Attending a job interview can be stressful for most job seekers. Not only are they anxious about meeting their potential boss, but they're also stressed out about getting the interview questions right. But don’t worry, we are here to help. The best thing you can do to make the most of your interview is to prepare for it; and by preparing for it, I don’t just mean that you should buy yourself a well-fitting suit and be on time. Your main concern should be becoming familiar with the job interview questions.
We have created a list of the 20 most common interview questions to help you prepare effectively for your next encounter with an employer. So, if you are looking for a job and want to make sure that you will give your best take a look.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
If there was a prize for most common interview questions, this would win. The ‘Tell us about yourself’ interview question serves as an ice-breaker, but most job seekers find it one of the hardest ones to answer. It is a favourite interview opener as it gives recruiters a chance to assess how prepared, eloquent and relevant you are for the job. Employers want to get to know who you are.
Best way to answer: Pick a couple of crucial moments of your professional life like your degree, your most relevant work experience or any major successes you have had professionally. You don’t have to convince them that you are ideal for this job since this is most probably going to be the first question, rather come up with a one-minute introduction of yourself. If you have an elevator speech ready, this is the best time to use it. It can explain employers who you are, what do you do and why you are there.
2. What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
Keep in mind that you have been asked to attend this job interview because employers are interested to know if you can do the specific job. With the accomplishments interview question, they want to learn if you have actually accomplished anything in the past e.g. overcame obstacles or gained any recognition as evidence that you possess the skills and experience you list on your CV.
Best way to answer: Think about a professional accomplishment that can prove that you can do that specific job. For example, what did you do in your last job that is worth mentioning? Has your boss ever given you a thumbs up for anything? Have you managed to increase sales, sell a product in a unique way? How did you do it? These are the things employers are most interested in. When you talk about achievements, don’t forget to refer to actual facts and numbers.
3. Why do you want this job?
Employers know very well that the best results are produced by people who love doing what they do. This is the reason why they want to assess your interest in the job. The question provides an opportunity to employers to find out how well you can perform in the job as well as how long you are going to stay in it.
Best way to answer: Show employers that you would be happy to do the job and provide a reason why you want to work for their company. Is it in alignment with your personal interests? Is it a cause you feel passionate about? Have you always felt passionate about this particular industry? Make sure that you prove to the hiring manager that this is the opportunity you’ve always wanted. Also, try to relate more to the company and why you’d like to work for them. Have they taken any initiatives in the industry? Is there something that only they do? It never hurts to compliment the company.
4. Why should we hire you?
Although we’d all like to roll our eyes at this question, the hiring manager is asking it for one simple reason. They want to know what sets you apart from the other candidates and why you’re the best applicant for the job and assess cultural fit. Anyhow, it’s your responsibility to provide them with a compelling answer. Be warned that there are variations of this question such as the exact opposite one ‘Tell us why we shouldn’t hire you’ interview question, that you need to prepare for.
Best way to answer: What you can do with this question is discuss your strengths and how these strengths will help you push the company forward. If you have a good example of something you’ve accomplished in the past make sure that you talk about it and then relate back to the fact that if they hire you, you’ll be able to produce results for them. Speak in a balanced tone to show that you need the job as much as they need you. Also, avoid comparing yourself with other applicants.
5. What is your greatest strength?
Just like any other interview question, this one also has its purpose. Employers may ask you to talk about your greatest strength, to find out what do you value as a positive trait and to put you under pressure to see how you would respond. Since they are interested in you as a professional who can help their company achieve its goals, it’s essential that all your answers are relevant to the company.
Best way to answer: Read the job description again and think about the most important job requirements mentioned. Your company research should also provide you with some insight into what they are interested in. Here you can talk about your skills, personal traits, your knowledge or experience but these needs to be relevant to the role you are applying for. Don’t forget to prepare some examples for each.
6. What is your greatest weakness?
This is the question we all fear the most, why? Because nobody wants to tell their potential boss what they are worst at. However, you need to remember that the hiring manager is aware that no job seeker or employee is perfect at everything. Admitting that you have flaws shows that you are being honest. Besides, talking about the ‘right weaknesses’ won’t prevent you from getting hired.
