Many people go into a job interview thinking they can quickly respond to the basic questions, only to find themselves fumbling for a coherent response once the heat is on. What’s far more helpful is to have an idea ahead of time of the most commonly asked interview questions and answers.
While you can get some indication of targeted questions to expect based on the position you're seeking, certain interview questions can arise in practically any hiring situation. So it helps if you’re prepared with some compelling, non-generic replies.
Before you meet with the hiring manager, prepare — either mentally or by role-playing with a friend — for an exchange of common interview questions and answers. You don’t need to memorize your responses, but identifying specific anecdotes you can share will boost your confidence and keep you from freezing up.
Some basic interview questions and answers
Following are some possible job interview questions and tips on how to respond in a way that puts your best foot forward:
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
This is one of the most clichéd interview questions. Your answer should be brief yet include enough information about your relevant skills and experience to show the hiring manager how you could help the company. This is an opportunity for you to deliver a pithy elevator speech. (Read more about answering this tricky interview question.)
2. Why do you want to work for our company?
Your response should demonstrate that you have researched the organization prior to the interview and believe the job is a great match for your skills and personality. Show your enthusiasm for the job and how you’d be a good fit for the company.
Robert Half has been helping job seekers find great career opportunities since 1948. We can help you too!
3. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
A standard among job interview questions, the first part is fairly easy to answer. Tailor your answer to the job description, and highlight any skills that might be listed. But describing your weaknesses is a different story. Some people aim to outline a strength that’s disguised as a weakness. The problem is that interviewers have come to expect this and will see right through you. As such, a better approach is to name an actual weakness, but be sure to follow it up with steps you are taking to overcome that particular shortcoming.
4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
With this question, prospective employers are hoping to get a sense of your drive and ambition. The truth is, you might envision yourself taking the interviewer’s job or moving on to a different company in five years, but you probably don’t want to say that out loud, right? A better response is to talk about how the open position fits with your goals for professional growth and career advancement. Show you’ve carefully considered this question and explain how you could succeed in the role and change it for the better.
5. Can you give an example of a time when you overcame a professional challenge?
Not only is this one of the most common interview questions, it’s also one that interviewees like least. Prepare for this query by having an anecdote ready to go. Yes, hiring managers are looking for examples of your critical thinking and analytical skills. But they’re also focusing on your behavior in handling the challenge you describe. Did you initially panic? Or did you calmly assess the situation and proceed with the best possible solution?
6. How would hiring you benefit our company?
Here’s where you emphasize what makes you unique over other applicants. Is it because of your skills and experience, your eagerness to learn, your motivation to succeed, your work style or how you collaborate with others?
7. How do you handle failure?
This is similar to the question about your biggest weakness, and it might require some thought to come up with an example of a time you made a mistake or faced a conflict on the job — and how you turned it around. Describe how you were able to maintain your composure, move forward and accomplish your goals.
8. Do you have any questions?
Yes, you should have a few informed questions to ask during an interview. Inquiring about the position's growth potential or the company's long-term objectives, for instance, demonstrates your interest in the position, and the interviewer’s answer may shed additional light on the intricacies of the job.
As you prepare for interview questions and answers, put yourself in the hiring manager's position by giving some thought to what you would ask a job candidate. This should prove useful on at least two levels: It gives you another perspective on how to answer, and it helps you see reasons why asking common job interview questions can be helpful to the people doing the hiring. The more you know about the "whys" behind the questions, the easier the "hows" become when you're in position to give answers.