Personal interview questions are an essential part of any job interview. The interviewer (or hiring manager) wants to get insight into your personality traits and required skills for the position. The purpose of the interview is to assess your suitability for the job.
Besides being interested in your education and work experience, interviewers want to gain more knowledge about your motivation, attitude towards work, career goals, and personal traits. The main goal of personal job interview questions is to get an understanding of who you are, what you like, and if all of that fits into the organization and position you’re interviewing for.
The most commonly asked personal job interview question is ‘Tell me about yourself.’ This question is a perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate your suitability for the job. Once this question is asked, you have the power to guide the interviewer in such a way that suits you best. In general, personal job interview questions are not considered as being ‘difficult.’ However, it’s important that you do your homework upfront so that you ensure that you have a great story to tell during your job interview.
In this article, we discuss personal job interview questions. Read everything you need to know on how you can prepare and what answers the interviewer is looking for. Also, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
What Are Personal Job Interview Questions?
During a job interview, the hiring manager wants to discuss several things. Think of your:
- Employment history
- Skills and abilities
- Job qualifications
- Educational background
- Career goals
The last category, personality, includes questions about you personally and your personality. In other words, the interviewer wants to know more about your work ethic, work style, how you handle stress, what you expect from the job, and how you handle certain situations.
When an interviewer asks you personal questions about you and how you work, they are trying to assess whether or not you’re a good match for the position and culture of the company. For instance, if the position requires a flexible candidate that does not have a 9-to-5 mentality and that will do everything to get their job done, but you cannot commit to the extra hours, you may not be the right candidate for the job.
It’s important to realize that there is no such thing as a ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘ answer to personal interview questions. However, it’s important to match your response to the job requirements and company culture of the organization.
Examples of common personal job interview questions:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What motivates you?
- What is your greatest strength?
- Where do you see yourself five years from now?
- What do you consider your greatest weakness?
- What are your hobbies?
As you can see, personal job interview questions revolve around you and your personality. Even though the example questions mentioned above do not seem challenging, they do require some preparation. The interviewer wants to hear you give specific answers to their questions and show self-awareness. For you, this is a perfect opportunity for you to showcase your skills and talk about yourself in a very positive way.
Personal job interview questions put the ‘human’ component in the conversation. The information you give the interviewers is used by them to get a more accurate view of your work habits.
Why the Interviewers Use Personal Interview Questions
Let’s be honest; everybody gets a little nervous before a job interview. Whether it’s because of the forced formal situation, the fact that you’re being ‘judged‘ or just because you have a difficult time controlling your nerves. This can especially be the case when you’re asked to talk about yourself in a positive and honest way. Personal job interview questions can make you feel even more uncomfortable than you already are.
When answering personal questions, it’s important that you don’t just recite your CV. The main goal of asking personal questions is that the interviewer wants to get an insight into not only who you are, but also how you perceive yourself. There is a big difference between these two. The difference between who you are and how you perceive yourself uncovers a lot about your self-awareness, ambition, and what you consider to be the most important aspects of yourself.
There are specific reasons why interviewers want to get to know you better on a personal level. In other words, for interviewers, the information about your personality and the answers you give them is an indication of what makes you tick as a professional. Especially in a time where employers want to make sure that people in their workforce align with the company culture, personal interview questions are important.
Uncovering who you are
Besides your skills, abilities, and experience, your personality is an important factor for selecting staff. Most of the time, to kick off the personal part of the interview, the interviewer will ask you to ‘tell me something about yourself.’ Even though this is a broad question, it’s important that you know how to go about it and what interviewer wants to hear from you. In general, this question is used as an ice breaker. However, do not underestimate the importance of these questions. Interviewers use it to get an insight into your personality and to assess how you fit into the company culture.
A sample answer to the question ‘Tell me about yourself‘:
I’m a creative and innovative marketing manager with ten years of work experience managing all facets of the marketing process. This goes from tracking and analyzing project performances to managing budgets and ensuring all materials are in line with the demands of the client.
In the last five years, I have spent developing my skills as a manager for ABC Marketing, where my team and I won several awards for exceeding our performance goals. Over those last five years, I have been promoted twice. Personally, I love what I do, and I enjoy working as part of a team to help clients with their marketing needs.
Even though I like my current position, I feel that I’ve come to a point where I’m ready to take on a new challenge. This opportunity is a logical step for me to further advance my career, and I’m excited to be here to discuss it with you today.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The answer starts with a concise summary of your background and the different kinds of experience you have.
- Next, a short description of your experience is given together with your proof of professional performance.
