As excited as you might be for that big job interview coming up, you’re probably also nervous—and we all know it’s hard to look and sound impressive when your heart is pounding and your brain is going into fight-or-flight mode. But have no fear, because some simple preparation makes a world of difference.
When you go in feeling more confident, you might even find yourself enjoying the conversation.
These are some of the most common interview questions you will need to be prepared for. They’re also some of the trickiest ones to answer.
Interview Question 1: “Tell me about yourself.”
Interviewers usually lead with this one, and even though it should be the easiest answer of all, sometimes it’s the hardest. Your mind starts flipping through endless files of information, trying to pick out a few relevant facts. Is the interviewer looking for a straightforward, no-nonsense reply? Are they looking for something that will “wow” them?
Do they actually want to know about your passion for artisanal cheeses, or should you save that for the second interview?
How NOT to answer:
- Well, my Enneagram number/Myers-Briggs type/star sign is . . .
- I’m the seventh of nine kids . . .
- I grew up in Tulsa and go back there occasionally for holidays . . .
- I’m a bit of a night owl . . .
It sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people draw a blank in the interview and start reciting their autobiography. There’s nothing wrong with giving personal details, but at this stage in the game they should connect to the job in some way. (Of course, if the interviewer asks about your family or hobbies, that’s different).
How to answer:
Here’s the deal—the hiring manager is trying to get a sense not only of who you are as a person, but how genuinely passionate you are about this role. Keep it relevant and let your passion for your field come through.
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Prepare for this question by thinking about how you got to where you are today—what drove you to pursue this career field and this job? Why does this work matter to you?
Consider structuring your answer somewhat like this:
“I’ve loved ___ for as long as I can remember. I really wanted to keep developing my skills in that area, which I did by______. That eventually led to opportunities to do ___, ___ and ___. Now I want to bring those experiences and knowledge to this company, so I can help as many people as possible.”
Obviously, that will change to fit your story. But as a general rule, try to include details about your past experience in the field and connect it to why you do what you do now and where you want to go from here.
Interview Question 2: Why did you leave your last job/Why do you want to leave your current job?
This is another one of the most common interview questions (and one of the most likely to trip up candidates).
The best practice here is to be honest, but don’t go into all the gruesome details (unless asked for more information). If you left for an easily-explained reason like your job was a seasonal position or your family needed to relocate, great!
If it was a more complicated situation, there are some do’s and don’ts.
How NOT to answer:
- You wouldn’t believe how TERRIBLE my last boss was.
- My coworkers were petty and talked about me behind my back.
- I always had to work late and on weekends, and I got sick of it.
- My manager yelled at me if I was even just five minutes late to work.
- They really didn’t know what they were doing as a company.
- I never got the chance to lead a meeting. Or a project. Or anything.
All of those could be very true reasons why you left your job (or were asked to leave).
I do want you to be honest, but you also have to be careful with the tone and wording of your response. You should never sound like you’re complaining, whining, or bad-mouthing your former boss or peers, even if they made your life miserable. Even if you were fired, there’s a better way to approach the topic.
How to answer:
The most important thing for the interviewer to know is that no matter what happened, you learned and grew from it and are actively working to improve moving forward. Try to frame the real reason for leaving within positive statements, explaining what you learned and how you plan to use that information in the future.
For example, if you left because of a bad work environment, you could say something like:
“I work best in a company culture where everyone is supportive and honest, and unfortunately I realized that there were some larger problems within the company that didn’t line up with my values. But I’m grateful for the experience and learned that a healthy company culture is a crucial part of the job search for me.”
If you were let go, you could say something like:
“I was excited to try a new line of work and thought I would be a good fit for it because of my skills in ____ and my past experience of ___. But once I started the job, I found that I’d misunderstood the job requirements and there should have been more communication on the front end about the level of skill needed for this particular job. My manager and I agreed I was not a good fit, but in the meantime, I’ve been working on my own communication skills and honing my craft in other areas by doing ____.”
Regardless of the situation, remember to go in with an attitude of humility and positivity. And never lie about your experiences—for the hiring manager, the truth is just one phone call away.
Interview Question 3: What’s your biggest weakness/strength?
Now comes the awkward part where you might feel like you’re either throwing yourself under the bus or shouting your own praises from the rooftops. With the right approach and wording, you don’t have to do either of those things.
Just like the “why did you leave your job” question, it’s best to be honest and show how you’re working on overcoming the weakness (but no need to unpack any emotional baggage). For strengths, be modest but know the value of your skills.
How NOT to answer:
- I don’t really have any weaknesses.
- I was better at research than anyone else at my last company.
- I get angry when people don’t get things right the first time.
