Effective preparation and common questions

How do the words “job interview” make you feel? If it’s an equal mix of excited and petrified, you’re not alone. As with any skill, however, interviewing gets easier with practice. Start building your confidence here.

In this section

Preparing for job interviews

Job interviews play a sizeable part in your career path, so it’s worth investing time and energy into preparing for them. You’ll need to understand the requirements of each role and industry you’re interested in applying for, as well as how your skills and experiences meet those requirements.


And, of course, you’ll need to learn the different types of interview questions — and how to answer them to best communicate why you’re a great fit for your desired role, company and industry.


Do your research


There’s no confidence booster like being prepared, so don’t skimp on pre-interview research. It will inform your questions and answers, and it will help you appear diligent, engaged and well informed. Focus your efforts on:


The company: Look for news in the media and online. Read quarterly and annual reports to find out about a company’s business model. Read about its major clients, deals and key players.


The industry: Read about industry news and trends. Learn who the key competitors are and what factors affect the industry (e.g., interest rates, global supply chains, deregulation, etc.).


The job: Study the job posting to understand the key skills required. Talk to classmates and alumni who have done the same job — ask about the interview process, key skills, what a typical day is like, etc. Develop behavioural questions relevant to the role.


The interviewers: When you book an interview, ask whom you’ll be meeting with and for how long. Research each interviewer’s background online. They’ll be impressed that you took the time to learn about them.



    • Look up each interviewer on LinkedIn, but don’t invite them to connect.
    • Review their profile/experience, years at the company or in their current role, etc.
    • Check if you have any commonalities (school, interests, etc.) that you could mention to break the ice at the interview.



    • Google each interviewer’s name to see if they’ve published white papers or thought leadership articles, or if they’ve been quoted recently in the media, online or in journal articles.



Research resources

    • Milt Harris Library – Company Pages and Career Guides



Practice, practice, practice


Opportunities to practice interviewing include working with your Career Coach and participation in practice sessions organized by Career Services, clubs, etc. We also recommend you leverage the VMock Elevator Pitch platform to receive immediate, objective feedback driven by artificial intelligence regarding body language, eye contact, and voice quality. You can record yourself communicating your two-minute career story, or answers to interview questions you’ve selected (there are many suggested questions provided to you in the below sections!).   


Log on to the Elevator Pitch online platform using your Rotman e-mail address.  



The day of your in-person Interview


  • Dress professionally (a dark suit is appropriate) and be well groomed.
  • Avoid wearing perfume/cologne (many workplaces have a scent-free policy).
  • Pack a portfolio with:

– Notebook and pen

– Two copies of your resume

– Copy of the job posting

– Company phone number and address

– List of your references

– List of questions

– Business cards

  • Verify directions and details before you leave home.
  • Arrive 10 minutes early.
  • Have a mint before the interview.
  • Smile and make eye contact with your interviewer(s).
  • Shake hands firmly.
  • Silence or turn off your phone and any other devices.

Interview questions

Let’s look at a wide range of common interview questions. Start practicing early, and take advantage of Rotman’s many tools and resources.


  1. Introductory questions


The two questions recruiters often ask at the start of a job interview are “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume.” At first glance, these questions seem to invite similar answers. Don’t fall into that trap! As they listen to your answers, recruiters assess how well you synthesize information, how compelling a presenter you are, and what you’re choosing to share with them. Here’s how to make the most of your answers.


a) “Tell me about yourself.”


Your answer should be no longer than two minutes. It should focus on who you are as a professional — don’t tell your life story. Provide a high-level summary of who you are, what you’ve done and where you’d like to go in your career. (It helps if you’ve developed your personal brand and career story.)


Suggested answer format:

    • What I am doing/studying now
    • Relevant background information (previous jobs, degree, etc.)
    • Why I am interested in this opportunity


b) “Walk me through your resume.”


With this question, the recruiter is inviting you to summarize your educational and professional life thus far. It’s important to customize your answer to reflect the role and company you’re interviewing for.


You can start with where you did your undergraduate degree and then move on to your work/internship experiences. (Depending on your years of experience, it might make sense to start with your current position and work backwards — especially if the role you’re in now is the most directly transferable to the job you’re interviewing for.) For each experience, pick out one or two achievements that illustrate relevant abilities. For example, if you were being interviewed for a project manager role, you’d mention achievements that highlight your leadership and/or project management skills.


It is also crucial to explain why you made each transition in your professional life. Recruiters like to understand why people make decisions to leave employers, switch careers, go back to school, etc. Lastly, comment briefly on your extracurricular activities.


  1. Interest and motivation questions


a) Why are you interested in this role? / Why do you want to work for us?

b) Why [industry]?

c) Why should we hire you?


