Are you in the midst of hunting for a new job? If you’ve already gone to a few interviews, then you know that many potential employers ask the same interview questions over and over again. Oddly, many people still show up unprepared with good answers to these common interview questions. If you get smart and come up with a good answers in advance, then you’re going to be one step ahead of the people you’re competing with at the job interview.
Nearly every interview that you go to will kick off with this basic question. You want to keep your answer concise but information-packed. Briefly explain your educational and employment experience with one or two sentences. (After all, the employer can already see that in your resume.) Follow up with additional information about what you are passionate about (relevant to the job) so that you impress the employer immediately with your enthusiasm. Keep all irrelevant personal information out of your answer.
Q: Why are you interested in working with this company?
There are several different things that an employer may be trying to get at when asking this question. Address them all in your answer, and you’ll have a successful interview. Those things include:
- What do you actually know about our company?
- What skills do you bring to the company?
- Why are you even looking for a job in the first place?
- Why are you looking at getting a job that is below the status / pay of a previous job you’ve held?
Answer this common interview question by doing your research about the company and position before the interview and choosing a fact about the company that really interests you. Highlight this fact in the interview as a reason you want to work with the company, and then explain concisely how your skills dovetail with this.
If you are applying for jobs below your previous title, briefly explain that you realize that you may look overqualified for the position, but that you’re excited about the opportunity to learn some new skills from your younger co-workers while serving as a mentor as appropriate in specific situations. You may also want to mention that you appreciate that you won’t be the leader in this new position, and that you have appropriate respect for your boss (even if he is younger or less experienced than you are).
Q: Do you consider yourself successful?
The correct answer is ”yes”. You want to show off your confidence. However, you should never give a one-word answer in an interview, so you’ll want to follow up with a specific reason that you consider yourself successful. For example, you might say that you have set goals and achieved them. You should also note that you don’t feel that you’ve reached your pinnacle of success and explain why this new position will take you one step closer.
Q: What are your career goals?
You should think through this question before you go to an interview and come up with a truly honest answer that rings true for you. Then you should tailor this answer to be appropriate to the interview. If your goal is to enter an entirely different field, you need to explain clearly why this job is the perfect stepping stone to that goal. For bonus points, identify a well-known mentor in your field, and explain the assets and aspects of their career that are touchstones for your own career goals.
You want to make sure that you know in advance what type of position the company is hiring for and answer the question in line with that. For example, if it is a temporary position, then note that you are aware that it is a temporary position and that you would stay through the end of your contract with the possibility of being open to further employment — if it is offered. In general, you want to show that you’re not going to just jump at the next big chance, leaving this company in the lurch, so use this question to explain your commitment and loyalty to the projects that you take on.
Q: Can you please explain the gaps in your resume?
Employers are fully aware of the fact that it’s tough to find a job right now so they’re not looking for an excuse about the employment gap . What they want to know is how you’ve been filling your time while you’ve been unemployed. Provide a thorough answer that explains what you’ve done and why it would benefit the employer. For example, if you took time off of work to stay at home with the kids, then focus on the fact that the skills required to manage a household will translate nicely to managing employees in your new position.
Q: What was your biggest challenge with your previous boss?
The most important thing to remember here is to stay positive. You don’t want to gripe and complain about your past boss, even if she was a devil. You want to be very brief in describing the challenge and then expand on that by focusing on what you did to overcome the challenge. If the end result was a positive one, then be sure to highlight that, emphasizing the part you played in coming to that end.
Q: Do you enjoy working as part of a team?
There is a subtle balance to be achieved when answering this question. You want to show that you can indeed be a great team member, collaborating with others and working together to produce a great end result. However, you also want to emphasize that you value the opportunity to share your own input and also that you have the ability to take instruction and run with it without having your hand held.
In order to achieve this subtle balance, you should answer that you do enjoy working as part of a team, but also that you aren’t afraid of taking on individual tasks, either. You should then provide two examples from your past; one that shows true collaboration and one that shows an ability to work independently in a manner that is an asset to the company.
A final note is that there are often gender stereotypes at play here that you should be aware of. Women are often seen as collaborative but unable to take initiative, so females should emphasize the portion of the answer that shows off their ability to take the lead on projects. On the other hand, men are sometimes seen as aggressive and unable to cooperate and take the lead from others, so their examples should emphasize their experience with collaboration.
Q: What role do you tend to play in a team?
