Most people’s least favorite part of the job application process, and probably their entire career, is the interview. But the interesting part is, every candidate already knows at least 90% of the questions they will be asked. While not all interviewers ask the exact same ones, most ask some version of these 20 most common interview questions. However, this only takes a short-term approach to your career – prepare for the interview process, learn the best answers, and regurgitate them to your potential employer.
Having the right answers to interview questions for one job or internship can get you through the interview process in one industry, but interviewing is a skill and mindset. The best job applicants understand the corporate world, an interviewer’s or employer’s thought process, know how to market themselves, and answer questions with details that highlight their strengths and abilities at every opportunity. Sometimes it’s not a matter of giving the right answers, but the best answers to interview questions. It’s a lot like dating – is he or she impressed enough to express interest and invite you back for a second round, or does he/she think they can do better by bringing back another candidate? Below, we will teach you how to answer common interview questions.
In the United States, anti-discrimination laws forbid questions about marital status, children, sexual orientation, religious practices, health and age; however, these questions may be asked on job applications which are typically completed before or after the interview. Some employers try to circumvent the law by claiming the information is needed for tax purposes. Job applicants can refuse to answer these questions, but this may be problematic since employers are likely to infer the answers.
If an interviewer asks an illegal question, you can simply state that you are not comfortable answering the question. Otherwise, you may wonder why you should work for such a company at all. Hopefully all your potential employers will respect your privacy and the law, never putting you in a tough or uncomfortable position.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
I have never had a job interview where this question, in one form or another, was not asked. For the interviewer, it is the easiest softball question that gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself and share the important things you want him/her to know – impactful life, educational, and work experiences that may not be addressed by more specific and limiting lines of questioning. This is not the time to tell your life story, but to highlight facts that show skills, intelligence, talent, personality, work ethic, and/or charisma.
If you are applying for a management position, coaching a little league team or heading a committee at church can show leadership abilities. Volunteer fundraising activities may highlight a talent for sales, marketing or management. Talk about your education, recent career experiences or internships, seminars, licenses, clubs you were a part of, leadership positions you held, and any hobbies that may be relevant to the position you want. You may also anticipate the next question and explain why you are interested in the position, company, and/or industry, and why you are looking to make a move from your old job (if you aren’t a fresh graduate).
2. Why Are You Applying For This Job? (Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?)
If you are currently employed, the two main options you have are that you believe this position will make better use of your talents than your present job or you want to expand your horizons and skill sets, advance your career, continue to challenge yourself, and grow personally and professionally.
If you work for a small firm and the company you are applying at is mid or large size, you might also indicate you feel they offer greater potential for advancement and personal growth. If you’ve ever worked or collaborated with the company you are interviewing with, you may discuss your previous experience, how you appreciated the professionalism and corporate culture, and thought it would be a better fit for you.
Those that are just entering the job market, or are currently unemployed, can discuss why the job fits their education and experience and what they hope to be able to achieve as an employee if they are hired.
3. What Do You Know About Our Company?
A little research about the company before the interview will help you answer this one. Responding that the company makes widgets is not going to improve your job prospects – that’s like saying Apple sells phone. Instead, talk about any recent (positive) news stories about the company or their employees, new trends or products in the industry, contracts the company has recently won, and if you are interviewing for the Finance/Accounting department of a public company, review the stock’s performance, recent 10Q and 10K financial statements and earnings calls.
If you are applying for a Public Relations or Marketing position, learn about the company’s products and consumer trends, as well as whether the company is active in charities or community work, so you can discuss this aspect of the business. Talk about any industry innovations the company developed and let the interviewer know you have considered these points when applying for a job.
4. Why Do You Want To Work For Us?
If you have done your homework about the company and have not yet been asked Question 3 above, the answer to this question should come naturally because all your research should have led you to the conclusion that you want to work here. Now is the time to talk about long-term career goals, why you believe you are a good fit for this company, and how the position and organization will help you achieve personal and professionally. This is also a good time to show your knowledge of the company’s history and plans for the future. Know how you plan to answer the question before the interview since it will almost certainly be asked and a well-conceived, articulate response can really seal the deal.
