In the last up-to-date guides, we gave you all of the information how to write simple and good resume and effective cover letter. If you followed the instructions you probably got a call. Next step? The interview process.
Think you don’t need to plan for your interview? The job market is too competitive and most candidates who make it to the interview stage are qualified for the job.
So once the company gives you a call and invites you to the interview, do your homework. Review the job description, prepare for the questions and read about the company. Set yourself apart from candidates who may have more experience but do not spend time preparing.
Only one candidate will come out of the job interview a winner, and it’s not necessarily the most experienced one. If you prepare and do your homework, it will be you.
On this article:
- 10 Common Questions
- 12 Personal Questions
- Perfect Questions You Can Ask
- Inappropriate Questions
Each interview is as unique as the people involved in it.
But certain questions show up in every interview no matter the industry or the position you are applying for. Knowing these ubiquitous questions gives you an advantage - you can be prepared to answer them.
We selected the ten most common questions along with some effective ways to answer them.
- Can you tell me a little about yourself?
TRAP: This is the most common first question. Many candidates flunk this one because they are too broad. Don't make a wrong first impression and try to fit your life story into two minutes.
TRICK: The recruiter wants to gain insight about you and how you would fit into the company.
This is a warm-up question, so you don't waste your best points here. Limit your answers to work-related matters and don't waste time on irrelevant information. Briefly cover four topics: early years, education, work history, and recent career experience.
- What separates you from other candidates? Why should we hire you?
TRAP: This is similar to "What are your strengths?" but it is your chance to self-advertise. Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other candidates. The only people present are you and the interviewer.
TRICK: This question tests how you sell yourself and whether you satisfy the employer's needs. Think about your greatest accomplishment and remember what the employer highlighted in the job description.
Which of your accomplishments/achievements/skills best match the job description and this particular company's needs?
Your answer should summarize the top three reasons they should hire you and demonstrate the experience and energy you can contribute to solve their problems. Identify the company's problems and needs, tell what you can do to help the company and explain how you will do it.
Summarize the top three reasons you should be hired.
- What do you know about the company?
TRAP: This question eliminates candidates who are desperate for any job, not this particular job. It tells the interviewer whether you are interested in and passionate about this company.
TRICK: Let your answer show that you did some research. Prove that you do your homework. If you get this question, so do the other candidates.
Most of them will probably give broad information they found by simply typing the company's name into a search engine. You should know that basic info, but you should also impress the interviewer with specific data that is important.
With just half an hour of research, you might surprise the interviewer with your answers. Use some Google tricks to find information about product/service, market share with competitors, annual revenue change, future goals, greatest company achievements, and facts about the CEO and the team you will work with.
Make the interviewer's day. Show them you know your stuff—and that you know about their company.
- Why are you leaving your present (last) job? Why do you want to work for us? Why do you want this particular position?
TRAP: Even if you didn't get along with your former boss or direct manager, or even if you didn't like the industry, avoid badmouthing your company. You will lose credibility immediately.
TRICK: This question aims to discover your values and the reasons underlying your career goals. You might also get questions like, "What did you like most about previous job position?" or, "What did you like least?"
The recruiter wants to identify whether your departure was a company or personal decision and why it happened. In one Business News Daily article, Sara Sutton Fell gives two pieces of advice on how to answer this question:
"Be positive and use "I," instead of "them." Be honest and positive, and don't mention personal conflicts even if you didn't get along with your coworkers or boss. It is good to talk about change without changing your own career goal. If you discuss how this particular company can help you reach your career goal, you will come out a winner."
- What are your greatest strengths?
TRAP: This is an easy question, but take note: if your strengths do not match the key points of the job description, you will not be considered a strong candidate.
TRICK: Highlight your strengths that most match the job description's key points. If you're applying for a digital marketing position, then say that your strength is digital marketing. If you are applying for a Scala developer position, highlight your Scala skills. Match yourself to the company's wants and needs.
Mention the rest of your strengths as well. The more you market yourself, the more you will be in demand. Talk about your strong communication skills such as social skills or teamwork—these are some of the most desirable skills. (Learn more about skills.)
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
This question tests your honesty. It is actually designed to eliminate as many candidates as possible. Professional HR managers don't ask this question because it's a bit insulting—they should never ask questions that they themselves would not want to answer.
