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How to Answer the 30 Most Common Interview Questions
While we don’t recommend having a canned response for every interview question (in fact, please don’t), we do recommend spending some time getting comfortable with what you might be asked, what hiring managers are really looking for in your responses, and what it takes to show that you’re the right man or woman for the job.
Consider this list your interview question study guide.
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
It’s probably your first and best chance to pitch the hiring manager on why you’re the right one for the job. Don’t give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Start off with the 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences, then wrap up talking about how that prior experience has positioned you for this specific role.
You can use a formula called the Present-Past-Future formula. So, first you start with the present—where you are right now. Then, segue into the past—a little bit about the experiences you’ve had and the skills you gained at the previous position. Finally, finish with the future—why you are really excited for this particular opportunity.
Remember throughout your answer to focus on the experiences and skills that are going to be most relevant for the hiring manager when they’re thinking about this particular position and this company.
- How did you hear about the position?
This is actually a perfect opportunity to stand out and show your passion for and connection to the company. For example, if you found out about the gig through a friend or professional contact, name drop that person, then share why you were so excited about it. If you discovered the company through an event or article, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what, specifically, caught your eye about the role.
a) A Friend Referred You
A simple response like, “I was excited to find out about the job from my friend who works in [department]” is a perfectly OK response.
b) You Turn it Into a Monologue About Why This Is the Only Job You Want
If you want to explain why you’re so excited about the job, that’s not a terrible idea. But, keep it short. Add your unique spin to a response along the lines of, “I found it on [wherever you found the job], and since I’ve been hoping to work for the company for a long time, I was excited to see the opening had become available.
c) You Forgot Where You Found the Job
If you have applied for a lot of jobs during your last stretch of unemployment, you can make a simple Excel spreadsheet to keep track of everything.
- What do you know about the company?
They want to know whether you care about it. Start with one line that shows you understand the company’s goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.
- Why do you want this job?
You should have a great answer about why you want the position. First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you guys are doing great things, so I want to be a part of it”).
Step 1: Express Enthusiasm for the Company
This is an excellent opportunity for you to show off what you know about the company. Spend some time honing in on what you know about the company and select a few key factors to incorporate into your pitch for why you’re a good fit.
Step 2: Align Your Skills and Experiences With the Role
Next, you want to sell why, exactly, you’re right for the role. There are two ways you can do this: You can either focus more on your experiences (what you’ve done before that brings you to this point) or your skills (especially helpful if you’re pivoting positions or industries).
Try to pinpoint what the main part of the role entails, plus a couple of the “desired skills” in the job description, and make sure you speak to that. Follow up your introduction to how excited you are about the company with why you’re a good fit.
Keep it short!
Step 3: Connect to Your Career Trajectory
Finally, you want to show that the position makes sense for where you’re going in your career.
String these three components together, and you have a response that will impress on three fronts: your knowledge and enthusiasm for the company, your relevant skills, and your general fit with the position.
- Why should we hire you?
Sell yourself and your skills to the hiring manager with an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, you can deliver great results; that you’ll really fit in with the team and culture; and that you’d be a better hire than any of the other candidates.
Three strategies for answering:
a) The Intersection
Intersect what’s in it for the hiring manager and what’s in it for you. Basically, you want to get across that he or she will get an enthusiastic employee who has the exact right skill set for the position and that you’ll get to—and therefore look forward to and be motivated to—do something meaningful, build your skills, and work toward the next step of your career.
The key here is to not forget that second part: talking about yourself. Too many people make the mistake of only listing the benefits for the employer.
b) The Company Expert
Show what you have to offer that others don’t. A good thing to highlight at this point is your dedication to the role.
To do that, show deep knowledge of the business and an understanding for how you might fit in. It requires a good bit of company research, so you can talk about the uniqueness, the history, the future, and your own personal investment.
When you do this, you show your excitement for the position, you come off as an insider who might be easier to train than other candidates, and you demonstrate how you handle something you’re invested in.
c) The Problem Solver
Frequently, hiring managers post positions because they have a problem that needs to be solved. Get straight to the point with your response and outline, ideally in detail, how you can offer immediate relief for the company’s pain point.
Explain how you can make the interviewer’s life easier by addressing his most imminent issue.
- What are your greatest professional strengths?
Try to be accurate (share your true strengths, not those you think the interviewer wants to hear); relevant (choose your strengths that are most targeted to this particular position); and specific (for example, instead of “people skills,” choose “persuasive communication” or “relationship building”). Then, follow up with an example of how you’ve demonstrated these traits in a professional setting.
- What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
It’s important not to lie or to gloss over your weaknesses. First, think about something that isn’t your strong suit, whether it’s delegating to others or attention to detail, but think about it back in the past. Show how you’ve taken steps to overcome it, or worked hard on getting better, and mention that you’re still working and working at becoming even better at this skill set.
So, strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, maybe you’ve never been strong at public speaking, but you’ve recently volunteered to run meetings to help you be more comfortable when addressing a crowd.
