Job Interviews : How To Answer Common Interview Questions

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how to answer common interview questions

How To Answer Common Interview Questions

Job Interviews

Finally, you got called in for an interview. But you kept wondering what goes on in an interview room. It is a bad idea to even enter an examination room without studying anything. How much more an interview room. Going there without preparation will make you lose the job opening.

In this section, i will show you how to answer standard questions for a job interview.  Even the “boring, standard questions” can have unique and useful answers. You should think hard about how you can differentiate yourself from others every step of the way during the interview.



The number of questions that can be asked by Human Resources or the hiring manager is limitless. So let us begin with the popular interview questions.

Read Also: How To Write The Best CV To Land You The Job Interview You Have Been Waiting For

Question 1: Tell us about yourself?

One of the most common questions in an interview is “Tell us about yourself.” Actually, it is not even a question--it is an invitation. It is an opportunity to share with the interviewer whatever you think is important in their hiring decision.

More importantly, it is your chance to differentiate yourself from other candidates. In most cases, the standard questions offer the same opportunity.


Answer to the real question:

You probably find yourself wondering, “What is it they really want to know?”

Excellent thought!

Since this is usually among the first questions asked, they typically are interested in a quick summary of who you are and what you have accomplished, related to this job opening. They want to understand how well you fit into this position.



Question 2: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Employers don’t necessarily care to hear that you expect to climb the corporate ladder and be a supervisor. If the job you’re interviewing for is not a supervisor, they probably aren’t concerned about your management skills. You can share how you’ve been a mentor to others and led projects with little to no supervision. That should indicate you have leadership potential.

Focus on them: In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you’re interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term (but be careful that they are not areas of expertise that the company needs now).


Answer to the real question:

As you develop some personal career goals as well as a strategy about how you want to achieve those goals plus understanding of the employer's organization, you're now in a better position to be able to answer the question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" without saying something that doesn't sound believable.

Better yet, you won't blurt out something that will completely turn the interviewer off.

Hopefully, the more you really think about your career in this manner and take time to visualize how things could improve for you personally and professionally, the clearer things may become -- both for your career as well as for this interview.

Don't worry about making your answer 10 minutes long. A short, simple answer may be the best one.



Sample Answers

Entry Level Job

For an entry-level job in a bank which has a formal job structure including several progressive levels of the job you are interviewing for --

"My hope is to learn as much as possible about banks and banking services. My short-term goal is to become an excellent cashier and then, possibly move on to jobs with more responsibility in the bank as I gain experience and knowledge about banking. Longer-term, my goal is to become a supervisor, possibly in customer service, loan processing, or another aspect of banking. My hope is that this is the beginning of a long career working for this bank, which progresses logically."


Mid-Level Senior Job

For a more senior position in a company with a less clear organizational structure --

"My long term goal is to grow professionally, eventually to have the role of go-to person for questions on topics like content marketing for nonprofits and online reputation management for nonprofits. I want to be viewed as a top performer, an expert who is a key contributor inside the organization."


Career Changer

When you are changing careers, you can tie your "old" expertise to the new job --

"I see myself growing in my understanding of social media marketing to the point where I can take on additional responsibilities and tasks, leveraging my knowledge of more traditional marketing. Once I gain the experience, I would like to progress to the point where I am managing the social media marketing for specific clients."



Question 3: Why should we hire you?

This is a differentiation question. What you want to tell them is: they'd be crazy not to they hire you.

Focus on them: You need to only share how you meet almost all the criteria they seek, and also have two to three additional abilities that they might not even know they need…yet. They need to know you are a candidate who can not only meet their needs now, but will also be valuable for where they want to go in the future.

  • Are they likely to need another skill set as they grow as a company?
  • Or maybe you have skills that you noticed are in another job description they are looking to fill?

You can help out with those deliverables until they find someone (or be a backup to the person they hire).

Have you been down a path already that they are currently starting? Having “lessons learned” to offer them is a very strong plus for a job candidate.


Bad Answers to This Question:

An answer that focuses on the benefits to you is a bad answer. So, answers like:

  • I need the money.
  • I need a job.
  • This location is very close to where I live (or go to school or want to move or whatever).
  • I've always been interested in (whatever they do).

As important as those reasons are to you, they are not the reasons the employer will hire you. Frankly, nice as they might be, they really don't care about the benefits to you if they hire you.