Best way to answer: Make sure that the weakness you pick is not something that’s in the requirements for the job. Also, avoid generic answers such as ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘I work hard’. These are cliché and have no real value. You want this answer to show them that you are self-aware so be open about yourself. The key here is to show them that you have identified your weakness and working on improving it. So, either tell them that you’re taking a class to improve whatever it is you’re not perfect at to turn your weakness into a strength or refer to a weakness most people would empathise with.
7. What’s the biggest challenge you have ever dealt with?
The idea behind this question is for the hiring manager to deduce how you deal with stressful and challenging situations at work. If you have ever worked then you’ll know that most jobs come with their fair share of challenges. For the hiring manager it’s important to know that you won’t give up once you meet your first challenge.
Best way to answer: The good thing about challenges is that they’re usually a stepping stone for you to acquire a new skill. For this reason, you will need to let the hiring manager know how the challenge helped you grow. So if, for example, your challenge has to do with being told to do something you had no idea how to do, walk the hiring manager through how you dealt with it and how it made you feel and also discuss how it taught you more about dealing with challenges at work. The STAR technique that allows you to explain the situation, task, action and result can help you answer the most difficult behavioural interview questions.
8. Have you ever had any conflicts at work? And if so how did you deal with them?
If you’ve ever been in a professional environment, then you know that people can get competitive when they are put in a room to work together towards the same goal. Even though you may have the best intentions of getting along with them, sooner or later someone will be in your face, and it’s important for the hiring manager to know that won’t faze you out. If a hiring manager is asking this, there’s a good chance they have had to deal with conflicts between coworkers in the past and want to know how you can handle it.
Best way to answer: It's important to provide an answer that will reassure the hiring manager that you have always tried to get along with everyone and that this is your intention if they hire you. You can refer to any conflicts with coworkers you’ve had in the past but you need to tell the hiring manager that you believe that the best way to sort out situations like this is by talking things out.
9. What is your dream job?
The hiring manager is no fool and they are well aware that your intention is not to remain a low-level employee for the rest of your life. They know that you have career goals of your own and the reason why they are asking this question is to find out if your career goals are in alignment with the position they are offering. The dream-job question seeks to find out whether you are passionate in the role or if you’re going to turn into dead weight at the company.
Best way to answer: Make sure that your answer not only relates to the position at hand but that you also talk about how this position can help you grow professionally. Your answer shouldn’t leave the hiring manager with the impression that this company is a pit-stop for you. Don’t be afraid to talk about your passions and interests to support your argument.
10. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Every hiring manager is interested to see if you have realistic expectations. To test this they are more likely to ask the favourite 5-year career plan question. This allows them to see how far into the future you have planned and figure out whether you are serious about the job. So if for example, you tell them that in 5 years you see yourself as the CEO of the company then the game is lost.
Best way to answer: Show the hiring manager that you have aspirations and that you are working towards a specific career goal. This will make you seem more keen and enthusiastic, but also show them that your goals align with the position. In your answer, you should try to highlight your desire to work at that company and show your willingness to learn.
11. Are you interviewing with other companies?
This question can be tricky as you really want the hiring manager to know that you’re interested in the position, but you also want to be honest because you need to be able to make a decision if you have options. The best policy here is to be honest. It doesn’t take a genius to know that most job seekers are interviewing with lots of companies at the same time.
Best way to answer: Be honest and just tell them that you are, but let them know how enthusiastic you are about this opportunity. Also, tell them that you would appreciate if they could back to you with a yes or no answer or a specific date soon.
12. Why are you leaving your current job?
Of course, this won’t apply to you if you’re a recent graduate, but if you’re not, and you’re still employed at another company, then this can be quite difficult to answer. The reason why so many of us feel trapped with this question is that we realise that interviewing with another company while being employed makes us question our loyalty.
Best way to answer: Having said that, no one expects you to be loyal to a sinking ship, or a company that does not align with your career goals; so explain why you want to leave your job but keep it positive. Don’t say your boss is an asshole or that your coworkers are unbearable and make sure that the reasons you give are to do with pushing forward and professional success.
13. Why were you fired?
I know that out of all the interview questions you could possibly be asked this is by far the most intimidating. No one wants to admit that they were not good enough for a particular position, but remember that being fired does not reflect on your professionalism or your enthusiasm for work, and this is exactly what you need to convey to the hiring manager.
