Palms? Sweaty. Heartbeat? Racing. Brain? Scattered. Yup, you’re at a job interview.
You want to make a good impression, but it’s hard to focus on doing so when you’re being asked a series of questions that totally catch you off guard.
But let’s be honest: If it isn’t your first ride around the interview block, you’ve heard some of these questions before — you just never figured out exactly how to nail them.
Since you can’t yell “Cut!” in the middle of an interview to buy yourself time, here’s how you can stay one step ahead of the game.
10 Common Job Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them!)
You can’t predict what your interviewers will ask, but at the very least, you can get familiar with some of the most common job interview questions that are sure to come up, plus get tips on how to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself.
You know who you are, but this question is still intimidating — and it’s probably the most common one on this list.
Career and leadership development coach Lisa Gates says interviewers are judging to see if you can talk about yourself in a way that dovetails with the needs and expectations of the role. Instead of talking about your hobbies or pets, take the opportunity to speak to your highest level strength in a way that maps out how you might be solving the goals or challenges of the organization.
Introduce strengths that correlate with the top two or three items in a job description. “You want to talk about what’s in it for them,” says Gates.
To ace this question, try Gates’ recommended example:
“I started my career in marketing two years ago, and since then I’ve used my strategic thinking and people strengths to inspire my team to turn around the underperformance of platform X, which increased sales by 120%. We’re on target to double that this year, while also taking on platform Y, and I think the challenges that your company is facing are very similar to the ones I’ve been working on.”
2. Why should we hire you?
This is where you prove yourself.
Confidently elaborate on your capabilities to show that you’re the best candidate for the job. After all, that is why they’re asking.
The job description is coming into play again here. It’s important that you use it to your advantage to frame your answers around what the interviewers are looking for, meaning the achievements you share in your answer should match the expectations of the role.
Take this example:
“You need a resourceful assistant who can manage general clerical functions without close supervision, and I did that at my current company for three years. I also spotted a number of issues within the organization that saved us money and time. Additionally, I redesigned our workflow process to better fit company goals and the mission of our brand, internally and externally.”
3. Describe a professional achievement.
When you’re knee-deep in work and moving from one project to the next, it can be difficult to pinpoint your achievements. Take some time to think about how your successes have impacted your team, and take the interviewer through that experience.
Ever heard of the S-T-A-R method? It stands for situation, task, action and result. What you’ll do is “set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context.”
The key is to describe the actions you took to achieve the result. Be sure to explain the steps you took. Your interviewers are judging your job performance, so highlight your ambition in your answer to stand out from the other applicants.
Here’s how The Muse suggests approaching this answer:
“In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 man-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”
4. Tell us about a difficult professional challenge you faced and how you handled it.
This one is simpler than you think. At one point or another, we’ve all faced difficult challenges in the workplace. Whether it’s dealing with a manager who thinks they’re always right or having to compensate for a lazy colleague, it’s not uncommon to encounter these kinds of struggles.
Be prepared to answer behavioral questions relevant to the industry you’re interviewing in. This allows your interviewer to understand how you handle uncomfortable situations and deal with conflict.
The S-T-A-R method can help you answer this question, too! Instead of harping on the negatives, focus on the professionalism you maintained throughout the difficult situation. And share the results you received once you forged ahead, despite the adversities you faced.
Take this example:
“During my time as a graphic designer at an ad agency, a client changed the direction of a campaign right as we finished all of our mock-ups to present — and they didn’t extend the deadline. This was over the holidays, so quite a few members of our staff had already departed, leaving just three of us to complete a project usually done by six. I took the initiative and organized a late-night brainstorm that led to new ideas we hadn’t explored yet. In the end, the client was thrilled with our fresh ideas, and we landed the account.”
5. What are your professional strengths and weaknesses?
The key to nailing this job interview question is striking a balance.
Gates explains that “you want to flip your weakness into a strength, because every so-called weakness foretells a strength.” You’re not perfect, and your interviewers aren’t expecting you to be. But they are judging your self-awareness, so your answer should highlight your willingness to improve upon something you know you struggle with. Feel free to skip over your punctuality issues, though — that’s not the kind of weakness you want to focus on.
“In my previous roles, colleagues have said that I care too much about the details, because of how much I over-delivered. What mattered to me was making sure projects were done well and completed exactly as requested, but I recognized that it had an impact on my time management. Now, I actively work on achieving the same level of precision and accuracy while tracking and spending my time wisely.”
6. What do you know about our company?
Always, always, always research the company before the interview. Stumbling during this question is an easy way for them to perceive you as unprepared and lacking interest, especially since this is a pretty basic question.
Avoid being caught off guard here, so do your best to remember some key points about the company’s successes and achievements. What are a few things that stood out to you when you applied?
Your interviewer is gauging your interest in the company’s mission and goals to see if you’re poised to make a difference.
