This is the final post in a three-part series of “Job Interview Basics” that will help you feel confident, prepared, and ready for career success.

The first focused on four general tips and tricks to use during the interview process, and the second post highlighted four questions you’ll likely hear in an interview.


Interviewing can be tough, especially if you walk in unprepared. But even the most proficient interviewees will trip up on a handful of tricky interview questions. Capella University Career Counselor Sue Fransen Way discusses the best way to answer the three most commonly blundered interview questions.


QUESTION 1: Tell Me a Little Bit About Yourself.

This question seems harmless, but people commonly fumble their answer because they don’t take it seriously or they mistake it as “small talk” before the official interview begins. Two important points on that topic:

  1. Small talk is part of the interview, and
  2. This question is not small talk.

Potential employers are looking for information about you as it relates to the job they have to offer. They are not looking for your life story, or even your full work history. Give them a 30-60 second answer that speaks to who you are as it relates to the position. Demonstrate why you are a good fit for the job without exactly saying “I’m a good candidate because …” It’s all about showing, not telling. Keep it short and polished; don’t ramble.

Things to include in your answer could be your current job/career title, strengths and accomplishments, brief work history as it relates to the position you’re applying for, and a short statement about your career goals.

For example, “I am an experienced graphic designer who specializes in creating innovative packaging and labels for retail goods. I’ve worked for Fortune 500 clients and consistently get work through referrals. I’m passionate about design that’s useful and usable; it must be functional as well as appealing to the eye. For instance, I designed packaging for XYZ widgets that allowed potential customers to test the widget before buying it without ruining the box. After working for a variety of top design agencies in town and a brief stint as a freelancer, I’m now looking to secure a permanent position in-house with a stable company whose values match my own.”


QUESTION 2: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

They might also ask you why there was a gap in your employment history, or straight up ask why you were fired if they know that bit of information. Answering these types of direct questions can be uncomfortable at best, and show-stopping at worst, especially if you left your last job on not-so-great terms. But, relax. You got this! The key is to have an answer prepared that you are comfortable with and can deliver confidently.

The first thing to remember when crafting your answer is that you don’t have to tell them everything. They don’t even really want to know the full story. They just want to identify any potential red flags—but don’t give them any! A good way to approach this question is with a compliment sandwich. Start with something positive, say the negative bit, and then end with something positive.

For example, “I loved working for the Acme Company, but they were struggling financially and needed to downsize. Unfortunately my position was eliminated. But now I’m looking forward to a new challenge with a company I can grow with, and I think yours offers some exciting opportunities.” Give them some facts and then move the conversation on to something more upbeat, and tie it directly back to the job you are interviewing for.


QUESTION 3: Why Should We Hire You?

Usually asked at the end the interview, this one seems tough but is actually super easy to answer. Why? You can go right back to a variation of the 30-second speech about yourself that began your interview!

And, don’t worry. They won’t remember that it’s basically what you said at the start of the interview. Attention spans just aren’t that good. Saying the same thing over again gives them another opportunity to remember your message, and remember YOU.

The big thing to keep in mind here is to not offer a generalized answer like “Because I’m the right candidate for the job.” That’s not a memorable answer. Wow them with your 30-second speech and leave them with something they will remember.


The Capella Career Center offers networking tips, job search tools, career counseling, and more. Its mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.