- It’s a strong finish that’s to the point and positive. Furthermore, it emphasizes why you think this position is the right step in your career.
Note: Based on your statements, you can always expect follow-up questions. Make sure that you are able to explain how and why the position you’re interviewing for fits into your career plan and goals.
Revealing work style, strengths, and weaknesses
For interviewers, personal interview questions are great to reveal your preferred work style and your strengths and weaknesses. These types of questions are open-ended. This basically means that you cannot answer those questions with just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The main reason for asking open-ended questions is to get a sense of your personality in your work in your own words. Furthermore, your answers indicate how you will fit into the culture of the company.
When the interviewer asks you about your work style, strengths, and weaknesses, there are a couple of things you should take into account. First off, focus on the job description. This means that no matter what your answer is, you need to make sure that it’s focused on the required skills, abilities, and experience for the job you’re interviewing for. When appropriate, give the interviewer an example of a work experience to give your answer more weight. For instance, if the interviewer asks you a performance-based question or behavioral interview question about how you handled a specific situation, you can answer by explaining a time when you actually solved a problem at work in the past.
Discussing Strengths and Weaknesses
When asked about your strengths, you can answer in several ways. However, the main point to focus on for you is to put yourself in the best light possible. Don’t exaggerate, but focus on a particular strength that is directly related to the position and provide an example situation of a time you used that specific strength at work. The most efficient way to structure your answer is by using the STAR interview technique. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got from your actions.
The interviewer is looking for evidence that you possess the required skills for the job you’re interviewing for. This means that it’s essential for you to match the skills you possess to the ones they are looking for. During your preparation, you can write down a list of your strengths and align them with those required for the position. Most of the time, you can find these in the job description. These can consist of soft skills, hard skills, or professional experiences. Examples of skills are analytical skills, communication skills, teamwork, leadership, time management, etc. Once you have created a list of strengths, you can write down situations in which you have successfully used each skill.
A sample answer to the question ‘What is your greatest strength?‘:
‘I noticed that the position requires dependability and flexibility as required skills. I have very strong time management and organization skills that allow me to work efficiently under tight deadlines under pressure. For example, in my current job, my manager asked me a couple of months ago to take on a current project of a colleague who suddenly left the company.
The project’s deadline was within two weeks, and it took me some time to read into the matter. I used the first two days to get a thorough understanding of the work already done and the requirements of the project. Next, I made a structured planning file for each day leading up to the deadline and the work required for it to be finished on time. It took me some long workdays, but I eventually managed to finish the project in time according to the requirements and quality standards of our client.’
Why this is a strong answer
- The answer mentions your strong skills that, in this case, are perfectly tailored to those requested in the job description.
- Claims about strengths are backed up by a clear example in this answer, which gives it more weight and makes it more convincing.
- It’s short, concise, and to the point.
Note: This is a general example. Make sure you tailor your own answers to your situation to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job!
When asked about your weaknesses, there are a couple of specific elements to consider. The most important one is that you should not mention a weakness that will raise doubts about your ability to perform the job. Therefore, always discuss a non-essential skill and also explain how you have improved or plan on improving that specific skills. In other words, you need to find a way and prepare an answer that turns negative in a positive.
The reason for interviewers to ask about your weakness is to assess whether or not you’re qualified to do the job. Basically, they are looking for indicators that demonstrate that you’re able to handle new challenges and learn from your experience. Instead of regarding this as a trick question, you can use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your suitability. However, this does require some preparation. Make sure you prepare an answer to these questions prior to your interview.
A sample answer to the question ‘What is your greatest weakness?‘:
‘My greatest weakness is that I’m a bit of a shy and nervous person. This results in that I sometimes find it difficult to speak in groups. However, I decided to turn this into a positive, and I’m currently taking classes to improve my public speaking skills to become a confident and compelling speaker.
As I progress in my career, I’ve realized that if I want to become a well-rounded professional, I have to sharpen my communication skills as well. Whether I’m talking in a team meeting or presenting in front of an audience, I have to speak publically more often as I progress in my career.
By developing these skills to an expert level, it will give me more confidence and will make me more productive as well. My current goal is to go from being an average speaker to a great speaker.’
Why this is a strong answer
- This answer demonstrates self-awareness. It admits an actual weakness, which is very common; public speaking.
- Besides mentioning a weakness, the answer addresses what you’re currently doing to improve your weakness. In this case, specific public speaking classes will help you become a more confident speaker.
Note: This is just a general answer; make sure that you tailor your own answers to your situation. Also, if a job requires strong public speaking skills, this is not a weakness to go with.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know From You
Personal job interview questions are great to uncover your suitability for the position. As discussed earlier, the interviewer wants to uncover who you are and find out in which work environments you are most likely to thrive. Hiring managers want to get a more in-depth insight into your personality and how you interpret yourself.
