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How to answer the 10 top job interview questions

The best way to succeed in a job interview is to come prepared. By preparing answers to these common job interview questions, you will never be caught off guard in an interview.

You’ve put together a top-notch resume, nailed your job search strategy, perfected your cover letter, and finally your hard work has paid off. You have been invited to interview for your dream job!

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.

  1. “Tell me about yourself.”
  2. “What do you know about our company?”
  3. “What’s your greatest strength?”
  4. “What’s your greatest weakness?”
  5. “Tell me about a challenging situation you’ve handled at work. How did you overcome it?”
  6. “We all make mistakes. How would you handle a situation where you make a mistake on a critical project?”
  7. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  8. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
  9. “What are your salary expectations?”
  10. “Do you have any questions for us?”

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

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.

  • Start by talking about the present (ie. your current role). For example: “I’m currently a fundraising assistant for a major charity, where I’ve recently been working on our holiday appeal.”
  • Then talk about the past (ie. how you got to where you are). For example: “Prior to my current role, I worked for local non-profits where I became well-versed in the fundamentals of fundraising, donor care, and database management.”
  • Then talk about your future (ie. why you’re a great fit for the position). For example: “I’m ready to take the next step in my fundraising career, and I’m excited by the opportunity to make a positive contribution at ABC Charity.”

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:

  • Hobbies (especially ones that demonstrate skills or traits that are desirable for the job!)
  • Interests that you are passionate about (and may help build rapport or forge a connection with your interviewer)
  • Volunteer work

However, you should avoid mentioning:

  • Anything that may be controversial (ie. subjects that would be taboo at the dinner table) or partisan (ie. you spend your weekends canvassing for a political party)
  • Details about your family and personal situation

2. “What do you know about our company?”

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:

  • Major products and services
  • How long the company has been in operation
  • Major achievements, milestones, or accolades
  • Vision, mission, and values
  • Details about the executive team (you should at least know the name of the CEO)

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.

For example:

“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.

3. “What is your greatest strength?”

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.

4. “What is your greatest weakness?”

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:

  • Discuss non-essential skills. When you analyze the job posting, consider any weaknesses that aren’t essential to job success.
    • Example: If the role requires great communication skills, you probably don’t want to highlight a weakness in this area. Instead, you might talk about challenges with scheduling.
  • Talk about a skill you have been improving. This approach can help you demonstrate that you’re able to take feedback and adapt.
    • Example: “I used to struggle with presentations. However, I know this is an important part of my role, so I spoke to my manager who agreed to mentor me and provide me with more opportunities to practice my public speaking skills. While I still get nervous when presenting, I have become more comfortable and recently ran a workshop for my department.”
  • Turn a negative into a positive. Let’s say you have a tendency to ‘over-check’ your work, which could lead to delays in workflow. However, this also demonstrates your attention to detail.
    • Example: “I sometimes struggle with over-checking reports and emails, trying to make them perfect before they go out. I realized that this could cause delays, and it meant I was spending too much time on these tasks. I’ve since learned to balance my attention to detail by scheduling time for me to look over my work.”

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.”

5. “Tell me about a challenging situation you have encountered at work. How did you overcome it?”

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:

  • Projects with difficult constraints
  • Team conflicts
  • Unhappy customers or clients

Then use the STAR method to create your story:

  • Situation: What was going on?
  • Task: What was your responsibility in the situation?
  • Action: What action did you take to address the situation?
  • Result: What was the result of your action?

For example:

“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.

6. “We all make mistakes sometimes. How would you handle a situation where you make a mistake on a critical project?”

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:

  • How would you handle a conflict with a coworker?
  • What would you do if faced with an angry client/customer?
  • What would you do in a situation where you disagreed with your boss?
  • What would you do if you needed information from someone who wasn’t being very responsive?
  • How would you handle a situation in which you had multiple conflicting deadlines?

7. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

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:

  • Keep your answer relatively general
  • Emphasize that you have an interest in a long-term career with the company
  • Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the current opportunity

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.”

8. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”

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:

  • “I’m looking for a new challenge.”
  • *“I’m moving into a new field/taking my career in a new direction.”
  • “I’m relocating.”*
  • “There isn’t any more room to grow in my current company, so I’m looking for a place where I can continue to build my career.”
  • “I’d like to further develop my skills.”
  • “I’d like to take on new responsibilities.”

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.”

9. “What are your salary expectations?”

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:

  • Say you’re flexible: If you don’t have a fixed figure in mind, you can say something like “My expectations are in line with my qualifications” or “I’m open to negotiations on salary.” However, be aware that being too vague may lead the interviewer to push you for a firmer answer.
  • Offer a range based on your research. For example: “I’m open to discussing this with you, but based on my knowledge of the industry and my previous salary, my expectations are $75k to $85k.” When providing a range, make sure that even your lowest number is one that you would be genuinely happy with, and that would support you and your family.
  • Think about your current salary: If you are making a lateral move, think about what you are currently earning. Unless you think your current employer is massively underpaying you, use this as a benchmark. If you are making an upward move, think about what a fair pay raise for the additional responsibility would look like for you.
  • Highlight your skills: You can use your qualifications and desirability as a candidate to frame your salary expectations. For example, if you are an experienced manager, you might say “With more than ten years of managing large teams, I feel a reasonable salary for this position would be…”

10. “Do you have any questions for me?”

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:

  • “What do you love about working here?”
  • “What do you think the most challenging aspect of this role will be?”
  • “How would you describe the corporate culture?”
  • “What would a typical day in this job look like?”
  • “How would success in this role be measured?”
  • “What is the company’s approach to training and development?”
  • “What are the company’s goals for the coming year? How would these goals impact this role?”

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.

Are you ready?

Interviews are often challenging, but with enough preparation, you can significantly reduce your interview stress. Remember to show up with confidence and enthusiasm, be ready to talk about your skills, and you will be ready to wow any hiring manager.

Looking for more commonly asked interview questions? Check out these resources:

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