Ever thought how an interviewer would react if you asked him about his weaknesses? But it's a kind of a common question, so be prepared for it.
TRAP: This question is tricky because it's not positive. The worst way you can answer is by playing up your strengths. You can't say that your weakness is that you work hard and care too much.
Although applicants believe self-promotion is the way to land a job, the evidence shows otherwise. In one study, interviewers gave the highest ratings to applicants who were more concerned with being seen accurately than positively. For more info, see this amazing Adam Grant, Wharton professor article.
TRICK: The honest answer wins. Don't be arrogant. You can't use this question to prove how wonderful you are. However, don't pick out your worst trait, the one you would like to hide even from yourself. Choose a characteristic that bothers you and slightly conflicts with your skills and motivation.
Which of your traits is not deadly, just slightly uncomfortable?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
TRAP: The recruiter wants to know your career goals and how committed you are to the company. She is looking for hints that will let her know whether you are in it for the long haul or just looking for a stopover until something better comes along.
TRICK: The truth is that anything can happen, but the organization is going to invest money, energy, and time into your hiring and training. Five years is a long time, and employees usually change companies more often than that. However, you should at least demonstrate an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment.
Speak as a person with a long-term vision. Remember your career goal (find out more), and figure out how this company or position can help you reach your goal.
- Can you work under pressure?
TRAP: Stress is good and keeps people motivated, so the interviewer wants to know how you handle it. If you say that stress is bad or that you never get stressed, the interviewer will believe you just can't handle it.
TRICK: The best way to answer this question is to give an example of how you have handled stress in a previous job. Just don't mention irrelevant or common situations such as, "I got stressed when I had to handle multiple tasks and finish them quickly." Don't highlight how you felt; emphasize how you handled a particular situation.
Remember, stress is good because it gives you boost, making you sharper and more productive. It helps you get your work done while understanding the outcomes.
Understand that stress gives you energy, and energy is the key component of productive hard work. Basem Talalweh, ex HR/Admin Officer of United Nations, gives good examples of how to answer questions about stress.
- How much money do you want? What are your minimum salary requirements?
TRAP: This is a delicate topic. The recruiter wants to know if the company pays more or less than average.
TRICK: If you want to earn more, use this salesman tactic: never mention a price until the recruiter says how much she can pay.
Of course, this is happening throughout the interview – you are tailoring your expectations to whatever expectations the recruiter expresses. In this instance, to maximize your earning power, use this strategy:
- Research the average salary in your specific market and compare it to your ex-salary.
- Research what the average minimum is in your specific market.
- Use these numbers as a basis to answer the question, "What salary do you expect?" If the recruiter says she can pay only the minimum, then what the heck? It's the low-end company.
- Most companies won't pay the new guy more. So expect that 20K cut (unless you happen to be the well-known pro). Companies can't pay more simply because you might address their issues. You earn more when you actually demonstrate that you can solve the company's daily problems. That's why your salary should increase over time.
So, when you get the "How much do you expect?" question, give them a wide range, such as 60-80K, not a single number like 80K.
I have used this approach myself over the past three years, and it always works. I expect a lower wage for the first half year while I prove my skills and abilities. Only after continuous results, I expect a raise of around 10–20K and a company is OK with it.
- Do you have any questions?
TRAP: If you don't ask questions, you demonstrate a lack of passion.
TRICK: This is the best question yet. It allows you to show your intellect, logic, energy, knowledge, approach and most of all, passion. Find a list of the best questions to ask in the section "Perfect questions you can ask."
Besides the most common questions, HR managers ask their own questions to find out what type of personality you have and how you deal with particular situations. Are you a team player? How would you describe a leader?
While there are only ten common questions, there are thousands of other questions that dig deeper into your persona. There are strategies and tactics to handle these questions, but we suggest you focus on the most common questions.
You're better off remembering how to answer a few questions correctly than answering all of them incorrectly.
- What's your dream job? What type of projects do you enjoy? What motivates you?
The recruiter is probing how well your dream job matches the position and the company. This question helps them assess your motivation as well.
