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How to answer the most common interview questions

How to answer the most common interview questions

Wouldn’t it be great if you knew exactly what potential employers were going to ask you in a job interview? Well prepared and confident, you could then knock hiring managers dead, wowing them with your wit, experience, and charm.

The thing is, we already know what they’re going to ask you. Sure, every job interview has its own rhythms and quirks, its job-specific questions and themes, but there are a fairly standard set of questions that hiring managers almost always lean on (let’s face it, they’re not always the most industrious people around). By preparing yourself, you can feel more relaxed whenever these questions are fired in your direction.

And on that note…

Here are the five most common interview questions, and how you can answer them like a boss:

Tell me about yourself?

Just about every job interview starts with an ice breaker that is meant to get you talking. It’s a chance for you to introduce yourself. The thing is, it’s not really about you. It’s about your candidacy. Yes, they want to know if your personality is a good fit for their company, but more than anything, they want to know that you can handle the job.

Your answer, therefore, should focus on your professional experience and interests, and anything that shows you are the right candidate for the role. It’s not, however, the time to recite your CV. Think of it as a quick recap of who you are in a professional sense – an elevator pitch of your career. Yeah, it might be interesting if your hobbies include leathercraft and Brazilian martial arts, but this isn’t relevant here.

Example of what you should say:

I’m a web-obsessed SEO Manager with 10 years of experience managing all aspects of digital marketing – from paid ads to microsites – for companies of all sizes.

Example of what you shouldn’t say:

I’m Youtube vlogger, and that’s all I really care about. I’m really looking for laid-back full-time work that will let me focus on my channel on the side.

Why are you interested in this job?

Are you passionate about working for this company or are you just desperate for a job (any job!)? The answer might be the latter, but this isn’t what most employers want to hear. They want to know that you’re really interested in their industry and company. They want to see that you’ve done your research, that you know about them and the role. This not only shows that you’re interested in the role, it also speaks volumes about your professionalism and preparation.

Example of what you should say:

I’ve been interested in working for Tesla ever since the Roadster was released. I’m very passionate about technology and innovation, and this role would let me align my passions with my work experience, for a company that I really believe in.

Example of what you shouldn’t say:

Because I need the money.

What would you say are your greatest strengths?

This seems like an easy question – you know what you’re good at right? But be careful. Read the job posting carefully, and make sure whatever you say matches up with the way they’ve described the position. Are they looking for team players with leadership skills? You might want to talk about your communication skills and ease with public speaking (just make sure you tell the truth). If you’re worried about coming across as cocky or arrogant, put the words in someone else’s mouth by telling them what people have said about you in the past. Another good tip is to use clear, measurable achievements to back up you what you say – just make sure to have a relatable anecdote ready.

Example of what you should say:

I’ve been told that I’m a good communicator, and in fact, at my current company, I lead a weekly meeting where I present objectives and achievements to the entire company.

Example of what you shouldn’t say:

How much time do you have? I mean really, I’m awesome at just about everything.

What do you think are your biggest weaknesses?

If you overshare here, you could potentially turn off an employer. On the other hand, if you say “I have no weaknesses, I’m perfect,” they’ll think you’re a liar or completely lacking in self-awareness. So, what do you do?

Think of an actual weakness, but go with something that isn’t an essential requirement for the job. Explain how you became aware of it and are working on improving upon it. This shows that you are reflective, willing to learn, and striving to get better. Humour, albeit appropriate humour, can go a long way here.

Example of what you should say:

I think I’m often too hard on myself. It’s something I’m working on.

Example of what you shouldn’t say:

I’m a workaholic and a perfectionist.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Job hopping is the new normal and most employers recognize that people, especially young, ambitious people, are always looking for opportunities. You don’t, therefore, have to pretend that you’ll still be there in five years’ time. Instead, tie in a dream job – ideally one at that company you can work towards – with your passions, interests, and experience. This shows employers that you’re ambitious, driven, and looking for professional growth.

