You landed an interview! It feels great knowing that a hiring manager from a company you’re interested in working for is also interested in you. But now the pressure’s on—you’ve got to rock the interview.
Here are some of the most common interview questions, and our advice for the best way to answer them.
1 Tell me about yourself.
This question is among the first that most interviewers ask, so it’s tempting to jump right in and start listing off all the qualities that make you the best person for the job. But resist. You’ll get to those questions soon. This one’s about breaking the ice.
Rather than talking about your professional skills, share something interesting that the interviewer might find relatable. You might talk about your hobbies or an interesting major life event you’ve gone through recently. Don’t forget to include activities like volunteer work. It’s helpful if you can point out how you’ve parlayed your interests into desirable job skills. Your oil painting hobby, for example, might translate to excellent attention to detail.
Be sure to keep the interests you share neutral. You’ll want to keep your participation in things like political rallies low key unless you’re applying for a job where political activity is relevant or expected.
2 What are your greatest strengths?
Here’s your opportunity to shine and match your skills to the employer’s needs. What professional talents are you most proud of? What do people often compliment you on? If those skills intersect with what you know the employer is looking for, this is the time to talk about them.
Don’t forget about soft skills. If you’re a good listener, or a lifelong learner who’s always trying out new things, or a versatile person who’s able to fill lots of roles, share that information.
Script the answer to this question before your interview. Make lists of your strengths and then figure out which are the most relevant. Write out your answers. Then, pretend you’re a hiring manager and read what you’ve written. How would you react to the answers you just gave? Are there any red flags? Adjust accordingly.
3 What are your weaknesses?
Don’t you love this question? It’s like the interviewer is saying, “Tell us why we shouldn’t hire you.” How do you respond?
Avoid mentioning any weaknesses that you don’t already have a plan for addressing. If you admit to being unorganized, tell the interviewer that you’ve started using some cool new apps that are helping you stay on task. However, don’t be afraid to let yourself be a little vulnerable—knowing and acknowledging your flaws shows that you value self-reflection and personal growth.
Can’t think of an honest answer to this question that won’t sink your career chances? Reflect on your last performance review. No one’s perfect, so it’s likely you were told to improve in an area or two. Now you can own up to those problem areas and share your methods for addressing them with the interviewer.
4 Tell me about an achievement you’re really proud of.
Be prepared to share a significant professional achievement, and be prepared to back it up.
Just as when you’re writing a resume, remember that “show, don’t tell” is the golden rule. “I single-handedly turned our sales department around” is bragging, but when you say “Under my management, our sales team was able to increase their conversion rate by 87 percent over six months,” you’re showing that your efforts had a measurable effect.
5 Why are you leaving your current job?
Make sure you keep your answer to this question short and positive. This isn’t the time to badmouth your current or previous employer. Rather than saying something like “There wasn’t enough opportunity for growth” you could say “I’m looking to expand my horizons and move into a more hands-on developmental role, which is where I know I’d excel.”
Things get trickier if you were fired from your last gig. The best response is a neutral one like “Unfortunately, the company and position were a mismatch for me, so I needed to find a new challenge.”
6 What brought you to [Company]?
Here’s where your research skills are going to shine! Prior to interviewing, a savvy job-seeker will have spent time on the company’s website and read articles about the company and its key players to develop a feel for its brand presence and culture.
Write down keywords you see frequently on the company’s About Us, Culture, and Employment pages. Look for adjectives used to describe the company and its team. If you see terms like innovativeor competitive, you can use them in your answer:
“I’ve been eager to join a team that’s innovating in a way that keeps them competitive in this space.”
7 Tell me about a time when a customer or colleague disagreed with you. What did you do?
Here’s your chance to prove that you are so chill. Someone disagreed with you, but you kept your cool and worked through it. You could certainly talk about how you were able to persuade someone to see your point of view, especially if the role you’re applying for values that ability. (A sales role would be a good example.) However, this could also be the perfect opportunity to show that you work and play well with others. Try talking about a time when you learned something as the result of a disagreement and how it changed your perspective.
It’s all about story. Pick one that shows conflict with a good outcome and makes a positive statement about your ability to collaborate and grow.
8 What would your boss and colleagues say about you?
Honesty is the best policy here for many reasons. If you’re a first-class procrastinator, for example, don’t try to pass yourself off as super efficient. The key to a great interview is to emphasize your strengths while demonstrating an ability to learn and grow from your weaknesses.
Be specific and give examples. It may be true that your colleagues would say you’re a hard worker, but without a story to back that up, you’re just tossing out a cliché the interviewer has probably heard hundreds of times. Instead, tell a story about a time you put in extra effort and your colleagues and friends congratulated you on your hard work.
Look at past performance reviews if you’re having a hard time coming up with a specific example. It’s perfectly okay to quote from a positive review:
“In my last performance evaluation, my boss praised me for my creativity in putting together a new content strategy.”
9 Where do you see yourself in five years?
Most job-seekers take this question in one of two directions—they’re either aggressively ambitious (“I want your job!”) or they’re too humble (“I just want to do the best work I can and see where my talents take me.”) Neither answer will do much to win you a position.
Instead, respond in a general way. Rather than saying “I see myself as Director of Marketing,” say “My goal is to be in a position where I can take on new challenges. I’d like to take on more management responsibilities, so I’m on the lookout for opportunities to develop my skills in that area.”
10 Why should we hire you?
Don’t you just hate this question? It’s tempting to list your sterling qualities, but odds are that your competitors have a lot of the same qualities, which doesn’t exactly make you stand out. Instead of repeating a laundry list of skills and attributes, try restating what you understand about the company’s needs and the position, and then explaining why you’re a good fit. Here’s an example of that strategy in action from Forbes:
”From what I understand about the job, it’s a position that requires a lot of fast activity during the day, and that’s the kind of job I thrive in. I love to stay busy and wear a lot of hats. Is my assessment of the environment on target?
Dress for the job you want, smile confidently, and offer a firm handshake, but remember to do a little behind-the-scenes interview prep. It can mean the difference between walking away with a sinking feeling and walking away with a job.