The job market is really competitive, and most candidates who make it to the interview stage are qualified for the job. Even though you've created a targeted resume and cover letter well enough, you need to plan for your job interview to succeed.
So, once the company gives you a call and invites you for an interview, do your homework. Review the job description, prepare for the questions and read about the company. Set yourself apart from candidates who may have more experience but do not have enough motivation. This is the test for standing up and showing your passion.
Only one candidate will come out of the job interview a winner. If you prepare and do your homework, it will be you.
Common Job Interview Questions and Answers
Each interview is as unique as the people involved in it.
Though, certain questions show up in every interview no matter the industry or the position you are applying for. Knowing these ubiquitous questions gives you an advantage – you can be prepared to answer them.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
TRAP: This is the first most common question. Many candidates flunk this one, because they answer too broadly. Don't make a wrong first impression and try to fit your life story into two minutes.
TRICK: The recruiter wants to gain insight into you and how you would fit into the company.
It's a warm-up question, so you shouldn't waste your best points here. Limit your answers to work-related matters and don't spend time on irrelevant information. Briefly cover four topics: early years, education, work history, and recent career experience.
What separates you from others?
TRAP: This question is similar to "What are your strengths?", but it is your chance to "self-advertise". Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself to other candidates. You and the interviewer are the only people present.
TRICK: This question tests how you sell yourself and whether you satisfy the employer's needs. Think about your most significant accomplishment and remember what the employer highlighted in the job description.
Which of your accomplishments/achievements/skills best match the job description and this particular company's needs? What are you good at? Emphasize your talents.
Your answer should summarize the top three criteria:
- Identify the company's problems and needs.
- Tell what you can do to help the company.
- Explain how you will do it.
What do you know about the company?
TRAP: This question eliminates candidates who are desperate for any job, and not this particular job. It tells the interviewer whether you are interested in and passionate about this company.
TRICK: Let your answer show that you did some research. Prove that you do your homework. If you get this question, so will the other candidates.
Most of them will probably give broad information they found by merely typing the company's name into a search engine. You should know that basic info, but you should also impress the interviewer with specific data that is important.
With just half an hour of research, you might surprise the interviewer with your answers. Search the Internet to find information about products/services, market share with competitors, annual revenue change, future goals, greatest company achievements, competitors, and facts about the CEO and the team you will work with.
Make the interviewer's day. Show them you know your stuff — and that you know about their company.
Why are you leaving your present/last job?
TRAP: Even if you didn't get along with your former boss or direct manager, or even if you didn't like the industry, avoid bad-mouthing your company. You will lose credibility immediately.
TRICK: This question aims to discover your values and the reasons underlying your career goals. You might also get questions like, "What did you like most about your previous job position?" or, "What did you like least?"
The recruiter wants to identify whether your departure was a company or personal decision and why it happened.
Be positive and use "I" instead of "them". Be honest, but don't mention personal conflicts even if you didn't get along with your team. Talking about change without changing your own career goal is good. If you discuss how this particular company can help you reach your career goal, you will come out a winner.
What are your greatest strengths?
TRAP: This is an easy question, but take note: if your strengths do not match the key points of the job description, you will not be considered a strong candidate.
TRICK: Highlight your strengths that match the job description's key points the best. If you're applying for a digital marketing position, then say that your strength is digital marketing. If you are applying for a graphic designer position, highlight your design skills. Match yourself to the company's needs.
Mention the rest of your strengths as well. The more you market yourself, the more you will be in demand. Talk about your strong communication skills such as social skills or teamwork — these are some of the most desirable attributes of any employee.
What are your greatest weaknesses?
This question tests your honesty. It is designed to eliminate as many candidates as possible. Professional HR managers don't ask this question because it's a bit insulting — they should never ask questions that they would not want to answer.
Ever thought how an interviewer would react if you asked him/her about his/her weaknesses? But it's a kind of a common question, so be prepared for it.
TRAP: This question is tricky, because it's not positive. The worst way you can answer is by playing up your strengths. You can't say that your weakness is that you work hard and care too much.
Although applicants believe self-promotion is the way to land a job, the evidence shows otherwise. Interviewers tend to give the highest ratings to applicants who are more concerned about being seen accurately than positively.
TRICK: The honest answer wins. Don't be arrogant. You can't use this question to prove how wonderful you are. However, don't select your worst trait, the one you would like to hide even from yourself. Choose a characteristic that bothers you and slightly conflicts with your skills and motivation.
Which of your traits are not deadly, just slightly uncomfortable?
Where do you see yourself in five years?
TRAP: The recruiter wants to know about your career goals and how committed you are to the company. He/she is looking for hints that will let him/her know whether you are in it over the long haul or just looking for a stopover until something better comes along.
