• Lindi Engelbrecht

Inside Scoop: Answers to 11 Most Common Interview Questions

Knowing how to put together a strong answer to the most common interview questions is obviously key to landing a job. The art and science of creating great answers involves being strategic in crafting your responses as well as practicing till you’re as strong as possible.

The best job candidates are not lucky. They spend a ton of time both on preparation because they know how important that 30-60 minute interview can be to their entire career.

Tip: Think about how you would answer these questions. Practice answering them with your consultant, or close friend. Ask him/her if your answers are clear & to the point.

Q #1 Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

It's one of the most frequently asked interview questions: "Tell me about yourself." Your response will set the tone for the rest of the interview—no pressure!

This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it's crucial. Here's the deal: Don't give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Start off with the 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences that you most want the interviewer to know about, then wrap up talking about how that prior experience has positioned you for this specific role.

Q #2 What do you know about the company?

With this question, all any interviewer wants to do is assess your pre-interview preparation for the job, (3 ways to researching a company pre-interview), and whether you are truly interested in this specific position and company (or if any job or company will do). Interviewers are looking for enthusiastic and earnest potential employees. If you demonstrate basic knowledge of the company—say, knowing their goals and overall vision, and what sets them apart from the competition—you’re on your way to getting a solid grade on this question. If you’re able to align your own personal goals and vision to the company’s, you’re on your way to passing the test this question poses with top honors and flying colors! Start with one line that shows you understand the company's goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.

Q #3 Why do you want to work here?

Companies want to hire people who are passionate about the job, so you should have a great answer about why you want the position. First things first, this is an excellent opportunity for you to show off what you know about the company. You can talk all day about how excited you are about joining the team, but nothing will trump actually knowing a thing or two about the place you’re interviewing with. Next, you want to sell why, exactly, you’re right for the role. There are two ways you can do this: You can either focus more on your experiences (what you’ve done before that brings you to this point) or your skills (especially helpful if you’re pivoting positions or industries). Finally, you want to show that the position makes sense for where you’re going in your career. Ideally, you won’t give the impression that you’re just using the position as a stepping stone. Show that you’ll be around for the long haul, and your interviewer will feel more comfortable investing in you

Q #4 Why do you want to leave your current employer?

Variations on this questions may include:

  • Why are you looking for a new position now? This is for employed candidates considering a job change.

  • Why did you leave your most recent position? This is for candidates who are not currently employed but have past experience. Maybe you quit your last position or were laid off. Maybe you’re a new grad who is making the transition from internship or part-time work to a “real” career-track job.

  • Why did you leave Position X? Interviewers will be most interested in your current or most recent position. However, you should also be prepared to discuss all of your previous job transitions, especially if you left after a short tenure or have a profile gap.

If there is anything that is dissatisfying about your current position, this is where you might unwittingly share that information and unintentionally emit a negative vibe -- a VERY bad impression to make. When answering this question, it’s easy to think about all of the things you dislike about your current job, but don't go there. Make sure your response is rooted in truth, or it will seem disingenuous. It's also important to keep your response positive in tone. You shouldn't give the impression that working for your current employer has been a bad experience because this will make you seem like a negative person. Instead, you should stress that you're aiming to leave because you're looking toward the future and all that it might hold.

Q #5 What did you like least about your last job?

This is not an invitation to go negative. When responding to the seemingly loaded “What did you like least about your last job?” question, it’s vital that your answer maintain an overall positive tone, and that you yourself reflect an ability to stay cool under pressure.

Remain tactful, respectful, and gracious when mentioning your prior superiors and the company you worked for, even if you feel like you have nothing nice to say. Find a way to say something nice! You likely grew professionally in some way, or picked up a new skill or two, so go ahead and mention what you gained at your previous company.

Stay task-oriented or big picture-oriented when mentioning dislikes about your previous job. This point can’t be emphasized enough.

