10 Most Common Interview Questions and Answers by Experts 2017Last Updated: November 8, 2017
So, you’ve finally nailed that all important job interview. You’re probably nervous about it, and while that’s understandable, you mustn’t let anxiety derail you. Put your mind at rest with our roundup of the most common interview questions, and answers from the world’s top career coaches.
There is no great mystery to performing effectively at a job interview. It’s all about preparation. This is easier to say in theory than to carry out in practice, but job interviews are, for the most part, a formula. They’re composed of and measured by a core of the most common interview questions and answers that ‘tick the boxes’.
Any candidate is sure to make a strong impression if they make a reasonably committed study of the most common interview questions and answers; if they consider what the interview panel is really looking for; if they research the etiquette and customs of appearance and behaviour during and after the interview; by studying the huge bank of literature written on the subject by qualified career coaches.
Understanding what is at work behind the most common interview questions and answers is about more than knowing your own resume by rote. It is also about more than knowing the profile of the hiring company. Interview effectiveness is a synthesis of both, requiring you to diligently research your resume and the company profile with extreme.
It is critical to understand that an interview is a forum for pitching the skills, achievements, qualifications and character attributes listed on your resume as unique selling points; USPs that align with what the hiring company is looking for. Knowledge of the most common interview questions and answers is vital
Make no mistake: if you go in to an interview ill-prepared, it’s doubtful that you will make a good impression. It’s an inexcusable waste of opportunity.
But if you properly appreciate that the body of research on the most common interview questions and answers is a gift of an opportunity to present your best self, there is no reason to assume you will not make the final shortlist at the very least.
The Internet provides an amazing springboard into the world of the leading minds on careers, job-seeking and the interview process, all of whom have written at length about the most common interview questions and answers.
Q&A: Most Common Interview Questions and Answers that Tick The Boxes
Here, then, are 10 of the most common interview questions and answers, complete with insights into what the interview panel asking them is thinking, as well as specific tips from top career coaches on the preparation necessary to tailor each answer to you.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
What the Interview Panel is thinking: What is the demeanour and attitude of this candidate, and how articulate are they? Does the candidate understand they are being asked to represent their best self, and what they regard as special about themselves?
Right at the top of our list of the most common interview questions and answers is this: the question you’ll be asked in every interview. In the fun and informative Interview Like A Boss, Hans Van Nas emphasises that hirers are looking for a quick and informative response to this question.
“Instead of forestalling it, stick to responding with a crisp, clean FIVE point introduction—1 your name; 2 your status; 3 what you did at school or work; 4 the type of person you are; 5 why you decided to apply.”
Van Nas’s book contains 20+ second intro samples, tailored to specific job backgrounds and personality types.Whether you use the samples as is, or customise them, the interviewer will take notice, so long as you cover all five points.
2. What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: How self-aware is this candidate? Are they genuinely and positively self-critical? What analytical and problem-solving skills might they bring to this company?
Career coach Carole Martin, author of What to Say in Every Job Interview: How to Understand What Managers are Really Asking and Give the Answers that Land the Job (Business Books), has practical advice on preparing for this question.
Prior to the interview, divide a piece of paper into three columns, and group your skills under these headings: knowledge-based skills (acquired through experience in education or work, e.g. degrees and certificates, languages, IT skills); transferable skills (what you bring with you to any job, e.g., communication skills, people skills, planning, analytical problem-solving, etc.); and personal traits (qualities that are unique to you, e.g., reliability, flexibility, friendliness, hard-working, good humour, punctuality, collaboration, enthusiasm, trustworthiness, creativity, discipline, patience, respectfulness, determination, dedication, honesty and versatility).
Choose three to five of the strengths from each column that match the employer’s specific requirements as listed in the job advertisement, and back them up with specific examples from your own history to demonstrate why you believe it to be a strength.
On weaknesses: no-one wants to go there, but it is vital to demonstrate honesty. Examples of weaknesses cited by Carole Martin include: being too critical of yourself; attempting to please everyone; being unfamiliar with the latest software or social media platform.
Again, preparation is vital. Write and memorise something short, concise and positive, which you will be able to deliver with confidence.
Here is a good example that incorporates both strengths and weaknesses:
“My strength is my ability to handle change. As customer service manager at my last job, I was able to turn around a negative working environment and develop a very supportive team. As far as weaknesses, I feel that my management skills could be stronger, and I am constantly working to improve them.”
3. Where do you see yourself in five years?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: “Is this candidate going to be with us for the long-term? Have they properly thought through what is meant by working for our company? If we hire them and they disappear after six months, it will be a waste of resources. How ambitious are they? Are they too ambitious for what we can offer?”