TRICK: The truth is that anything can happen, but the organization is going to invest money, energy, and time into your hiring and training. Five years is a long time, and employees usually change companies more often than that. However, you should at least demonstrate an honest intention to stay long enough to be a good investment.
Speak like a person with a long-term vision. Remember your career goal, and figure out how this company or position can help you reach your goal.
Can you work under pressure?
TRAP: Stress can make people very unhappy. So, the interviewer wants to know how you handle it. If you say that stress is bad or that you never get stressed, the interviewer will believe you just can't handle it.
TRICK: The best way to answer this question is to give an example of how you have handled stress in a previous job. Just don't mention irrelevant or general situations such as, "I got stressed when I had to handle multiple tasks and finish them quickly." Don't highlight how you felt; emphasize how you handled a particular situation.
Remember, stress can be useful if it's used correctly. It can give you a boost, making you sharper and more productive. It can help you get your work done while understanding the outcomes.
Understand that stress can give you energy, and energy is the key component of productive, hard work.
How much money do you want to earn?
TRAP: This is a delicate topic. The recruiter wants to know if the company pays more or less than the average salary.
TRICK: If you want to earn more, use this salesman tactic: never mention a price until the recruiter says how much he/she can pay.
Of course, this is happening throughout the interview – you are targeting your expectations at whichever expectations the recruiter expresses. In this instance, to maximize your earning power, use the following strategy:
- Research the average salary in your specific market and compare it to your previous salary.
- Research what the average minimum is in your specific market.
- Use these numbers as a basis to answer the question, "What salary do you expect?" If the recruiter says that he/she can pay only the minimum, then what the heck? It's a low-end company.
Most companies won't pay the new guy more on his first day. So, expect a cut from your salary (unless you happen to be the well-known pro). Companies can't pay more simply because you might address their issues. You earn more when you actually demonstrate that you can solve the company's daily problems. That's what a trial period is all about.
If the job interview goes well, negotiate the path forward for your career and checkpoints when your salary could be increased. Usually this is done in a second interview.
Hard and Tricky Job Interview Questions
Besides the most common questions, HR managers ask some additional questions to find out which type of personality you have and how you deal with particular situations. Are you a team player? How would you describe a leader?
While there are only a few common questions, there are many other questions that dig deeper into your persona. Find out the reasons behind these questions and how to answer them.
What's your dream job?
The recruiter is probing how well your dream job matches the position and the company. This question helps them assess your motivation as well.
Although the employer does want to recruit an employee with the right set of skills, he/she also wants to know what keeps you motivated. Ask yourself:
- What motivates me?
- What is my passion?
- Which skills do I have that will get me my dream job?
Before the interview, go back and look through the job description again to see what most interests you about the position. Then, when you answer the question, focus on the present and the future. Also, give a few examples.
Your major successes and failures are measurements that frame your performance. The interviewer can use them to gauge how experienced you are. It's important not to highlight conflicts, rather how you deal with extreme situations.
A difficult co-worker
Questions like: "Give an example of when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with. How/why was this person difficult?"
The recruiter might ask you these questions to determine how much of a team player you are. At the same time, she/he might have in mind one particular worker who is problematic (but productive) and that you might not get along with. Smile and be positive.
What is a leader?
Questions like: "What is a leader?" "What is a professional?" "What are the most important characteristics of successful people?"
Professional recruiters ask this question to understand who your role models are and whether you have specific professional skills. It's essential for the recruiter to employ the most professional and successful person out of all the candidates.
Can you multitask?
Questions like: "Describe a situation that required you to do a number of things at the same time. How did you handle it?"
Everyone has times when they have tons of work and not much time to get it done, so the ability to multitask is one of the most desirable (yet, not always rational) skills a candidate can have. This question is an excellent opportunity to recall an example from your work history that demonstrates your speed and ability to prioritize tasks in a time-sensitive manner.
What's a definition of hard work?
Hard work is not working as much as you can. It's a productive way to get the job done in the shortest time possible. There are many ways to stay productive. Give examples like, "I start with the most difficult task and leave the less important ones for last."
Describe yourself with just one word
If you could describe yourself with just one word, what would it be?
The recruiter wants to find out what is important to you. That one word can tell him/her how well you will fit this particular position.
Would you choose us?
Questions like: "Which other companies are you interviewing with?" "Would you choose us?"
If you hear this question at the end of an interview, take it as a good sign. Stay positive about this company and ask what the next step in the process is.
How would you deal with an irate customer?
This question checks how you deal with stress and responsibility. Irate customers show up all the time. You just have to deal with them. Remember your last angry customer. Explain how you solved this situation and how you made the company look good.
Why is there a gap in your employment?
Gaps in your career are OK, and interviewers will view starting a business or taking maternity leave positively. The problem is when you have a gap and leave it unexplained. That is the perfect situation for misinterpretation.
Do you have any questions?
