to a situation in which you exercised conflict resolution. Show how you took the initiative to implement a solution without having to escalate it to your manager.

Example answer:

Situation: “When I was working as a sales associate at Walmart, a customer came in looking for a specific product that was currently on promotion. Due to the fact that it was a busy time of year, we did not have any of that product left in the store. The client appeared agitated and verbalized her frustrations towards me and several other employees.”

Task: “I knew that I had to calm the customer down and find out what I could do to help.”

Action: “I took the customer aside, listened to her concerns, validated her frustrations, and apologized for the inconvenience. Through our conversation, the customer disclosed that finding transportation was very challenging for her and she was upset because she knew she wouldn’t be able to get to another store to purchase this product. I then presented a solution by calling other stores to locate the product and offered to have the product delivered straight to her house the following day.”

Result:  “As a result, the customer felt understood and made sure to tell me how much she
appreciated my efforts, despite her initial concerns. Later on that day, my manager pulled me aside to recognize my excellent interpersonal skills and my ability to handle a difficult situation with such professionalism.”

Question 8: What is your target salary? What do you feel this position should pay?

In this question, the employer could be interested to see if you have a realistic expectation of your salary based on your skills and experiences. They may also be evaluating whether or not your expectation fits within what the company can realistically offer you. Make sure to conduct your own research and show your flexibility by providing a salary range rather than a concrete number. You can research this information ahead of your interview using the following resources:

Example Answer:

“In my research, I have seen salaries ranging from $42,000 to $46,000 based on positions requiring my education and experience. However, I am very flexible to discuss the salary that you had in mind for this position.”

The interviewers are seeking examples of real-life scenarios that have occurred and how you have handled them.

Illegal Questions

The law in Ontario prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of: age, ancestry, colour, race, citizenship, ethnic origin, place of origin, creed, disability, family status, marital status (including single status), gender identity, gender expression, receipt of public assistance (in housing only), record of offences (in employment only), sex (including pregnancy and breastfeeding), and sexual orientation. The Ontario Human Rights Commission protects job seekers against unlawful questions. For more information, check out the Ontario Humans Right Commission.

Employers’ questions must be related to the job for which you are applying. However, use your discretion when answering, as questions could be asked unintentionally. Here is how you might respond if asked an inappropriate question:

  • Ask the interviewer to clarify the meaning of the question.
  • Ask the interviewer in what circumstances does the question apply to the job.
  • Politely decline to answer.

Your turn! Questions to Ask the Employer

When an employer asks you at the end of the interview, “Do you have any questions for us?” you want to avoid saying, “no.” A lack of prepared questions may suggest to an employer that you’re uninterested in the opportunity. It is your responsibility to come up with some well-thought-out and engaging questions. The questions you ask can be about the roles and responsibilities of the job, the company’s organizational structure, general interest, or the next steps in the hiring process. Be conscientious of the interviewer’s time, and choose no more than three questions to ask.

Examples of questions you should ask include:

  • What skills make the most successful employees here?
  • What is the top priority of someone who accepts this job?
  • What types of opportunities for advancement are there in this role?
  • What does a typical day/week look like in this role?
  • How large is the team I would be working with?
  • Is there any advice you can provide that would help me prepare for my first three months in this role?
  • What is your favourite part about working for this organization?
  • What are the next steps in the hiring process?
  • When should I expect to hear back?

Examples of questions you should not ask include:

  • How much will I get paid? What is the salary? Is this negotiable?
  • How many weeks of vacation will I be entitled to?
  • What does the benefits package include?
  • How long until I can become a manager?
  • Can I apply for other jobs once I’m working here?


Unless otherwise indicated, this chapter is an adaptation of Be the Boss of Your Career: A Complete Guide for Students & Grads by Lindsay Bortot and Employment Support Centre, Algonquin College, and is used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.

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