Your awesome resume finally landed you an interview with your dream employer (thanks to our fantastic blog post on earning more interviews). So, what’s the best way to prepare for the interview and answer those predictable, yet tough, interview questions that you know are coming?
If you've interviewed in the specific industry before, you will probably have an idea of what to expect in regards to industry specific questions. Looking at the job description and doing further research on the company itself will help you come prepared for the more specific interview questions.
But, as we all know too well, there are many interview questions that are prominent and common across all industries. Some questions have become so commonplace that many interviewers have seen hundreds of potential employees walk through the door and attempt to creatively answer these questions with, what they think is, a unique response that will set them apart.
The thing is, it’s these run-of-the-mill, boilerplate questions that will help you stand out more than anything else.
Think about it, if 15 people are given the same question and half of them answer it in a very similar way, wouldn't you want to ensure that you’re in the group that offered an outside-the-box or unique answer to the mundane and repetitive questions?
Of course, you would and it may very well be the difference between a callback and a letter of rejection.
We’ve spoken with interviewers, interviewees, company leaders and scoured the internet for the best answers we could find. So, without any further ado, here are the most common interview questions asked across all industries and, of course, how to answer them.
Looking for an interview coach? Check out our post on the best interview coaching services.
1. Tell me about yourself
This is a very common way to start off an interview. Employers like it because it’s relatively informal and a good way of determining what you find important and useful about a job or life experiences. Open-ended questions, like this one, can determine the path the rest of the interview follows, so answer thoughtfully.
Your objective here should be to give a quick summary of your professional history that has led you to the interview chair. Throwing in a hint of personal touch is important too, as it will make you more likable and help you stand out.
Most importantly, give them examples of your successes and learning experiences from previous positions and relate them to your qualifications for the position being discussed.
A detailed example or two is essential here. Make absolutely sure to weave in a few positive traits and skills that would be essential to success in the position.
When preparing for the interview, think through some of your stand-out professional accomplishments and tie them into what is important for success in the position you’re interviewing for.
Keep in mind, this question is just a friendlier way of saying, “What is there about you that makes you the best candidate for this position?”
biginterview.com has provided us with an excellent example:
2. What are your greatest strengths?
This one is super common and sounds very straightforward. What a great chance to talk yourself up, right?
Well, yeah…but make sure you’re honest. Personal strengths are something people are proud of and the interviewer can tell. That’s why, if you’re exaggerating or being untruthful on this question, it will be particularly obvious.
The most important things to keep in mind are:
Be honest. Instead of making things up, spend your time relating your true strengths to the demands of the position you’re interviewing for.
Be specific. Don't just mention your sales skills. Specifically, explain how you outperformed other salespeople at a previous position. Also, directly tie these specific skills to the position you’re interviewing for.
Examples are important. Anyone can call themselves an expert whatever, your answer won’t truly stand out until you provide an excellent example that demonstrates the truth of your described strengths.
Remember, different companies value different qualities in their employees. A little research before your interview may reveal some of the qualities they find most important. If you can, implement some of these into your answer.
Here is one of the best examples from their website:
3. What are your greatest weaknesses?
This is the toughest one so far. How do you answer this without making yourself sound less capable or less qualified?
The answer is not what you think. Contrary to the popular assumption, you should NOT try and disguise a strength as a weakness and use that to answer. The interviewer will see right through it and know you’re trying to pull the same shtick as everyone else.
This question is tough and they know it. It’s intentionally asked to throw you out of rhythm. What the interviewer is really looking for is to see how you respond under pressure. Nervously beating around the bush will hurt you. Be straightforward, confident and aware.
Describe an actual weakness you have. Not only does this show self-awareness and a willingness to accept criticism, it shows the employer that you’re someone who knows how to focus on and work to improve their personal deficiencies.
Remember, instead of using this question to describe your weakness in detail, spend most of the time describing how it’s hurt you and how you've been working on improving your weakness. The most important thing they are looking for is how you’re working to improve upon your weakest points. Put the biggest emphasis on the learning experiences you've had due to the weakness and why you’re determined to improve.
Here is an excellent example from biginterview.com:
Notice how the answer puts a greater focus on the solution rather than the problem itself.
4. Where do you want to be in 5 years?
This question is very common for a number of reasons.
They want to check if your near-term expectations align with the goals of the position.
To make sure you don't have goals that cannot or will not be met by the position or company.
To check if you have realistic career goals.
In order to judge your ambitiousness.
No, “CEO of this company” or “running my own business” are not good answers, as they completely fail to emphasize why your goals will make you a successful employee.
Explain how it’s important to you to grow in the position. Tell them you want to become an expert on the subject matter and help others in the company do great work. Explain how, by learning the ins and outs of the position, you hope to become something of a mentor to newcomers and eventually take on more responsibility as your knowledge of the company grows.
In short, you want to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the position and the company, stress your desire to have a long-term career with the company and be honest, even if that means not getting too specific.
Also, keep in mind that a young person getting into a new industry and an old person with years of experience are expected to have very different answers here. Be yourself.
Here's a very on-point example from The Muse:
5. Why do you want this job?
This is a question you should answer whether it’s asked directly or not. It’s one of the most important factors in nearly every interview across all industries. If you put a good summary on your resume, try to tie that into your answer. Here is a great blog post on perfecting your resume's summary.