Example of what you should say:

I see myself in an editor position. By that point I’ll have been working in journalism for over 15 years, and I think I’ll be ready to move into a more strategic position, where I can use my experience to lead a team.

Every interview is a bit different, but if you master these questions, you’ll be prepared to knock these cornerstone questions out of the park…and sometimes, a few great answers is all you need to convince a hiring manager you’re the one.

These interview questions and answers will instantly prepare you for any job interview. Here are some of the most common ones to know!

Job interviews are often stressful, and it doesn't help that the questions you're asked in an interview can feel so unwelcoming. While you can't know for certain which questions your interviewer might ask you, you can prepare for the most common ones.

Here's a list of the nine most common job interview questions and how to answer them.

1. Tell Us About Yourself

This is probably the first question the interviewer is going to ask you. Make sure your answer is relevant to the position you're applying for. Don't bring up things like your parents, religion, marital status, or such. Instead, talk about your experience, skills, education, achievements, goals, hobbies, etc.

Example:

I've been a digital marketer for over five years now, currently working at XYZ Ltd handling some of our biggest clients such as A, B, and C. I'm skilled at SEO, SEM, SMM, etc. With my academic background in business management and marketing, I've learned how to manage people, time, events, and money which I used as a means to help land our company a $120,000 project last year.

2. Why Do You Want to Work for Us?

With this question, the interviewer wants to see if you took the time to learn a few things about the company, or are you here just to get a job. The latter is an innocent reason, but saying it out loud isn't going to help. They want to know why you thought this company is a good fit for you.

Example:

There are multiple reasons, but the strongest one is definitely your values. I recently came across a Linkedin post about how your team did some amazing social work last September to help the locals after the floods. That really inspired me and I felt inclined to work with people who share the same virtues as mine.

3. Why Should We Hire You?

This question is a test to see how well you can sell yourself. What is it about you that makes you a better fit for this position than other applicants? What's your selling point? You can answer this question by highlighting your achievements, personality traits, qualities, or vision.

Example:

I think I'm a great fit for this position because of its nature. Being a marketing manager takes a complex mix of technical and social skills to balance analytics and human emotions. It's a tough challenge that I feel I'm capable of overcoming. In fact, last Christmas, I was recognized as Employee of the Month for directing one of the most successful marketing campaigns our company has ever launched.

4. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

This question is meant to check whether you have a growth mindset and entrepreneurial spirit; it has nothing to do with your actual career plan. The interviewer is trying to access if your performance as an employee will stagnate over time, or will you be able to take on additional responsibility later on.

Example:

I see myself in a senior management position overlooking key business activities. I feel I can do a lot more if given the necessary resources and power. I want to create and deliver more value, something that makes people's lives better. And that is only possible if I can contribute to making company-wide decisions and strategies.

5. How Do You Handle Conflict at Work?

Before you answer this question, ask your interviewer what kind of conflict are they talking about. Is it a conflict of interest? Task-based conflict? Leadership conflict? Creative conflict? Discrimination? Ask them to clarify their question. Different conflicts need different responses. Let's assume it's a creative conflict.

Example:

If my coworker and I don't agree on a specific strategy, I don't see that as a bad thing. After all, you need different perspectives to create new ideas. I'd just talk to them and try to come up with a solution. I may even ask a senior to help us make a decision. Either way, my way of handling conflicts is through patience and understanding.

6. Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?

This question is a bit tricky because what's appropriate might not always be honest. Don't say things like your boss made you work overtime for free, your coworker didn't listen to you, or your manager took all the credit for your work. It might be true, but this is not the place to complain and blame.

Example:

I love working at my current job, but I feel there aren't enough opportunities available for me to grow within the company. I've reached my performance cap. I'm looking for a company that can offer me those opportunities and can harness my growth by giving me additional responsibilities.

7. What Is Your Current Salary?

This question is where the salary negotiation begins. Just revealing your current salary out loud is rarely the right way to answer this question. Instead, it might be better to delay this question for later when you have more info about the company and what's expected of you.

