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Old 09-03-2012, 02:52 PM
Soviet Soviet is offline
Join Date: Aug 2012
Posts: 377
Default Common Interview Questions: Prep

I'm not sure if people will find this useful or not, but I have an interview this coming week and went about collecting a list of common questions to familiarize myself with and prepare for. I didn't find this info on the entry level advice thread so I figured it would help some people to compile a list. Some of it comes from a thread in the other actuary forum, others come from random internet web pages. Feel free to contribute if something is missing.

Most of the stuff is copy/pasted and suggested responses aren't from myself.


1. Tell me about yourself.

Most people get tongue-tied on this one. For one thing, they don’t know where to start. Should you go back to childhood? Should you discuss your personal life? Should you give dates? Here use the rule of thumb, “Stick to business,” and emphasize anything pertinent to the particular Job you’re interviewing for. Consider this appropriate answer (but make sure yours matches your situation!): “I am dependable and a quick learner, I have two-years’ experience as an analyst I’m looking for a company that will give me an opportunity to use my skills while helping the company achieve its goals.”

2. Where do you see yourself one year from now? or what are your career goals?

Most people will respond with an honest answer such as, “I want to grow and advance with the company. I’m ambitious and eventually want to be in management, moving up the corporate ladder.” That sounds OK, until you put yourself in the employer’s position. He or she is thinking, “This person wants to advance too quickly,” or, “This person wants my job.” Or perhaps, “This person is not willing to do the job for which we are interviewing for as long as we need them in that position.” Employ this rule of thumb: Be honest, but be generic. Consider: “After a year with the company, I’ll probably be looking for additional responsibility because I’m a person who enjoys a challenge. I would like to be paid accordingly for that responsibility but most importantly. I’m looking for a company I can be with for years to come.”

3. What do you expect from a job?

Be honest, but remember that growth and advancement are taboo. “I expect to be given respect as an employee and as a person. I like to feel appreciated when a job is well done.”

4. What is your best quality? or what is your greatest asset?

Use a quality that would be beneficial to the employer for this job. For instance, if it’s a management position, your best quality could be “motivating others,” “delegating” or “being fair.” If you’re applying for a receptionist position, your answer could be “my telephone skills” or “a warm and patient personality.”

5. What is a quality you need to develop? or what is your worst quality?

This question calls for a positive negative: “I’m a perfectionist. I always want things done perfectly, although I realize I have to allow others to make mistakes.” Or, “I’m always early for appointments instead of just being on time, and sometimes people aren’t prepared.”

6. What would you consider an ideal job for you?

If possible, be general. The moment you get specific, you limit yourself. Take, for example, a specific answer such as, “I would be working independently with numbers and learning a new computer system.” A safer answer would be: “My ideal job would be a position where I feel I am contributing and productive, and where I’d be learning new things about my job and the company.”

7. Give two reasons why I should hire you.

Employers want to hear words such as “loyal,” “dependable,” “team player,” “efficient,” “workaholic,” “dedicated, “organized,” “effective.” Be careful, however, to only use words that truly apply. Otherwise you start off on the wrong foot, trying to be something you are not. You can become more specific when your qualities or technical abilities match the position: “I could increase company profit and productivity in six months with my production scheduling experience and management skills.”

8. What do you know about our company? What can you do for us?

Do your homework. Quite often the local library or Better Business Bureau can provide valuable information about a company. But do make an effort, even if you have to do it in the waiting room by asking the receptionist questions such as, “How many employees does the company have?” “How long has the company been in business?” “Are there other companies with similar goals?” Employers are impressed when you care enough to check them out. They then know you are sincere about looking for a permanent home for yourself. Then you can respond to this question intelligently: “I’m eager to learn more, but I do know the company was founded in 1946 by the Saunders family, that you now have three divisions in two states, that you have more than 6,000 employees, and that you pride yourselves on service. Providing top-notch service is certainly part of my philosophy, and that’s one of the reasons I feel I will fit in well here.”

9. What kind of salary are you looking for?

This is the most dreaded question of all and yet one of the most important. There are two good responses:
-- I have been interviewing for positions ranging between $_________ and $_____. However, finding the right company is really most important to me because I plan to be with that company a long time.”
-- Or: “I’m currently at $______, so I’d like to at least make a lateral move. Finding the right company for my future, however, is what is most important to me.”
Both of these responses give a figure, but they also show some flexibility so you don’t lose out on an opportunity because of miscommunication. Your goal is to get the offer. You can always accept or reject it, but without an offer, you don’t have a decision.

10. Would you consider less?

Respond with a question.
-- “When are your salary reviews?”
-- “What figure did you have in mind?”
-- “A lot depends on your benefit package. Could you explain that to me?”
Notice how asking a question gets you out of the “hot seat” and back in control.

