Common Entry-Level Interview Questions and Answers

Two people speak during an in-depth interview. In-depth interviews are common and useful research methods within sociology.
•••

Ezra Bailey / Getty Images

Are you a student or a recent graduate looking for an entry-level job? What can you expect during the job interview? The interview questions that hiring managers ask entry-level candidates will typically be focused on why you are interested in the job and why the company should hire you.

Even if you have limited work experience, you can still answer these kinds of interview questions well. Review these entry-level interview questions and sample answers. Consider how you would answer, so you're ready to respond during the job interview.

Why Are Entry-Level Interview Questions Important?

The primary challenge in an interview for an entry-level job is proving to an employer that you have as much potential as other early-career candidates who may have actual work experience. Focus on your training and on proving that you possess the major qualifications for employment listed in your interviewers’ job listing.

Top 12 Common Entry-Level Interview Questions and Best Answers

As you review these common interview questions about your education, career goals, and plans for the future, keep in mind that the responses you structure should clearly indicate how you are prepared to make the transition from being a student to becoming a productive young professional.

Interview Questions About College

Whether you were a serious student or an easy-going one, it’s the knowledge and the skills that you gained during your education that will persuade an employer to call you back for a second interview. While you will probably be asked general questions about your major, which subjects you liked best, and which subjects you liked least, employers will also be interested in the attitude you present and significant academic or extracurricular achievements that set you apart from other recent graduates.

1. Tell me about your educational background.

What They Want to Know:  Your educational or training background is your chief credential when it comes to landing an entry-level job in your chosen career field. Many employers require that candidates demonstrate that they’ve successfully completed a certain level of college or other relevant professional training.

I just graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia with high honors; I majored in journalism there, and had the opportunity to write for and edit the school newspaper. I also was selected for a Dow Jones News Fund internship last summer, and participated for two terms in the Missouri State Reporting Program, during which time I interviewed state lawmakers and covered senate committee hearings.

2. How has your college experience prepared you for a career?

What They Want to Know: Employers are interested not only in the relevant training in hard skills you’ve received in college, but also in how prepared you are to transition to the workplace.

I feel like I’ve laid a strong groundwork for a career in accounting. Not only did I make high grades in my accounting and finance courses, but I also had the chance during the academic breaks to gain “real world” experience as an accounting assistant intern for ABC Financial.

 3. What was your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you handle it?

What They Want to Know: The best employees not only show up for work every day, but they also seek out opportunities to challenge themselves in order to improve their skillsets. Be prepared with an example of how you’ve readily embraced a difficult challenge.

The biggest challenge for me during college was that I had to work full-time, around my studies, in order to finance my education. This meant that I didn’t have a lot of free time at night or on the weekends to do anything other than study, but it also allowed me to graduate debt-free, with a 3.75 GPA.

Interview Questions About Your Work Experience

Although, as a recent college student, you may not have much professional experience, you are likely to have had at least a part-time job or to have volunteered for a non-profit organization. Be ready to highlight how these roles have helped you gain work skills that will translate to your professional career.

4. Tell me about your work experience? How has it prepared you for a career?

What They Want to Know: Many college students may not have a lot of career-related work experience when they graduate from college. However, describing summer job or work-study employment you’ve held can help you prove that you have a great work ethic, time-management and teamwork competencies, and the other soft skills hiring managers look for in entry-level candidates.

Sample Answer: I was a CIT in high school, and then worked each summer during college as a counselor at Camp Wildwood. It was great being able to work with elementary school-aged kids while I earned my K-12 teaching credentials.

5. Have you completed any internships? What did you gain from the experience?

What They Want to Know: One of the best ways to gain professional experience during college is to complete paid or unpaid internships in the industry you hope to target when you graduate. This automatically places you ahead of other new college graduates whose experience has been limited to their classroom studies.

Yes, last summer I was accepted into the management internship program at Fred Meyers, which taught me a lot about how to motivate and supervise a team, control inventory, and create positive customer experiences.

6. What major problems have you encountered at work and how did you deal with them?

What They Want to Know: This question is designed to gauge how you respond to and resolve unexpected challenges.

When I was first hired at Perfect Pizzeria, the assistant manager was unwilling to let me do much more than wash dishes – and I was always the first person to be sent home if there wasn’t much business. But I gained his trust by always arriving early and doing whatever task he assigned cheerfully and efficiently – with the result that he soon let me run the cash register and kept me on for full shifts.

Interview Questions About You

Interview questions that solicit information about your personality, strengths, and weaknesses are designed to measure your level of self-knowledge and to determine how likely you would be to acclimate well to the employer’s workplace culture.

7. How would you describe yourself?

What They Want to Know: This ice-breaker question helps the interviewer get to know you and to see how self-reflective you are about your strengths and capabilities.

I would describe myself as a self-motivated and curious person who is always excited to learn new things. I’m also an avid problem-solver who likes nothing better than to improve upon the status quo.

8. What motivates you?

What They Want to Know: By asking this question, a hiring manager is trying to figure out how you approach your goals, what you are passionate about, and whether you would be a good fit for their existing management style and company culture.