Example:

As I said, I'm looking for more responsibility, so I don't think it would be fair to weigh up my current position as a reference for this one. I would need to look at the entire package you're offering for this role to be sure that we're comparing apples to apples.

8. What Are Your Salary Expectations?

Before answering this question, make sure you know your market value and have a clear range in mind. You can try to delay this question just like the last one, but if they insist, have a number ready. Either way, do ask about their salary structure and the benefits they offer.

Example:

We'll come to that, but for now, I'm more interested in getting a full picture of my relationship with the company. I need to know how you weigh your salary structure, the benefits you offer, and how my work will contribute to the company's success. Could you help me with these things?

9. Do You Have Any Questions for Me?

This is usually the last question the interviewer will ask you. Never answer this question with a no. It might feel like you've covered everything, but there are still plenty of things to ask about. Plus, you responding with a no to this answer can come across as if you're not that interested in this position.

Example:

I do. Given our conversation so far, do you have any concerns about my eligibility for this role? What problems is the company currently facing? What metrics are used to measure performance? What are some of the biggest challenges the company has overcome and the biggest milestones you're aiming for in the long term?

Be Clear on What You Offer

It's expected to be a little nervous at an interview, but don't let it distract you. Remember, in an interview, it's not about you but about what the company you're applying for wants in you.

Know your worth and be clear on what you can offer. Use the above examples to practice your communication and negotiation skills.

Employers want to see that you have a genuine interest in working for them by asking questions like:

  • what do you know about our company?
  • why do you think you’re a good fit for our company?
  • why do you want to work for us?

To prepare for questions about the employer, you need to research the company. You should look at their website and ‘about us’ pages to find out more about their products, services and values.

Questions about you

Employers will want to get to know you and may ask things like:

  • what do you do in your spare time?
  • what are your hobbies and interests?

Show what kind of personal qualities, interests and skills you have. For example, you could talk about:

  • cooking – to show you’re organised and can follow instructions
  • travel – to show you’re adventurous and flexible
  • team sports – to show you’re a team player with good communication
  • music – to show you’re creative

If the job requires certain skills, you should demonstrate these in your examples.

If it’s a graphic designer role, you could talk about taking a desktop publishing course.

Work history questions

Employers usually base questions on jobs you have done in the past. This gives you the chance to talk about your experience. For instance, they might ask:

  • when have you faced a challenging situation?
  • can you tell us about a personal achievement at work?
  • have you ever taken the initiative?
  • have you ever failed at a task?

Your answers should reflect the skills the employer wants. Be positive and tailor your examples to the job description.

If you don’t have much work history, you can use examples from outside of work. You can also use examples from volunteering experience.

Strengths

The strengths employers look for will depend on the job role. They may ask you questions like:

  • what are your main strengths?
  • why should we hire you?

You can use specific examples to highlight your strengths, such as:

  • communication – to show you get on with others
  • problem solving – to show that you can find solutions
  • enthusiasm – to show that you have a positive attitude to work
  • flexibility – to show that you can adapt to different ways of working

Plan your answers around 2 or 3 examples that are relevant to the job. You can back these up with qualifications or training you’ve done.

Weaknesses

You should be honest when answering questions on your weaknesses. Say how you’re working to improve them.

Question – “Do you have any weaknesses?”

Answer – “I struggle with time management on projects. To make sure I stick to the time frame I’m creating a timetable of steps at the start of each project”.

Questions you can ask

At the end of a job interview, employers will usually ask if you have any questions for them. This is a good chance to show your interest in the company and your enthusiasm for the job.

For example, you could ask:

  • what is it like to work here?
  • what does a typical day involve?
  • how do you see the company developing over the next few years?
  • will there be any training opportunities after I start?

Why you left your last job

The employer may ask you questions about leaving your last job.

If you’ve been out of work for a long time, explain why. Talk about the positive things you’ve done while away from work. For example, networking, retraining, volunteering or keeping fit.

