Common Questions and Sample Responses
Use the following sample responses to common questions as a general guide rather than reciting them word-for-word. You will be much more convincing if you use your own words and your own style in an interview.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS:
- What are your strengths? Come up with a brief answer to this question before your interview. Answer this question in a way that shows how your skills make you particularly qualified for the job. Example: “I work hard, I’m not afraid of challenges, and I like to learn new things.”
- Tell me about yourself. This question allows you to use the same answer that you prepared for the question regarding your strengths — it’s an opportunity for you to tell the interviewer why you are ideal for the job. Make sure that your answer relates to your skills or the job that you are pursuing.
- What is your greatest weakness? This classic question is a perennial favorite among interviewers and actually presents an opportunity to once again highlight your strengths. The key is to come up with a weakness that your employer actually views as a strength. This does not mean that you should make up a weakness – an honest answer will be much more effective – but you should use this question as a chance to sell yourself.
Sample Responses: “My greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist and it sometimes drives me nuts” or “I am sometimes too hard on myself”.
Don’t overdo it: While you want to sell your weaknesses as strengths, if you oversell, it might backfire. For instance, if you say that your greatest weakness is “I work too hard”, you might be laying it on too thick.
QUESTIONS REGARDING YOUR KNOWLEDGE OF THE JOB AND/OR EMPLOYER:
- What do you know about the job? What do you know about our organization? Before your interview, come up with a brief description of the job and some key points about your prospective employer. This will not only help you better understand the job you’re seeking, but it also will show that you are the type of person who does their homework and comes prepared.
- What interests you about our company? Use this question as an opportunity to showcase your knowledge of the employer (based on your research). Also, try to think of a specific reason why you want to work for this company (it provides room to grow, you’ve heard great things from employees, etc.).
- Where do you see yourself in three years? In ten years? Don’t be too specific or you might appear presumptuous. Also, avoid mentioning that you see this job as a mere stepping stone. Try to answer this question by mentioning very general areas of growth. “In five years, I want to be doing a job (such as this one) but know that I have succeeded and grown professionally in the process.”
- Do you have references? (It is most important that you contact your references ahead of time and have their name, current address, and telephone numbers.)
QUESTIONS REGARDING YOUR BACKGROUND:
- How well did you perform in your last job? Hiring managers tend to ask this question in order to gauge your level of enthusiasm. They're also looking for a direct connection between your current position and the one for which you're applying. This question gives you an opportunity to mention accomplishments or challenges that you surmounted. If you didn’t do very well in your job, emphasize the positive: “My last job was challenging and rewarding, and gave me insight into why I am interested this position.”
- How was your last boss? How was your previous employer? Remember: What you say about your past job will be used against you. Never badmouth your previous employer or say that you were bored with your old job: If you let your interviewer know that you are switching jobs because you’re a disgruntled employee, you might as well wear a flashing sign that says “future disgruntled employee!” Be more diplomatic if you didn’t like your old job: “I got a lot of valuable experience. It was challenging. But it was time to move on to new challenges, and that job just didn’t offer them”
- What outside activities do you enjoy? The answer to this question gives your employer insight into your personal priorities. List a few but don’t mention so many that your employer questions whether your outside activities will interfere with your job.
- Dealing with weaknesses in your resume or gaps in your background: Your past consists of a series of experiences that have brought you to the interview chair. Selling yourself means knowing how to tell your story in a way that shows that your past experiences have prepared you for the job you’re seeking. The key is to draw a line of continuity from your past to your present.
- Gaps in your work or education: If you took time off from school or work, be prepared to say why you did it and what you gained from the experience. Tell the truth. Show how that insight has led you to this interview.
- Why did you leave your last job? Your answer should not be negative. Don’t mention that you were terminated, that you quit, or left because you didn’t like your job or your co-workers.
- Dealing with a radical career change: If you’re applying for a job that represents a sudden career change, your employer will likely ask you why you are making such a change. Provide a positive answer that shows that the change you are making is not so radical as it appears and that you made it for informed and mature reasons. If, for instance, you are applying for a marketing position after having worked as a cashier for ten years, you may want to say: “I actually see this career change as a natural progression of my interests. As a cashier, I worked closely with people for years and was a first-hand witness to their purchasing decisions and preferences. I gained an appreciation for why people place their confidence in certain goods and services, and I want to pursue this interest at a higher level.”