You can never really know what questions you’ll be asked at a job interview until you get there.
That said, there are several common interview questions that you can anticipate in almost any interview situation. Capella University Career Counselor Sue Way shares the questions you’re likely to hear at an interview and her advice on how to answer each.
Tell Me a Little Bit About Yourself.
This question seems harmless, but people commonly fumble their answer because they don’t take it seriously or they mistake it as small talk before the official interview begins. Make no mistake—this is part of the interview. Potential employers are looking for information about you as it relates to the job they have to offer. They’re not looking for your life story or even your full work history. Give them a 60-second answer that speaks to who you are as it relates to the position. Demonstrate why you are a good fit for the job without exactly saying, “I’m a good candidate because …” Keep it short and polished; don’t ramble.
Things to include in your answer could be your current job/career title, strengths and accomplishments, brief work history as it relates to the position you’re applying for, and a short statement about your career goals.
Why Are You Interested in This Position/Company?
There is no right answer to this question, but it’s one of the hardest ones to answer. “Why” questions are meant to reveal something about you and your values, and you should take some time to consider your answer in advance. Really know why you are interested in the job, and take a firm position on it. Savvy recruiters will pay careful attention to your answer to determine if you’re a good fit for the position.
What Are Your Strengths?
Be as specific as you can. “My greatest strength is adaptability” is too general. It doesn’t tell your potential employer anything concrete about you. A better approach: “I’m highly adaptable. At work, I’m quickly and easily able to switch gears when something more urgent needs my attention.” Then give a specific example of how you demonstrated that strength. If you have quantifiable numbers to use, be sure to pull those out. For example, don’t just say, “I was the top salesperson in my region.” Instead, say: “With sales 50% greater than my peers, I was named top salesperson in my region last year.”
If you don’t have specific numbers or quantifiable results to share, think about what you are known for. Why do people come to you for help? If you work in a job that requires customer service, and your coworkers seek your advice on how to handle difficult situations, that’s your strength. Another way to identify your strengths is to think back to your annual reviews. What was some positive feedback your boss gave you?
If you’re still not sure what your strengths are, you might want to pay a small fee to take an assessment such as the Strengths Finder that will give you the language you need to talk about yourself.
What Are Your Weaknesses?
We all have weaknesses. Instead of thinking of them in a negative light, look at it this way: For every strength, there’s a challenge on the flip side. If your strength is adaptability, your challenge could be that you have difficulty focusing on a task that takes more time to complete. Admit this, and follow it up immediately with how you have learned to tackle that challenge. For example, “I’ve learned that there are better times of day for me to work on projects that require sustained periods of concentration. I also know that I work better with white noise. These are the things I’ve learned to do, so it’s less of an issue.”
Your interviewer wants to know that you’re self-aware and capable of working on challenging areas. Detailing how you cope with your challenges is the perfect way to handle this tough question.
Tell Me About a Time When…
Even if they don’t phrase it exactly that way, many interview questions fall into this category. Interviewers want to hear about a specific example of a situation you’ve handled, including:
- Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work.
- Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a decision made by your boss.
- Tell me about a time when you solved a problem on a tight deadline.
- Tell me about a time when you had to give negative feedback to a member of your team.
You can’t prepare for every variation, but these are common interview themes. Spend some time considering how to respond to them.
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
They might also ask you why there was a gap in your employment history, or even ask why you were fired if they know that bit of information. Answering these types of direct questions can be uncomfortable at best, and show-stopping at worst—especially if you left your last job on not-so-great terms. The key is to have an answer prepared that you are comfortable with and can deliver confidently.
The first thing to remember when crafting your answer is that you don’t have to tell them everything. They don’t even really want to know the full story. They just want to identify any potential red flags—but don’t give them any! A good way to approach this question is to start with something positive, then the negative, and end with more positive.
For example, “I loved working for the Acme Company, but they were struggling financially and needed to downsize. This led to my position being eliminated. But now I’m looking forward to a new challenge with a company I can grow with, and I think yours offers some exciting opportunities.”
Why Should We Hire You?
This one seems tough, but it’s really not. Just go back to a variation of the 60-second speech about yourself that began your interview. They won’t be concerned that it’s basically what you said at the start of the interview. It’s important not to offer a general response like, “Because I’m the right candidate for the job.” Every candidate feels that. Give them the details of why you’re perfect. That’s what they need to hear.
The Capella Career Center offers networking tips, job search tools, career counseling, and more. Its mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful and effective career decisions.