Use our advice to plan your answers.

Left by choice

If you left your job by choice:

  • be positive about why you left and why you want a new job
  • describe why their company suits you better

Redundancy

If you got made redundant:

  • explain the situation
  • be positive and describe how you’ve responded since

Fired for misconduct or poor performance

If you got fired because of misconduct or poor performance, explain:

  • why your standards had dropped
  • what you’ve learned
  • how you’ve improved since the experience

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How to answer the most common interview questions

Job interviews are nerve-wracking, and understandably so—you’re trying to take the next step in your career. You can minimize the anxiety leading up to an already stressful situation by first brushing up on your interview etiquette.

Then, one of the most meaningful ways to reduce anxiety is by preparing answers to some of the most common, intimidating interview questions. Although you don’t want to sound like you’re giving a canned response, you do want to walk into your interview with confidence. So, practice your responses to these seven questions in the mirror beforehand.

Expert Answers to 7 Common Interview Questions

1. “Tell me a bit about yourself.”

Don’t start rattling off the bulleted achievements listed on your resumé. The hiring manager read your resumé; it’s why you were asked in for an interview. Rather, focus on what’s between the bullet points. Pull out two or three specific accomplishments and go into greater detail. If you improved your company’s sales 30 percent month over month, for example, explain how.

Align your interests with the requirements listed in the job description, or highlight why your professional history makes you the ideal candidate for the job. Emphasis on “professional”—your personal history, unless it relates to the position, doesn’t need to be described in detail to the hiring manager.

2. “What are your weaknesses?”

“I work too hard” is overused, and a phrase hiring managers will see right through. Relay actual negatives, but focus on how you turned them into positives. Perhaps you procrastinate because you work better under deadline pressure—mention that, but talk about the tools or strategies you’re actively using to better manage your time.

If answered properly, this question can highlight your problem-solving skills; you discovered what wasn’t working and fixed it. Sounds like your biggest weakness is actually your biggest strength.

3. “Describe a challenge you dealt with at work, and how you handled it.”

Hiring managers want to gain a better understanding of the role you might play on their team. How you handle conflict is a good sign of cultural fit. So, go in prepared to answer that. Do you prefer to be the problem-solver, or are you more successful at delegating? If possible, choose a scenario in which you and your team came to a resolution or compromise.

4. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”

Criticizing your last employer isn’t recommended. Rather, use this question as a means of describing your desired career path and the responsibilities you’re searching for in a new role—preferably ones that are in line with the requirements listed in the job you’re applying for. An example: “I run my current company’s marketing on my own, which has been an exciting challenge, but I’m ready to join a team I can brainstorm ideas with and learn from.”

5. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

This question also helps hiring managers better understand your career goals and desired trajectory. Does this position actually align with your aspirations?

Highlighting your ambition here is important—employers want to know you’ll be dedicated to the role and the company. Be realistic, however. You shouldn’t be telling the interviewer, “I want your job.” Try instead, “I would like to move up the ladder here based on my performance.”

Acknowledging how hard it is to know where you’ll be five years from now is fine. Just position the conversation around how excited you are to tackle new challenges and take the next step in your career.

6. “What are your salary requirements?”

Money matters can be uncomfortable to address. If you go in armed with statistics, however, you should walk out feeling fine.

Before the interview, do your research. Use sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to discover the going rate in the field, and then match it against your education and experience. Determine your range and, if asked, respond with the highest number. Note you’re flexible and willing to negotiate, though, because you want the job.

Don’t forget to factor benefits into the conversation. A slight salary cut might mean a better healthcare plan. See if they will disclose the pay range and benefits ahead of time, so you can walk into the conversation better prepared.

7. “Why should we hire you?”

Although an intimidating question, it does offer the opportunity to summarize your experience and reiterate the skills you think you can bring to the department and company overall. Emphasize the cultural fit you’ll be and detail the results you have proven you can deliver.

How can a hiring manager argue with that?

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