Good Answers to This Question:

Embrace that this question as an opportunity to emphasize your value and to demonstrate your knowledge as they work together to show how well you could do the job.

For example, someone applying for a position as an administrative assistant might say:

"I have been using Word, Excel, and Outlook since 2001 to maintain both financial and administrative records, create and distribute internal reports for management to monitor employee activity and asset usage which was received by 4 senior managers including the CEO and COO, and create and distribute the internal organizational newsletter which was sent to over 200 staff members twice a month.

"The financial reports were created and maintained using Excel, and both newsletters were written using Microsoft Word, using templates that I developed, and distributed using Outlook.

"I have taken several workshops on Microsoft Office products, and have worked with the newest version and previous versions, going back to the 1997 version. So, I am very comfortable with the Microsoft Office suite of products."



Question 4. Why do you want to work here?

The answer to this question has two aspects: the content and the delivery.

Focus on them:

  • Content -- Employers want to know you feel you can fit in at the company quickly. That means not only deliverables in the job description, but also your fit with the company culture. You will likely have to do some homework to answer this one. You need to understand the reasons why others enjoy working there. Is it a great place to advance your skills, have great challenges to add to your resume, or will it allow you to grow as a professional?
  • Delivery -- The delivery must be genuine. If a hiring manager feels you’re just “telling them want they want to hear,” but don’t mean it…well, the interview is over in their mind. They want to know this is not just a job and paycheck. They want to hear this is what you want to do and the best place to do it.

 Read Also:5 Signs That Tell You Aced A Job Interview

Before you answer this question, do your homework

When I say, "homework" I am referring to research and preparation in four key areas:

  • Know yourself
  • Know the company
  • Know the position
  • Know the interviewers and hiring manager (if possible)


Once you have done all your pre-interview homework, the reasons you want to work for this employer should be more clear to you. If appropriate, you can reference your research, which should impress the interviewers.

  • The quality of the employer's products, for example --

I have used your software products for many years, and always been very impressed with the innovations and consistent concern for helping your customers learn how to use them effectively. With the high quality of your products, marketing them almost feels like a public service. I would greatly enjoy helping you to continue to innovate and to increase your market share.


  • The quality of the employer's reputation as an employer, for example --

This company has a wonderful reputation as a great place to work. You place high value on your employees and encourage them to learn, grow, and innovate inside the company. This means that employees happily work here for many years, far beyond the average length with one employer. And, according to your customers, the high quality of your products and services reflect your high employee satisfaction, which is not surprising. This feels like a win-win-win for stockholders, employees, and customers, and I would be very happy to join this organization.


  • The employer's business reputation, for example --

This firm has the reputation of being one of the leading accounting firms in this state, with a list of impressive customers as well as high customer satisfaction rates. Your partners are frequent speakers at national conferences, advocating strong security measures to protect financial transactions and information. These are signs that this firm is a leader, not a follower. With my background in cybersecurity, I'm very interested in applying the newest technology plus common sense practices to keep this sensitive information as safe as possible.


Put your answer together based on your research and your interest in the job. Don't be insincere, but do demonstrate both your interest and your research.



Question 5: What is your greatest strength/ greatest weakness?

Your greatest strength is something they need. Don't choose something irrelevant to the job or the employer, like your skill in sudoku (unless that is a requirement for this job).

Focus on them: You have many strengths, but pick the one they need help with the most. Is it your expertise in a particular skill? Is it your ability to turn low-performing teams into high performers? Share something that makes them think they need to hire you…right now.

I hate the “greatest weakness” question. Everyone knows it’s a trap, and everyone knows the candidate is going to say something trite (popular example: "I’m a perfectionist"). When you give a real answer, you are being genuine. You are admitting you have some growth opportunities and are not perfect. But you can include that you already have a plan to overcome this weakness through training or practice.

Some people even insert a little humor in their answer—“I wish I was better at tennis.” You can, too, if you feel like the interviewer has a sense of humor. But, be sure to quickly follow with a serious answer. Showing you have a lighter side is usually a good thing.


Examples: Greatest Strength Answers

Remember that this isn't a date or a session with your best friend:

  • Keep your answers short. Don't talk for longer than 10 to 20 seconds. The interviewer isn't interested in your life story.
  • Respect your current and previous employers' confidential information. You will be demonstrating your loyalty and ethics, which a new employer should appreciate.
  • Focus on strengths relevant to the job and employer.
  • Don't choose irrelevant strengths, like your skill with knitting or dancing -- unless those strengths are related to skills needed for the job.
  • Don't share too much information, particularly personal information about your family and your health.