Dayvon Goddard, author of How to Answer the 25 Toughest Job Interview Questions, which includes guidance on all of the top 10 job interview questions, advises that answers to this query should be structured by covering a number of topics, such as:
- Your Interest in the Job
- Your Core Strengths
- Your Professional Goals
- Where you would like to be each year
Goddard’s sample answer to this question is as follows:
I definitely see myself employed within this company for the next five years and beyond. I feel as though your company and I share some of the same values, such as _______ and _________. I would really like to take those to a superior level with the help of this company. This is definitely the position I’ve been preparing for and I am excited about the opportunity to work with you for the next five years.
If you have researched the potential growth opportunities available with your position, Goddard also suggests that you should let the interviewer know that you see yourself assuming the responsibilities.
“For example,” he writes, “if you are applying for an accounting position and in five years you know that the position will likely lead you to a Senior Accountant position, tell the interviewer that you see yourself in the role of Senior Accountant (be sure to state the responsibilities of this position and how you plan on executing them as efficiently as possible).”
4. Why do you want to work for us?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: “Does this candidate really want to work for us? Do they know anything about us and do they share our outlook and values? Or are they just looking for a job?”
Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace—and think tank and publishing firm whose mission is to reinvent work for people—has written extensively and widely on the subject of careers, the top 10 interview questions and, in particular, interview preparation. Liz Ryan, author of Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve, freely admits that the truthful answer for the majority of job-seekers is: “I saw your job ad, I’m qualified for the job, and so I wanted to learn more. I don’t know yet whether or not I want to work here. That’s why I came to the interview — to find out.”
However, even if that is your feeling, it’s better to adopt a softer tone. You have been given the interview so you must be in with a chance. They already know that you want a job, so what they’re actually doing here is giving you an opportunity to hear what you know about the company.
Ryan writes: The best way to answer the question is to mention an aspect of the company’s mission, the role you’re applying for or an initiative you’d be involved in. When you do that, you let the interviewer know that you’ve done your research and you also tie your own goals to the company’s goals.
Here are a few examples from Liz Ryan:
INTERVIEWER: Why do you want to work here?
YOU: From what I understand, your company is looking at expanding into children’s publishing, and that is my first love. I interned in a children’s publishing house right after college and I’m writing a children’s book of my own, too.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you want to work here?
YOU: I am attracted to your culture, and your company’s focus on team-based product development. I have often chafed at the constraints on traditional product development methodology and I’m avid to learn more.
INTERVIEWER: Why do you want to work here?
YOU: My sister worked here when she lived in this area and she still says it was her best job yet. She said that she learned so much and she has told me more than once that if I could work here I would really enjoy it. Now that you’re growing your Customer Support team I wanted to jump at that opportunity.
5. Why did you leave your last job?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: “How did this candidate get along with their previous employer? Did they leave on good terms or bad? Does this candidate have a definite view about employer/employee relationships, and will that work for us? Does this candidate bad-mouth their previous employer? What does that tell us about this person’s loyalty and respect for business? Might this candidate leave us for the same reasons?”
Alison Doyle, author of Alison Doyle’s Job Search Guidebook, is a job search and career expert with many years of experience in human resources, career development, and job searching. She says the answer to this question is a “window into your on-the-job character and values”.
She advises careful preparation of an answer, which should be practiced over and over, until you sound positive and clear about your circumstances now and your goals for the future.
“There are all sorts of reasons to leave a job,” she writes. “Maybe you want a higher salary, thought the company was in chaos, despised a new manager, or were laid off. Not all of these responses should be shared during a job interview, however. Be honest, but also strategic in your response – avoid any answer that reflects poorly on you.”
Here are some of Alison Doyle’s tips for how to develop a strong response:
“Avoid negativity: Do not speak poorly of managers, colleagues, or the company. You can, however, speak broadly about company goals or mention that you disagree with the direction the business is pursuing. Just don’t get personal in your response. Being negative won’t reflect well upon you. Plus, industries can often be small: You could easily speak negatively of a co-worker only to have that person be your interviewer’s former colleague.”
“Be honest: You don’t have to tell the whole truth. But you should tell something that reflects the real reason you are leaving. Let’s say you’re frustrated by a lack of opportunities. Lead off by describing some of the things you have been able to accomplish, and then pivot to saying how you no longer have opportunities to learn and develop your skills. Bonus points if you can tie your answer back to why the job you’re applying for is a better fit, and will offer you new, exciting opportunities.”