Best way to answer: If this has ever happened to you, know that getting fired is not the end of the world. The best thing you can do is be honest about the whole thing. It’s usually best to give a generalised answer and avoid talking about any negative issues regarding your dismissal. So make sure you tell the truth, take responsibility for your own actions, show remorse and talk about lessons learnt.
14. Why did you quit your last job?
Similar to the question above, we tend to think that quitting a job reflects badly on our professionalism. But, like everybody else, you had your reasons for quitting. This question is asked to help employers assess your current situation. They also want to find out if you are being honest about it in case they contact your last employer.
Best way to answer: Explain that your professional goals with the last company were no longer in alignment and rather staying in a job where you had nothing to offer and vice versa you decided to quit. If that’s not the case, it’s OK to say that you were looking for a better opportunity, relocating to another city/country or wanted to become a freelancer.
15. What do you hope this new position will be like?
Again, what the hiring manager is trying to deduce is whether you are realistic or not. To show him or her that you are ready for this position, make sure that your answer relates to the job description. If you want to get hired, your goal here is to match your qualifications and skills with the requirements of the job. This is also the perfect time to talk about your career goals and what you expect to get out from it. Likewise, you can tell employers what you can do for them.
Best way to answer: Your answer needs to reflect your research in the organisation. You can choose to talk about company culture, work environment, personal development, work style but you should generally avoid discussing salary expectations. The key is to remain positive with your answer and show your enthusiasm for the job.
16. What type of work environment do you feel most comfortable in?
Employers may ask this question to find out what would be the ideal work environment for you to work in. You probably know that not everyone is cut out for the fast-paced environment of most big companies, but what may surprise you is that many people find that slow-paced environments kill their productivity and enthusiasm. If this applies to you, then you should think twice before sending your CV to a company.
Best way to answer: To make the hiring manager happy with your response to this question, you need to ensure them that your ideal type of environment is the one that the company offers. Keep in mind that if they are a big company, there’s a good chance that they are also a fast-paced workplace. When you conduct your research on the company you will figure this out. If it helps, check out a few sample answers to structure your response effectively.
17. How would your previous boss describe you?
It’s important to keep this answer realistic as there’s a good chance the hiring manager will call your previous employer for a recommendation. For this reason you will need to be certain that whatever you say, they will be able to confirm it. Employers ask this question to find out what kind of impression you think you have made to your last boss and whether you left the job on good terms or not.
Best way to answer: While you can’t speak for your boss, you can guess what he or she thinks of you. Refer to any feedback they have ever provided you with through a performance review, or any comments they have made when you made a mistake, or have done something good for the company.
18. How would your coworkers describe you?
This question allows employers to learn more about you and how other people see you. Here you are given the chance to discuss stuff you haven’t been able to talk about earlier in the job interview, and it’s the right time to talk about your personal qualities and skills. Remember to be honest because your potential employer is just a phone call away from discovering the truth.
Best way to answer: This is similar to the well-known ‘describe yourself in three words’ interview question. To get it right, prepare a list of positive personal traits and back them up with relevant examples. This preparation can help you talk about yourself with more ease, without having to stress about what to say on the spot. Some good ones to use are the following: ambitious, confident, easy-going, hard-working, loyal, team player, reliable, punctual, motivated, methodical, organised or anything that shows your professionalism.
19. What are your salary requirements?
This question is one of the trickiest ones. Talking about salary can be uncomfortable and if the discussion comes to this, you need to give a smart answer. Employers ask this question to learn how realistic your salary expectations are. But since there isn’t a single person amongst us that wouldn’t like a high salary, it’s hard to come up with an answer that isn’t asking for too much…or in some cases too little.
Best way to answer: If you get this question in the interview, don’t panic. Some ways to answer this is by deflecting the question, giving out a salary range e.g. £900 to £1,100, or saying the exact amount – if you already know how much they offer. Before you go to the interview, research the company on salary websites like Glassdoor and PayScale and find out what the median salary for the position you’re applying to is, as well as reviews on the compensation packages of the company. This should help you prepare an answer in advance.