Strength: People Person

Particularly for customer service and other customer-facing jobs, this one is a strength that employers love.

(Strength) "I enjoy interacting with people and helping them solve problems, both on the phone and also via email or electronic chatting/messaging."

(Proof) "I've been an online customer service representative for over 5 years, and I really enjoy interacting with people across the globe. My employer has a high standard for customer satisfaction, and I've been trained to defuse really angry people so they can be helped and, in fact, satisfied with our services. We are measured both on how satisfied people are after they've spoken with us, and also if they purchase additional products and services as a result of our interactions. I'm proud to say that I am usually among the leaders in our group, and have received at least one service rep of the month award every year."

Hopefully, your actions before, during, and after the interview demonstrate this strength.


Strength: Leadership

This strength is obviously very important for management jobs and project/team leadership positions.

(Strength) "I pride myself on my leadership skills, something I was taught in my 3 years as a non-commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps."

(Proof) "Leadership is necessary to keep project teams moving forward in the right direction. While nothing is as challenging as leading troops in battle, leading a 6- to 12-member project team is not easy. Bringing projects in on-time, on-budget, and meeting both technical and business requirements takes substantial planning and management skills, particularly when typically half of the team members did not directly report to me. I've been an IT project manager for 5 years, managing 10 major projects in that time frame. All of those projects completed on schedule, met their specifications, and were considered successes. In addition, I was able to train 4 team members so they were promoted to project management positions."


Question 6. When can you start?

Be careful about this question for a few reasons:

  • It doesn’t mean that you “got the job.” They may be just checking to add that to their notes. You must keep your guard up until you are in your car and driving away from the interview.
  • If you are currently employed, you should be honest about the start date and show professionalism. You should tell them you would have to discuss a transition with your current company to see if they require a two-week notice (or some other timing). If you currently have a critical role, your potential new employer would expect a transition period.
  • If you can start right away (and they know you are not currently employed), you certainly can say you’re able to start tomorrow. Sense of urgency and excitement about starting work at the new company is always a good thing.



Question 7. Why do you want to leave your current job?

This can be a deal-breaker question. Obviously:

  • If you say you hate your current boss or company, the interviewer will naturally believe you will hate them eventually.
  • If you say, your current compensation or role is below your standards, they will again assume the worst.

Although these may be legitimate reasons to leave a job, there must be other reasons, too. Your current company or department may have become unstable (hopefully the interviewer’s company is very stable). Your current employer may not be able to offer you any professional growth (the interviewer’s should be able to do this).

Do you see a pattern here? Highlight a reason that the hiring manager cannot be concerned about.

Of course, if you have an issue that is very important to you that could be a deal-breaker (like company culture), you can mention it. Just be prepared for them to take one extreme or the other. For example, maybe you only want to work for companies that buy from vendors in your home country. The hiring manager will let you know if their company does this. And if they don’t, I guess the interview is over.

Read Also: 7 Things To Do To Stay Sane While Waiting For A Feedback After Job Interview

Acceptable Explanations for Why You Want to Leave

Some of the most common, and easiest to explain, reasons for leaving a job include:

  • Desire to take on more responsibility and grow in a career.
  • Desire to take on less responsibility.
  • Desire to relocate.
  • Desire a career change.
  • Company reorganization has led to dissatisfaction in the work place.
  • Desire a shorter commute to work.
  • Desire to improve work/life balance.


When answering this question, it’s easy to think about all of the things you dislike about your current job, but don't go there.


Don't Be Negative About Your Current Job or Employer

According to several resources, the number one reason most people voluntarily leave one position for another is because of a bad boss or supervisor. There may be a combination of reasons as to why you want to leave this job, but most all of them will likely tie back to poor management or a bad supervisor.

So, knowing that you shouldn’t say anything negative regarding a company or individual supervisor in an interview, how should you answer this question? If you speak poorly of a company or boss during an interview, what proof does the potentially new employer have to believe that you wouldn’t say the same thing to a customer or coworker in the new company? Everyone knows that would be bad for business.



Question 8: Why were you fired?

This is another danger zone. This is not the time for defending yourself with a long story about you being the victim.