“Practice: Because you want to be honest – but not overly frank – in responding to this question, it’s a good one to practice ahead of time. That will help you feel comfortable answering. That’s particularly true if you were laid off or fired – this question can be particularly nerve-wracking to answer in that case. But just give a short, clear, and unemotional response.”
Here are some sample answers from Alison Doyle
- I quit my job because my supervisor retired. I felt that after many years of working in the office that it was time for a change and this seem like the ideal time to move on.
- I was able to take advantage of an early retirement offer due to company downsizing and am ready for a new challenge.
- I resigned to focus on finding a job that is closer to home and will use my skills and experience in a different capacity.
- I don’t have room to grow with my current employer and I’m ready to move on to a new challenge.
- I’m looking for a new challenge and to grow my career and I couldn’t job hunt part time while working.
- I have been volunteering in this capacity and love it. I’m seeking to turn my passion into the next step of my career.
- I was laid-off from my last position when my job was eliminated due to downsizing.
- After several years in my last position, I’m looking for a company where I can contribute and grow in a team-oriented environment.
- I am interested in a new challenge and an opportunity to use my skills and experience in a different capacity than I have in the past.
- I recently achieved certification and I want to utilize my educational background and technical skills in my next position.
- I am interested in a job with more responsibility, and I am very ready for a new challenge.
- I left my last position in order to spend more time with an ill family member. Circumstances have changed and I’m more than ready for full-time employment again.
- I was commuting and spending an hour each day on travel. I would prefer to be closer to home.
- To be honest, I wasn’t considering a change, but, a former colleague recommended this job to me and was intrigued by the position and the company. It sounds like an exciting opportunity and an ideal match for my qualifications.
- This position seemed like an excellent match for my skills and experience and I am not able to fully utilize them in my present job.
- The company was downsizing and I thought it made sense to seek another position before my job was eliminated
6. Do you have any questions for us?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: “We’re giving this candidate a final opportunity to show whether they have prepared and have been listening to us at this interview. It’s their last chance to show how passionate they are about the job and the company. How strong a ‘closer’ is this person?”
The most important advice on this question is that you should never be in a position where you do not have a question to ask your interviewers when invited. Research a couple of questions to ask at job interview. Having a question, or two, is a positive sign, signalling that you have commitment, a healthy curiosity and care about the job you have applied for.
Joel Garfinkel author of Getting Ahead: Three Steps to Take Your Career to the Next Level, says that the two most important questions to ask at every interview are:
i. In your opinion, what is required for success in this position?
ii. Do you have any concerns that would keep you from recommending me for this job?
Garfinkel actually advised that the first should be asked before you answer any questions, as this “ensures you understand and can address the hidden expectations of each interviewer” (who will all have separate expectations for each job), but if that is not possible, it should definitely be asked at the end.
The second Garfinkel admits is a tough one to ask, but it should always be asked toward the end of the interview, and it will give you an opportunity to address any concerns the interviewer might raise.
Garfinkel provides an additional five questions that candidates can raise at job interviews.
• What are the expectations of the person to whom I would report?
• What kind of a person are you looking for to fill this position?
• What are the priorities of the position?
• What are the main problem areas that need attention in this position?
• Where do we go from here in the interview process?
7. The ‘hypothetical problem/crisis’ question
What the Interview Panel is thinking: ‘How does this person think on their feet? Do they have a process? They might not be able to answer this, but how do they deal with the stress of this, and do they have any rational and logical problem-solving suggestions? Do they genuinely engage with the problem, or just give up immediately?’
The STAR approach (Situation or Task, Action you took, Results you achieved) approach is useful in a high-pressure situation. But as Ron Fry suggests in his 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions, 25th Anniversary Edition, it’s best to prepare for this by compiling a dossier of information about yourself, with your key strengths, information about your education and employment history, how others would describe you, and your strongest skills,in addition to detailing specific instances where your skills helped you to solve a problem for your business or your employer
And even if the problem is beyond your reach, keep calm and attempt to convey that you have analysed it critically, and would know what steps would be required to solve it satisfactorily.
Weigh up the options that you considered, and show how you reached your decision. It’s a hypothetical situation, but — and this is very important — never joke or make light of the situation.
8. The ‘surprise’ question
Interview Panel is thinking: Let’s take this candidate outside the box here with something completely unexpected, and get a glimpse of their personality.
Robin Ryan, best-selling author of 60 Seconds and You’re Hired!, relates an anecdote about what happened when ‘John’, an accomplished project manager, interviewed for a position with a major Fortune 100 company.
