5 Common Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

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You could be forgiven for thinking that a job interview is easy—after all, aren’t you just answering questions about your skills, experience, and accomplishments? However, a lot goes into a job interview, with various factors coming together to impact your career trajectory. In fact, there are so many components to a job interview that the preparation for it can feel overwhelming. 

From deciding what to wear to researching the company and coming up with questions for the interviewer, preparing for a job interview is no easy feat, and it’s normal to be nervous. Even people with plenty of job interviews under their belts still feel anxious as they approach a new, high-stakes interview. However, preparation truly is the key to success, and although you can’t predict every question you’ll be asked, you can practice with common questions so that you’re not scrambling for answers when the pressure is on. 

Usually, interviewers will ask you a mix of behavioral, technical, and personal questions, all of them designed to determine if you will be a good fit for the vacant position. While the questions themselves will differ from interview to interview, the information a hiring manager is trying to glean is roughly the same. These questions aim to give the interviewer a good idea of your past behavior and your decision-making and problem-solving skills so they can ascertain whether you would be able to handle any unforeseen issues and fit within the company culture. They will also assess your overall demeanor, attitude, and social skills, meaning that how you answer a question is just as important as the actual words you utter. 

Keeping all this in mind will help you shape your answers and narrative to match your skills and experience to the organization’s needs. Just remember to always be honest and polite, and listen carefully for what they need to know about you. The better you understand the question, the better—and more confidently—you’ll be able to answer it.

If you’re feeling particularly nervous about your upcoming job interview, set up a mock interview with one of our experts, who will give you constructive feedback and help you improve your interview skills. In addition to receiving actionable tips, you will also boost your confidence, which can go a long way in giving you an edge over your competitors.

Let’s now go over some of the most common job interview questions and how best to answer them. 

1. What are your strengths and weaknesses? 

This is a question most candidates dread. You want to show that you’re confident in your skills without appearing arrogant and that you know you’re far from perfect without painting yourself in a negative light. It can be hard to strike that balance, and nerves may prompt you to ramble or say the wrong thing. So, how do you walk that thin line? 

When it comes to your strengths, focus on two or three key skills that you can tell a story about. You need concise, succinct examples that clearly prove you do possess these skills—it’s important to have them prepared in advance so you’re not struggling to come up with examples on the day of the interview. Try writing down your answers to work through them. You don’t want to memorize and recite them since that will make you sound robotic and inauthentic, but you should play with the framing and wording to paint yourself in the best possible light.

Also, consider whether these are all hard skills, soft skills, or a mixture of both. Which strengths you decide to emphasize will depend on what the specific job requires, so give your answers careful thought. You don’t necessarily want to choose what you consider your biggest strengths—rather, tailor your answers to the strengths that best match what the employer is looking for.

As far as your weaknesses go, you should never say you don’t have any. We’re all human, which means we’re all flawed, and it’s important for an employer to know team members are aware of their own shortcomings. Saying you have no weaknesses indicates an inflated ego, and companies don’t want to deal with arrogant or narcissistic workers, however skilled those workers may be. 

Therefore, it’s critical to provide a weakness, but again, you don’t want to make yourself look bad. So, either share a genuine weakness that isn’t directly relevant to the job or something that you have managed to overcome—everyone loves a story of self-improvement. This doubles as an opportunity to showcase your discipline, determination, tenacity, or whatever other traits you needed to overcome your weakness.

2. What are your greatest professional achievements? 

Questions about your strengths and weaknesses are common in job interviews, but they’re inherently subjective. Questions about your professional achievements can be much more pertinent because they’re objective, concentrating on your performance and the value you’ve brought to your previous employers. These might be some of the most important questions you answer during a job interview because they’re all about selling yourself and proving why you’re the perfect candidate for this particular job. 

If possible and relevant, share an achievement that has quantifiable results and highlights transferable skills. Numbers, percentages, and statistics make your answer more objective and believable, so pack in as many as you can—just be careful not to give away your former employers’ secrets. For example, stick to percentages rather than concrete numbers when discussing revenues. This is your chance to showcase your experience and qualifications for the role, so make sure your answer is well thought-out and paints you in the best light. Again, you’ll want to prepare some answers in advance and work on their framing and wording, but not to the point where you sound inauthentic.

3. What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your work? 

Interviewers want to understand how you identify problems and solve them, so questions about overcoming challenges in your previous jobs are a great way to do that. Be thorough and explain why you took the steps you did, aiming to end on a positive note. You don’t want to talk about a problem you couldn’t solve or gave up on—the point is to highlight your value to the employer. 

You can tell the interviewer about a recent problem you solved or something you improved or created at your previous or current job. Make sure to mention what skills were required to tackle this challenge and how your solution benefited the company. Walk the interviewer through your process so they can understand how it may apply in their company.

4. Why do you want this job? 

Companies want to hire someone who wants the job, someone who will show initiative and work hard for them. They’re more likely to find those qualities in a candidate who already has an interest or experience in the field or industry. Employers look for people who care, who want to work for them, and whose principles and goals align with their own. For this reason, it’s essential to do some research beforehand to understand what the company is all about, what its values are, and what it aims to achieve. This will help you tailor your answers to match its needs. At the very least, it may help you realize that this company isn’t a good fit for you.

Ultimately, the interviewer wants to know if you’re suitable for the role, so convince them that you are! Even if your main reason for applying is the salary, the benefits, or something along these lines, dig deeper to find a more meaningful explanation for wanting the job. You should never lie, but you can surely find something else you care about.

5. Why did you leave your last job? (Why do you want to leave your current job)?

This doesn’t have to be a hard question to answer, but many candidates shoot themselves in the foot by bad-mouthing their previous or current employer. Even if there are things or people you dislike at your last or current job, don’t talk about them in front of your potential new employer. Just as a new date constantly complaining about their exes is a red flag, so is hostility toward your current or former workplaces, and the interviewer will assume that those negative emotions may be directed at their company one day. 

Instead, talk about the things you do/did like, but make it clear why you want a change, connecting your answer to the role you’re applying for. You can mention the need for professional and personal growth, new challenges, and more responsibility, but your answers need to be genuine. Expressing gratitude for aspects of your current or former jobs can also show maturity and a positive attitude.

Keep your answers relevant and professional, and focus on what you would bring to the role and the company. Provide thoughtful and authentic replies, present yourself in a positive light, and be confident: You were invited for an interview, which means they liked your resume and think you have the potential to be their next hire. 

To reinforce your professionalism and stand out from the crowd, send the interviewer a follow-up letter thanking them for their time. Although this is an optional step, you should never neglect it—it can greatly improve your chances of getting the job as many hiring managers look unfavorably upon applicants who don’t send a thank-you note.

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