The interview is a crucial step in the hiring process. It’s your chance to explain why you’re the right person for the role and wow the interviewer with your skills and abilities. And though the type of interview questions you’ll encounter vary by industry, the company’s culture, and the specifics of the role (technical interviews are very different from case study interviews), there are some common interview questions you’re likely to encounter wherever you go!
11 Common Interview Questions
These interview questions are common for a reason. They often give the interviewer deeper insights into who you are as a candidate and how you’ll perform in the role. So, here are 10 interview questions to prepare for, the reason why the interviewer asks them, and how to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself.
“Tell me about yourself” isn’t a question as much as it is a request. However, no matter the industry or interview, this is often the first question the interviewer asks. Why? It’s an excellent ice breaker and gives the hiring manager or recruiter a high-level introduction to who you are and what you’ll bring to the role.
How to answer: The best way to answer this common interview “question” is short and sweet. The interviewer wants a brief overview of who you are as a professional. So, quickly summarize your relevant experience and what you’re looking for in your next role.
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2. What is your greatest strength?
The “What is your greatest strength?” interview question is so common you might be surprised that the interviewer even bothers to ask it. After all, since you know it’s probably coming, you likely have an answer ready. However, there are two reasons interviewers still ask this question.
First, this common interview question can be surprisingly hard to answer. You want to demonstrate you’ve got what it takes to get the job done but don’t want to come across as arrogant or boastful. In a sense, the interviewer is trying to find out if you can speak about yourself humbly and gracefully while still talking up your strength.
But the interviewer may also be asking about your strengths because the best answer describes not only your strengths but how you’ll use them in the role. More importantly, the interviewer wants to make sure you have the right strengths for the job. Do you talk about something you’ll use every day or mention a skill that’s unrelated to the job?
How to answer: Discuss one or two strengths that are relevant to the role and include an example of how you’ve used them on the job.
3. What is your biggest weakness?
As challenging as discussing your strengths may be, answering, “What is your biggest weakness?” may feel even more difficult. You have to talk about something you’re bad at? Why would the interviewer want to know that?
Again, there are two reasons. First, the interviewer is checking if you’re self-aware. Do you know what your weaknesses are, and are you trying to improve yourself? It takes courage to talk about that with a total stranger in an interview setting, but the ability to do so shows you have a growth mindset and are dedicated to learning.
Second, are you willing to be honest and talk about a true weakness instead of trying to avoid answering? “Don’t try to be clever here and try to position a strength as a weakness,” says Alan Edwards, writer and coach at Undercover Recruiter. “For example, don’t say you’re too much of a perfectionist or that you tend to work too hard and demand too much of yourself. Interviewers can see right through it.”
How to answer: Be honest about your weakness (like not being a great presenter), and explain what you’re doing to strengthen this area.
4. Why are you applying for this position?
Companies look for applicants who are passionate and excited about the role, will have a positive impact on the company, and want to stick around for the long haul. They assess this by asking why you’re applying for the position.
Honesty is always the best policy, but try not to be too honest. You may be applying because of the fantastic benefits and excellent pay — both valid reasons — but this kind of honesty doesn’t generally go over well in an interview.
How to answer: Explain what drew you to the role in the first place. The company’s mission? The excitement of building a new product? Talk about the job, the company, and what you’re looking forward to accomplishing.
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5. What are your salary expectations?
The job posting may include a salary range, which means you have a reasonable idea of what the employer is willing to pay, but it might not. Either way, at some point, you’ll probably be asked, “What are your salary expectations?”
You might encounter this question early in the interview process. This is to ensure you and the company are on the same page before going through multiple interviews, so it’s critical to prepare. Research salary ranges for the role once you’re scheduled for the first interview.
Keep your experience, skills, and education in mind. “An experienced applicant should ask for a salary on the higher end of that range and less experienced applicants on the lower,” says Archie Payne, president of CalTek Staffing.
How to answer: You can answer with, “What is budgeted for the role?” However, the employer may respond with, “What range are you willing to accept?” so have something in mind. And make sure you thoroughly check the job posting before the interview — if the posting does already include a salary range, it could look like you aren’t prepared if you ask about the budget.