How to answer:

    • Demonstrate what you know about the company from readings, interactions with employees, etc.
    • Highlight “fit” between your skills/competencies and the position’s requirements and responsibilities.
    • Provide examples where you made a strong contribution through your work and the company benefited as a result.


  1. Behavioural questions


Behavioural questions help interviewers get to know you better and make inferences based on the premise that past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour. “Proof” of your potential is demonstrated through your descriptions of how you handled situations in the past.


To prepare for a behavioural interview, identify the key competencies of the role you’re interviewing for (e.g., leadership, problem solving, time management, teamwork, relationship building, persuasion, etc.). You can expect questions related to the skills and experience emphasized in the job description.


SAR responses

Think of specific examples in the last three to five years — whether at work, at school or through volunteering or extracurriculars — where you demonstrated those competencies. Frame your answers using the SAR response:


Situation – Outline the context and what was required.
Action – What steps you took (emphasize this part of your answer most).
Result – Was it a positive outcome? What did you accomplish or learn from this experience?


Your examples can include meetings, presentations, decisions, projects and interactions. Clearly state your role in each example (e.g., manager, lead, team member) and think about what you did, said, thought and felt during those situations. Prepare your responses in the SAR format using the Behavioural Prep Worksheet.


            Sample behavioural questions:


a) Tell me a time when you exhibited analytical thinking or solved an ambiguous problem.

b) Tell me a time when you exhibited leadership or initiative.

c) Tell me a time when you exhibited good communication or influenced others.

d) Tell me a time when you dealt with team conflict or project risk.

e) Tell me a time when you failed or overcame failure.


  1. Technical questions


These questions are role specific and typically quantitative, probing for specific knowledge and skills. For example, finance questions might include “How do you value a public company?” or “Describe three valuation methods.” To prepare, speak to industry-specific clubs for technical help.

Online resources at the Milt Harris Library

  • efinancialcareers
  • Vault
    • Vault Guide to Finance Interviews
    • Vault Career Insider (industry- and job function-specific interview guides)
    • To access Vault resources, create a Vault Campus account using your Rotman email address.


Online testing platforms for technical / coding tests:

Your Guide to Interview Questions by Job Function


This PDF contains interview questions for the following functions: Business Design, Commercial Banking, Consulting (internal and external), Corporate Banking, Equity Research, Investment Banking, Investment Management, Marketing, Risk, Sales, Sales & Trading, Supply Chain & Operations, and Technology. Also included: The SAR Method, The Recruiting Cycle, and How to Best Prepare for an Interview.


Download the guide.

  1. Situational questions


These are hypothetical scenarios that interviewers pose to assess your approach to problems, issues, processes, etc.


Scenario examples:


a) If you were faced with multiple tight deadlines, what would you do? How would you handle it?

b) What would you do if a subordinate or team member was performing below expectations?

c) In a team leadership role, you discover that a team member has gone over your head to propose an idea or complain about an issue without talking to you first. How do you handle the situation?


  1. Leadership questions


Interviewers may ask questions about your leadership abilities, such as:


a) Give me an example where you positively influenced the outcome of a project while not in a leadership position.

b) Describe a situation where you inspired others to meet a common goal.

c) Describe a situation where you had to ensure that your actions spoke louder than your words to a team.


  1. Market-related questions


The interviewer might try to gauge your understanding and knowledge of the industry and trends within it by asking for your opinion. Some examples are:


a) Where do you think the dollar is going?

b) Do you think the price of gold will go up or down?


  1. Case questions


These questions require solving problems on the spot. Usually the interviewer is trying to get a sense of your logical thought process, general business knowledge and acumen, comfort with quantitative analysis, creativity and communication skills. Depending on the industry, questions may focus on consulting cases or business cases.


Case interview resources



  1. “Zingers” a.k.a. tough questions


One of students’ biggest interview fears is the unanticipated question they can’t answer. Some interviewers will ask questions knowing they’re uncomfortable or challenging. Their intention isn’t to embarrass you. Rather, they want to see how you perform under pressure.


If you encounter a “stress question,” your best bet is to stay calm, diplomatic and positive in your response. Don’t get defensive. Answer the question as best you can. If you have no response, think for a few seconds, then smile confidently and, without apology, simply say, “I can’t answer that question.”


Below are 8 challenging questions you might face. Some might not apply to you, but consider how you would handle them.


a) What would you do if I told you that I thought you were giving a very poor interview today?

Interviewers ask stress questions like this to see how well you hold up under pressure. Stay calm and relaxed; don’t allow your confidence to be shaken. Acknowledge their concern, then ask them to unpack their statement and explain how they think you could improve.


b) If this were your first annual review with our company, what would I be telling you right now?

Focus on how your key strengths complement the job’s required skills.


c) How have you handled criticism of your work?