There are a few good reasons why you should be interested in the position (no, money is not a good answer no matter how truthful it may be).
Express interest in and knowledge of the company. Explain to the interviewer how you got really excited when you noticed a job listing from the company because you've been following them for a while and are really impressed by what they do.
Do your research and mention a few specifics about the company. This should go without saying but make sure to research the company extensively before going in for the interview.
Have some relevant news story or company accomplishment ready for discussion.
The more specific you can get about the company’s culture and achievements, the better you can explain why working for them is so important to you.
Talk about how the specific position seems great for making the most of and expanding on your skills and experiences.
More preparation necessary here. Browse the job description and company website. Look for qualities that seem particularly important to them and explain how you felt these descriptions convinced you that you'd make a perfect fit. If your experience and skills match up nicely to those on the job description, this should be easy for you. If not, focus on the things you do have and emphasize why they are so important.
In short, you want this job because your skills match up so perfectly with the ones needed for success.
Explain how you see the company as a great place to grow moving forward. Companies prefer lower turnover. Hiring someone who wants to be there long term will help them in more ways than one.
Put a huge emphasis on how the company culture and objectives have convinced you that it’s the best place for you to grow in your career and advance your skill set.
There are countless reasons why one may want a specific job. This question should really be about relating your desires with the company’s goals. If you share many objectives, chances are it will be a great fit.
6. What is your proudest achievement?
Use this question to bring up another strength of yours that directly relates to the position. The extent of the achievement is less important than how it relates to the job. So, if you have a few ideas of what you'd like to say, choose the one that relates most heavily to the position you’re interviewing for even if the others may sound more impressive but are unrelated.
This is also a chance to show that you’re passionate about your work. If you express dedication and passion while telling your accomplishment story, the interviewer will think that you’re passionate about your work, an amazing quality regardless of the industry.
Here's a perfect example from livecareer.com:
It's important to be positive and always put emphasis on how your experiences will help the company.
7. Explain a conflict you've had with a boss
This is a question that tends to be avoided with a “never had a conflict” kind of answer. Don't do this. Conflict resolution is extremely important in nearly every job and it’s important to your employer that you know how to effectively handle conflict.
Give a real example but spend more time explaining how you resolved the issue rather than going into deep detail about the issue itself.
Your goal is to show the interviewer that you’re able to resolve disagreements in an effective way without prolonging or irritating the issue.
Remember, this isn't about explaining how you convinced others you were right, it’s about compromise and working with others to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Most importantly, you must come off as easy to work with and a great communicator.
Here is an example of a great explanation of a work conflict resolution from Olin College:
As you can see, it's important to place the focus of your answer on the resolution of the conflict, rather than the conflict itself.
8. Explain your career change / employment gap
The most important thing here? STAY POSITIVE. Don't bash your old company, explain what you like so much about the new company and how they have particular positive qualities that drew you to them.
Make it less about quitting or getting let go from your old job and more about seeking something new and fresh that your old company was unable to provide.
Remember, it’s not out-of-the-ordinary to change career paths so don't get nervous like you’re explaining your way out of trouble. Simply explain what is different about the new company and why those differences make it a better place for you to work.
If you have big employment gaps on your resume, describe what you were doing at the time. If you were volunteering, going to school or building technical skills, the interviewer may find your use of time beneficial to success in the position.
Then, focus your answer on the future. Explain how you’re refocusing your career on a different path and relate your employment gap to that transition.
Very few people have a straight line career trajectory. Just be positive about your experience and the interviewer will respect it.
Here's a productive way of answering this tough question, courtesy of best-job-interview.com:
9. What do you think we (the company) can do better?
This shows the employer that you've not only done your research but that you've also thought critically about the company and its business.
There’s no go-to answer here. It will, of course, vary widely based on the company. All we can tell you is to prepare.
Research the company extensively and go to every interview with at least one idea to improve some aspect of the business.
The goal here is just to show you've put thought into the business and that you’re a problem solver and creative thinker.
Prepary.com's blog on interviews has a pretty awesome template for answering this question:
10. How many cars would fit on the Brooklyn Bridge?
These vague quantitative questions are asked so the interviewer can tap into your problem-solving process.
The most important thing is not the answer; it’s how you reach the answer.
Talk through the whole problem, every step of the way, instead of just blurting out an estimate.
Bonus: Do you have questions for me?
The only wrong answer here is “no”.
Again, research the company beforehand and come up with, at least, three unique questions. Ask about what you can do for the company, why they were interested in you in the first place, ask about a news story you may have read about the company and things like that.
Also, at the end, ask about any reservations they may have about offering you the job. You may get some insight to help improve your candidacy and, even if it doesn't work out, you'll have some great feedback to help prepare for your next interview.
Here are some awesome examples of questions to ask your interviewer from Penn State University:
Interviews are always the toughest part of the job search. With adequate preparation and practice, you should be an expert in no time.
The main thing to remember from all of this…Interview questions are an opportunity to express to the interviewer why you are a perfect fit for the company and position. Answer every question with that intent and you should do just fine.
Good luck with your job search!
This post has been updated by a ZipJob editor to remain current.
Jeffrey is one of ZipJob's co-founders and has been a blog contributor since 2016.