Common Interview Questions & Their Answers
1. Tell me about yourself.
Of all the interview questions in the world, you can almost bet the farm that you’ll be asked some variation of this question at your next interview. Usually used as an ice breaker at the beginning of an interview, this question is designed to give the interviewer an overview of your background and experience.
- Limit your responses to your professional life. Start from the beginning of your career, summarizing your experience as you go.
- If you have a significant amount of work experience, there is no need to go all the way back to your first job unless it’s relevant. Stick to the jobs you’ve held in your current industry.
- If you have limited (or no) work experience, try to focus on experience – like internships – that relate to the role at hand.
“I started my career in retail but, after a few years, I decided to apply my customer service and management skills to medical supply sales. I started as a Medical Sales Rep and was promoted to an assistant management position within two years. I’ve loved every minute of it and now think that a senior management role should be my next challenge.”
2. Why did you leave your last job?
Employers ask this interview question to get an idea of how you feel about your current (or past) role.
- When answering this question, stay future-focused and don’t get mired in the past.
- Keep your response positive. Never trash talk your past or current employer in any capacity.
- Try to focus on what kinds of opportunities you’re looking for in your next role.
“I have learned so much in my current position – both about the industry and about myself. However, after three years in the same role, I am ready to take on more responsibility and a different set of challenges at a larger organization that might have more room to grow.”
3. How do you work under pressure?
With this interview question the recruiter is trying to discern how you handle stressors in the workplace and how you manage your time. This behavioral question is asked because recruiters know that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.
- Prepare a response that showcases your time management skills, your conflict management skills, or both.
- Often, a recruiter will ask for an example of a time you felt pressured at work and how you handled it so it’s a good idea to prepare an example or two in advance.
- If using an example, use one that had a positive outcome and that shows off your problem-solving skills.
“I work really well under pressure thanks to my background as a reporter for a daily newspaper. That job taught me to be deadline-oriented, organized, and prepared for anything. I learned to use every spare moment productively because I never knew when I’d have to drop everything to cover a breaking story. In all of my years of newspaper reporting, I never once missed a deadline, which is something I’m really proud of to this day.”
4. Why do you want to work here?
By asking this interview question, the recruiter is trying to determine whether you want this job or any job.
- To answer this question, study the job ad and research the company and its achievements. Jot down some interesting points about the company and role to use in your answer.
- If you have a personal connection to the company, be sure to incorporate it into your response.
- Remember to use this question as yet another chance to drive home why you’re the best candidate for the job and how you’ll add value to this particular organization.
“Growing up, my mother shopped for all of our holiday meals at Dean & Deluca. As a kid, I used to beg to go with her because I loved looking at the beautiful displays and tasting the incredible samples. As a chef, I love the idea of cooking for a company that brings joy into people’s homes, and I think my passion combined with my past experience in fine dining kitchens will make me an excellent addition to the team.”
5. How would your coworkers describe you?
We all want a harmonious workplace, right? Recruiters ask this interview question to find out what kind of person you are to work with. Research shows that employers increasingly value soft skills in their employees, and this is the perfect opportunity to showcase yours.
- Employers value soft skills like excellent communication skills, customer service skills, and conflict resolution skills. In other words, focus your answer on traits that are hard to teach and measure but that relate to how you interact with others.
- When answering this question, be honest. If you continue on in the interview process, an employer will check your references. It will be a red flag to a recruiter if your response to this question is wildly different than what your references say about you during a reference check.
“My coworkers would describe me as flexible and easy to collaborate with. I do my best to keep an open dialog with my team, so I think they would also mention my strong communication skills as one of my strengths.”
6. Tell me about a challenge you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome it.
This is the quintessential behavioral interview question. Like Question 3, this question is designed to give the recruiter a clear idea of how you solve problems and handle challenges at work.
- When answering this question remember to stay positive and to use the STAR response technique.
- Also, keep in mind that this isn’t an invitation to trash talk your boss or coworkers. In fact, your response is a great opportunity to show off your conflict resolution skills and your ability to learn from difficult situations.
- Focus on a positive outcome whenever possible.
“During the holidays, our restaurant is fully booked from early November through mid-January. It is a stressful time for the staff under the best of circumstances. That it coincides with cold and flu season complicates matter since, inevitably, we have staff members who have to call in sick. After years of chaos, I decided to hire three on-call servers and one one-call host who were available at a moment’s notice to fill in when a staff member was sick. Last year, we turned more tables during the holiday season than ever before and our revenue increased by 20 percent. Plus, the staff was more relaxed, which helped them earn bigger tips.”
7. What are your greatest strengths?
Recruiters ask this interview question to gauge two qualities in a candidate – their honesty and their self-awareness. Some candidates feel awkward discussing their positive attributes, but don’t be – this is a chance to toot your own horn.
- Be gracious – no one likes a braggart – but take this opportunity to drive home that you are the best person for the job.
- Remember, when highlighting your strengths (and weaknesses), make the skills you choose relevant to the job ad and keep your answer focused on professional qualities, rather than personal ones.
- Be honest. The goal is to get a job offer, and if that happens, your references will likely be asked this question as well. You want your response to match theirs.
“I think one of my strengths is my ability to learn independently. I taught myself to use WordPress using YouTube videos, and now I singlehandedly run my organization’s blog.”
8. What is your greatest weakness?
We all want to put our best foot forward in a job interview, so discussing our weaknesses can be awkward. Like the greatest strengths question, employers ask this to evaluate your levels of self-awareness and your knack for self-improvement. Here’s how to prepare to answer this difficult interview question in advance:
- When choosing a weakness, it’s a good idea to focus on a non-essential skill you can improve on. For example, mention that your public speaking skills could use improvement, assuming of course that public speaking isn’t critical to the role at hand.
- Don’t couch your weakness in a strength since it will come off sounding insincere. For example, never respond with a statement like, “I think my greatest weakness is that I work too hard.”
- Keep it brief. Answer the question and move on to avoid focusing too much on your shortcomings.
“I’ve had to work hard to learn how to delegate tasks. I used to be a bit of a control freak, but through management training, I’ve learned that it isn’t necessary for me to have my hands on every project. It’s an ongoing process, but I think I am a better manager now that I am learning to let go of the reigns a bit.”
9. Describe your proudest professional achievement.
Recruiters want to know about your accomplishments, not just the tasks you perform at work.
- In advance of your interview, identify a professional achievement that shines a flattering light on your relevant skills and experience.
- In addition to explaining the accomplishment, gather data or stats that quantify the impact your action had.
- If you are a recent grad or have limited work experience, focus on experiences that highlight your valuable transferable skills, such a something you accomplished through volunteer work or and internship.
“In my last role, I revamped our outreach methods for our annual membership drive. In addition to the usual postcard reminder, I sent out a series of email reminders and incorporated a call to action in our weekly newsletter. As a result, membership and retention improved by more than 25 percent over the previous year.”
10. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Retention is important to employers; this question is a way for them to determine how likely you are to stay in the role to which you are applying for a reasonable length of time. It is also a way for them to determine how much thought you have given to your career path.
- Be sure to incorporate the position you are applying for into your plans. Don’t phrase your answer in a way that makes the role at hand sound like a stepping stone.
- Show that you have goals. Recruiters want to see a desire for growth. However, take care not to position yourself as competition for anyone interviewing you.
- Focus on the skills and experiences you hope to gather rather than on specific job titles.
“In the short-term, I am looking to expand my skillset in a marketing assistant role and learn more about the industry. Eventually, I’d like to move into a more senior marketing role, which is one reason why this company is appealing to me. Your organization seems to offer employees room to grow internally, which is something that I really value.”