5. What Relevant Experience Do You Have?
One homemaker re-entering the workforce applied for a job where time management was crucial. She answered this question “I can get the meat, potatoes and vegetables on the table at the same time”. She got the job. Creative thinking can help interviewees match their experience to the skills necessary for the desired position. Even if previous experience does not seem to be a perfect fit, just show how the experience relates to the skills required for the job.
6. Have You Done Anything To Further Your Experience or Skill Set?
In some fields, particularly healthcare, continuing education is required to maintain a license or professional certification. If you have attended college courses or professional seminars over and above the required training, now is the time to mention them. Volunteer work and night classes that have contributed to your experience is another plus. Even home projects that required managing hired laborers, budgeting resources or learning new crafts can show how an applicant has broadened their experience and honed their job skills.
7. Where Else Have You Applied?
If you are seriously looking for a job, you have applied at other companies and it is best to answer this question honestly without going into too much detail. If you have applied at 20 companies, no need to mention all of them, perhaps just the top 3 or 4. The interviewer just wants to know that you are seriously looking and keeping your options open for your next career move.
Be careful because this question is a double-edged sword – applying to too many places may mean you have no focus and no special passion or interest, while applying to very few places may suggest you aren’t in demand, don’t have too many options, or just don’t possess that many skills. If you are applying within a specific industry, this figure also depends on the size and fragmentation of the industry.
8. What Do You Consider Your Greatest Strength?
This could be analytical problem solving, motivating others, attention to details, working well under pressure, exceptional writing skills, strong work ethic, or an ability to see the big picture. Some individuals excel at time management and getting the job done, while others have the ability to adapt to any situation.
These are the types of strengths employers are looking for in an interview, and always be prepared to offer real life examples that demonstrate your point. Unless you are applying for a job as a video game tester, your ranking on World of Warcraft or your high score on Halo are of no interest to a potential employer.
9. What Is Your Biggest Weakness?
No one likes to answer this question because it requires a very delicate balance. You simply can’t lie and say you don’t have one; you can’t trick the interviewer by offering up a personal weakness that is really a strength (“Sometimes, I work too much and don’t maintain a work-life balance.”); and you shouldn’t be so honest that you throw yourself under the bus (“I’m not a morning person so I’m working on getting to the office on time.”)
Think of a small flaw like “I sometimes get sidetracked by small details”, “I am occasionally not as patient as I should be with subordinates or co-workers who do not understand my ideas”, or “I am still somewhat nervous and uncomfortable with my public-speaking skills and would like to give more presentations and talk in front of others or in meetings.” Add that you are aware of the problem and you are doing your best to correct it by taking a course of action.
10. What Is Your Salary Range?
This is a trick question since you want to get as much money as you can but the company wants to pay as little as possible. Before an interview, review websites or read research reports on compensation in the industry to find out about the average salary range for someone with your education and experience.
The best approach is to tell the interviewer the amount of money you want for the job because this shows you have thought about it and know your own worth. You can always negotiate if you get an offer, so ask for a fair salary and don’t ever forget to incorporate your benefits package. If each company offers different retirement and health benefits, be sure to take those factors into consideration when discussing complete compensation.
For example, if you are currently making $50,000 per year, you may reasonably ask for $55,000 to $60,000 or $60,000 to $65,000, assuming your request is supported by industry standards, your education, experience, and skills. If the company comes back and offers you $55,000, you’ve already received a raise, but still have the opportunity to negotiate up to $60,000. Whether you feel comfortable negotiating for more money depends on how well you think the interview went, how well you are a fit for the position, and how many other applicants were considered.
If your previous company is nearing bankruptcy or you personally have a bad relationship with your previous boss, who may be close to firing you, don’t push your luck too much and lose the job offer altogether as a result of greed. Again, remember to consider your benefits packages and don’t forget intangibles, such as networking opportunities, training, the future of the industry, prestige, etc.
11. Can You Perform Well As Part of A Team?
The right answer, and really the only answer to this question is yes. You may want to expand on the answer with the role you prefer to play on a team, like assisting co-workers expand on concepts or providing leadership and delegating to get the job done. All companies are organizations of people who must cooperate and work together to reach a goal, so being a productive part of a team is essential.
12. Has Anything About People You Work With Annoyed You?
Of course you have worked with some people who drove you nuts, but you do not want to say this in an interview since it can make you seem difficult to work with. Take a minute to consider this question and answer “I have really always gotten along just fine with my co-workers, in and out of the office.” Always stay positive.