Although the employer does want to recruit an employee with the right set of skills, he also wants to know what keeps you motivated. Ask yourself, "What is motivating me? What is my passion? What skills do I have that will get me my dream job?"
Before the interview, go back and look through the job description to see what most interests you about the position. Then, when you answer the question, focus on the present and the future. Also, give a few examples.
- Can you tell me about your greatest success and your greatest failure?
Your major successes and failures are measurements that frame your performance. The interviewer can use them to gauge how experienced you are. It's important not to highlight conflicts.
Rather how you deal with extreme situations.
- Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How/why was this person difficult? How did you handle it? What qualities in your co-workers or others bother you most? What do you most appreciate?
The recruiter might ask you these questions to determine how much of a team player you are. At the same time, she might have in mind one particular worker who is problematic (but productive) and that you might not get along with. Smile and be positive. :)
- What is a leader? What is a professional? What are the most important characteristics of successful people?
Professional recruiters ask this passionate question to understand who your role models are and whether you have certain professional skills. It's very important to the recruiter to employ the most professional and successful person out of all the candidates. I always mention Elon Musk.
- Describe a situation that required you to do a number of things at the same time. How did you handle it?
Everyone has times when they have tons of work and not much time to get it done, so the ability to multitask is one of the most essential skills a candidate can have. This question is a good opportunity to recall an example in your work history that demonstrates your amazing speed and ability to prioritize tasks in a time-sensitive manner.
- What's your definition of hard work?
Hard work is not working as much as you can. It's a productive way to get the job done in the shortest time possible. There are many ways to stay productive. Give examples like, "I start with the most difficult task and leave the less important ones for last."
- If you could describe yourself with just one word, what would it be?
The recruiter wants to find what is important to you. That one word can tell him how well you will fit this particular position.
- What other companies are you interviewing with? Would you choose us?
If you hear this question at the end of an interview, take it as a good sign. Stay positive about this company and ask what the next step in the process is.
- What's your style? What are your habits or what techniques do you use?
The employer is interested in your skills and style. This is a smart question for the smart candidate.
- How would you deal with an irate customer?
This question checks how you deal with stress and responsibility. Irate customers show up all the time. You just have to deal with them. Remember your last irate customer. Explain how you solved the situation and how you made the company look good.
- Why is there a gap in your employment?
Gaps in your career are OK, and interviewers will view starting a business or taking maternity leave positively. The problem is when you have a gap and leave it unexplained. That is a perfect soil for misinterpretation.
- Can you explain why you changed career paths?
Remember your career goal. That's why.
When you finally hear "Do you have any questions?"
This is the best part of an interview because it gives you a chance to show your interest as well as your intellect, creativity, wisdom, knowledge, and approach.
Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Local, once mentioned the perfect, experienced candidate and how she totally failed the interview:
"She didn't ask any questions, and it was a fatal error, of course. In her lack of questions, she displayed a lack of passion."
Asking questions is a bonus, especially if you didn’t do so well during the interview. You can use this opportunity to gain back points. A few thoughtful questions that stun the interviewer can balance out your lack of experience.
Ask as many questions as you like—the interview is over when you quit asking. So if you can keep the conversation going with some great questions for three, five or even ten minutes, you might come out as a top candidate for the position: the passionate person who really wants to work for this particular company.
Smart managers always hire for attitude over skill.
Show interest in what the company is looking for and how you can help the company solve its problems. At the start of the conversation, you already discussed a candidate—you. Follow-up questions will give you an idea of what a good candidate is from the interviewer's perspective.
- What skills, characteristics, and experiences would make an ideal "high potential" candidate?
Listen for keywords that you highlighted in your resume and that appeared in the job description.
- If you were to rank all the people who have done this job in the past, tell me about No. 1 and why you would put him/her there?
This is a great open-ended question that will have the interviewer put the cards on the table and state exactly what the employer is looking for.
- Do you have any hesitations/concerns about my qualifications?
This is also a great question because it’s courageous. You are asking "What do you think about me?" in a polite way. Also, you show that you have confidence in your skills and abilities. The recruiter will share his concerns, and you will explain why he should not be concerned.
TIP: The biggest concern is usually a lack of knowledge. Assure the recruiter that you can adapt to new situations and that you learn quickly.