- What is your greatest professional achievement?
A great way to answer is by using the S-T-A-R method: Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), but spend the bulk of your time describing what you actually did (the action) and what you achieved (the result). For example, “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 man-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”
- Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how you dealt with it.
Your interviewer wants to get a sense of how you will respond to conflict. Again, you’ll want to use the S-T-A-R method, being sure to focus on how you handled the situation professionally and productively, and ideally closing with a happy ending, like how you came to a resolution or compromise.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you’ve set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn’t the first time you’re considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.
- What’s your dream job?
Along similar lines, the interviewer wants to uncover whether this position is really in line with your ultimate career goals. Talk about your goals and ambitions—and why this job will get you closer to them.
Break it down into three parts, like this:
a) What Skills Do You Want to Use?
Highlight the skills that you enjoy using most, not just the ones you’re a superstar at. For example:
- I’ve mentioned my experience with __. My dream job would definitely have to relate to that. I’d also love to grow my skills in __.
- I’ve thought about this before, and I know I would want to keep honing my skills in __ as well as learn more about __.
b) What Interests You?
It’s time to talk about what interests you.
Think about: What drew you to your industry? What’s something you did as a kid that’s actually found its way into your work? What is it about your career that keeps you engaged?
Build on your answer like this:
- I’ve been interested in the __ industry ever since I first discovered __. That, combined with my interest in __ and __, means I’ve been hooked ever since.
- In terms of job content, I’m interested in work that involves __ and __. I’ve been curious about things like this ever since __, so I would definitely want that to be part of my dream job.
c) What Are Your Values?
Giving a sense of what your career values are will give the interviewer an idea about what motivates you; it’s a good way to bring the focus back to the company you’re interviewing for (assuming that your values align with the company culture).
Wrap up your response with something like this:
- Based on my skills and interests, in my dream job, I would want to __ as related to __, ideally in a company where I could __ and __. These are both really important to me, and I’m excited to see that they seem to be equally important to this company.
- Basically, my dream job would be to __ for __ in a position that would allow me to __ and __. I value this last point in particular—it’s the reason I’m so excited to be interviewing for this position. *Notice how none of this included an actual job title? It’s not necessary.
- What other companies are you interviewing with?
Often the best approach is to mention that you are exploring a number of other similar options in the company’s industry. It can be helpful to mention that a common characteristic of all the jobs you are applying to is the opportunity to apply some critical abilities and skills that you possess. For example, you might say ‘I am applying for several positions with IT consulting firms where I can analyse client needs and translate them to development teams in order to find solutions to technology problems.’”
- Why are you leaving your current job?
Keep things positive—you have nothing to gain by being negative about your past employers. Focus your response on seeking a company with cultural dynamics that better suit you, versus blaming the company for the lack of fit. Frame things in a way that shows that you’re eager to take on new opportunities and that the role you’re interviewing for is a better fit for you than your current or last position. For example, “I’d really love to be part of product development from beginning to end, and I know I’d have that opportunity here.” And if you were let go? Keep it simple: “Unfortunately, I was let go,” is a totally OK answer.
- Why were you fired?
Your best bet is to be honest. You absolutely must share with the interviewer what you learned from the experience.
Share how you’ve grown and how you approach your job and life now as a result—and then get back to the business of showcasing your strengths as a candidate for that position. If you can position the learning experience as an advantage for this next job, even better.
- What are you looking for in a new position?
Hint: Ideally the same things that this position has to offer. Be specific.
a) Start With Your Skills
Talk about how you’re looking for a place where you can use them.
“I’ve been honing my data analysis skills for a few years now and, first and foremost, I’m looking for a position where I can continue to exercise those skills”.
b) Explain Your Motivation
Describe what motivates you and how you can see that playing out in this position or company.
“Another thing that’s important to me is that the position allows me to not only play with data, but also present my findings and suggestions directly to clients. That would be really refreshing! I’m always very motivated by being able to see the impact of my work on other people”.
c) Connect With Your Long-Term Goals
It might be good to mention how you see growing or building your career at a company that’s the right fit. Anything that signals you’re in it for the long haul is a good thing.
“I’m definitely looking for a position where I can grow—professional development is something that’s really important to me since I hope to take on managerial responsibilities in the future.
d) Wrap Up With Something About the Company
Bring the focus back to the company as you’re wrapping up your response. Depending on how long your answer is, it may make sense to sum up everything you’ve talked about, and then end on how excited you are about the company and why.
“To sum it up, I’d love a position where I can use my skills to make an impact that I can see with my own eyes. Of course, the position is only part of the equation. Being at a company where I can grow and work toward something I care about matters, too. DNF’s goal of being the intersection between data and education inspires me, and I’m really excited about this opportunity”.
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
Hint: Ideally one that’s similar to the environment of the company you’re applying to. Be specific.
