A job interview can be a naturally stressful experience.
You are presenting yourself to someone who is likely a total stranger, in hopes of acquiring a new job, that will inevitably affect the rest of your life in a myriad of ways.
It’s certainly a time to shine and put your best self forward. Dressing for the job you want and maintaining the utmost manners are an absolute must. Yet there is still more you can do to shine during the interview. Being prepared to offer a thoughtful, appropriate response to some of the most common questions asked the human resources staff and hiring managers will go a long way toward helping you land that new job.
At the same time, you don’t want to offer up the same canned response that other applicants might give. One of the best things you can do to prevent this from happening is to take some extra time digesting these questions and coming up with your own comfortable, personalized, and organic response.
Question 1: Can You Tell Me About Yourself?
Taken straight from the hip, this question might feel a little bit overwhelming. This isn’t meant to be your moment to embody Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield and let loose the in-depth information bomb about your life.
Instead, try to think of two or three sentences about positive past experiences in your life that might be pertinent to the job or the company. Yet also make sure to give it some personal flair.
Question 2: How Did You Learn About The Position?
On a simple level, this might just be an HR question to help the company understand which of their communication and marketing channels is the most effective. Many companies advertise their job openings on multiple platforms.
Yet this doesn’t mean this is necessarily a throw-away question. It can also be an opportunity to demonstrate that you have a healthy and effective network already in place.
If someone in good standing with the company referred you, make sure to note it. If you heard about your job through another network connection, note it and perhaps the networking opportunity where it occurred. If possible, try to include a sentence or two about what piqued your interest in the position.
Question 3: What Do You Know About Our Company?
Obviously, you need to demonstrate that you have done your homework about the company. Still, you don’t want to straight regurgitate what you find on the “About Us” page of their website. Ideally, you want to be able to spin what you find on their website in your own words. They also include some touchstone information about how you can connect personally with their mission statement or the goals associated with the position you are applying for.
Question 4: What Interests You About This Position?
This question is essentially your opportunity to demonstrate why you would be passionate about the job. Your response should focus on key factors of why you would be a good fit for the position and the responsibilities that come with it. If you have held a similar position in the past, try to touch on positive experiences and personal growth opportunities that came with it.
Question 5: Why Should We Hire You?
This question can be a little bit intimidating. Especially if it comes up in the middle of the interview. If it comes up near the end of the interview it can be a little bit of a closing personal sales pitch.
Regardless of when it comes up in the interview, your answer needs to touch on a few key points. Your answer wants to demonstrate that you can do the work, or you are ready for the kind of training it will take to grow into the position. It can also help to demonstrate that you are a good fit for the company culture today or where they are trying to take the company culture in the near future. If possible, your answer should also demonstrate why you are a better hire for the position than the competitors. Just do so without talking negatively about the other applicants.
Question 6: What Would You Say Is Your Greatest Strength?
This is the kind of question where honesty really is the best policy. The last thing you want to do is over-promise your abilities, only to under-deliver after you’ve been hired. Ideally, you want to choose a strength that is relevant to the position you are interviewing for. Then you can follow up with a prepared story about how you have used these strengths successfully in the past.
Question 7: What Is Your Biggest Weakness?
This question might also be phrased as “What are you not-so-good at?” Taken in a certain light, this could be a tricky question. You don’t want to display your self of being perfect, yet you also don’t want to drop a red flag response about something like struggling with deadlines.
Some people will respond to this with a “Throw-Away” answer like “I work too hard.” Or “I don’t delegate enough.” Experienced HR and hiring managers are used to hearing these answers.
Ideally, you want to strike a delicate balance between mentioning something that you aren’t good at yet limiting it to something that doesn’t pertain to the job duties of the position you are applying for. If you are applying to be an inventory manager, you might mention that you aren’t always comfortable with public speaking.
If possible, you should try to offer up a nugget of how you are working at it. Maybe you recently took a continuing education class on being a better speaker.