The interviewer is looking for an indication of your accountability and professional character. Describe a specific project or work habit that caused you a problem until you faced up to it and overcame it. Alternatively, you might describe a time you responded objectively and professionally to particularly harsh or unreasonable criticism of your work. Try to turn a negative into a positive, and avoid getting too personal. Keep your examples strictly within the context of work.


d) What might your last boss want to change about your work habits?

One good way to answer this question is to point out minor differences in preferences (your boss preferred doing things one way, and you another way, but you still completed your tasks). Alternatively, you might describe a weakness that you and your boss have worked on and improved.


e) Tell me about a time when your employer wasn’t happy with your job performance.

Again, discuss a relatively minor incident. Also, show a willingness to accept responsibility for the problem; don’t blame others or make excuses. Simply describe what happened and how you successfully resolved the situation.


f) Have you ever had to work with a manager who was unfair to you, or who was just plain hard to get along with?

Never, under any circumstance, criticize a current or former employer. The interviewer isn’t really interested in your former supervisor; they want to see how you speak about that person. Even if your negative claims are true, the interviewer may conclude that you don’t get along with people or that you shift blame to others. It’s best to choose an example that’s not too negative, touch upon it briefly and then focus the rest of your answer on what you learned from the experience.


g) Does the frequent travel required for this work fit into your lifestyle?

If you’re comfortable sharing information about your family situation, now is the time. The interviewer wants to know if you can travel as much as the job requires. Emphasize your flexibility, or explain why travel wouldn’t be a problem.


h) If you’re selected for this role, you’ll have less responsibility and power than you’ve had in the past. Will that be a problem for you?

The interviewer is trying to determine two things: your motivation for changing jobs, and the likelihood that you’ll be comfortable in a role with less responsibility than you’ve had before. Discuss your reasons for switching jobs, and show that you have a solid understanding of the position, company and industry.

Not OK: Inappropriate questions


Except for certain situations, interviewers are generally not allowed to ask questions about a candidate’s:

  • Race, place of origin or ethnic origin
  • Religion
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Marital and family status
  • Disability
  • Financial situation

Closing the interview

Prepare five or more questions to ask during the interview. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your interest and knowledge about the role and company, as well as interest in the interviewer’s job/career (people usually like to talk about themselves).


When asking your questions, follow these guidelines:


    • Don’t turn this opportunity into an interrogation. Keep your questions brief.
    • Ask questions that you’re fairly certain the interviewer can answer based on their level or position in the company.
    • Don’t ask about vacation or benefits. You can follow up after the interview with questions about the compensation package.


Here are examples of questions you might want to ask:


a) What attracted you to this organization?

b) What do you enjoy about working for the company?

c) Can you tell me about [aspect of company culture, e.g., values, priorities, approaches to teamwork]?

d) Could you describe the work environment?

e) Can you clarify [an aspect of the role]?

f) What do you consider to be the company’s strengths and weaknesses?

g) I read last week in/on [source] that the firm did ____________. Have you felt the impact of that in the local office?

h) What types of projects might I be working on?

i) What is the size of the team?

j) What do you see as the career progression for this role?

k) When can I expect to hear from you?


Wrap up the interview by expressing your appreciation, summarizing why you think you’re a good fit, and reiterating your interest in the role (many people forget to do this!). Always ask about the next steps in the recruiting process, and request a business card so you can follow up.

Interview follow-up

How you follow up after an interview can be critically important to your success. Write a thank you message via email or LinkedIn, and take the opportunity to:


  • Demonstrate why you’re an ideal candidate for the role
  • Reconfirm why you should be selected over other candidates
  • Reiterate your interest in the position


Get tips on writing thank you messages.

Regrouping after a difficult interview

Bad interviews do happen. In the moment, it can feel devastating, but don’t let a negative experience crush your confidence or derail your goals. Here’s what you can do:


    • Acknowledge your feelings. You may feel disappointed, frustrated, embarrassed, angry, sad or vulnerable.
    • Talk to someone, such as a classmate, a mentor or your Rotman Career Coach.
    • Write about the experience in a journal.
    • Think about what you’ve learned and how you can avoid the same issues in the future.
    • Follow up by sending the interviewer a thoughtfully composed thank you email. You might prefer to forget the whole incident, but sending a thank you message is common courtesy. It’s also your opportunity to apologize for specific mistakes or misunderstandings, provide information you forgot to mention, or explain any personal circumstances that distracted you at the time. Don’t be defensive, but do try to mend the relationship.
    • Don’t berate yourself or dwell on the experience. Mistakes offer valuable lessons. Onwards and upwards!

Panel interviews

Panel interviews are very common. They give interviewers an opportunity to observe you in a group setting and see how you interact with different personality types and communication styles. The panel may include a range of people who have a stake in the hiring decision, such as an HR representative, a hiring manager, a team member (peer) and someone from another department who would regularly interact with you.