11. What have you done that shows initiative?

Choose something that will exhibit an ability you’d use in the position you are interviewing for, such as: “I read the computer tutorial and documentation at home and taught myself the new software package the company just purchased.”

12. Who has influenced your life?

Be prepared with the name of your mentor or idol and the reason their influence has made a difference so you aren’t caught off guard. For example: “Armand Hammer, the industrialist, has set an example for me. He not only made a fortune through brilliant business deals, he also influenced our world through, diplomacy, I didn’t always agree with his beliefs, but I do admire the way he worked to make the world a better place for all people.”

13. How do you define success?

You may have your own answer for this one but if not, here are a couple that are sincere and to the point:
-- “Success to me is doing exactly what makes me happy.”
-- “Success is feeling good about myself”
-- “Success is setting personal goals and attaining them.”

14. What major problems have you faced in your career, and how have you solved them?

Once again, if you have had a major problem, try to be general. For Instance, if you had trouble with your boss and finally quit, you might say: “I worked with someone who had different principles and standards, and I learned that sometimes you have to walk away from a situation in order to grow personally. This was especially tough for me, because I’m usually persistent and very loyal”

15. Which is more important to you: the money or the type of job?

Straddle this one: “Both, to a degree. If I’m not happy doing a particular job, then no amount of money would be sufficient. If, however, the money is right but I’m bored or just not feeling good about myself, then the money doesn’t matter in the long run.”

16. Why have you held so many (or so few) jobs in the past six years?

If this applies, be prepared. If you’ve moved or been transferred, your situation might be obvious, but the potential instability could cost you the job. So, whatever the reason for job hopping, reassure the employer that your No. 1 goal at this time is stability. “I know it may look like I’m a job hopper, but there were a lot of circumstances beyond my control. The most important thing for me right now professionally is stability in both the company and my position.”

17. What did you like most about your last job?

This answer should fit the job for which you’re applying. In other words, don’t say, “a Fortune 500 atmosphere” if interviewing with a small company. Or, don’t say, “interaction with co-workers” If the job requires you to work alone, try something such as: “I enjoy paying attention to detail, the fast pace and the team atmosphere.”

When answering the second part of this question, don’t say, “managers,” “my boss,” “my co-workers” or anything else that puts down the company. The interviewer will immediately picture you saying something similar about this company the next time you’re in the job market, so once again say something such as:
-- “It’s more than 20 miles from my home.”
-- “There wasn’t enough work to keep me busy.”

18. What did you like most about your last manager?

Again, be careful about being negative. For the first part of the question, consider: “She was very challenging.”
“I would have liked more feedback on the job I was doing.”

19. Why did you leave?

Be truthful, but if it’s too negative, such as you had a personality conflict, think of another way to say it. “I felt I had stagnated professionally and, after discussing the situation with my boss, we both felt I would have more opportunity with another company, it was a mutual parting.” If you quit or were terminated and there was new management, you could also mention that there was a lot of turnover at that time.

20. Why did you move?

Instead of saying, divorce, death or sortie other negative that reveals your personal life (which is no one’s business), it’s best to say:
-- “I felt there are more opportunities here,”
-- “I was seeking better weather,”
-- “I wanted to be closer to family members.”
-- “I was seeking a more dynamic community.”

It helps to go through these questions with someone else or even alone just so you get used to hearing your voice. You’ll learn to articulate the questions you seem to fumble over, and you’ll become much more comfortable with them—and yourself. When you’re preparing for and finally in the interview, keep in mind that there are many different ways to ask the same question. If, however, you are prepared with the basic responses and realize that both parties want the same things (appreciation, stability, team orientation, dependability and loyalty), you will do very well on your interview.



Tell me about yourself.
Why do you want to be an actuary?
How did you study for your exams?
Why haven't you taken/passed exams yet?
What were your scores on these exams?
Tell me about a time where you had to work hard to achieve your goals.
Tell me about a time when you worked in a group and:
had a member that was difficult to work with.
What do you do in (organization/activities on resumé).
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years from now.
What are your goals in life?
Why should I hire you/ Why do you want to work for (our company).
What do you do in your free time?
What do you think about (some current event).
Do you consider yourself a team worker or an individual worker?
Tell me about a time when you were the leader of a project/demonstrated leadership.
How familiar are you with Excel and Access?
What languages can you program in?

How much do you want to make. tell them you are looking more at the opportunity, company, chances for advancement than the money.

Some employers will want to know that you will want to "remain" where the job is located. Many people move back to their roots and employers look for people who won't want to relocated after a year or so. They might ask where you grew up or why you want to live in there.

What are your computer skills. find out what they use beforehand, give examples of projects you have worked on, spreadsheets, writing macros in excel, programming in c, sas, etc. are all good to have

Tell me what an actuary does.

They may test your thinking ability For example, How many gas stations are in texas? - go through the logic of figuring that many people, so many cars, so many miles trips to the gas station, etc.