If you need to throw out the first number, you can give a range or a specific number, whichever you’re comfortable with. “Follow your answer up by saying something like, ‘Compensation isn’t the only factor I’m considering in a new job, though. I’m looking forward to learning more about the company and the role,’” advises Edwards.
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6. Why are you qualified for this position?
Answering “Why do you think you are qualified for this position?” is similar to answering questions about your strengths. You want to be confident in your qualifications but humble in explaining them.
How to answer: Relate your qualifications to the role and cite examples of how you’ve performed in the past. Be sure to include metrics and other data to more clearly define the impact you’ll have.
7. What motivates you?
Interviewers ask, “What motivates you?” not only to find out what gets you going in the morning. They’re also wondering how you stay on task, on target, and get things done at work. So, your answer needs to be work-related, not about your personal life. And skip using salary or benefits as the answer. While this may be your truth, it’s not the best answer in an interview situation.
How to answer: Explain what motivates you in relation to the job, company, or industry with specifics. For example, you can talk about how you love helping customers find solutions to their problems or helping launch and grow a new brand.
8. Why are you leaving your job?
Once you’ve landed your first role, you’ll probably be asked, “What are your reasons for leaving the job?” when you’re searching for your second role (and third and fourth). You may even get this question if you want to make a lateral move within your current organization.
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Hiring managers ask this not just because they’re curious but to see how you answer it. And this is one question that sometimes requires a vague answer, but not always.
If you’re leaving because you’re grossly underpaid and haven’t had a raise in five years or because your boss is a bully and the entire company is toxic, a vague answer is the way to go. You don’t want to badmouth your current employer because it could make you seem like a gossip or sore loser. And it could lead the interviewer to worry that if things don’t work out, you’ll badmouth them in your next interview! When you’re vague, the interviewer can read between the lines. They’ll notice your diplomacy (an excellent soft skill) and ability to be graceful under pressure.
But if the reason you’re leaving is due to a lack of growth opportunities, a more direct answer is the way to go, as long as you aren’t badmouthing your current job. You can say, “I’m leaving because I want to work somewhere I can learn new skills such as X, Y, and Z,” and skip the part about how you’ve asked to learn new things and been denied.
How to answer: Keep your response brief, professional, and positive! Give a quick reason why you’re leaving and explain what you’re looking for in your next role.
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9. How did you hear about the position?
You’re more likely to hear this question from a recruiter than a hiring manager, and the reason for asking is two-fold. First, the recruiter wants to know if their marketing efforts are working. Did posting on X job board over Z job board result in more applicants? Second, the recruiter is seeing if a current or past employee referred you.
How to answer: Honestly. It’s as simple as that!
10. How do you stay organized?
There’s no one right way to stay organized and accomplish your tasks. You’ve probably decided on the method that works best for you, and the hiring manager wants to know what that is. Are you all about to-do lists or calendar reminders? Do you use something like the Pomodoro Technique to stay focused?
How to answer: Again, answer honestly, but be specific. For example, you can say, “I use my calendar to track due dates,” as long as you include information about how you use your calendar to set and track milestones.
11. Do you have any questions for me?
This is usually one of the very last questions the interviewer will ask. But why is the interviewer asking you to ask questions? Primarily, they want to gauge your interest in the role. Applicants who are deeply interested in and enthusiastic about the position will want to learn more about the job and the company. But interviewers also ask to see how prepared you are. Much like the other common interview questions on this list, the interviewer expects you to have a few questions ready to go. If you don’t, it signals you aren’t that interested in the job or haven’t been paying attention during the interview.
How to answer: Between your prepared questions and things that came up during the interview, you should be able to ask three to five excellent questions that will help you learn more about the job, the company, and if you want to take the position. Not sure what to ask? Start here: 15 Questions to Ask the Hiring Manager (and 5 to Skip).
Beyond the Basics
Now that you know how to prep for the most general and common interview questions you’ll probably have to answer, here are some of the questions you’ll likely encounter for specific careers:
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Image credit: Tim Gouw / Unsplash.com
Anna Staples contributed to this article