- Will the company provide any training? How are employee performances evaluated?
This is a positioning question, showing that you are interested in expanding your knowledge, actually reaching your goals, and growing with your employer.
- What interests you about me as a candidate?
This is a great way to garner positive attention. You can ask about your stronger skills that the job description specifically mentions. The recruiter will reply with what she believes is one of your strengths that is important for the company or the position.
You are applying for a particular position so it's super important to ask specifically about that position.
- How has this position evolved since it was created?
This will tell you about employees who have worked for this company. Additionally, it will give you a better understanding of what the career possibilities are.
- Who previously held this position?
This straightforward question will tell you whether that person was promoted or fired or if he/she quit or retired. That, in turn, will provide a clue to the inner workings of the company and how good the relationships on the team are.
The interviewer is an employee too, so you can get her personal opinion and insight regarding her relationships with her supervisor and company.
- What have you enjoyed most about working here? Why did you choose this company?
This question allows the interviewer to connect with you on a more personal level, sharing his or her feelings. The answer will also give you a unique perspective on how satisfied people are with their jobs there.
- Can you tell me about a time when you failed at something, or someone else in the organization failed at something? How did the organization deal with it?
This straightforward question will provide insight on the upper-level management style and how the organization deals with crises.
- Which competitor worries you most?
You should ask this question if the recruiter doesn't mention competitors. Asking about competitors is a must, because this is one of the biggest concerns of any business. Asking about competitors will demonstrate your approach to problems the company is facing.
- What is the management style of the person who would be my supervisor?
This is a great time to remember keywords from your resume and the job description. Ask questions about the supervisor's management style and how that dovetails with the skills mentioned in both the job description and your resume. Does your supervisor's style match your skills?
- How did you get your start in this industry? Why do you stay?
An honest question that will keep the interviewer engaged.
- What worries you and keeps you awake at night?
An open question about what problems the company is facing.
- How do you see this position evolving in the next three years?
Ask this question to show interest in further career opportunities within the company.
- Can you tell me about the team?
This question tells you about the individuals you will interact with on a daily basis.
- What is your vision for where the company or department will be in 3-5 years?
This is a good question for the direct supervisor. He will give you his personal vision and that of the company. The question reminds the supervisor to think and remember where the company is headed.
- If you could improve one thing about the company, what would it be?
The employer will give you an idea of what his priorities are or the challenges/problems that worry him.
- What’s a key to this company’s success that somebody from outside the company wouldn’t know about?
This excellent question comes from the Marc Cenedella 14 questions list. The recruiter should be proud about essential components of the company. It might be the CEO, the three-year plan, financial results or a strong team.
Tactical end of the conversation.
- What is the next step in the process?
This is the essential last question—one you must ask. It shows that you’re interested in the company and in moving along in the process. Maybe you didn't interview well or your experience isn't the greatest, but asking great questions may shore up your image.
Ask questions, get to know more about the company's people and system.
Connect with the company.
Describe a recent unpopular decision you made. What do your last manager thinks about you? Tell me about a time you screwed up. When have you failed? How would your boss and co-workers describe you?
The recruiter might ask very unprofessional questions such as these that leave you wondering, "Why should I answer?" Evade these questions and don't give a straight answer. "What is your weakness?" is also a question that is unnecessary but widely used.
You don't need to answer these questions directly, but think, "Why did the interviewer ask it?" She should be focused on getting the info that demonstrates how the candidate will solve the company's problems, not forming an opinion-based performance review.
You don’t have to mention that you and the team at your last job didn't get along. Interviewers tend to freak out at any suggestion that you didn’t like your last job.
Consider the job interview as a conversation, not an investigation. During the conversation the recruiter will try to figure out if you match up to the position more than the other candidates or not.
Remember: the most experienced candidate does not win the job — the one that is most relevant to the company does. In a competitive job market, there are competitive people and if you don’t prepare, you’re not in the competition. Once you get the call, start doing your homework.
Either way, don’t lose heart if you don’t get that one position. You can succeed only if you are willing to fail. If you succeed the first time, that is pure luck. If you don’t, keep moving.
Search for companies that suit your goals, tailor your resume and prepare for the interview. After all, a job search is a process, not an event.