Interviewers are interested in what excites you in your work, but also how you handle stress and pressure. Furthermore, they want to figure out whether or not you like to work as part of a team or rather work individually. In general, personal interview questions are used to assess your soft skills, such as teamwork, flexibility, adaptability, and creativity.
Personal interview questions are used to reveal your:
- Work ethic
- Team spirit
- Openness to criticism
Make sure that you are able to discuss the following elements during your interview:
Background and Expectations
It’s very likely for the interviewer to discuss your background, such as your education and why you chose a specific major. Furthermore, the interviewer wants to know about your past expectations. For instance, what your expectations were for your previous job, and to what extent those expectations were met. The reason for asking this is to assess whether or not your expectations were reasonable and how the position worked out for you. Another reason to discuss job expectations is to find out if your current expectations match the responsibilities for the job that you’re interviewing for.
It’s important to realize that there are no right or wrong answers when discussing job expectations. However, even though you should be honest, specific about what you expect and positive about the role, avoid negativity, or setting unrealistic expectations. Doing so could hurt your chances of landing the job.
A sample answer to a question about ‘your expectations for the position and your previous job’:
‘In my previous job, my expectations were based on what was described in the job description and during my interviews. The main expectation was to get an opportunity to develop myself as a marketing professional. Over the last four years, I was able to develop my communication skills and gain a solid understanding of analytics and inbound marketing.
These expectations were met, and I became the supervisor of my team and trainer for new interns. I believe that my experience and skills as a team manager allow me to make a positive difference as a manager at your organization. I’m really looking forward to taking on this challenge and further advance my career and knowledge level.’
Why this is a strong answer
- The answer directly answers the question in a short and concise manner. It’s a specific and positive answer.
- Furthermore, it’s an honest answer that connects your achievements at a prior position and what you would be able to provide the employer if they hire you for the position you’re interviewing for.
Possible follow-up questions:
- What do you expect from a supervisor?
- How do you evaluate success?
- What would be your dream job?
Self-awareness is your ability to recognize your own emotions and internally evaluate yourself. Your core values are your personal values that guide you when making decisions and performing work. The interviewer wants to find out whether or not your beliefs, ideals, and practices in your work match what the company is looking for. Questions about your job performance and achievements give the interviewer more insights into your core values.
For interviewers, candidates who are talented and highly skilled but have low-self awareness are so-called red flags. If a candidate does not have the ability to recognize how their attitude and actions impact others, this could lead to undermining a collaborative environment. Furthermore, it could prevent them from developing the resilience needed to bounce back from challenging situations or failures.
Candidates who do possess the right amount of self-awareness are aware of how their emotions impact their actions and influence others. Furthermore, they are also more likely to fix those issues when they occur. In turn, this leads to fewer conflicts in the workplace, better communication, and teamwork. You can imagine why a healthy dose of self-awareness is important for hiring managers when assessing your suitability for the job.
One way for interviewers to assess your self-awareness is by asking reflective questions such as ‘Tell me about a time you received criticism for your work. How did you respond?‘
A sample answer to how you deal with criticism:
‘Like everyone else, I have received constructive input from my managers that really helped me improve myself as a professional. For example, I worked on a project for several weeks that turned out to need some revision before it could be submitted because the clients’ requirements were not fully met.
My manager sat down with me and walked me through the plan of action that was made before the project kick-off. I misinterpreted some information, and instead of double-checking, I decided to go with what I thought was required.
After listening carefully to the pointers she gave me, it became clear to me what changes I could make to improve the quality of the final report. I made the necessary adjustments and was able to turn in the report on time and according to the requirements of our client.
I’m eager to learn and listen, especially to people who have already been in my position. Feedback, in general, helps me become better and stronger as a professional. Different views, perspectives, and experiences help me improve my career and skill set.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- This answer directly answers the question of how you deal with criticism. The most important thing is to professionally answer the question without showing that discomfort. Everybody gets critique every once in a while, and the interviewer knows this too. However, it’s about how you handle criticism, and this question is used to uncover just that.
- It demonstrates self-awareness through the fact that you are able to admit a mistake that you made by not double-checking something you were not sure of.
- The answer shows that you are able to learn from a mistake and that you take matters into your own hands to solve any problems.
During the job interview, the hiring manager will want to get an idea of what kind of worker you are. It’s therefore likely that you are asked about your work ethic. A candidate with a strong work ethic is always a requirement for a hiring manager. The main reason for this is because candidates who possess extensive relevant work experience and the right skills still won’t be a valuable asset for a company unless they exhibit a strong work ethic.