To discover what a company is really like: go through the company’s tweets, videos, Facebook posts, and the like to get an idea of what’s important to the team; Show up early to the interview and watch how employees interact with each other.
- What’s your management style?
The best managers are strong but flexible, and that’s exactly what you want to show off in your answer. (Think something like, “While every situation and every team member requires a bit of a different strategy, I tend to approach my employee relationships as a coach…”) Then, share a couple of your best managerial moments, like when you grew your team from five to 15 or coached an underperforming employee to become the company’s top salesperson.
- What’s a time you exercised leadership?
Depending on what’s more important for the role, you’ll want to choose an example that showcases your project management skills (spearheading a project from end to end, juggling multiple moving parts) or one that shows your ability to confidently and effectively rally a team. And remember: The best stories include enough detail to be believable and memorable. Show how you were a leader in this situation and how it represents your overall leadership experience and potential.
- What’s a time you disagreed with a decision that was made at work?
Hiring managers want to know that you can do so in a productive, professional way. Tell the story where your actions made a positive difference on the outcome of the situation, whether it was a work-related outcome or a more effective and productive working relationship.
- How would your boss and co-workers describe you?
First of all, be honest (remember, if you get this job, the hiring manager will be calling your former bosses and co-workers!). Then, try to pull out strengths and traits you haven’t discussed in other aspects of the interview, such as your strong work ethic or your willingness to pitch in on other projects when needed.
- Why was there a gap in your employment?
If you were unemployed for a period of time, be direct and to the point about what you’ve been up to (and hopefully, that’s a litany of impressive volunteer and other mind-enriching activities, like blogging or taking classes). Then, steer the conversation toward how you will do the job and contribute to the organization: “I decided to take a break at the time, but today I’m ready to contribute to this organization in the following ways.”
- Can you explain why you changed career paths?
Don’t be thrown off by this question—just take a deep breath and explain to the hiring manager why you’ve made the career decisions you have. More importantly, give a few examples of how your past experience is transferrable to the new role. This doesn’t have to be a direct connection; in fact, it’s often more impressive when a candidate can make seemingly irrelevant experience seem very relevant to the role.
- How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
Choose an answer that shows that you can meet a stressful situation head-on in a productive, positive manner and let nothing stop you from accomplishing your goals. A great approach is to talk through your go-to stress-reduction tactics (making the world’s greatest to-do list, stopping to take 10 deep breaths), and then share an example of a stressful situation you navigated with ease.
- What would your first 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this role?
Start by explaining what you’d need to do to get ramped up. What information would you need? What parts of the company would you need to familiarize yourself with? What other employees would you want to sit down with? Next, choose a couple of areas where you think you can make meaningful contributions right away. (e.g., “I think a great starter project would be diving into your email marketing campaigns and setting up a tracking system for them.”) Sure, if you get the job, you (or your new employer) might decide there’s a better starting place, but having an answer prepared will show the interviewer where you can add immediate impact—and that you’re excited to get started.
- What are your salary requirements?
The #1 rule of answering this question is doing your research on what you should be paid. You’ll likely come up with a range, and we recommend stating the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. Then, make sure the hiring manager knows that you’re flexible. You’re communicating that you know your skills are valuable, but that you want the job and are willing to negotiate.
- What do you like to do outside of work?
Interviewers ask personal questions in an interview to see if candidates will fit in with the culture and give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality, too. In other words, if someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)”
- If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Hiring managers want to see how you can think on your feet. There’s no wrong answer here, but you’ll immediately gain bonus points if your answer helps you share your strengths or personality or connect with the hiring manager. Pro tip: Come up with a stalling tactic to buy yourself some thinking time, such as saying, “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say… ”
- Are you planning on having children?
Questions about your family status, gender (“How would you handle managing a team of all men?”), nationality (“Where were you born?”), religion, or age, are illegal—but they still get asked (and frequently). Of course, not always with ill intent—the interviewer might just be trying to make conversation—but you should definitely tie any questions about your personal life (or anything else you think might be inappropriate) back to the job at hand. For this question, think: “You know, I’m not quite there yet. But I am very interested in the career paths at your company. Can you tell me more about that?”
- What do you think we could do better or differently?
Hiring managers want to know that you not only have some background on the company, but that you’re able to think critically about it and come to the table with new ideas. So, come with new ideas! What new features would you love to see? How could the company increase conversions? How could customer service be improved? You don’t need to have the company’s four-year strategy figured out, but do share your thoughts, and more importantly, show how your interests and expertise would lend themselves to the job.
- Do you have any questions for us?
You probably already know that an interview isn’t just a chance for a hiring manager to grill you—it’s your opportunity to sniff out whether a job is the right fit for you. What do you want to know about the position? The company? The department? The team?
You’ll cover a lot of this in the actual interview, so have a few less-common questions ready to go. We especially like questions targeted to the interviewer (“What’s your favourite part about working here?”) or the company’s growth (“What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?”)
*Original text from themuse.com