Here’s an example:
“My research informed me that this is one of the fastest growing companies in the east coast. And I couldn’t help but be impressed by the list of clients on your website, which include some Fortune 500 companies. Your work with the homeless population in this community is also very admirable, and I’m excited about the possibility of being involved.”
7. What interests you about this position?
Yes, this question is pretty straightforward, but what do interviewers really want to know about you here?
Aside from learning how you’ll use your role to effect change within the company, Indeed.com reports that “hiring managers often include this question to make sure you understand the role and give you an opportunity to highlight your relevant skills.”
The best route? Compare the role requirements to the skills and experience already in your toolbox, and “choose a few things you particularly enjoy or excel at, and focus on those in your answer.”
Here’s how you could answer this question:
“This role excites me because I love the idea of assisting in the development of high-quality software products, and my proven track record makes me confident that I could start delivering results immediately. I admire your company’s role in this industry, and I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to work with such a forward-thinking and innovative company. Your respect for employees and how you create a great environment for rewarding innovation is also very appealing. Lastly, I believe my proactive style would fit in well with your company’s culture.”
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
What not to say: “I’m still figuring it out!”
I think we can all agree that this question is terrifying. There are times when predicting what next week will look like is a hassle, let alone five years.
However, your interviewer wants to know how ambitious you are. They’re checking to see if the role fits in with your future plans, so if you say that you’d like to be a digital nomad by the end of year and they don’t offer remote work, that lets them know you won’t be sticking around.
Make sure your answer is related to the job. You won’t be hired for a job if your plans and aspirations have nothing to do with your five-year goal.
“In five years I see myself taking on more responsibilities, either through management or higher level individual contributions. I’m still learning which path will best suit me, but I know my goal right now is to build a strong foundation and gain valuable experience so that I’ll have a successful future in this industry.”
9. What are your salary requirements?
Talking about money is always a bit awkward. You might be tempted to lowball yourself to prevent scaring the offer away, but how much do you truly think your time is worth?
Gate advises the method of anchoring, which means to establish a reference point that will be used to revolve the negotiation around. “You want to pitch your salary expectations about two or three moves higher than what your target really is,” she cautions.
Do some research and find out what the average marketshare salary is for your role. Instead of providing a specific number, choose a range so you and your potential employer have room to negotiate.
Take this example:
“I am definitely open to the company’s compensation expectations for this position, but due to my skill set and experience level, I am looking to receive between $63,000 and $68,000 annually. I feel that this is a comfortable and appropriate range for my work.”
10. What are your hobbies and interests?
Sorry, folks, Netflix and chill is not a good answer, no matter how relatable it is. Your interviewers know you’re not working on your fourth novel while expertly roasting a chicken on a Thursday evening, so don’t oversell it… but don’t tank yourself either.
It can be difficult to think of what’s exciting or interesting about yourself, so research the company to get an idea of how you can align your interests with their culture and values.
“I noticed your company offers paid gym memberships for employees, and I think that’s amazing. Working out and being active is one of my favorite hobbies, outside of trying new recipes and writing.”
Always Ask Questions at the Interview
“Do you have any questions for us?” Yes! Leave a good impression by asking good questions.
Based on your inquiries, asking questions during an interview lets your potential employer(s) learn a bit more about you. It also shows that you really are interested in the role, because you’re going a step further to better understand it.
Aside from fulfilling the needs of the interviewer(s), why is it important for you to ask questions? “You’re not just a question answerer,” Gates reminds us.
Keep in mind that you’re just as valuable to the company as you feel it is to you. Your time is valuable, too, and the interview should also be used to help you decide if the role is a good fit for you and your career goals.
1. “What is the typical career path for a person in this role? Is there a path for advancement into other jobs in the organization?”
Before you accept a job offer, be sure to find out if you’ll be given opportunities that aid your professional development and allow you to grow in your career. You don’t want to get stuck in a dead-end job.
2. “How do you and your team communicate?”
As the old saying goes, “communication is key.” It’s in your best interest to learn the communication style and needs of a new team so you can assess your ability to fit in with that. If the team works differently from how you’re used to, explore what you’d need to be successful; chances are, there’s some wiggle room.
3. “If selected for this job, what will be expected of me within the first 90 days?”
Find out as much as possible about the job before you start. Going in blind can hurt your performance in more ways than one. Knowing beforehand gives you time to prepare, and it helps you understand more about the company’s workflow. When you start the job, you’ll know what to focus on.
4. “I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this opportunity. What are the next steps in the hiring process?”
Don’t be afraid to ask this question, and be sure to save it for the end. Find out if you should expect an email or a phone call, or who you will be hearing from. Asking this question gives you the peace of mind of knowing what to expect, and it helps convey your excitement about and interest in the position.
You made it to the end! Ready to rock your next interview?
Farrah Daniel is an editorial assistant at Codetic. She’s been through a lot of interviews and has learned something from each one. Check out her latest stories here.