Why did you choose to be an actuary. tell of your love and passion for math, solving problems, etc.
What was your biggest mistake. they want to know how you dealt with it
What was your biggest success. they want to know you did something you were proud of
How do you deal with difficult people
How do you handle a situation when you think you are right but your boss tells you differently
What activities have you been involved in? they want to see that you are well rounded, socialable, etc.
Do you work better individually or in a group? they want to make sure you can do both
When can you start find out what they are looking for first, then answer.
Have you had any jobs while in school?

More Part 2

Introductory Questions

Why have you applied for the position? What attracted you to this position?
What skills do you think you can bring to this position?
What would you describe as your strongest/weakest skills?
Whatdo you understand the role and responsibilities of the (position title) to be?
What do you see as being the key challenges and opportunities of the role in delivering a range of services for the University and Division?
What would be your major priorities in the first few weeks in the position?
Why are you the best person for the job?
What’s the place of the ___ unit within The University of Melbourne? Challenges, priorities? With reference to the University’s strategic plan?
Anything to add in support of your application?
How does this position fit in with your career plans and do you have a leaning towards a particular area (if role includes various components).
Describe an example of when you worked the hardest and felt the greatest sense of achievement?
What do you like most about your current position?
What do you like least about your current position?

Interpersonal & Liaison Skills

As you can see from the Position Description, this position requires liaison with staff at different levels of seniority. Can you describe a time when you have had to liaise with staff at different levels, what the project was, how you handled this, and what the outcome was?

What skills do you believe are important for dealing effectively with customers? Describe an example when you displayed/utilised these skills. What was the result?

Please describe a situation where you chose to involve others to help solve a problem. What was the problem and how did your action help?

How do you go about developing rapport with customers, suppliers, people from other parts of the organisation etc?

We all work at times with people whom are hard to get along with. Tell me about a time when you found your self having to work with a particularly difficult person. How did you handle it?

Have you ever had to persuade someone to accept your point of view or proposal? Can you give an example of how you did so?

What steps do you take to ensure clients comprehend the information provided by you?

Can you tell us an example of when you had to provide an instant response which required you to think on your feet in a situation that really counted?

In this role, relationships internally and externally will be vital. Describe how you go about establishing and building relationships and if there is any difference in style required for different client groups. Why?

In implementing a strategy, some areas of the University may have some strategies in place already, but others will not. Describe some examples of how you have bought buy in from a reluctant group or from a green field site.

What experience have you had in tailoring and developing a training program and in the delivery of that program?

If you took an online logic exam
(such as the Watson-Glaser™ II Critical Thinking Appraisal)

Do your research! Look on glass door to see if the company asks questions from a 'packet.' The W-G test in particular has a grouping of behavioral questions that the company may use. Do research to see if you can find some information on an example interview they have online. Here is one I've found.

Assumptions Section
Time When…
1. Had to make some assumptions to come to an important decision
2. Made different assumptions than someone else
3. Someone challenged an assumption you made
4. Someone wanted to take an important action based on unreasonable assumptions
5. You created a backup plan in case your initial plan was based on assumptions that didn’t hold
6. You identified a risk in someone’s plan or strategy

Arguments Section
Time when…
1. You were presented with information intended to persuade you on a important issue.
2. Had to consider information that was opposed to your own views on an issue
3. You had to evaluate and consider an idea even though it was controversial
4. You needed to evaluate the quality of certain information before making an important decision
5. You had to determine what information was relevant and irrelevant to an issue
6. You were presented with a lengthy, detailed argument intended to persuade you

Conclusions Section
Time when…
1. You had to make an important decision that would have significant consequences
2. You had to make an important decision based on limited information
3. You had to make an important decision, and your information suggested multiple approaches
4. You needed to deal with a large amount of information to make an important decision
5. You thought it was necessary to gather more information before making an important decision
6. You were presented with information that convinced you to change your position on an issue

“Probes” (all three may be asked for any given question above)
What was the situation, what was my role in this situation?
What did I do in the situation, was it effective or ineffective?
What were the direct results of your behavior, how did others impact those results?

Questions to ask at the end of interview

it is always good to ask about the actuarial exam student program

Also it's good to ask what is the biggest challenge the actuarial department has had to tackle in the last year.

It is good to ask about why or what led to the position becoming available

If not apparent, ask about the work environment, if more projects are split between group members or is it more like each person does his/her own thing

Ask if most of the work involves large projects or many short-term projects.

Pick any 2 or 3 among these and you should be fine, and show confidence

An Excellent Source
This web page was posted here by another person recently. I just had to include the link in this thread because of how much it covers.

Last edited by Soviet; 09-19-2012 at 10:00 PM.. Reason: more questions added, make it easier to read
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Old 09-03-2012, 03:02 PM
Fenex Fenex is offline
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Posts: 103

While being specific can be limiting, I'd imagine that being too general can be equally detrimental. There has to be a certain level of 'this person is the right fit for this job.'

