Top 10 Interview Questions for New Psychology Grads (and How to Answer Them)

Christina Wood
by Christina Wood   Career Advice Contributor 

You graduated with a degree in psychology and are preparing to interview for your first job in the field. As a student of psychology, the job interview is a great place to apply the principles you studied.

On the surface, you’ll be answering interview questions about your background, why you’re a fit and your desired career path. But body language, presentation, conversational style and the answers you choose will also affect the way the interviewer responds to you.

To help you prepare, here are 10 common psychology job interview questions and answers and actionable strategies for answering them.

1. Tell me about yourself

It’s tempting to ramble on about your hobbies, but the best answer focuses on why you are a great fit for this role. Choose a life story that leads directly to this job.

If you’re interviewing for a job in marketing, create a story arc that ends with you working in marketing.

You might say, “I studied psychology with the idea that I would be a therapist. But an engaging experiment in my marketing psychology class changed that. That experience showed me that I want to do marketing research.”

2. What interests you about psychology?

This question gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm for your specific field of study. Tell a story that shows your passion for the subject.

For example, “When I was 13, my older brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. My mother was overwhelmed, and I had no one to talk to. I look forward to working in social services to help families like mine.”

Your story doesn’t have to be as dramatic as this one, but try to give a compelling reason for your trajectory.

3. What was your focus of study?

You just spent at least four years studying for this question. If the job you’re interviewing for is in the same specialty, you have an entire realm of projects and coursework you can point to.

If it’s not as directly related, you should find a way to make your specialty relevant to this specific position. If you focused on forensic psychology, but this is a job in career counseling, explain why you are a fit. Did you learn something in an internship that applies well here? Does your ability to be investigative and focus on the details demonstrate relevant skills for the position? Translate your previous experiences and classwork to this role. You’ve thought about transferable skills already for your cover letter and other application materials, so remember that anecdote if you’re struggling in the moment.

4. What would your strengths be as an employee?

Before an interview, make a long list of your strengths. Then whittle that down to a dozen that apply directly to this job. Next, go through that list and eliminate those that are weak – I’m punctual ― or that everyone can claim ― I’m polite.

For the handful that remain, come up with a solid example that shines a light on why you are perfect for this role.

If you are applying for a job in public relations, you might say, “I’m an excellent writer. I wrote for the school paper and have published a few short stories.” Or, “I’m very social. I have a large social circle and stay in touch with a vast number of people through social media.”

5. What are your weaknesses?

Most people hate this question. It either causes embarrassment or they feel compelled to humblebrag. With a psychology degree, you have had more opportunity than most to identify your human frailties. The key to answering this question well is to show that you are self-aware enough to be on the path to overcoming whatever flaw you mention. Reflect on situations where you made a mistake but then fixed it and choose the most relevant; that will allow you to tell a strong anecdote in the interview.

6. Describe your communication style.

“One way to answer this is by demonstrating that you realize certain ways of communicating are better in certain situations,” says Brie Reynolds, a senior career specialist at FlexJobs. “For instance, explain how for quick, yes-or-no questions, email or IM is your go-to. For in-depth conversations, you prefer phone or in-person meetings.”

Before your interview, do some research to find out if the staff works in an office, from the road (as with sales) or at home, as each might affect your answer to these types of questions. A company with a large remote team might be concerned about bringing you up to speed on Slack or another communication tool. If you are familiar with any of those, mention them.

7. Tell about a time you resolved a conflict.

This question can take a lot of forms: “Tell about a time you disagreed with your boss,” or, “Tell me about a time you encountered a difference of opinion on a team.” These types of questions are another chance to demonstrate that you paid attention in psych class. Tell a story that ended in conflict resolution but show that you understood what you were doing throughout.

For example, if you’ve worked in hospitality, you might discuss a time when a customer was angry about an upcharge on their check. If a student group you were part of was stuck in an argument over an event they were planning, tell the interviewer how you helped mediate the situation.

8. What are your salary requirements?

Doing your research will make this question much less daunting. Check out websites like PayScale and Glassdoor to find out the pay range in your field for recent graduates. You might want to say you are flexible and avoid naming a number at all this early in the process, to push this question to a second interview or to ― hopefully ― job-offer negotiations.

9. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is so common that it’s become a joke, but you should take it seriously. Here is where you get to define your ambitions, which is a big deal for anyone who is about to invest a lot of money in you. Do not describe a future that does not include this company, even if you have no plans to stay five years. If you hope to be in graduate school or your own therapy practice by then, give a more general answer, such as, “I hope to have more research experience and be in a position to mentor people.”

If your ambitions are within the company, say so. Often the hiring manager is taking mental notes of new hires in the interview and will remember this when advancement opportunities arise.

10. Do you have any questions for me?

Here is your opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your homework. Ask questions specific to the operations of the company and your potential role in it, such as:

  • Are you the department head for market research?
  • Would I be working for you or someone else?
  • What does the career arc look like in the human factors lab?

Stay away from questions about benefits, time off and other perks. If you move forward in the process, there will be a time to ask those (important) questions. Leave the interviewer with the impression that you are curious and looking to grow in your career.

Study these psychology job interview questions and answers to give you an edge over other applicants in the interview process. And if you haven’t scored an interview yet, focus on making your resume and cover letter sharp and engaging. Try our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder to create application materials that will get you noticed.

About the Author

Career Advice Contributor

Christina Wood Career Advice Contributor

Christina Wood, a working writer for over a decade, has been a contributing editor or columnist for The Week, Family Circle, PC World, PC Magazine, Yahoo Tech, IT World, InfoWorld, Greatschools.org, USA Weekend and several other national publications. Her "Family Tech" column in Family Circle won a Min Award (in 2013) for best advice column. She has contributed to many other media properties including Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Science, This Old House Magazine, NASDAQ International, Working Woman, Discovery, Greatschools.org, Jaguar Magazine, and JeanKnowsCars.com.

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