By asking to describe your work ethic interviewers try to get an idea of your fit and what you’re most likely to be as an employee. For example, do you have a 9-to-5 mentality, or are you willing to go the extra mile? Are you a team player or do you rather work alone?
Another way to assess your work ethic is by asking behavioral interview questions. Examples are:
- Tell me about a time you went above and beyond to get your work done.
- What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?
A strong work ethic is frequently associated with taking initiative, being reliable, determined and team-oriented. These competency areas include solving problems, delivering what you promised on time, and the willingness to go the extra mile for your team. Therefore, the answer you give to this common job interview question can reveal a lot about your personality. It’s therefore important that you give specific key characteristics that will help you successfully perform the job that you’re applying for.
To give your answer more weight, you can use specific examples of times you have successfully demonstrated those characteristics. The most efficient way to do this is by using the STAR interview technique, as described earlier in the article. This means describing the situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got from your actions.
A sample answer to the interview question ‘describe your work ethic’:
Below an example answer to describe your work ethic is given. It has already been written according to the format of the STAR interview technique.
‘Im an enthusiastic and dedicated team player determined to get the job done. For example, when just I started with my current employer, I was asked to work with a small team on a marketing pitch deck for a new client. We got the project because of our reputation and ability to take on the project on short notice. It was a great opportunity for me to show what I was capable of doing.
The company had been using the same pitch decks for years and I saw an opportunity to not just create the deck, but manage the process more efficiently and reinvent the way the decks were developed.
I talked to my manager and senior team members about what the requirements were and what worked for them and what they considered as inefficient and outdated about the current decks. Then, I used my experience of creating pitch decks to make the necessary improvements, including automating processes of importing important statistics from spreadsheets. This made the process of creating a pitch deck more efficient and made it easier to visualize important data for our clients.
When I introduced the new pitch deck templates to the manager and team they were thrilled. Based on my new template the time to develop a pitch deck was reduced by over 20%. More importantly, our client liked the new layout as well which gave them quicker insights into important data. Furthermore, I got great feedback from my director which led to a great performance review that year.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The answer is a specific and concise overview that backs up what you claim. It shows that you take the initiative that led to a positive result for your team/company.
- A concrete result is discussed, which gives the answer more weight and makes it more powerful.
- Positive feedback from your manager and client is included. It’s always a plus if you can discuss great feedback from your supervisors and clients.
Red Flags for Interviewers Discussing Personal interview Questions
There are a couple of things that you should avoid when discussing personal interview questions. Below we discuss some red flags for interviewers.
Just like you expect professional behavior of the interviewer, they expect you to give professional and well-thought-out answers too. This means that you need to do your homework prior to your interview to ensure that you are able to answer frequently asked interview questions. If the interviewer gets the idea that you’re not taking the interview seriously this could significantly hurt your chances of getting the job. In other words, making an unprofessional impression is a warning sign for any interviewer.
Furthermore, asking questions back is just as important – an interview is supposed to be a two-way street, not an interrogation. Also, make sure that you prepare answers to interview questions that you expect based on your research. Relate your answers to the job requirements and ensure that your answers highlight your qualities to demonstrate your suitability.
Lack of passion
If you come across as someone who has low energy or even negative energy level this can indicate the interviewer that you might not be engaged in your work. Hiring managers look for enthusiastic employees who are passionate about what they do and are able to discuss how a position fits into their career plan.
Too low or too high self-esteem
Every extreme is negative, whether it’s extremely low or extremely high self-esteem. Common interview questions are for example how you define success or what your biggest professional accomplishment was. If you have a hard time giving an answer or describing your success the interviewer coul interpret this is as a lack of professional experience or low-self esteem. Needless to say these are both considered warning signs, especially for more senior positions.
On the other hand, if you come across too confident, this can be interpreted as arrogant or dishonest. This can, for instance, be the case if you exaggerate your accomplishments in your career. Interviewers are trained to notice if you’re not telling the truth or if you’re exaggerating. They will ask you follow-up questions to get more information and try to verify your story. If you can’t back up your claims, this is also considered a warning sign.
Your goal is, of course, to make a strong impression during a job interview. The interviewer knows this as well and if you’re a good candidate you will probably come prepared to answer common job interview questions. This does not mean that you should prepare ‘generic’ answers that you recite when the interviewer asks you a question. Make sure you prepare strong answers and prepare them enough so that you can specifically explain how you, for instance, have used a required skill for the position you’re interviewing for.