Here you want to demonstrate your knowledge of the different roles within a team and show that you have a strength but can still be versatile. For example, you might say that you think it’s great that each team has a communicator, a leader, a note taker, etc. and that you tend to take on the leadership role but are also able to be a communicator or a note taker, as needed. Provide a brief example from a past experience at work.
Q: What is a suggestion you’ve made at work that was implemented?
This is a surprisingly common interview question, so make sure that you’ve prepared an honest answer for it. The point of this question is to show that you are able to contribute to the organization in a meaningful way. If you have never given a direct suggestion that was implemented, select an example of how a project or team effort that you were a part of led to a positive change at work. For example, you might explain that your participation in an eco-friendly campaign helped moved the company forward with greener actions.
Q: Can you describe a situation when …
The specifics of this question may vary, but the gist of it is very common to hear in interviews. For example, a common interview question that falls into this category is, “can you describe a situation when you had a conflict with a co-worker and how you resolved it?” The main stumbling block people come up against when answering this question is that they feel like they are “put on the spot” and can’t come up with an adequate scenario. There are two key things to help counter this problem. Number one, remember that the actual facts of the situation don’t matter. The value of your answer lies in your ability to demonstrate that you can solve conflict (or overcome adversity, or whatever the specific intent of the question implies). Number two, practice! Have a friend or family member ask you multiple questions of this nature so that you can practice what your answers will be. Above all else, don’t say, “I don’t know”!
Q: What are the most difficult decisions for you to make?
This is an entirely different question, but it’s tricky because it’s basically another way of asking how you deal with conflict and stress at work. You can be honest in saying that something is difficult for you but quickly explain how you deal with that. For example, you might say that it is difficult for you to decide that it’s time to fire someone but that you weigh all of the pros and cons and look at the situation objectively so that you can make the right decision. Regardless of how this question is asked, you should provide a question related to work and not something from your personal life.
It is important to realize that this question has nothing to do with your co-workers. The question really is, “what are your best traits as someone to work with”. You want to answer in a manner that reflects your best traits. If you are preparing for an interview in advance, you may want to actually ask some of your former co-workers this question so that you can get a sense of what they see as their strengths. Don’t be afraid to quote these people in your interview and even let the employer know that you were actually told this information by someone you worked with.
Q: What is the most difficult thing about working with you?
It is always hard to answer questions about your flaws since an interview is designed to bring out your best qualities. The key is to heavily de-emphasize the flaw. You want to say what is most difficult for you and what you’ve done to work on that problem. For example, you don’t want to say, “I’m always upset if I don’t do something perfectly” but rather should say, “I often struggle with perfectionism, but I am learning to take constructive criticism so that this isn’t a problem in the workplace.”
Q: What is your greatest strength as an employee?
Be honest about this one. Everyone has something that they really excel at. Before the interview, identify what this is. Identify how it relates to the position that you’re applying for, your field and the company that you want to work with. Come up with an example of how you’ve used this strength in the past in a relevant way. Answer the question fully. Don’t worry that you’re bragging; this question is designed to allow you to brag, and you won’t receive bad feelings for going ahead with that.
Q: What do you do to deal with stress?
Another common way that this same question is phrased is “how do you handle working under pressure?” Ideally you will be able to offer a creative explanation for how you handle stressful situations. For example, you may say that you take five minutes to play Sudoku and calm down or that you keep your best reference letter in your wallet to re-read when you need an emotional boost. However, it’s perfectly acceptable to simply say that you handle stress well and to give an example of an experience that shows this. Never say that you don’t handle stress well, even if you don’t! Provide an answer that shows that you at least know how someone should handle stress properly, even if you haven’t quite achieved a zen state yourself.
Q: Would you rather be liked or feared?
The best answer to this question is: “Neither, I’d rather be respected”. This shows that you aren’t afraid to be a leader and that you aren’t going to slack off just to get along with everyone. It also states that you’re not a domineering person who is going to turn people off with inappropriate aggression.
Q: Describe your management style.
Obviously, you’ll only be asked this question if you’re applying for a management position, but it comes up in nearly all interviews for those positions. If you know what the preferred management style of the company is and you embody that, then by all means say it. Otherwise, you should say that you’re aware of different management styles and believe that different options suit different situations so you’re willing to be flexible to meet the needs of the situation.
Q: What motivates you?