13. Is There Anyone You Just Couldn’t Work With?
Well, maybe Hannibal Lector, but I can work with pretty much anyone else. You do not want to come across as someone who may have problems working with other employees. Keep in mind, this is work, you do not have to be best friends with everyone, you just have to work together to get the job done. As long as your co-worker is not trying to kill or sexually harass you, you should be able to put personal likes and dislikes aside. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the interviewer, you may be able to joke around
14. Tell Me About Issues You Have Had With Past Bosses
Unless you are dumber than a rock, you will not fall into this trap. The interviewer wants to see if you will speak badly about past employers, managers, or co-workers, so even if you think your last boss was the devil incarnate, stay positive. This applies even if you feel very comfortable with the interviewer and he/she is a very laid back individual; otherwise, you are taking a huge risk with very little potential reward for your blatant honesty.
Just tell the interviewer that you cannot think of any issues between you and any of your previous bosses. If you are pressed to offer a more in-depth answer, suggest that “While I have never had any horrible bosses, I’ve learned the types of management styles and corporate cultures I excel and work best in.”
15. Would You Rather Be Liked or Feared?
This is another trick question since the answer is neither. The preferred feeling is that you’d rather be respected. If your subordinates think of you as their best friend, you may not be able to help them do their best work, make difficult decisions, or meet deadlines. If they think you are scary, they will not offer their ideas freely and the team will lose all morale. The answer is that you believe a good boss is respected and admired as a leader who provides the tools, knowledge and advice needed for everyone to do their job efficiently. Isn’t that what you would want in a boss?
16. How Well Do You Work Under Pressure?
Some people thrive under pressure and if you are one of them, you should certainly say so. Try to think of specific examples that demonstrate your response to stressful situations or tight deadlines and how you performed to exceed expectations. Not everyone works well under pressure and it is OK to subtly say that by explaining: “When I know I am in over my head, I am not afraid to ask for help to get the job done.”
Every job, even the mailroom, has situations where employees will have to work under stress. Just make sure to illustrate that you don’t just fall apart and have an emotional breakdown, but you work hard, solicit help, or let management know of the obstacles you are facing before the deadline so a solution can be proposed.
17. Have You Ever Had To Bend Company Rules or Policies?
This is a question to test your professional ethics and the answer should always be “No.” Do not try to give examples or admit to breaking company policies since the interviewer is trying to determine your own ethical standards and integrity. Be certain that your answer indicates that you can think of no circumstance in which you have done so, even if the interviewer admits to breaking corporate policies himself.
18. Tell Me About An Idea or Suggestion You Developed That Was Successfully Implemented
The key here is to discuss a suggestion that was actually implemented by a former employer, not just clever ideas that never materialized into working solutions. Give a short synopsis on how the idea was implemented, from design to execution, and how well it worked for the employer and/or fellow employees. Even new graduates just entering the job market may be asked a variation of this question, so think about answers relating to internships, team projects, clubs, leadership positions, charity work, and presentations.
19. Why Should We Hire You?
This question is asked, in one form or another, in nearly every job interview and can sometimes take the form of “What can you offer me that another person can’t?” It is important to focus on your skills and what you can offer the company if they choose you for the position. Keep in mind the job description, duties, and responsibilities and tailor your response by matching each talent or ability you offer to how it fulfills the needs of the company.
Keep your answer short, but highlight special achievements in your field and the reasons you believe you are a good employee. Always present examples that demonstrate your points. There are other qualified candidates for the job but the right answer to this question can send you to the head of the pack. Do not disparage or criticize other applicants in the process.
20. Do You Have Any Questions About the Job/Company?
Yes, you should always have one or two questions about the company or the job and they should not be about the 401k plan, employee benefits, the free bagels on Fridays, or anything relating to monetary issues. If you researched the company before the interview, you may already know the answers, but one or two intelligent questions lets the interviewer know that you have genuine interest in the future of the company and want to know more about their vision, your opportunities, the projects you’ll be contributing to, and who you will be working with. Since almost all employers finish interviews with this question, be prepared to answer it.
One question a friend uses is: “Starting out at a new company always involves a learning curve – getting used to systems, processes, co-workers, and your own responsibilities. What projects would I be able to start contributing to immediately?”