Question 8: Tell Me About One Of Your Greatest Success Stories?
This question gives you the opportunity to shine. Just don’t think of it as an open door to blindly brag about yourself. Ideally, you want to stick to one event, or perhaps two closely related events and then build a narrative around it.
This is very much like telling a 500-word short story. First, you have to set the scene, without necessarily going overboard. Make sure that you briefly explain the challenge, the position you were in at that time, and what your prime responsibilities were. The majority of the narrative needs to focus on what you actually did. Don’t embellish, especially on things that an HR manager might find later in the vetting process.
When you come to the conclusion, make sure you give some hard and fast information that demonstrates how it benefitted the organization you were working for. Not only does this essentially prove that it was, in fact, a successful event, but it also communicates to the hiring manager that you are the kind of person who keeps their eye on the bottom line in a measurable way.
Question 9: Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
This question doesn’t always show up in every job interview. When it does it can mean a few different things. It could be that the hiring manager wants to know if you can set ambitious, yet realistic goals for yourself. This question might also serve as a barometer for just how well your personal goals align with the position you are interviewing for, or if you could reasonably be promoted to a higher future position that is in line with where you see yourself.
Your response needs to address these various points. Try not to be too rigid with the details in your goals. It’s perfectly acceptable to assume that you want to have worked your way up from the position you are currently interviewing for. Just don’t give them an overly detailed vision of a corner office, with a custom desk inspired by the Chrysler building, and an in-office coffee maker.
Do your best to research where the current position could lead to and draw up a reasonable vision of how you will get there. The focus should sound like your aspirations, and not a list of demands.
Question 10: Are You Currently Interviewing With Other Companies?
This question tends to serve two purposes for the hiring manager. First of all, it helps them identify who their competition is for the current talent pool. At the same time, it helps them understand how actively you are seeking a new position. Especially if you have already talked about how their position and their company is your “Dream Job” but then you are applying for the same job with five other companies.
Try to keep your response applicable. If it is indeed your dream job, and they are your dream company, try to note it in a soft-pitch sort of way. If you are actively applying or interviewing with multiple companies, a better response would be to say something like “I’m currently applying for a variety of similar positions, with the same level of responsibility and opportunity.
Question 11: Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?
This question is full of potential tripping points and potential traps. First and foremost, you need to remain positive. Even if you are leaving your old position for negative reasons. It can be even more difficult if you are currently unemployed or were let go by your previous employer.
Ideally, you want to frame your response to note how you are pursuing new opportunities for professional growth. If you were let go, keep your reasons why very simple. Most of the time it’s completely acceptable to say something like “Unfortunately, the company let me go,” or “Unfortunately, the company restructured in a way that my position was no longer available.”
Question 12: Why Did Your Previous Employer Fire You?
Sometimes a hiring manager wants more than a single sentence answer to why your previous employer let you go. Again, you need to remain positive, even if the reason for separation was negative. Just give the honest answer your most positive spin. Then follow up with positive lessons you have learned from the experience and why you are excited about the future.
Question 13: What Are You Looking For In Your New Job?
This might be put in place of a previous question “What interests you about this position?” The goal here is to take what the position requires, and then carefully spin it into your own words. Whenever possible note areas where you see room for personal or professional growth opportunities if they select you.
Question 14: What Is Your Ideal Working Environment?
In a perfect world, your answer will completely match the company’s current environment and culture. Which means you need to do a little research about their existing environment. Look on company review websites. Look at real-life company photos on their website. If you happen to know someone who works there currently, try to tap them for some insights.
While you are doing your research, you should also ask yourself if you see yourself fitting into that type of environment, or if you feel that you could comfortably adjust to that type of company culture.
Assuming that you are positive on these factors, you should try to creatively spin that information in your own thoughtfully worded response.
Question 15: How Would You Describe Your Management Style?
This question is typically reserved for individuals who are directly interviewing for a management position. However, you should still be prepared to answer it, to some degree, even if you aren’t applying for a management position.