20. What do you like to do outside of work?
Employers who ask this question feel that company culture is an important factor in terms of shaping good employee-employer relationships and workplace success. This is the reason why some ask what are your hobbies and activities outside of work. Getting this kind of information can also help them create a well-rounded image around your name and stay more memorable.
Best way to answer: Whatever you do, don’t lie or claim to enjoy hobbies that you don’t just to impress employers. Prefer to focus on activities that refer to personal development such as learning a new language, volunteering, writing a blog, or any other goals you are trying to accomplish. These don’t necessarily have to be relevant to the job at hand, though that can be useful as it shows your interest and commitment to the industry.
21. How do you handle success/failure?
Success and failure are interwoven in our daily lives and more so in our work environment. People who handle them effectively are more likely to succeed at work. Employers are well aware of this and they want to hire people who know what to do in every situation. This question helps them find out how you maintain your composure, attitude, energy and focus when you are succeeding or failing.
Best way to answer: Focus on what you have learnt from past successes and failures. Think about a few instances from the past and provide a case for each. When talking about success, don’t make it all about yourself. Instead, make sure to give credit to your colleagues or other people from your group to show that you are a good team player. The failure question is used as an alternative way to uncover your weaknesses but also to find out if you have the confidence to admit your mistakes, which is an essential part of progress. Don’t be afraid to talk about your failings, just make sure to talk about the lessons you learnt.
22. How do you handle stress?
A large percentage of people struggle to cope at work because of depression, stress or burn out, survey finds. This leads to other problems such as inactivity, underperformance and low levels of productivity. Handling stress effectively is amongst the most important skills any employee can have, and employers want to know whether you can do that or not before hiring you. In essence, they want to find out how pressure affects you and how you manage it.
Best way to answer: It’s natural to get stressed from time to time and it’s OK to admit that. To be convincing you need to give out examples of when you had to work under stressful conditions. It’s important to focus on the positive aspect of it and how this situation has helped you become a productive employee. Talking about your time management and organisational skills won’t hurt. Tell them how you divide your time between work, entertainment and leisure, and what kind of de-stressing activities you like to get involved in.
23. Describe a difficult situation/project and how you overcame it.
The logic behind behavioural interview questions like this one is that your past behaviour is a predictor of what you will do in the future. As such, it allows employers to see how you would react in a difficult situation while on the job. The good thing is that there is no wrong or right answer to it. The downside to it is that it usually spawns further questions so you need to be prepared to talk about it in detail.
Best way to answer: Here you can talk about a problem or a dilemma that you had to face when completing a task or a project. You will need to be specific with your examples, and concise so that your response doesn’t exceed one minute. It’s a good idea to prepare stories that show how you managed to solve a difficult situation. For example, you could talk about that time when you had to work in a group but not every member was willing to help out, or for that time when you had to deliver a presentation but you were facing technical problems.
24. Do you work well with other people?
Teamwork is one of the most important skills employers look for in candidates. This is because working as part of a team is essential to every position from entry level to managerial. Apart from that, employers may ask this question to find out more about your working style. They want to know how you work with other people and whether you are capable of working as part of a team or independently just as effectively.
Best way to answer: For this one you will need to give examples of teamwork from previous jobs. If you don’t have much experience in a working environment, you can go back to your student years and think about situations where you had to work as part of a group. Make sure that you keep the conversation positive focusing on the successful aspect and the results that came out of it.
25. Do You Have Any Questions?
It’s likely that this question will be the last one you’ll be asked. If the interview’s been going on for quite a while, you might be too tired to think of any questions, but it’s important that you do so as this will show that you’re truly interested in the company.
Best way to answer: Ask more targeted things as these will make you more memorable to the hiring manager. Avoid asking about the benefits they offer or ones that have been answered throughout the interview. Instead, focus on questions that show your interest in solving a problem, show your familiarity with the job, or can provide an insight into the company culture. For example, you can go for things like ‘What’s your favourite thing about working here?’ or ‘What are your plans for growth?’
Since you will only get one shot with each employer, you need to make sure that every answer is carefully thought and planned out. Remember that aside from getting the interview questions right you should also make sure you are being positive and retain the right body language to deliver your message effectively. If you need more help on getting ready for a job interview, check our job interview guide that has all the information you need!
Do you have any other common job interview questions in mind? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.
This article was originally published in July 2016