The stress of the job search isn’t over just yet, however. Job interviews are nerve-wracking experiences for most people. When you are competing for a great position, the pressure can weigh you down and leave you panicked or uncertain, leading to a poor interview performance.
The best way to manage your nerves during an interview is to come prepared. Doing your homework will help you anticipate questions, communicate your experience and qualifications, and build your confidence. With the right preparation no interview question is too difficult.
To help you get started with your interview prep, here is our guide to the top ten job interview questions and how to answer them.
Most interviews will begin with an icebreaker question to help ease you into the conversation. After all, what could be easier than talking about yourself? Don’t think that you don’t need to prepare an answer, however, as you want to make sure that you start the interview on the right foot.
The key to a successful response is to find the right balance. You don’t want to say too much or too little, and you want to be professional but show a little personality too. It’s not as easy as it sounds!
Career experts at The Muse offer the following simple formula to help structure your answer to this question: present, past, and future.
Remember: however you structure your answer, focus on connecting your skills and experience to the job. Target your introduction for each interview the way you would target your resume for each application. You don’t want to sound like you are giving a canned response.
Some people mention hobbies or personal interests when they answer this question. It is a good opportunity to highlight information that may not appear on your resume but still casts you in a great light.
You may want to talk about:
However, you should avoid mentioning:
When interviewers ask this question, they are trying to determine how seriously you are taking this role. They want to see that you have put effort into learning about the company.
Research is the key to answering this question successfully. Start with the company website. Review the “About Us” page and pay particular attention to the following:
Next, check out the company’s social media channels (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to learn about recent initiatives or campaigns. Run a Google search to see if there are any major recent news stories about the company, such as a merger or a new product launch.
Once you have done your research, how do you bring this knowledge to the job interview? You don’t want to sound like you are rambling or simply reciting a list of facts. Instead, pick a few points that demonstrate that you have done the research. Ideally, these points will also allow you to talk about your skills and why you want to work for the company.
“I know that XYZ Stores is a leading retailer in the Midwest, and your customers value the quality and reliability of the service you offer. I know that the company values hard work, integrity, and innovation, which aligns with my work ethic as demonstrated by [example]. I’m also aware that the company has recently acquired RivalStores, and you’re growing your market share, which makes this an exciting time to join the company.”
Career expert Alison Doyle suggests getting the inside scoop by talking to connections you already have at the company (or by looking for a connection through a local college’s alumni network). Being able to name drop may help you stand out to the hiring manager.
Easy question, right? In fact, many people find speaking about their strengths difficult, either because they are too humble to effectively highlight their skills or because they fail to back up their claims with concrete examples.
When preparing for this question, it pays to be strategic. Go back to the job description and take note of all the skills and attributes the job requires. Assess which of the skills are critical to success in the position and make sure you can truthfully and confidently speak about them in the interview.
For example, you may want to highlight your communications skills in an interview for a public relations role. For an administrative position, you could speak about your organizational capabilities.
Because interviewers will often ask for more than one strength, prepare a list of at least three examples that relate to the job. For each one, make sure you show how you have demonstrated it in the past.
You might say, “One of my greatest strengths is my strong work ethic. I’ve found that this has helped me to be a successful contributor to projects. For example, last year I was able to deliver a major piece of work ahead of schedule.”
When answering this question, don’t fall into the trap of being too humble—the job interview is your chance to sell yourself, after all—but don’t brag. The hiring manager will quickly lose trust in you if you start making exaggerated claims, using cliches (“I always give 110%!”) or providing a boring laundry list of ‘strengths.’
Interviewers may ask follow-up questions, such as “can you give us an example of a time you applied this strength at work?” or “how will your strengths help you succeed in this job?” With preparation, you will be ready for any follow-up or clarification they ask for.
Many job seekers hate this question. You’re not actually going to list your biggest flaws for a potential employer, so why do interviewers keep asking about weaknesses?
Of course, they know you aren’t likely to reveal any red flag-raising weaknesses (although if a candidate does, that makes their decision easier). What they are actually looking for is insight and self-awareness. Do you know where your areas for improvement are? Have you taken any steps to address your shortcomings?
As with strengths, interviewers may sometimes ask you for more than one weakness, so prepare a minimum of three that you feel comfortable talking about.
Career expert Alison Doyle offers three approaches to talking about weaknesses:
Whichever approach you use, make sure your examples are genuine. Interviewers are sensitive to cliches, such as “I’m just too much of a perfectionist,” or “People tell me I work too hard.”
This is what HR professionals call a ‘behavioural’ question. The interviewer is looking for insight into how you have actually behaved on the job in the past by forcing you to give a real example. The logic is that your past behaviour is the best indicator of how you will perform in the future.