Here the employer is looking to find out what type of rewards you would expect from them in order to have job satisfaction. You want to stay away from mentioning monetary rewards here. Ideally, you should select intrinsic rewards that show that you don’t need a pat on the back for every good job you do. For example, you might say that you’re motivated by meeting a challenge or that you’re motivated by working well with your team members and producing a high-quality product.
Q: What is your dream job?
An alternative to this question is “what are you looking for in a job”? Either way it is asked you should basically explain the job that you’re applying for without coming right out and saying it. For example, if you’re applying for a management position in a green company then you might say that your dream job is one that is in line with your earth-friendly lifestyle and allows you to demonstrate leadership skills in a team setting. You may note that you want a fair rate of pay but that salary is less important than those other qualities.
Q: Have you ever worked in a job that you hated?
Of course you have, but you don’t want to focus on negative things in this interview. You should briefly say that there was a job that your skills weren’t matched for but that at least it gave you an opportunity to learn something new about yourself that has allowed you to find positions that suit you better. Make sure that whatever example you give is very different from the position that you’re applying for now!
Q: Is there anyone you would refuse to work with?
You want to come off as amenable here but also as someone with values. Answer briefly that you would struggle to work with someone who broke the law or even major company policies, but that, in general, you find most people easy to work with. Explain how you would deal with a tough situation like this if it did come up.
There are variations on this question such as “how do you balance work and home” or “would you be willing to work overtime” or “can you relocate if required”? Basically, you want to keep any answer brief and be agreeable but honest. If you truly can’t work overtime or go the extra mile, then you need to be honest about that in your interview so you don’t trap yourself into a responsibility that you can’t handle. A good answer in such an instance is that you are fully able to meet all of the stated responsibilities of the job, that you deal with your personal life on your own time, and that you would be happy to review specific situations on a case by case basis as they emerge to give as much as you can to the company.
Q: What is your expected rate of pay?
This is a tricky question. You can approach it in one of two ways. The first is to sidestep the question by saying something along the lines of, “rather than discussing salary I am really most interested in discussing the requirements and expectations of the position”. Alternatively, you can answer by saying that you believe that someone with your experience and education should receive a salary in the range of (whatever the range is, which you should research) but add that you’re willing to be flexible and to discuss the details further if you are offered the position.
Q: What was your starting and ending rate of pay at your last position?
Clearly you have to be honest here, but what you want to highlight is your growth during your time at the company. You may want to mention a promotion, a change in title, or a reward, even if it didn’t lead to a corresponding rate increase.
Q: Do you know anyone who works with our company?
Make sure that if you are applying at a place where you know an employee then you’ve fully researched their policies in advance in regards to hiring relatives. In your answer, you should say that you do know someone and then explain that you know the policy. If you don’t know anyone at the company you should say this and then briefly explain how you know about them or what you’ve heard about the company in general.
Q: What other applications have you put in?
Many people are unsure about how to answer this common interview question because they don’t know exactly what the point is of this question. Well, here’s the clue that you need: the point is that you’re actively looking for work in the field. You should mention a few big names in the industry that you’re interested in working with to show that you know the field and are pursuing work with important companies. Then you should reiterate exactly why you want to work with this company over the competition.
Q: Why should we hire you?
This is a question that sometimes comes at the beginning of the interview but it’s usually used as a wrap-up question, and you should treat it as such. Summarize the key points that you’ve already made throughout the rest of the interview. Focus specifically on what your greatest strength is and how this is exactly in line with what the company is looking for. Emphasize the relevant education and experience. You may want to add that you have felt very comfortable at the interview and believe that you will mesh well with the company atmosphere. It never hurts to combine a little bragging with a little bit of soft schmoozing at this point!
Q: What will you do if you don’t get this position?
You want to stay positive. Answer that you hope that you’ll get the position but if the company finds another candidate for the job then you will move forward in finding a similar position in another company. Note that you hope they would keep your resume on file in case something lines up better in the future.
Q: Do you have any questions?
One huge interview mistake that you can make is to say “no” to this common interview question that is typically answered at the very end of the interview. Employers may mistake this for a lack of interest in the job or even a lack of intelligence on your part. Before the interview, come up with a general question that you can ask about the company. For example, you might ask what the interviewer thinks are the best benefits and biggest drawbacks of the job. However, listen carefully during the interview to see if there are any other genuine questions that come up for you. Don’t hesitate to ask these when this common interview question is posed.