How to Answer 13 of the Most Common Interview Questions

Don't sweat your next job interview - get all the answers to the toughest questions right here!

Elizabeth Hoyt

July 14, 2015

How to Answer 13 of the Most Common Interview Questions

While these interview questions are some of the most common, they are also some of the toughest.

Even though they’re asked in most interviews, these questions often throw most people off for whatever reason because they don’t know exactly how to approach the answers.

We’ve listed the questions and answers with explanations, deciphering why each is being asked, what the interviewer is most likely trying to find out from each question and what an ideal answer will convey from an ideal job candidate.

Learn how to answer these 13 interview questions like a pro and take on your next job interview without any hesitation:

1. Will you tell me a little about yourself?

While this is probably the most commonly asked interview question, so many people either fail to prepare for it or have no idea how to approach it. What most people end up doing is giving a summary of their resume and/or personal history, which is exactly what you should NOT do.

Answer:
Instead, this is your opportunity to give a pitch demonstrating exactly why you’re right for the job.

Before the interview, since you know you can expect this question will inevitably come up, think of about two or three examples of your accomplishments and/or experiences which you would like your interviewer to know about.

Then, wrap up the answer by discussing how your prior experience has prepared you to take on the specific role for which you are interviewing.

2. How did you hear about this position?

This seems like a pretty straightforward question, right? Wrong. Sure, you may have heard about them via a job post, a friend or any other means. In terms of this question (and job interviews in general), unfortunately, complete and utter honesty is not always the best policy. Sometimes it is. Read the below answer for an explanation.

Answer:
Depending on the way you heard about the position, it’s important to utilize your connection and interest in the company. You want to show that, rather than just applying to random jobs willy-nilly without any interest in that specific company, you specifically wanted a position at that company.

For example, utilize connections. If you heard through a friend that worked at that company, feel free to use their name.

Do your due diligence and learn about the company before the interview so that you can reference the company specifically and indicate that you were searching for positions that included [reference whatever caught your eye about the posting]. Referencing specifics will go a long way and will show you know specifics and you’re actually invested in the positions you’re applying for, rather than just submitting your resume to every job posting out there.

3. Why should I hire you?

This is both a tough an intimidating question to be asked. However, it’s a great question because it’s the perfect positioning for you to give an answer that speaks to your skill set.

Answer:
The perfect answer to this question will convey several items.

The first is that you possess the skill set to do the work, preferably with examples to back it up.

The second is that you can, and will, deliver results (again, with examples from previous experience to back up this claim).

The third is that you know you will fit in with the company’s culture and team. Ensure you reference what the company culture is to show you have awareness because you cannot claim to fit in with something if you’re not aware of it.

Fourth (but, certainly not last), convey that you feel you’d make the best fit out of all the candidates. You can do this successfully but demonstrating that you’re not only qualified for the role, but passionate about both the position and working for the company and its mission. This is where your pre-interview research on the company will come in handy.

4. Why do you want this position?

If you only want the job because you need a job, that’s not only going to get you out the door, but it shows a lack of passion on your behalf. Companies feel the right candidate for the job will demonstrate passion and dedication for the position, so the best answers will express both of those qualities.

Answer:
Start by talking about why the particular position is a great fit for you. For example, “I love working with animals and I know working at an animal rescue organization would be a great fit for me because I get satisfaction from helping animals, working with them on a daily basis and making a difference in a cause I’m passionate about.”

Then, discuss why you feel the company is a great fit for you. Why do you love the company and its culture? For example, “I’m passionate about helping animals and their well-being. I admire what your organization does and would love to be a part of a team that does such wonderful work that makes a difference in the lives of so many animals.”

5. Can you tell me about your experience at your last job?

Translation: How does your previous job experience relate to the job I’m looking to fill? In answering this question, you want to show the interviewer that, once giving the position, you’ll be able to achieve success based on your past experience.

Answer:
When answering, focus on you’re the tasks required for the last job that are applicable to the position you’re interviewing for, how your skills apply to both positions (past and present) and how you’ll be able to hit the ground running if given the position you’re interviewing for. Make sure to give examples to back up your claims.

6. How would your boss and coworkers describe you?

The point of this question is to determine how well you work with coworkers in a work environment. This is yet another opportunity to discuss strengths you haven’t mentioned yet – your people skills! But make sure you’re honest. Remember, they will likely be calling your boss for a reference!

Answer:
Talk about traits that involve working with others, pitching in to help with projects, your strong work ethic and anything else you think your coworkers or boss might mention.

Make sure, however, that these aren’t traits you’ve already stated, you don’t want to keep repeating yourself over and over again!

7. What’s your biggest professional accomplishment to date?

Remember the skills required section in the job posting? That’s what you should be recalling when this question is asked. The goal in this question is to show that you not only have those skills, but have already accomplished some of them. It’s your chance to give examples of some of the listed skills. It’s not about simply listing your accomplishments but also giving the hiring manager an idea of what you will do if hired for the job.