I love both individual and team challenges, and I’m always eager to surpass my personal best. What most motivates me is having established goals with clear deadlines – it’s exciting to hit each benchmark on time and to see projects come together as they should.

More Answers: Why should I hire you?

9. What is your greatest strength?

What They Want to Know: This is another one of those personal questions that assesses your level of self-awareness. The best approach is to answer it confidently but without hubris. Try to choose a strength that matches the most important qualifications of the job you’re targeting.

Compassion and empathy. I’m an excellent listener who is the person others come to for advice and support, and it makes me incredibly happy to feel like I’ve helped them deal with hard issues. That’s why I’ve trained to become a social worker – I want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Questions About the Future

Companies generally prefer to maintain talented and stable workforces, so hiring managers are always on the lookout for candidates they believe will remain with their organization. Emphasizing your willingness to grow with the company will earn points in your favor.

10. What are you looking for in a job? What is important to you?

What They Want to Know: Your response to this question will let the hiring manager know whether you share the organization’s values and if you would be dedicated to their success.

I’m looking for the chance to build upon the management and continuous improvement strategies I learned in college so that I can help my employer remain competitive and – hopefully – establish myself as a long-term employee. Stability and having a good work / life balance is important to me, as is being able to remain here in my hometown.

11. What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

What They Want to Know: Employers want to know whether you are likely to be a long-term employee (and thus a good return on their investment in onboarding and training you) or if you might be tempted to jump ship and work for someone else. This question also assesses whether you have a clear career path and the ambition to earn promotion and advancement.

I plan, in five years, to be the acknowledged expert in ABC Corporation’s pharmaceutical offerings and to be one of your top regional salespeople, positioned for eventual advancement to a sales management role.

12. Would you still be interested in this job if you knew, at some point in the future, the work environment would change from an individual environment to a team-based approach?

What They Want to Know: Corporate and / or department restructurings occasionally happen. When they occur, the employees who are retained are those who able to adapt to procedural changes. The best response to this question should state your flexibility in being able to work both independently and as part of a new team.

Yes. I enjoy both the freedom of working independently and the camaraderie of working on teams, so I can be happy and productive in both environments.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • Why did you select your college or university? - Best Answers
  • How would you prepare for important tests or exams? - Best Answers
  • What college subjects did you like best? Why? - Best Answers
  • What college subjects did you like least? Why? - Best Answers
  • Describe situations where you have used your leadership skills. - Best Answers
  • Describe your most rewarding college experience. - Best Answers
  • If I were to ask your professors to describe you in three words, what would they be? - Best Answers
  • What was your biggest challenge as a student, and how did you handle it? - Best Answers
  • Do you think that your grades are a good indication of your academic achievement? - Best Answers
  • Did you prefer working independently or in groups on school projects? - Best Answers
  • What extracurricular activities have you participated in? - Best Answers
  • Why did you choose your major? - Best Answers
  • Tell me about your work experience. How has it prepared you for a career? - Best Answers
  • How do you think a friend or professor who knows you well would describe you? - Best Answers

Tips to Answer Entry-Level Interview Questions

© The Balance, 2018

Here’s how to ensure you are well-prepared for your entry-level interview.

Research the company. Before the interview, do some research on the company. Review the “About Us” section of the company website to get a sense of their mission and company culture. If you know someone who works at the company, you might ask them a bit about the company too. This will help you answer questions about the company, and why you are a good fit for the organization.

Review the job description. Reread the job listing before your interview to get a sense of what skills and qualities the employer is looking for in a candidate. At least some of the interview questions will be about whether or not you have these skills. The interviewer might even ask for examples of times you demonstrated those skills and qualities.

Use examples from outside of work. When thinking of examples of times you demonstrated particular skills or qualities, you can use examples from work and non-work experiences. For example, you can draw on experiences from school or extracurricular activities. You can also draw on work experiences even if they are not directly related to the job. As long as you can show you have the qualities and skills for the position, any of these kinds of examples will work.

Prepare questions to ask the interviewer. Along with preparing answers to common interview questions, you should also prepare questions to ask the interviewer. Prepare questions that will give you more information on the job and company, while also further highlighting your qualities, skills, and experience.

How to Make the Best Impression

Landing your first job can be intimidating, but knowing how to approach the process can take a lot of the pressure off and allow you to present yourself confidently and professionally. Here are a few things to remember:

Dress appropriately. What you wear to an interview has an impact on that all-important first impression you make, and can influence whether or not you get the job.

Don’t lie or embellish your background (to do so is grounds for dismissal), but emphasize and advocate for the strengths and skills you have acquired through your education, past employment, and experience. Employers appreciate confidence and pride in the work experience you have gained, and your ability to transfer your skills to your next position.

Describe your college and extracurricular experience. During your meeting, you’ll probably be asked typical entry-level interview questions, as well as other common job interview questions. When you are a college student or recent graduate, it's important to relate your college education, extracurricular activities, and experiences to the job for which you are applying, particularly when these provided you opportunities to exercise your leadership skills.