Ace Your Next Job Interview: How to Answer 20 Common Questions
In about 14 years of working, I’ve sat through a dozen or so job interviews.
While every job may be unique, the interviews often are not.
Some companies may throw you a curveball or even engage you in a candid conversation -- but most job interviews will simply guide you through the same series of basic questions.
It sounds boring (and it can be), but you can actually use this repetitiveness to your advantage!
Before heading to your next job interview, arm yourself with answers to these common questions:
Why is the interviewer asking for your work history with your resume sitting inches away?
They may just want to hear how you frame your work history.
Or maybe they want you to explain any gaps in employment or frequent job-hopping.
This is your chance to paint the picture of your work experience in a more useful and interesting way than the mundane list on your resume.
Time to show off!
You applied to this job because you believed you could do it. Why was that again?
Prepare ahead of time, and think carefully about this question.
Every interviewee is going to tout their strong work ethic, ability to be a team player, experience in the field and other generic traits necessary to do the job well.
Stand out by showcasing your unique strengths.
What do you bring to a team that most people don’t? What made you shine in previous jobs? Why do your friends love being around you?
Also make sure you know what the company is looking for. Read the job description carefully.
It tells you exactly what they’re looking for -- and even includes some buzzwords they might want to hear!
What you really want to say is, “I didn’t come here to talk about that.”
What you might think you should say is, “Sometimes I’m just too excited about my job.”
What you actually should say is… something real.
Everyone enters a job with some kind of weakness. Let the interviewer know you recognize yours, and explain how you’re working to eliminate it.
I’ve had to bluff my way through plenty of food service job interviews asking me to explain what was so special about the giant, hamburger-slinging corporation I was trying to work for.
If I could conjure an answer other than, “You pay money and don’t do drug tests,” you can prepare a few reasons you’d love to work for your potential employer.
What do you love about the company’s mission and the work it does? What about its culture appeals to you? Do you have any special connection to their services as a customer or community member?
You might have your life together better than I do, but at 30 I don’t know how to answer this ubiquitous question.
In an interview, I’m not afraid to say, “I don’t know,” and it hasn’t disqualified me from a position yet.
If you want to be (or at least appear) more decisive, mention your future dreams and aspirations. What the interviewer really wants to hear is you have goals and working here will help you achieve them in the long run.
Your answer to this question should be pretty straightforward.
But if parting with your current or latest job wasn’t amicable, expecting this question in advance can help you prepare the, er, most “flattering” way to present the truth.
This is your chance to brag!
Take a breather: This is one of the more simple job interview questions.
You can probably even tell the whole truth this time.
Gah! I’ve been blindsided by this one.
It’s not a problem to acknowledge past mistakes in a job interview -- but it can sting to be surprised by this one.
Present a mistake, then follow it up with what you learned or how you fixed whatever problem you might have caused -- at work, school or in life.
Can you guess the best way to prepare an answer for this question?
Ask your boss and co-workers!
If your job doesn’t offer feedback while you work, ask for it. It’ll help you improve in your current position and prepare yourself for the next one.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a Midwest-raised introvert.
I don’t excel at explaining my special tics to a stranger -- without sounding like a weirdo.
But that’s sort of the point. This is a chance to showcase your personality and why it’s a good fit for the company.
You don’t have to lean too hard on your qualifications yet -- save that for the next question.
By this point, an interviewer knows your work history, experience, qualifications and even a bit about your personality.
What they want to know now is Why should they hire you and not someone else?
Explain what you alone bring to the position and why no one else can do it like you will. Explain how you’ll uniquely fit into the team.
If you’re intimidated by the idea of talking about money, you’re not alone.
But ultimately, your job comes down to money, so you can’t avoid it.
Research your industry and position before you start to interview, and determine your comfortable salary range.
Keep that number in mind, along with any accompanying benefits -- and be prepared to explain why you deserve them.
If you have a long work history, bragging about your work ethic might be easy.
If you’re interviewing for your first job -- or your first professional job -- this could take some digging.
Consider any experience in which you took impressive initiative on a project -- in a volunteer role, on a class project, as a part of a student organization or even in a church group.
If you can’t think of one now, start taking some initiative!
When an interviewer asks about a disagreement with your boss, what she’s really asking is, “How do you resolve a disagreement with your boss?”
Don’t harp on the details.
Focus on how gracefully you handle tricky situations.
This question is less about selling yourself to a company -- finally! -- and more about determining whether you’ll jive with potential co-workers.
If you can’t stand a Chatty Kathy and hate Happy Hour with the staff, mention it (kindly).
Explain what kind of team you’ll excel with, so you can avoid being stuck with a group you can’t stand.
Why does your future employer care whether you’re into basket-weaving or kickboxing on the weekends?
I can’t say for sure.
But I suspect this is just one more way to get to know you and your personality.
Use it to showcase your passion -- an employer wants to know what gets you up in the morning, and what lights a fire under you.
Like talking about your preferred co-workers, describing your ideal workday can help the interviewer understand how you’ll fit in -- or not -- with the company culture.
Go beyond your preferred schedule for the day.
Explain when and how you work best, so they understand you know how to capitalize on your (and, eventually, their) time.
Some people thrive on looming deadlines and a packed-to-the-minute schedule.
Some shut down the second the pressure’s on. Which are you?
There’s not a set right way to manage under pressure, so you don’t have to bluff.
Instead, consider this pending question motivation to learn how to keep your cool and stay productive when work gets tough, so you can brag about your skills in an interview.
We love this one in journalism, too.
It may sound like a cop-out -- ‘scuse me, but aren’t you the interviewer here?
Actually, asking what questions we haven’t asked is a smart interviewer’s way of learning what’s important to an interviewee.
Take this opportunity to point out uncommon successes and relevant experiences that they wouldn’t think to ask about.
The most common interviewing advice I hear across industries is, “Have something to ask them.”
It didn’t always make sense to me when I was first starting to work. It felt forced.
And, anyway, what questions was I going to ask? I did my research before applying for the job.
But showing your curiosity and interest in the company is important. Ask away!
Prepare for your next job interview by right-clicking the full checklist to save it.
Your Turn: What job interview questions have surprised you? Share them in the comments to help other readers prepare!
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).