When preparing for this type of question, think about genuine challenges you have had in your career, such as:
Then use the STAR method to create your story:
“When working on a website for a major client, changing project scope meant that we were at risk of going over our budget and missing our deadline. As the lead designer, it was clear to me that we needed a reset meeting with the client to discuss priorities and next steps. I discussed this with the project manager and our team, and then met with the client to clarify expectations. As a result, we were able to identify the client’s needs more clearly, and the project eventually ended in coming in under budget and on time.”
Behavioural questions are very common in interviews. Check out this list from The Muse to help you prepare.
This type of question is known as a ‘situational’ question. It is similar to a behavioural question, except that instead of asking about your past, the interviewer will ask you to imagine a hypothetical situation in the future and how you would handle it.
If you are well prepared, you can use your experience to ace these types of questions that focus on soft skills. Once again, it’s all about being familiar with the job description and knowing what attributes or abilities interviewers want to discuss.
You can use the STAR technique to develop responses to hypothetical questions by demonstrating what you have done in the past.
For example, your answer could look like this:
“That’s a challenging situation. In the past, I once made a mistake when producing reports for a team leader meeting. Luckily, I caught the error early and was able to alert my manager to the situation. This meant we could correct the reports before they were sent to the board. This experience taught me the importance of being thorough enough to avoid mistakes in the first place, but also in owning up to my mistakes and to take steps to remedy the situation. My learning from previous mistakes makes me more confident that I would be able to handle similar situations in the future.”
Other common situational questions include:
This can feel like a trick question. After all, what if the answer is “running the place,” “working at a bigger, better company,” “turning my side hustle into a business,” or even “I don’t know”? You don’t want to say these things to a hiring manager.
So how should you approach this question? Well, it helps to know that the reason interviewers ask about your goals is that they are trying to gauge how this role fits into your career plan. They want to make sure that this job is a perfect fit for you and your aspirations, because that means you are more likely to a) work hard in the position and b) stick around for a while (rather than leaving as soon as you find something better).
The best approach to this question is to think about realistic ways in which this job will help you move your career forward. Will it deepen your knowledge of an industry? Help you develop desirable skills? Provide new opportunities to develop as a leader or a manager? You should never lie in an interview, but you can think carefully about which of your career goals are appropriate to share this early on.
Interview coach Pamela Skillings offers the following advice:
An example might look like this:
“In five years, I’d like to be seen as an expert in my field. I think LMN Company is a great place for me to hone my knowledge and grow in my career. I’m also excited to learn more about the opportunities for training and development here, as I’m committed to improving my skillset.”
This question opens up a potential minefield. It is important to avoid letting this steer the interview towards the negative (you should never badmouth a former employer in an interview). Instead, look at this question as an opportunity to talk about why you are excited for this role. Taking a positive, upbeat approach is much more engaging than dwelling on the past.
Some common responses to this question include:
If you were fired or let go from your last job, don’t lie about it. Briefly give the details of what happened, without offering anything that may paint you in a negative light. Soften the story if need be. “My manager and I didn’t see eye to eye” is easier to digest than “I got in a huge argument with my boss and was fired on the spot.”
Yes, the dreaded salary question. Discussing money can still be taboo, and it can often feel intimidating to be asked how highly we value ourselves and our work.
When preparing for your interview, research typical salaries for the job you’re interviewing for. Make sure you consider the type of company and region you live in, as these factors can have a large impact on salaries. Websites such as Payscale, Indeed, Salary.com, and Glassdoor can help you figure out what an appropriate number may look like.
Financial expert Melissa Phipps offers the following advice for handling a salary discussion at an interview:
Interviewers almost always end the interview by asking you whether you have any questions for them. Never show up without a few! This is a great opportunity for you to once again demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job. Remember, this is your last opportunity to make a good impression.
This is also your chance to get more information about the role and the corporate culture. Remember, an interview isn’t just about a company deciding whether they like you—you are also deciding if you want to spend the next few years (or a third of your life) there!
Consider asking these types of questions:
Avoid asking any questions that the interviewer has already answered, or that you could have researched on your own beforehand. You should also avoid bringing up salary and benefits at this stage. Try not to ask too many or overly complicated questions; two or three questions is enough to demonstrate your interest.
Make sure you listen carefully to the interviewer’s answers, and respond enthusiastically.
If they haven’t mentioned next steps, you may want to close the interview by asking what you should expect.
Community Success Manager & CV Writing Expert
Ben is a writer, customer success manager and CV writing expert with over 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their best careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume summary and the power of coffee.
Having the right answers is an important part of a successful job interview, but having the right questions is important too. Make sure you know what you're going to ask your employer before your next interview.
June 18, 2020