Stay positive while providing the answer in not only what you say, but how you present yourself, body language-wise. For example, don’t roll your eyes when the question is asked, or start off your answer with something like, “Ugh, that company!” Show the interviewer that you would be an exceptional candidate for the position is as simple as answering the “What did you like least about your last job?” question in a professional and positive manner while remaining honest and open.

Q #6 Why have you changed jobs so frequently?

We don't always get to choose when we change jobs. Sometimes our employers make business decisions that put whole departments or divisions out of work. Whether you’ve had a string of bad luck or moved around in search of your true calling, the question about your employment history is coming whether you like it or not. The best way to handle it is to be honest about why you’ve made so many job changes, but keep it simple and don’t get emotional, especially if things ended badly. You need to help potential employers see past the job-hopping. Instead of diving into a lengthy explanation as to why you’ve made so many moves, steer the conversation toward your experience and the skills you’ve picked up along the way. It can’t hurt to tell the interviewer that you’re looking for a long term fit, especially if you had to leave companies because they’ve closed or underwent layoffs.

Always focus on how you can bring value to the potential employer

Q #7 Why should we hire you?

This interview question seems forward (not to mention intimidating!), but if you're asked it, you're in luck: There's no better setup for you to sell yourself and your skills to the hiring manager. Your job here is to craft an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, you can deliver great results; that you'll really fit in with the team and culture; and that you'd be a better hire than any of the other candidates. You’ll make a much stronger case by​ "Show​ing vs. Telling". For each qualification or strength that you’ve identified, think of a specific time where you used that trait to achieve something. Anyone can say, “I have strong communication skills,” but not everyone can tell a story about how they used those communication skills to negotiate a deal or mediate a conflict that threatened the success of a big project. In fact, your qualifications can come across as meaningless if you are not able to back them up with examples from your work experience.

Whenever you tell a story about how your skills and abilities play out at work, be sure to conclude with any positive outcomes that resulted from the actions you took.

Q #8 Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

This popular interview question helps interviewers and hiring managers get a sense of how your career goals align with the company's goals. It also helps them gauge whether you’re likely to have a long tenure at their company or if you’ll probably leave after just a few months or a year on the job. If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you've set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition, and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s Okay to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.

Q #9 Which books/Podcasts/Newsletters or blogs do you read or belong to, to stay abreast of your industry niche?

An unexpected question, right? However a very important question to prepare on, or even better yet, subscribe to some podcasts, blogs and newsletters to really stay abreast, and not just to prepare for an interview. Even if this question doesn't get posed in your interview, mention and reference your reading list, this is also a great way to start a mutual-interest-conversation with the interviewer or panel.

Q #10 What Salary are you worth and why?

Not only is it hard for many people to talk about money, but the wrong answer can instantly knock you out of the running or lock you into earning less than you deserve.

If you can, push the conversation about salary until the end of the interview. “The later in the process you talk about money, the more time you have to demonstrate your professional value to the interviewer before salary negotiation begins. Refrain from providing a fixed amount, rather throw the ball back into their court, by replying “Make me an offer that you feel I’m worth”, this answer creates room for negotiation. However if it’s insistent upon, provide a salary range, which you would feel comfortable with. It is important to stress that the move is not solely dependent or focused on money, as there are other, as important factors to consider.

Q #11 Do you have any questions for us?

Since this question is so common, it makes sense to plan for it. Come to your interview prepared with a list of questions that you want answered.

Ideally, your response will make it clear that you were engaged during the interview and have a good sense of the company's goals and priorities. You can reflect back to earlier moments in the interview

Or, you can mention questions that build off of company news, or information you read on the company website.

Aim to always ask open-ended questions, and not questions that can be answered with a "yes" or "no." You will have to use your judgment about the number of questions you ask and when to ask them. Think of this as a conversation.

Finally, don’t bombard the interviewer with a laundry list of questions. If she/or He seems engaged in the conversation and encourages you to keep asking, great, but if you see her looking at their watch, time to wrap it up! It’s best to pick a handful of questions that are most important to you and leave on a positive note.