“John felt he’d do ok since his resume demonstrated his terrific success on the job. That confidence left him the second after he heard his first interview question, which was: “Tell us about a recent time you worked with a group of culturally diverse people and what you said and did to persuade these people to see your point of view.” He said he did not recover from that one since the words culturally diverse group really stumped him.
“The most difficult questions you’ll encounter in a job interview are the commonly asked behavioral or situational interview questions. The interviewer uses a probing style to ask questions seeking very specific examples. They often start out with, “Tell me about a time …”, or “Describe …”, or “Give me an example …” The interviewer is looking for details of your past abilities and specific work performance. He or she rates each response to determine how well you reacted to these situations in the past, and to predict your future performance with their company. These situational questions are thought-provoking and you should consider your answers carefully. The interviewer likely will take notes on each answer. Your answer must contain specifics: specific details, specific illustrations, about a specific work situation.”
Robin Ryan advises advance preparation, by poring through your resume for the standout achievements and moments in your career history, how these showed the best of yourself in terms of your ability to work with others, your leadership, your technical expertise, or your communication skills.
9. What would your colleagues say about you?
Interview Panel is thinking: What does this candidate think about how others view him or her. Are they self-aware, as ready to accept and improve on their weaknesses, as they are to trumpet their skills? What were relations like between this candidate and their former colleagues?
Peggy McKee CEO of Career Confidential, and author of How to Answer Interview Questions: 101 Tough Interview Questions, writes that the interviewers are attempting to find out potentially how you will get along with co-workers; to establish whether your works chime with the impressions they have formed of you during the interview; and also to get a more rounded picture of your personality in order to determine if you will be a good fit for the company culture.
McKee writes that she would respond: “My friends would tell you the same thing my references would tell you: that I’m high-energy, I’m competitive, and I’m driven to succeed. I have those same qualities in my personal life as I do in my professional life.”
She adds: “Just choose 3 or 4 positive traits you possess that would be a plus for someone in that job. That’s part of a good job interview strategy. Always be able to tie your answer back to something that would recommend you for the job.
10. Why Should We Hire You?
What the Interview Panel is thinking: Does this candidate truly understand our values and business goals, and specifically how they can contribute to it?
Pamela Skillings is the author of Escape from Corporate America: A Practical Guide to Creating the Career of Your Dreams. She has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase. Skillings says that this question will come in a number of guises, namely:
- Why should we hire you?
- Why are you the best candidate for the job?
- Why are you the right fit for the position?
- What would you bring to the position?
Candidates need to prepare a standard answer for this question that is easily customised to each job opportunity, Skillings writes, advising a three-step process.
a: Brainstorm – review the job description and your resume, ask yourself these questions, and jot down anything that comes to mind.
- What are the most important qualifications for this position from the company’s perspective?
- In which of these areas do I really shine?
- What are my most impressive accomplishments?
- What makes me different from the typical candidate?
- Brainstorm and jot down everything that comes to mind.
b: Structure Your Sales Pitch – choose 3-4 bullet points that make the strongest argument for you, and set you apart from the competition. Each bullet point will be a selling point with a brief explanation for context. Don’t write a script for rote learning, just use the bullet points, but be brief as you want an answer in the 1-2 minutes range.
c: Practice – once you feel good about your points, practice, and practice again. Use the bullet points, not a script, as it will relieve you from the pressure of trying to remember specific wording.
You want to be confident, and “true passion for the work required is a pretty compelling selling point”, Skillings advises. While experience and qualifications are important, “the right attitude can definitely give you an edge over those with similar professional backgrounds”.
Skillings’s conclusion on this point is a compelling one: “After many years of experience in recruiting and hiring, I’d rather hire someone who has a little less experience, but who is driven and motivated to learn and succeed.”
Conclusion – It’s really all about them!
Jay Block, who co-authored Great Answers, Great Questions For Your Job Interview, and other career coaching reference works with Michael Betrus, has an interesting take on preparing for interview process. It’s not about you at all. It’s really all about them, the interview panel.
In preparation, you are developing a “solutions-based interview”, Block writes, and in so doing “you need to uncover and understand the needs” of the hiring company.
“What are its hot-button, key business drivers that keep the company’s executives up at night? Identify those and position yourself as a contributory solution, and that’s when you’ve really scored.”
According to Block, all answers should be customized and prepared, attuned to the company whose representatives will be quizzing you. And research is the key.
“You can spend 90 minutes on the Internet and learn more than you could in a full day of doing research the old-fashioned way at the library,” Block writes.
Why you research is to understand how the company stands financially; identify its key partners, vendors and customers; its products and services; areas where you might be able to help the business grow; and its culture and terminology, so you can speak the company’s language during the all-important interview.