- I have time management problems and always seem to get behind.
- I’m a perfectionist.
How to answer:
When talking about strengths, try not to give generic answers. Everyone will say they’re a hard worker and like to do a good job. Instead, find the personal traits and skills earned from experience that set you apart and make you a valuable asset to the company. Keep the job description in mind for this answer, and try to highlight the strengths you truly have that match what they’re looking for.
Rather than simply naming the strength, consider giving an example of a time when you’ve used it in action or a person who has pointed out that strength in you.
For example, you could say something like:
“My former leader told me that he didn’t know what the team would do without my communication skills and ability to problem-solve in tough situations. In fact, even though I wasn’t in a leadership role, he asked me to lead several projects for him.”
That way you come across as humble and confident!
When talking about weaknesses, show that you’re self-aware enough to know where your problem areas are. Then explain how you deal with that weakness and how you’re working to improve.
“I’m not great with details. I’m a big-picture thinker and I’m all about action, which is why I sometimes gloss over the small-but-important stuff. I’ve been challenging myself to ask more specific questions and make sure I have all the information before charging into a project that I’m excited about.”
Interview Question 4: What salary do you expect to make?
Talking about salary is never really comfortable. Nobody wants to sell themselves short, but sometimes people are also afraid of naming a number that seems ridiculously high to the interviewer.
Some companies might require you to give an exact number or at least a salary range expectation, so be prepared with some numbers just in case. If they don’t, however, you don’t have to name a number. Doing so can automatically limit you to the number you quoted, when the company may be prepared to pay more.
Do your research on job search sites like Indeed or Glassdoor to find out what the market value is for that position. Then, when asked the question, say something like “My expectation is that I’d be paid the market value.”
Interview Question 5: Out of all the applicants, why do you think you should get the job?
When it comes to this common interview question, you have to be ready to justify why you are a great fit for the company rather than just listing strengths.
It can be intimidating to think about all the other people who are applying for this position and how you may or may not measure up to them. Instead of focusing on comparison, focus on what you bring to the table and what kind of value that would create for the company.
How NOT to answer:
- Umm . . .
- I have a lot of experience.
- I’m punctual.
- I’m a quick learner.
- I know I would do a better job than anyone else.
You don’t want to repeat the list of strengths you told the interviewer earlier, and you also don’t want to say something that all the other candidates will say—even if it’s true. There could be over a thousand people applying for this job who are just as punctual as you are. What makes you different?
How to answer:
Your strengths can definitely be part of your answer, but they shouldn’t be your whole answer. Think about all the checkpoints you would look for if you were the hiring manager.
“Is this person a good fit with the company culture? Do they have a competitive level of experience? Do they care about our mission? Do they go above and beyond in their work?”
Then find a way to briefly touch on all those points. Your answer should sum up your passion for the company, how your unique combination of skills and strengths would bring value, how your past jobs have equipped you for this one, and any major accomplishments you’ve had in your field that would set you apart from other candidates. Include any other meaningful details that show you’re personally invested in this role.
This is your time to be bold!
Remember, it’s important to include specific examples to back up what you say. The interviewer doesn’t just want to hear information about you; they want to know why that information makes you the best person for the job.
Questions You Should Never Ask in Your Interview
The interviewer won’t be the only one asking questions in your interview! Any good hiring manager will ask you if you have any questions, and you should be prepared to ask some.
There are some questions, though, that send the wrong message to your interviewer and could seriously hurt your chances of moving forward in the hiring process.
Here are a few examples:
- How much sick time/vacation time would I get?
- If I get all my hours in, can my schedule be flexible?
- Do you guys check up on your employees’ social media accounts?
- What’s the policy if I come in late?
- So, what does this company do, exactly?
- How soon could I get promoted from this position?
- How often do you give raises to your employees?
- Do you drug test all your employees?
- How many warnings do you give before you fire someone?
Hopefully I don’t need to explain why these aren’t great questions. Just use common sense and don’t ask questions about salary, benefits or anything that makes you sound like an escaped convict, and you’ll be just fine!
Appropriate questions to ask the interviewer:
- What types of people succeed here?
- How will my performance be measured, and how often can I expect to receive feedback on my work?
- Do any team members work remotely? (Depending on the position, you may want to wait until the second or third interview to ask this one.)
- What is the company culture like and can you give me some examples of how that plays out in a typical work week?
- Does this company offer employees any chances to do additional training or professional development?
Questions like these show you’re eager to learn and excited about the opportunity.
If you need more tips on standing out in the hiring process, check out my Get Hired Digital Course. It's an online video course packed with 11 lessons to give you the tools and strategy you need to get noticed and get closer to your dream job.
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.
Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.