Some positions in the business world can come with opportunities for rapid advancement. A savvy hiring manager is often aware of this potential and might consider management style to be a secondary trait to look for even if you aren’t immediately applying for a management position, or the position might involve working in groups, where you might need to assume a short-term leadership role.
When you are thinking about your answer, it’s important to remember that most effective managers are assertive, while also being flexible. This is also an opportunity to briefly share a success story about a time in the past where you were faced with a challenge while in a leadership role, and how your management style yielded success.
Question 16: How Do You Handle Disagreement?
There are several facets to this question, which can vary depending on the position you are applying for. If you are applying for a management position, the hiring manager is likely looking for insights on how you would handle conflict with a subordinate who doesn’t agree with a particular decision. If you are hiring for a position with little to no management responsibilities, they want to know that you can handle a conflict of opinion in a positive, and professional manner.
You want your response to reflect positive energy as well as flexibility. The last thing you want to do is go into the past to tell a negative story about an earlier disagreement. Ideally, you want to demonstrate your listening skills in your response. Hiring managers realize that not all co-workers and managers agree 100% of the time. Demonstrating that you are flexible enough to handle feedback in a positive way helps them understand that you have healthy interpersonal tools to manage these relatively common situations.
Question 17: How Would A Former Co-Worker Or Former Manager Describe You?
This can be a little bit of a tricky question. Just like other subjective questions, you don’t want to cast yourself as being a superhero version of yourself. It’s important to be honest, while also sprinkling a little bit of additional positive energy. Try to stick to your true strengths and highlight things like work ethic or your ability to meet a deadline.
Question 18: Why Is There An Employment Gap On Your Resume?
Sometimes an employment gap on your resume can be difficult to explain, especially if you were unemployed for a significant period of time. Ideally, your response should include positive self-improvement opportunities. Perhaps you were retraining for new skills, or focusing on personal growth. If you were separated from employment due to family issues, such as a death in the family, or starting a family, it’s okay to note them.
Regardless of your reasons, you need to be brief. If there are any relevant connections to the position you are an interview for, you should also note them. Then make a thoughtful effort to steer the conversation back toward how you can contribute to the organization.
Question 19: How Do You Deal With Stress Or Pressure On The Job?
It’s pretty rare for any job position to be completely stress-free. Yet there are some positions which frequently come with stress, tough deadlines, and high expectations that can ramp up the pressure. Of course, a hiring manager wants to know if you have the ware with all to handle pressure, but they also want to know if you have established mental tools and stress reduction techniques.
This could be a great opportunity to pull out a favorite quote or mention an active practice that you are engaged in. Even a little tidbit about a meditation habit or stress-relief technique you’ve found useful in the past could be an extra feather in your cap.
Sure, it’s nice to be able to demonstrate that you have the ability to grit your teeth and get the job done. Being armed with the mental and emotional skills to roll with the punches is sure to impress.
Question 20: What Are Your Salary Expectations?
This is another area where doing your research in advance will really pay off. There are some sites out there like Glassdoor or Payscale that might give you insights on what the position is paid or what the company has paid other employees in a similar position. Then offer them a range of what you are expecting, factoring in your education, experience level, and applicable skills.
Make sure your answer also conveys that you are flexible. Many companies will sometimes higher someone at a more modest salary for a probationary frame of time. Should you meet and assumingly exceed their expectations chances are they may increase your salary levels to compensate.
Question 21: Do You Have Any Questions About The Position?
Most experienced hiring managers and HR personnel lace in explanations about the position throughout the interview. They also expect that you have done your homework in advance. If you have any nuts and bolts questions, this is the perfect time to ask them.
Keep in mind that part of the interview process is also about you finding out if you are the right fit for the company. At the same time, in the ever-changing landscape of today’s business world, you might also want to find out how strong the company’s position is now and into the future.
It can be very helpful to ask them questions like “What is your favorite part of working here?” or “Can you tell me a little bit about the company’s plan’s for future growth and opportunities?”