No matter how many interviews you endure, they are always nerve-wracking. The best way to calm those nerves and escape the process unscathed is with proper preparation. This does not mean memorizing a response to every possible question, but simply knowing what interviewers are searching for with each question and having a few examples to back your statements up.
So, to expand further, here is a guide for how to answer the ten most common interview questions.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
Although it may appear to be a simple statement, this is one of the toughest and most common interview questions. It often makes you wonder, “What do they really want to know? How much should I tell them?”
All they are really looking for here is an overview of your work experience, including any key skills which relate to the position – basically, a refresher of your CV/resume. They will have already developed a sense of your character from your application, so this question is to confirm or change that initial impression.
This query also just gets you talking. They will want to see that you’re at ease and confident with introducing yourself while providing a brief summary of your career and achievements.
- Outdated skills from jobs more than five years ago.
- Talking just for the sake of it; don’t ramble.
- Skills that don't match the job description.
- Being too personal; they don’t need to know your home life.
- Being too generic. Tailor your points to the position.
2. Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?
This aims to answer your motivations for the position while simultaneously screening for anyone just testing the market. They want to know that you've done your homework but may also ask what your incentives are: salary, job title, or location, for instance.
Do your employer research so you can base your answer on what they need, rather than what you want, to show them why you’re highly compatible. It is beneficial to show enthusiasm here and mention what specifically interests you about the company.
- Speaking negatively about your current employer.
- Bringing up benefits or incentives of the job.
3. Why Do You Want This Job?
The interviewer will be trying to understand the reasons behind your application for this specific job and what you’re looking for in the role. It will also help determine if you’re serious, or just casually checking what else is out there.
Connect your skills and experience to what the job entails to communicate that you’re the right fit for the role. Explain how the position aligns with how you want to advance your career, without appearing to use the role as a springboard to better options. If you show your intention for longevity, they will be more inclined to invest in hiring you.
- Sounding desperate: you want this job, not just any.
- Mentioning aspirations higher than the company can take you – they don’t want to be used as a steppingstone.
4. Why Should We Hire You?
The employer is interested in what makes you unique and valuable and what you can bring to the company. Even if you don’t have the specific expertise they’re looking for, this is your chance to show how the experience you do have can benefit the job – any experience is good experience.
Know the job description and desired skills they are searching for. For the top few competencies listed, give examples of when you have used said skill and how it benefitted your employer, or illustrate how it could be an advantage for them. It is also useful to clarify how you are driven to deliver results or your passion for the field.
- Bragging about your skills and sounding arrogant.
- Flimsy clichés such as “I will give 110%”. Instead, show when you have gone above and beyond in the past.
- Lay out facts and examples to support your claims.
5. What Are Your Greatest Strengths?
This is asking if you have the right skills for the trade and how your experience matches the job role. It can be challenging to sell yourself without sounding conceited, but the interviewer is looking for you to prove your great qualities with examples, rather than just stating some traits you have. Instead of merely saying, “I have brilliant emotional intelligence”, explain a time when you showed it, and how it benefited you, the other(s) involved, and your employer.
This is another time when knowing the job description well will pay off. Choose any key skills needed for the position and describe your transferable knowledge. Display how your current or previous employers have profited from your strengths, such as “My prioritizing skills have allowed me to successfully manage multiple projects at a time”.
- Listing strengths that are unrelated to the position.
- Stating strengths without any support or explanation.
- Being shy about your achievements; you’re not bragging, you’re showing them what sets you apart from other candidates.
6. What Do You Consider to Be Your Weaknesses?
Everyone has weaknesses, so they aren’t trying to see if you’re flawless here. What they’re really probing for here is your self-awareness as well as your ability to learn and develop.
The best way to answer this question is to talk about an area where you would like to improve or something you are doing to progress in the present, like taking an online course, for instance. This allows you to describe your weakness while also demonstrating that you are striving to overcome it.
- Using a weakness and turning it into a strength (i.e., perfectionism – it’s very overused and they will see right through this).
- Saying you don’t have any weaknesses.
- Mentioning anything that could impair your competency for the job.
7. What Is Your Greatest Professional Achievement?
This query is often used to discover where your priorities are, how well you will perform, and what’s important to you.
Again, try to connect your achievement(s) with desired skills of the position you’re applying for. Another opportunity to demonstrate what you can bring to the table; ensure you avoid sounding as though you’re bragging but also remain confident in showing how you stand out from the rest of the crowd.
- Being dishonest and overembellishing.
- Talking about something irrelevant to the role or insignificant.
8. Why Were You Fired?
Always an awkward question, and possibly the most challenging to answer, but also a prime opportunity for you to demonstrate your ability to take responsibility for your actions and grow both professionally and personally. Besides learning about your circumstances, the interviewer will be wondering how you handle adversity.
Keep it brief and don’t dwell on the negative; carry on positively and emphasize your best qualities and what you’ve learned from the occurrence.
- A lengthy, detailed exposition; state the reason and move forward.
- Being dishonest; they could confirm this during your reference check.
- Playing the blame game; bad-mouthing just makes you appear bitter and unable to move on.
9. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
This is a tricky question that many trip up on. Your goal here is to align your 5-year plan with the company’s goals. Your long-term plans will help uncover your commitment to the job, but they also want to see that you’re ambitious outside of the role.
Unlike most interview questions, it is better to be vaguer when answering this. You don’t want to appear indifferent, but also need to refrain from sounding unrealistic. Mention interest in job progressions such as leadership roles or extra responsibilities, or that you hope to gain expertise in the field while building strong relationships with stakeholders. If you are truly struggling, it's always okay to be honest and say you’re unsure but can visualize the experience in this job role aiding your decision-making.
- Saying something like “moving on to bigger, better things”.
- Setting unrealistic goals such as becoming head of the company.
10. Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
Most of the time, interviewers are genuinely giving you the opportunity to gain more insight on the job. However, this question also lets them judge your interest in the position – not preparing for this shows them you lack fervor and keenness for the position.
Now is your chance to be the interviewer; you might desperately want the job on paper, but make sure you know what you’ll be getting yourself into. This is a great chance to start a discussion and not just get more information on the role.
If you ask the right questions, you can get a feel for whether you fit or not. For instance, asking questions about the team you would be joining, what a typical day looks like, or what challenges you might face in the beginning, all open up conversations that will not only help you get to know the potential role better, but the interviewer to know you, too.
- Asking about benefits or incentives like holiday allowances or sick days.
- Asking any unimportant or basic questions that could be found in the job description or your research on the company's website.
Don’t get caught out by an interviewer staring at you, waiting for you to come up with an answer off the top of your head. Prepare yourself and you’ll be more likely to nail the interview and walk out with your head held high. A knowledgeable response to the most common interview questions can give you the upper hand and propel you through to the next stage.