If you don't ask questions, you demonstrate a lack of passion.
It's the best question in all interview processes. It allows you to show your intellect, logic, energy, knowledge, approach and most of all, passion. You will find a list of the best questions you can ask a recruiter in the next chapter.
Ask Questions in a Job Interview
In other words, what to answer to "Do you have any questions?"
This is the best part of an interview because it gives you a chance to show your interest as well as your intellect, creativity, wisdom, knowledge, and approach.
Many perfect, experienced candidates totally fail the interview, because they don't ask any questions. It is a fatal error. A candidate displays a lack of passion when he/she does not ask questions.
Asking questions is a bonus, especially if you didn't do so well during the interview. You can use this opportunity to gain back points. A few thoughtful questions that stun the interviewer can balance out your lack of experience.
Ask as many questions as you like — the interview is over when you quit asking. So, if you can keep the conversation going with some great questions for a few minutes, you might come out as a top candidate for the position: the passionate person who really wants to work for this particular company.
Smart managers always hire attitude over skill.
Job Interview Questions to Ask: About Yourself and the Candidate
When you finally hear "Do you have any questions?", it gives you a chance to show your interest and intellect.
Show interest in what the company is looking for and how you can help the company solve its problems. At the start of the conversation, you already discussed a candidate — yourself. Follow-up questions will give you an idea of what a good candidate is according to the interviewer's perspective.
Check out a list of questions you could ask:
Which skills, characteristics, and experiences would make an ideal candidate with lots of potential?
Listen for keywords that you have highlighted in your targeted resume and that appeared in the job description.
If you were to rank all the people who have done this job in the past, tell me about No. 1 and why he/she was regarded as the best?
This is a great open-ended question that will have the interviewer put the cards on the table and state exactly what the employer is looking for.
Do you have any hesitations/concerns about my qualifications?
This is also a great question because it's courageous. You are asking, "What do you think about me?" in a polite way. Also, you show that you have confidence in your skills and abilities. The recruiter will share his/her concerns, and you will explain why he/she should not be concerned.
TIP: The biggest concern is usually a lack of knowledge. Assure the recruiter that you can adapt to new situations and that you learn quickly.
Will the company provide any training? How are employee performances evaluated?
This is a positioning question, showing that you are interested in expanding your knowledge, actually reaching your goals, and growing with your employer.
What interests you about me as a candidate?
This is a great way to garner positive attention. You can ask about your stronger skills that the job description mentions explicitly. The recruiter will reply with what he/she believes is one of your strengths that is important for the company or the position.
Job Interview Questions to Ask: About the Open Job Position
You are applying for a particular position, so it's super important to ask specifically about that position:
How has this position evolved since it was created?
It will tell you about employees who have worked for this company. Additionally, it will give you a better understanding of what the career possibilities are.
Who previously held this position?
This straightforward question will tell you whether that person was promoted or fired or if he/she quit or retired. That, in turn, will provide a clue to the inner workings of the company and how good the relationships among the team members are.
Job Interview Questions to Ask: About a Company and Co-workers
Here's a list of questions you could ask the interviewer:
Which competitor worries you the most?
You should ask this question if the recruiter doesn't mention competitors. Asking about competitors is a must because this is one of the biggest concerns of any business. Asking about competitors will demonstrate your approach to problems the company is facing.
How do you see this position evolving in the next three years?
Ask this question to show interest in further career opportunities within the company.
Can you tell me about the team?
This question tells you about the individuals you will interact with on a daily basis.
What is your vision for where the company or department will be in three to five years?
This is a good question for the direct supervisor. He/she will give you the personal vision of the company. The question reminds the supervisor to think about and remember where the company is heading.
If you could improve one thing about the company, what would it be?
The employer will give you an idea of what his/her priorities are or the challenges/problems that worry him/her.
What's a key to this company's success that somebody from outside the company wouldn't know about?
The recruiter should be proud of essential components of the company. It might be the CEO, the three-year plan, financial results or strong team. Ask this question, and you will have a positive answer.
What is the next step in the process?
This is the essential last question — one you must ask. It shows that you're interested in the company and in moving forward in the process. Maybe you didn't interview well, or your experience isn't the greatest, but asking great questions might have shored up your image.
Nailing the Job Interview
Consider the job interview as a conversation, not an investigation. During the conversation, the recruiter will try to figure out if you match up to the position more than the other candidates do.
Remember: the most experienced candidate does not win the job — the one that is most relevant to the company does. In a competitive job market, there are competitive people, and if you don't prepare, you're not in the competition. Once you get the call, start doing your homework.
Either way, don't lose heart if you don't get that one position. You can succeed only if you are willing to fail. If you succeed the first time, that is pure luck. If you don't, keep moving.
Search for companies that suit your goals, target your resume and prepare for the interview. After all, a job search is a process, not an event.