During a panel interview, employers are looking to assess your:


  • Interaction with all panel members
  • Style of communication with people in different positions within the organization
  • Flexibility in communication
  • Ability to build rapport
  • Reactions to the stress of “rapid fire” questioning


Here’s how to prepare:


  1. Practice panel interviews.


Like all types of interviews, it’s important that you prepare for and practice panel interviews.

Invite your classmates to participate, or ask your Career Coach to coordinate a mock panel interview.


  1. Find out who’s on the panel.


Ask for the names and titles of everyone who will be on the panel. This will help you understand what will be important to each person.


At the interview, approach each person and introduce yourself while shaking their hand. Ask for business cards so that you can place them in front of you in the order in which the panel members are sitting. If they don’t have business cards, write their names on a piece of paper in the same order, and keep this in front of you during the interview. That way, you’ll know whom you’re addressing as you answer questions.


  1. Think about what they will ask.


Consider what questions people will ask, based on their role in the company. For example, an HR person may ask you broader questions such as why you’re interested in working for the company, or why you left a previous job. A hiring manager may ask you more technical questions to determine your ability to do the job, while a team member (peer) may focus on questions about your ability to work effectively in a team.


  1. Modify your communication style.


In an individual interview, you give answers directly to one person. In a panel interview, you should include the whole panel. First look directly at the person asking the question. Address your response to them, making eye contact. As you continue speaking, look at all the other panel members, to ensure each person feels included in the conversation. Keep scanning the whole panel, including the person who asked the question. You may feel drawn to one person over the others based on their personality or level of engagement, but everyone is there to assess your fit for the role and the company. Do your best to engage and connect with each person.


  1. Bring questions.


Prepare 3 to 5 questions to ask at the end of the interview. See if you can relate any of your questions to what was discussed. Adjust the types of questions you ask based on the individuals on the panel. For example, you could direct your questions about the job’s day-to-day activities to the team member. You could ask the hiring manager more strategic questions, and ask the HR person about the recruitment process. You could also ask all the panellists the same question, such as what they like most about working for the company. It can be helpful to hear different perspectives on the same topic! However, keep the number of questions to about five and be aware of the time. You may only have time to ask one or two questions. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re asking just for the sake of asking.


  1. Thank each person.


Send a thank you message to each panel member via email or LinkedIn. Try to reference something that stands out from your interactions with each person.

Video interviews

With video interviews being the norm these days, candidates should be comfortable with setting up the required technology and a suitable environment well in advance of doing interviews. Whether the video interview is one-way (conducted by an online platform) or two-way (conducted by a person), these tips will help you get ready and avoid glitches.


  1. Your username should be professional. We recommend using your first/preferred and last name.


  1. Download and test any required apps at least a day before (or check existing apps for software updates). Sign in about five minutes before your interview time. That should give you enough time to get set up and relax for a few minutes. Check that your camera and microphone are on.


  1. Dress appropriately —and not just from the waist up! Dressing professionally (including your shoes) will put you in the right mindset for your interview. Avoid wearing all white or all black, as cameras don’t adapt well to those colours. Also stay away from extremely bright colours and busy patterns such as pinstripes or herringbone. If you wear corrective lenses, you may want to invest in glare-resistant glasses or contacts so your eyes are clearly visible.


  1. Remove distractions by choosing a quiet location and closing doors and windows. Silence or turn off your cell phone, and close any computer applications that display notifications — they may interfere with the video interview platform. If any disruptions happen, apologize briefly and continue with the interview.


  1. Take a look at what’s behind you.You don’t want the interviewer to be distracted by your clutter, posters, roommates or pets. Showing your real setting can help build a connection with your interviewer(s), but if it’s not neat and tidy, consider using a virtual background.


  1. Position yourself in the middle of the screen, and if possible, show yourself down to your navel. Sit upright with your feet on the ground.


  1. Adjust your camera to eye level. A camera that is angled upwards or downwards isn’t flattering. Place a box or book beneath your laptop, if necessary.


  1. Look into the camera. It’s just like making eye contact with the interviewer(s). This may feel unnatural at first, but it will look better from the interviewer’s perspective. Try moving the window with the interviewer’s face right below your webcam.


  1. Set up good lighting. Your environment should be bright enough that you’re easy to see, but not so bright that you look pale. Natural light from the front is most flattering. To avoid odd shadows, try to light both sides of your face evenly.


  1. Test your microphone for volume and clarity. Built-in computer microphones may not reduce background noise, and they can make voices sound tinny and unclear. Consider investing in a stand-alone or lavaliere (clip-on) mic. On your end, using a headset or earphones may prevent the hollow sound that sometimes occurs in enclosed rooms.


  1. Smile! But not too much. Act just as you would at an in-person interview.

Learn more

Next steps


Next: Salary and negotiation