How to Answer Common Interview Questions

For some job seekers, interviewing for a new job feels like running the gauntlet: one wrong move and you’re done: the employer immediately loses interest in hiring you and moves onto the next candidate. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Why not try to approach an upcoming interview not so much as an intimidating challenge to be overcome, but rather as an opportunity to really learn whether the job is a good fit and one you really want? After all, ideally, you want to find a position you will enjoy and that will enable you to thrive and advance your career.

So, to prepare for an upcoming interview (or set of interviews) it’s helpful to put yourself in the employer’s shoes. If you were interviewing you, what would you want to know to ensure you were the best possible candidate for the position? In order to do this effectively, you need to understand what the position entails, what the company’s business model and priorities are, and what’s going on in the industry marketplace. If you don’t know—and even if you think you do—spend some time doing research to learn as much as you can. Armed with this knowledge, you can practice answering in advance the following common interview questions we’ve included below.

Before the Interview: Research and Rehearse

In case you’re wondering if you really need to rehearse before your interview, the answer is an emphatic yes. Why? So, you’ll be prepared with the answers that will portray you in your best light.  Being prepared reduces the chance that you will become flustered and forget to make key points about yourself. Moreover, being prepared will likely enable you to feel and appear more confident to your interviewers, which is of critical importance.

In the process of preparing for the interview, be sure to compile a list of questions you might have about the position, the company, the industry or any other related topics. This prepares you for the point in the interview when (not if) you’re asked if you have any questions for the interviewer. This is a good opportunity for you to gain answers to your questions that might determine whether you actually want the job. Bring a notebook along and take notes so you don’t forget anything in the heat of the moment.

Here are some other key interviewing tips:

  • To repeat: try to appear confident and not hesitant or unsure. If you can help it, try to avoid saying ‘you don’t know’ in response to questions. But don’t lie, which leads to the next point.
  • Be authentic and provide truthful answers; good interviewers can sniff out lies and fake answers in a nanosecond.
  • Be mindful of providing too much information. Answer each question as succinctly as possible but make sure your answer is complete; otherwise it may not satisfy the interviewer.
  • If you do end up getting flustered and flub your answer, feel confident enough to ask for a do-over—even if it’s a few questions later in the process.
  • Try not to appear as if you’re desperate for a job, even if you are. If necessary, rehearse not being desperate beforehand, in front of someone else.

Commonly Asked Interview Questions

  1. Tell me about yourself. Why is the interviewer asking this? They already have your resume and cover letter in front of them, and may have even already checked out your online profile. So, what else are they looking for? They want to get a sense of your overall attitude to try to determine whether you are likely to fit in with their company culture. Your job is to provide a relatively succinct answer that relates to your professional abilities that aren’t listed on your resume.
  2. What did you hear about the position? Be prepared to provide a personalized answer that includes reasons why you think the job is interesting. Don’t respond simply by saying you saw it on a job board. If that’s so, you can start there, but then tell them how the posting led you to research the position and company further which made you excited about the role. It’s never a bad idea to weave in company compliments as part of your answer.
  3. Why are you applying for this position? Similar to the above, make your answer relate to the organization and your potential contribution. Keep it positive. Don’t respond by saying anything negative about your current/past position or company. A close variation of this question is Why do you want to work here?
  4. What do you know about our company? This is where your advance research and preparation will really come in handy. Be sure to provide facts; don’t wing it.  It’s a good opportunity to learn more about the company by asking well-informed questions.
  5. Why are you looking to leave your current company/position? This is a potential minefield, so be sure to be prepared and answer carefully. As always, keep your answer positive and forward-looking, and don’t knock your current employer or fellow employees. A variation on this question is Why did you leave your last job? Stay positive and be honest, even if you were fired. This is another example where your response should be clear and as succinct as possible.
  6. What is your greatest strength/biggest professional achievement? Confine your answer to something related to your skills or professional experience; don’t go into personal achievements, unless, of course, you’re an Olympic athlete or something similarly extraordinary.
  7. What is your greatest weakness? Again, your answer should relate to your professional skills (and how you want to improve them, but be sure not to highlight skills needed for the job being discussed). Keep your answer short and sweet.
  8. Tell us about particular challenges you’ve faced and how you have resolved them. Come up with an example that has a positive outcome. This is an instance where you can go into detail: explain why it was challenging and the steps you took to overcome obstacles. Don’t talk about personal conflicts and don’t bring up challenges you couldn’t solve.
  9. What kind of work environment do you prefer? This is a straightforward question meant to reveal whether you’re a good fit for the particular position and/or company. Answer honestly, as it’s not in your best interest to work in, say, a noisy, high pressure environment when you have a low tolerance for noise or stress.
  10. Tell us about past conflicts you’ve had on the job. This is another minefield for which you can prepare. Think about your interactions with challenging coworkers and highlight an experience where you helped resolve the issue. Don’t say you’ve never had any conflicts—that may harm your credibility.
  11. How much money are you looking to earn? This is a tricky question: don’t provide a dollar amount, especially if it’s early in the interview process, when you have no leverage. If you throw out a number that’s too low and you get the job, you’ll be stuck at that level of compensation. If the number is too high, you might scare them off. The solution is to respond by saying you don’t have a number yet (which is a reasonable answer early in the interview process) and stand your ground. Admittedly, that’s likely to be awkward in practice, which is why it’s helpful to prepare for the situation in advance. A related question is What was your salary in your last job? This is an even thornier question because you might be tempted to lie, which is never a good idea. The good news for interviewees is this question has been legally banned or is in the process of being banned in a number of cities and states.
  12. Where do you see yourself in five years? As with all of these questions, try to answer as honestly as possible, tailoring your answer to the present company and/or industry. A related question is asking you to describe your dream job.
  13. What do you like to do outside of work? This is a way to learn a bit more about you to determine whether you would fit in with the team. You can answer straightforwardly; don’t try to game your answer.
  14. Why should we hire you? Answer by confidently stating your skills and explaining how they will help the company. Don’t provide a generic answer; tailor your response to the job/organization.
  15. Do you have any questions for us? As we have already advised, it is really important that you show up to an interview armed with questions about the job, organization, and/or industry. Don’t respond by saying you don’t have any questions or that they’ve already answered all your questions. You can ask, for example, about details related to the work, the team, training opportunities, the direction of the company, industry marketplace challenges, etc. And, feel free to ask about the interviewing process and what the next steps are. Don’t ask about salary or benefits (unless it’s in the late stages of the process, by which point, the potential employer should have broached the subject). Confine your questions to the work itself and be ready to ask questions of everyone you meet.

Make no mistake, interviewing for a new job can be a nerve wracking process where as a candidate, you’re basically on display under the microscope. But, if you turn that notion on its head and view the process as an opportunity for you to interview the company to see if it’s a place you’d like to work, that might make it easier. The trick is being prepared.

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