Answer:
When answering, think of concrete examples of accomplishments. Numbers and data are your friends here.

For example, “My biggest professional accomplishments to date have been the new and innovative methods I came up with that results in traffic boosts to our company site. As our company’s social media coordinator, I utilized fresh posts, user engagement and content, which increased our site’s page views by 40% year over year in 2015. Additionally, the organic site traffic to the site increased overall 25% due to the implementation of SEO practices in 2015. We had never implemented these practices beforehand. As a result, I received recognition and was promoted.”

8. In your opinion, what are your greatest strengths, professionally speaking?

Most people often feel uncomfortable in answering this question, as they are worried as coming across as a braggart.

However, it was asked and it needs to be answered accurately. Therefore, if you have a myriad of achievements, it is time to speak up!

Answer:
Be accurate and focus on sharing your true strengths, not what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Try as best you can to choose relevant strengths that are applicable to the position you’re interviewing for.

Also, be as specific and professional as possible. For example, instead of saying you’re a “people person” try saying you have experience in “team relationship building.” Make sure that you give examples of how you successfully demonstrated each skill in practice that you mention.

9. In your opinion, what are your greatest weaknesses, professionally speaking?

This is likely one of the most dreaded questions out there. The point of this question – other than to weed out any candidates lacking a major skill – is to see if you are both honest and self-aware.

Many people answer this question by answering with a positive spin such as, “I work too hard.” Most interviewers will see through this immediately.

Answer:
It’s best to be honest and straightforward by choosing something that you may struggle with but are working to improve. Giving an example of how you’re working to improve the skill is also helpful. For example, “I’ve never been especially strong at building webpages, but I am signed up to take a night course this summer to help improve my skills.”

Also, naming a skill that may not be integral to the role you’re applying for will most likely not impact your chances of getting the job.

10. How do you handle pressure or stressful situations at work?

Undoubtedly, regardless of where you end up working, there will be times where stress or pressure is unavoidable. This question aims to determine how you will handle those times.

Answer:
Your answer should demonstrate that you can – and will – be able to meet any given stressful or pressure-filled situation by tackling it head-on positively and productively without losing your cool. You want to show that nothing will be able to stop you from accomplishing the task.

It’s also smart to discuss what you do for stress-reduction. For example, “If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I create a to-do list and it helps me feel like I have things under control.” Alternatively, “When I’m stressed, I stop, take a moment and count to ten, taking deep breaths. It’s simple, but it always calms me down.”

Follow up by sharing an example of a work situation where you found yourself stressed or under pressure where you utilized one of your example techniques, handled it successfully and came out on top.

11. What are your salary requirements?

This is a question in which you should never enter blindly. You should do pre-interview research on sites like Glassdoor and Payscale to find out what others in similar positions are being paid. Once you do this, you will have a salary range in your back pocket so you’re prepared to name a salary that’s acceptable for the position coupled with your skills, experience and education.

Answer:
Based on your research and the salary range you’ve researched, it’s recommended that you name the high end of the salary range you came up with. However, make sure the interviewer knows you are flexible with your number. This communicates that you feel your skills are valuable but you absolutely want the position and are open to negotiations.

12. What other companies are you interviewing with?

They are a variety of reasons companies ask this question. Some want to sniff out the competition. Others are looking to find out if you are serious about working in their particular industry.

Answer:
They best way to approach this question is to give a simple answer, without many specifics. For example, “I’m exploring a number of similar options within the communications industry.”

You can also mention something regarding your skills as well. For example, “I’m exploring a number of options within the communications field where I can utilize my writing and public relations skills for a smaller start-up company.”

13. Why are you leaving your current job?

Hiring managers are naturally going to be curious why you’re leaving a current role. While there are many good reasons to leave a job, some should be stated in an interview and most should not. Unfortunately, within job interviews, complete honesty is not always the best policy. (This DOES NOT mean we recommend lying. We just recommend focusing on the positive aspects of the new role.)

Answer:
You should never say that you’re leaving because you’re current position is a bad opportunity but, rather, that the position you’re interviewing for is just too tempting to refuse.

An ideal answer is that you’re only thinking about leaving your current position because this position and this company? (Aka the one you are interviewing for) is simply too exciting to pass up. You simply could not resist because, quite frankly, this is your dream job.

Let’s be clear: you don’t want to come off as insincere. However, you do want to convey that you really are excited about the opportunity and desire the job. You never want to lie – but you don’t have air all of your dirty laundry, either. Depending on the situation, you can decide to address the negative situation quickly and move on to the positive or avoid the negativity all together and simply focus on the positivity of the future.

Don’t focus on how you dislike your current job or your current boss – instead, simply focus on the positive attributes you like about the position you’re seeking.

There are times where you will need to be honest about something negative, like if your department was eliminated from your company. Do your best to be honest and then refocus on the positive attributes of the new company. The key here is maintaining a focus on the positive, which will go a long way.

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