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Common Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
Although some companies are notorious for asking out-of-the-box and sometimes even downright weird interview questions like:
Most companies stick to the more common ones. In general, interview questions are designed to establish three main things about a candidate:
- 1Whether they have the skills and experience to do the job
- 2Their level of interest in the job and the company
- 3Whether they will be a good fit for the company culture
According to Beth Campbell Duke
Youth career educator and author of the book Future-Proof Careers”
In order to convince an employer of these three things, you need to be prepared. The common interview questions can sometimes be the trickiest to answer as they tend to be non-specific and open-ended.
However, she also notes that the best interview preparation doesn’t begin the day before the interview; it happens at every step of your job hunting process.
“It might seem onerous to have to target every resume you send out to the specific job opening, but this is where your work starts to pay off,” says Campbell Duke.
“When you work through the Personal Branding process, the interview preparation you do the day before the interview becomes a review of the work you've done that got you to this point.”
Of course, even if you haven’t been proactively searching out opportunities that match your skills, doing the 'day before' interview preparation can still help.
Review the job posting and the resume and cover letter you sent in for this posting. Make two copies of each - one for your own reference and a spare in case it's needed.
Review the company website one more time. Your goal at this point - especially if you are feeling unprepared - is to focus on how you will answer the questions about why you want to work for this company, and why you should be hired.
Make sure you add 3-5 questions you'd like answered to your notes. Ideally, these are questions you have had during your own preparation. If you're at a loss, fire up Google and find some!
Our top 8 questions
Tell me a bit about yourself
This is a simple, but important question, because it gives the interviewer a chance to see some personality and how you describe yourself. Never answer this question with a question like, “What do you want to know?” Also, don’t share your whole life story either.
Lavie Margolin, career coach and author of the book “Winning Answers to 500 Interview Questions,” says it’s important to focus primarily on the ‘professional’ you.
“The interviewer doesn’t want to know about where you took your last vacation or what your favourite pastime is,” he says. “Instead, provide an introduction to your relevant experience, education, skills and knowledge that will be discussed at a more in-depth level over the course of the interview.”
What do you consider your greatest strengths?
Be honest when answering this question, but try to focus on the skills and strengths that you know the role requires.
As with your resume, use specific examples of times when you’ve demonstrated those strengths in a professional setting rather than just checking off a list of job requirements.
What are your weaknesses?
Lavie Margolin explains that employers ask this question to gain a better understanding of the ‘professional you’, because they don’t just want to hear about what you do well, but also what you may do poorly.
But how does one talk about their weaknesses without completely ruining their chances of getting the job?
The best way to answer a question like this without patronising the interviewer with clichés like “I work too hard” or “I care too much” is to be honest.
However, you should also always emphasise that you are actively working to overcome it – maybe you’ve started taking classes to improve your communication skills or perhaps you’ve taken up yoga to relieve stress and react more calmly in stressful situations.
“Provide a relevant weakness that you may have had, what you have done to overcome it and where you stand now,” says Margolin.
What do you know about the company?
This question can lead to a very awkward situation if you haven’t done your research on the company.
Some of the things you should be able to speak knowledgeably about include the company’s structure, finances, products, services and staff, as well as its competitors and any challenges it may be facing.
Why do you want to work for us?
An employer wants to get the sense that you are enthusiastic about the role they are offering, and asking this question helps them gauge whether you really want this job or just a job.
Identify a couple of reasons why (a) you want this job, and (b) why you want to work for this company specifically. For example, you might say you want the job because you’re interested in the product/market/sector, and you want to work for their company because of its great reputation.
Avoid giving answers like “I need the money” or “It’s easily accessible with public transport”. These might be valid reasons for you, but it’s not what an interviewer wants to hear.
Why should we hire you?
Even if you don’t get this question in your interview, all your answers should indirectly answer this question, so it’s an important one to think about.
Consider the skills and traits that are listed in the job posting. If it repeatedly mentions teamwork and people skills, emphasise your achievements in this area. Also, don’t just talk about the fact that you can get the job done, talk about how you can excel at it.
Tell me about a time when you faced a challenge or problem at work, and how you dealt with it.
Variations of this question could include, “Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it” or “Tell us about the last time you were angry at work, and why it happened”. The interviewer generally wants to know the same thing – how you cope under pressure and how you deal with conflict.
This is definitely a question you need to be prepared for, because it’s hard to think of good (and truthful) examples on the spot. Prepare an example of a time when you were able to resolve or improve a conflict, keep a cool head under pressure, or diffuse a heated situation.
Why are you leaving your current job?
“Be prepared with an intelligent and positive statement about why you're leaving or have left your previous employment,” says Kandi Mensing, owner and founder of EliteHRTeam.com
“But try to avoid giving answers that you think the interviewer wants to hear, as it's very obvious when someone is not being genuine,” she adds.
Be open about why you left your previous job or wish to leave your current one, but also stay positive and focus on professional reasons rather than personal ones.