How to Answer the 8 Most Common Basic Interview Questions

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Once you’ve sent out your professionally crafted resume, the job interviews may start pouring in. Job interviews are stressful—there’s no way around that. What you can do, however, is prepare. Take the time to reflect deeply on the most common basic interview questions so you’re ready to shine.

To help ensure your success, we’ve gathered tips on responding to basic interview questions below.

1. Tell me about yourself.

The most famous basic interview question always comes right at the beginning. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot behind this question. If you don’t reflect deeply on this prior to the interview, you’re likely to rattle off irrelevant facts about yourself, so make sure you prepare.

You can start by asking, “Where would you like me to begin?” This way, you can narrow in on the area the interviewer wants to know about. Once there, keep your answer professional, and highlight career achievements and key moves related to the position.

2. Why did you leave your last company?

This basic job interview question is far more complex than it appears. There’s no one “right” answer, since you have to be truthful, and everyone’s situation is different. If you left voluntarily, avoid ranting about how awful your boss was or how much you hated the work. Focus more on your own ambitions and what attracted you to the position you’re applying for.

If you left because you were fired or laid off, be honest about it. Honesty goes a long way. If you were fired, emphasize that you learned from your mistakes and have improved accordingly.

3. What attracted you to this position?

When answering this basic interview question, you should strive to show the interviewer that you’ve done your research. The more you know about the company, the more genuine your interest in the job will appear, so research thoroughly before the interview and determine what really draws you to the job. Make the interviewer feel like you specifically picked this company over many others.

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is a basic question asked in most interviews for long-term positions. Its purpose is to determine whether your goals match the company’s and thus whether you’re a suitable long-term candidate. Your five-year goal isn’t something you can just improvise, so make a plan before the interview. It should be ambitious yet realistic and should align well with the company you’re applying to, giving them reason to believe you’ll still be eager to work there in five years.

5. What kind of salary are you looking to earn?

Common as this basic job interview question may be, it’s a trap. You don’t have a lot of information about the position yet, and you have little to no leverage, so you’re in an extremely poor position for negotiation. If you give a number too high, they won’t want to hire you, and if you aim too low, you’ll be dissatisfied once you get the job. No matter what, avoid naming a concrete number. The best approach is to either name a wide and reasonable range or simply stress that you aren’t sure yet.

6. What is your greatest weakness?

This is a rather infamous basic job interview question, and it’s hard to know how to answer it. The trick is to name a real weakness, but one that doesn’t affect your ability to work in that position—no silly jokes or non-weaknesses like “I work too hard.” It’s better to focus on skill-based weaknesses rather than personal failings, as the former are much easier to correct. Highlight in your answer the measures you’re taking to combat your weakness.

7. Can you tell me about a challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it?

Many of the standard basic job interview questions are situational, and they intimidate countless job applicants. It’s not easy to spontaneously come up with suitable examples to show off your problem-solving capabilities, so take the time to reflect before the interview. Pick an example where you were particularly successful—the higher the stakes, the better. Describe the context of the problem, and then highlight your solution, the outcome, and what you took away from the experience.

8. Do you have any questions for us?

This is another extremely common job interview question, and it’s so basic that it’s easy to overlook it. If you don’t have any questions now, brainstorm some to ask. You may stumble across other questions throughout the interview, but it’s best to have some backup ones prepared just in case. If you say you don’t have any questions, you won’t appear interested or engaged, so make sure to ask at least one. Ask about the tasks, the team, the company, or when you’ll hear back following the interview, and try to avoid questions about salary, work hours, or other aspects unrelated to the work itself.

These are some of the most basic interview questions, but “basic” doesn’t mean “simple.” By preparing adequately, you set yourself up to field these tricky questions skillfully. We offer mock interview services as part of our job success packages to help you enter your interview ready to shine.

Even getting to the interview stage can be challenging, though. If you’re still struggling to craft a resume, consider getting the help of professional resume writers, who will polish your resume to most effectively showcase the skills you’ll bring to a company.

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