If you made a mistake, you are going to have to try to minimize the severity of the situation. An argument with a boss could be described as a difference in opinion. Not following orders because your moral compass told you not to could be described as “taking the high road.”

Just be careful not to cast blame on others. Consider including a “silver lining.” Did you learn a lot from the experience and now possess knowledge that will mitigate the chances of this happening again?



Sample Answers

A few answers that you can provide for specific situations include:

(1) Philosophical difference or bad fit.

(Positive) "When I was originally hired as the [job title], the description and expectations of the job were very different from the job that I actually ended up doing. It was apparent from the start that there were some communication problems and philosophical differences, and I struggled early on.

(Negative) "My supervisor and I realized that it wasn’t the right fit for either one of us, and fortunately it was a cordial departure.

(Positive) "Since then, I’ve done some volunteer work, clarified my own professional goals and expectations, and worked on improving my communication skills."


(2) Disorganized work environment

(Positive) "I’m able to work independently with little supervision, and I work best in an environment when I understand what the expectations are. Even if the routine changes, if you tell me what I need to do differently, I’m happy to oblige.

(Negative) "The nature of the work I was doing in my last position didn’t suit my strengths. There was little direction from the supervisor, tasks were not thoroughly explained, and it seemed like the place was in a constant state of flux, so things didn’t go well.

(Positive) "What I’ve learned from that experience is to try to ask more questions, clarify the expectations, make sure things are in writing, and try to make sure that I have the information I need in order to do a good job."


(3) Hostile work environment

(Positive) "I work best in a team environment, and am accustomed to being in an environment where everyone supports and encourages one another."

(Negative) "I realized very quickly after I started working for my last employer that there was a significant amount of internal conflict within the organization and a high percentage of turnovers.

(Positive) "I performed the best that I possibly could in that situation, and many of the employees complimented me on my work ethic and organizational skills, but in the end, it was just too difficult of an environment to overcome."


(4) Commission sales role

(Positive) "I wanted to give sales a try because I feel that it really suits my personality. I’m an outgoing person who can easily start conversations, make connections with people, and I have never meet a stranger.

(Negative) "This is a highly competitive industry and the employer and I underestimated the amount of support I would need. It took me a little longer than anticipated to build momentum and generate leads, and I just wasn’t able to make up the deficit of getting off to such a slow start.

(Positive) "I received some great sales training and advice, learned a lot of good strategies, and am thankful for that experience. However, my boss and I both realized that I would be able to perform better in a different kind of sales or business development structure."



Laid off is not fired: If you were part of a layoff, this is different from being fired. It was likely a financial decision by management, and you were part of a group that was targeted as part of budget cuts. Layoffs are typically not personal -- they are just business. Hiring managers know this (and likely have been involved in one at some point in their careers).



Question 9: Do you have any questions?

My simple advice is: yes, you had better have questions. When I hired people to work on my teams in the past, I expected interviewees to have questions.

This is your chance to “interview the interviewer.” In essence, to learn about the company, the role, the corporate culture, the manager’s leadership style, and a host of other important things. Candidates who are genuinely interested in the opportunity, ask these types of questions. Those who don’t ask questions give the impression they’re “just kicking the tires” or not really too concerned about getting the job.

When given the floor to ask questions, you should realize the interview is not over yet. Good candidates know this is another time to shine. It is imperative that you ask questions that do three things:

  • Show you did some research about the company.
  • Mention something else (related, but interesting) about you.
  • Will have an interesting answer or prompt a good discussion.


After you have had a chance to ask your questions, you will want to validate that you are an ideal candidate for the job. To do this, you should probe into the minds of the interviewers and see if there are any concerns they have about you.

The key question to do this can be along the lines of:

“After discussing this job, I feel as if I would be a perfect fit for it. I’m curious to know if there is anything I said or DID NOT say that would make you believe otherwise.”

The answer you get to this question may open the door to mentioning something you did not get to talk about during the interview or clarify any potential misconception over something that was covered. You may not get a chance to address shortcomings in a follow-up interview -- it is imperative to understand what was missing from the discussion while still in the interview.



Good (Relevant) Questions You Need To Ask In Your Job Interview


Source: Job Hunt


Bottom Line

All questions asked under an interview are to find out what makes you different from others. You will need to really sell yourself out there. Answer the questions in the right way and i am sure you will score the job.

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