Saying something generalized to the effect of 'I want a job where I can work hard and be productive' can quickly turn into saying something without really saying anything IMO.

Cudos on the write-up. Definitely some good advice in there.
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Old 09-03-2012, 03:06 PM
Soviet Soviet is offline
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Yeah and I don't know about the 'positive negative' thing. i think every employer under the sun is sick and tired of people saying "my greatest weakness is im a perfectionist, blah blah."

I'd imagine that it's better to pose weaknesses that doesn't change your ability to do the job. What I was thinking some thing like

I can often be too cautious in my actions which can lead to adversity to risk taking and difficulty accepting rapid change. I try to rectify this by communicating with my supervisor when I have difficult situations or learning to trust my judgment more to make reasonable decisions based on the current situation.
But naturally others on this forum probably know of better examples
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Old 09-03-2012, 05:00 PM
Thumper. Thumper. is offline
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Definitely disagree with 3 and 5. Talking about growth/advancement aren't taboo. IMO the person interviewing you expects to be in a higher position down the line, so they shouldn't worry about you taking their job in 5 years.

With number 5, nobody wants to hear about how you work too hard. They want to hear about an actual weakness, but more importantly how you're working on improving this weakness. Showing that you are aware of said weakness, and are trying to improve is what you want to demonstrate.
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Old 09-03-2012, 05:14 PM
water water is offline
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Great post Soviet!

BTW, are you from the former Soviet Union or something?
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Old 09-03-2012, 06:03 PM
Soviet Soviet is offline
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Originally Posted by water View Post
Great post Soviet!

BTW, are you from the former Soviet Union or something?
Thanks, and no I just like the name for some reason
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Old 09-04-2012, 12:38 PM
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PhantomTollbooth PhantomTollbooth is offline
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Posts: 137

Great post, definitely bookmarked for future reference.

My only major issue with it is #5, what is your weakness/do you need to work on. If I heard someone say either of those answers, I would have to at least contain a giggle, if not my gag reflex. I'm sure those answers apply to someone that exists, but it comes of as disingenuous, or if you do happen to be that person, braggy and socially unaware. Now I've only been on the interviewer side in my current career as the student interviewer, so I suppose its possible management types would have differing opinions, but it seems unlikely.

I usually refocus the question less personally and more about the job. So something along the lines of, "I don't have much experience in your particular line of business, so I've been reading up about the industry to get a head start." or "I've noticed that in my last job that busy consultants weren't following my status report emails, so I've started to work on summarizing and order of communication to make sure the important facts are gleaned on a first quick read through." If they call me out on that and want something more personal and general, or if I get the impression that the first two answers would be met with disapproval, my goto would be: "I've always had to work hard at keeping my workflow organized, so I take special effort every week to make notes about what's due, and keep a very rigid file structure so I always know where previous versions and projects are. I'm continually looking for ways to improve that, in fact I borrowed an excel project workflow sheet from my internship and have adapted it to work generally so I can keep tabs on what needs done next."

Either way it has to be an actual problem, now it would be a mistake of course to present a problem and then just let it lie there, "I can't really get myself to care about quality" or "I can never make it to meetings on time" would be far worse than the canned opposite responses. But a real problem with a solution sounds much more appetizing, shows self awareness, and doesn't smell like bullshit.
Large Hadron Collider? I hardly know her!
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Old 09-19-2012, 09:50 PM
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Neutral Omen Neutral Omen is offline
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Yeah and I don't know about the 'positive negative' thing. i think every employer under the sun is sick and tired of people saying "my greatest weakness is im a perfectionist, blah blah."
From my limited knowledge of the interviewer perspective, I agree with this. The "perfectionist weakness" is probably the #1 google search result for that answer, so I think the interviewer will just take it as a personal insult to their intelligence.

Regarding "what do you want to do 5/10/20 years from now?", especially for 20 years out, when I look over a company's directory there is a pretty specific set of positions at the company for people who've been around that long. Should I use that to guide my answer? Really, I have no idea.

Originally Posted by mathmajor View Post
you are a visionary
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Old 09-20-2012, 09:29 AM
Interrogative Statement Interrogative Statement is offline
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Holy crap, that was a long post.
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Old 09-20-2012, 10:05 AM
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SweetSassyMolassey! SweetSassyMolassey! is offline
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Originally Posted by Soviet View Post
Yeah and I don't know about the 'positive negative' thing. i think every employer under the sun is sick and tired of people saying "my greatest weakness is im a perfectionist, blah blah."

I'd imagine that it's better to pose weaknesses that doesn't change your ability to do the job. What I was thinking some thing like

But naturally others on this forum probably know of better examples
" I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job."
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