Remember taking exams in school? How many times did you think to yourself, “If only I knew what questions were going to be on the test, I could get an A.” Getting interviewed for a job is the equivalent of a verbal test. And if you know what questions you’ll be asked, then you can prepare and do well. Below are the 10 most common interview questions and guidance on how to approach answering them.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This interview question isn’t as open-ended as it sounds. The employer wants to know about your professional experience, so don’t launch into a lengthy discussion about personal subjects. Avoid disclosures such as age, marital status, hobbies, etc. as they’re not relevant at this point and can only serve to disqualify you from further consideration.
Instead, talk about your work and educational background. Use the information listed on your resume as potential talking points. Keep your answers to the point and watch how the interviewer responds. You can expound on those topics which seem to catch his or her interest.
2. Why did you choose to apply for this position?
You can answer this interview question easily if you’ve done your homework. Your research about the company should have provided specific details about the organization’s products, history, mission and philosophy, all of which can be reasons you chose to apply for the position.
The interviewer is really asking why you should be considered for the job. So use your past work or educational experiences to show that you are a good fit and would be an asset to the company.
Don’t mention salary, even if that happens to be the real reason you’re applying for the job. Employers want people who are excited about the work and the company. Money shouldn’t appear to be your primary motivator.
3. What are your strengths?
The interviewer is giving you permission to toot your own horn, so don’t be too modest. Focus on those strengths that the company would value such as communication and leadership skills. You can also talk about your ability to problem-solve, handle stress and get along well with others. Ideally, you want to also supply an example or two that demonstrate these strengths.
4. What are your weaknesses or areas of development?
The obvious answer would be to say you have no weaknesses, but your answer won’t sound believable. Let’s face it; everyone has areas that could use some improvement.
Of course, you also don’t want to give the employer a weakness that’s so significant as to disqualify you as a candidate. The best way to get out of this question is to use a weakness that may also be viewed as a strength.
For example, “I need to get better at delegating. Often, I try to do everything myself, and that’s not always the best use of my time.”
Another tactic is to explain how you’re working to overcome your weakness. For example, “I’m not as familiar as I should be with Photoshop software. Lately, I’ve been doing online tutorials to improve my technical skills.”
A different strategy is to mention a minor flaw, such as, “I can be too outspoken at times, but I’m working on choosing my words more carefully and being more diplomatic.”
5. Why did you leave your last job?
Employers are often curious about your past situation because it can be a good indicator of how you’ll perform in the future in a new job. The best approach is to be honest, but upbeat, and don’t give unnecessary detail.
If you were laid off, say that you wish you could have stayed, but that you understand that sometimes businesses must make difficult decisions when times are tough.
Resist the temptation to bad-mouth your previous employer. Any negativity will seem unprofessional, even if your statements are valid.
You can say that you appreciated the opportunities you had at your last job and you hope your next job will give you similar chances to grow. If possible, share some specific examples of how your prior employer allowed you to develop your abilities.
6. Are you competitive?
While some people might think it’s best to answer “no” to this interview question, many companies do value a competitive nature, especially if you’re applying for a sales position. As long as you don’t come across as ruthless or combative, a competitive spirit is an asset.
One way to answer this question is: “I can be competitive, but I’m also a team player. I’ve worked in groups and recognize that what we accomplished was far greater than what I could have done on my own.”
7. What do you like to do in your spare time?
This interview question provides you with an opportunity to show your personality. You can describe your hobbies and interests. Of course, avoid mentioning any activities that could be considered controversial or immoral. Also steer clear of any subjects that could cause the interviewer concern about your commitment to the job, such as your all-encompassing care of an elderly relative or your dedication to competing in marathons around the country.
8. How do you handle stress?
Nearly every job involves some sort of pressure. The employer wants to know if you’re going to rise to the challenge or run out the door screaming when things get tense. The best way to answer this question is to say that you handle stress well. But don’t leave it at that. Provide a specific example of how you handled a stressful situation. The story you tell will serve as evidence of your cool under fire and your problem-solving ability.
9. What are your salary expectations?
This is a tough question because you don’t want to give a number so high that you knock yourself out of contention for the job. And you don’t want to give a low number that essentially leaves money on the table.
Prior to the interview, you should have done some research to determine the going rate for the open position. You can be sure the employer has done so.
If possible, try to get the employer to throw out the first figure. If the employer is vague or evasive in answering, then give a range of your salary expectations based on your credentials and knowledge of the field.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
Asking questions of the employer shows your interest. It’s also your opportunity to find out more about the company and the individual position so you can decide if it’s right for you. Be sure your questions reflect substance. Don’t ask something trivial like how long your lunch break will be.
You should prepare a few questions in advance based on your research of the company prior to your interview such as: What is the size of the company in terms of sales volume and number of employees? What are the company’s strengths compared to its competition? And, what are the main responsibilities of the position?
In answering any interview questions, keep in mind that the employer is trying to learn more about your skills, experience and personality to decide if you are a fit for the open position. To be likeable, make good eye contact and wear a pleasant expression throughout your meeting. Listen with interest to the interviewer and comment appropriately. Be a natural, but professional version of your true self, and you stand a good chance of getting a job offer.