Frequently Asked Personal Interview Questions
Below you can find commonly asked performance-based interview questions:
- Could you tell us about what interested you in this job and why you believe you make a good candidate?
- Tell me a bit about yourself.
- What do you think are your greatest strengths? Could you give an example of how you have used those strengths in a work setting?
- Describe your most creative solution to an organizational problem. Tell me about the situation, the actions you took, and what the outcome was.
- How have you motivated others?
- What do you dislike about your current position?
- Tell me about the most challenging situation you have faced at work.
- What do you consider your greatest weakness? How do you plan on improving those weaknesses?
- Tell me about a situation in which you were responsible for getting others to make a change. Tell me about the situation, the actions you took, and what the outcome was.
- What are your career goals?
- To what position in this company do you want to move next?
- What have you done to improve yourself over the last year?
- Tell me about a time you were on a team project that failed.
- Describe a time when you used good judgment and decision-making skills to solve a problem.
- What motivates you?
Other frequently asked personal job interview questions
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What is your ideal company culture?
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a superior. How did you resolve the situation?
- What do you like about your current job?
- What’s your approach to delegating work to employees?
- Do you prefer to work alone or within a team?
- What professional achievement are you most proud of?
- How do you deal with criticism?
- Tell me about a time you went above and beyond to achieve something.
- Do you have any questions for me?
Tips to Prepare Answers to Personal Interview Questions
There are a couple of steps you can take to prepare yourself for personal interview questions. The more you prepare, the more confident you will feel during the actual interview.
Every interview preparation starts with doing your homework. Thoroughly research the job description and company. This way you can identify and write down the required competencies, skills, abilities, and work experience for the position you’re interviewing for.
Come up with success stories
Based on the list of required competencies, skills and abilities you have created you can make an educated guess of which questions you can expect about them. Next, based on the questions you think you’re likely to get asked you can start preparing answers.
Create a list of past work experiences that highlight successful situations in which you demonstrated behavior related to the competencies, skills, and abilities required for the position. Focus on delivering concise and to-the-point answers. The most efficient way to do this is by using the STAR interview technique.
Prepare successful example situations and challenging ones
Being able to discuss successful situations is just as important as being able to discuss challenging situations. Make sure that you have some examples ready of work situations in which you faced a challenge but came out on top. Explain to the interviewer what you did in that particular situation, why you did it, and what the result was. Furthermore, discuss what you learned from the situation.
Focus on demonstrating problem-solving ability, adaptability, and ability to professionally approach and handle situations that require integrity. It’s likely that the interviewer will ask follow-up questions. They do this to assess your self-awareness by asking how you might handle a similar kind of situation differently now.
Use the STAR technique to structure your answer
If the interviewer asks you a performance-based or behavioral questions he or she wants you to provide them with an example of a real-life situation in which you used the skill or experience as described in the question. An example of such a question is ‘describe your most creative solution to an organizational problem. Tell me about the situation, the actions you took, and what the outcome was.‘
The STAR interview technique allows you to concisely provide the interviewer with an answer that’s logically structured. It’s a step by step method that logically walks the interviewer through a situation. Below we discuss the STAR method in more detail.
Practice makes perfect. Reciting an answer from your memory will get noticed by the interviewer. Practice enough so that you make your answers seem natural.
STAR Interview Technique
The most efficient way to prepare answers to performance-based and behavioral job interview questions is by structuring your answers to questions that you expect based on your research, according to the STAR interview technique.
By using the STAR method, you can give an answer that includes exactly what the interviewer is looking for. Furthermore, it allows you to convey a concise answer to convince them that you’re the right candidate for the job. Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
Start your story by explaining the situation that you faced. The start of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What was the situation?
- Who was involved?
- Why did the situation happen at that time?
It’s important to provide context around the situation or challenge. Furthermore, make sure to provide relevant details.
Next, explain your specific role in the task ahead. Include important details, such as specific responsibilities. Focus on giving the interviewer an understanding of your task. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- Why were you involved in that specific situation?
- What’s the background story?
After you describe your task, it’s time to specifically discuss the actions you took to resolve the situation. Give the interviewer a step by step description of the actions you took. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- What steps did you take to resolve the situation you were in?
- Why did you choose to complete your tasks this way?
Finish your answer by discussing the results you got from your actions. Detail the outcomes of your actions and ensure to highlight your strengths. Also, make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Focus on positive results and positive learning experiences. This part of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What exactly happened?
- What did you accomplish?
- How did you feel about the results you got?
- What did you learn from the situation?
- How did this particular situation influence who you are as a professional today