Hiring managers use this question to learn how your previous work experience and educational background fit the job. To prepare to respond, make a list of the most relevant qualifications you have and match them to the requirements listed in the job description.
Top 10 Job Interview Questions and Best Answers
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts and has counseled both students and corporations on hiring practices. She has given hundreds of interviews on the topic for outlets including The New York Times, BBC News, and LinkedIn. Alison founded CareerToolBelt.com and has been an expert in the field for more than 20 years.
Here are the top 10 interview questions employers are likely to ask, plus 100+ more common job interview questions, example answers, tips for giving the best response, and advice on how to ace the interview.
Could you tell me about yourself and describe your background in brief?
Talk about a relevant incident that made you keen on the profession you are pursuing and follow up by discussing your education. In the story, weave together how your academic training and your passion for the subject or industry the company specializes in, combined with your work experience, make you a great fit for the job. If you’ve managed a complex project or worked on an exciting, offbeat design, mention it.
Example: “I come from a small town, where opportunities were limited. Since good schools were a rarity, I started using online learning to stay up to date with the best. That’s where I learned to code and then I went on to get my certification as a computer programmer. After I got my first job as a front-end coder, I continued to invest time in mastering both front- and back-end languages, tools, and frameworks.”
How did you hear about this position?
Employers want to know whether you are actively seeking out their company, heard of the role from a recruiter, or were recommended to the position by a current employee. In short, they want to know how you got to them.
If someone recommended you for the position, be sure to say their name. Don’t assume that the interviewer already knows about the referral. You’ll probably want to also follow up with how you know the person who referred you. For example, if you and Steve (who recommended you) worked together previously, or if you met him over coffee at a networking event, mention it to give yourself a little more credibility. If Steve works at the company and suggested that you apply for the job, explain why he thought you’d be the perfect fit.
If you sought out the role yourself, be clear about what caught your eye — extra bonus points if you can align your values with the company and their mission. You want to convince the hiring manager that you chose their company, over all other companies, for a few specific reasons.
Lastly, if you were recruited, explain why you took the bait. Did this role sound like a good fit? Does it align with the direction you want to take your career? Even if you weren’t familiar with the organization prior to being recruited, be enthusiastic about what you’ve learned and honest about why you’re interested in moving forward with the process.
Example: “I learned about the position through LinkedIn as I’ve been following your company’s page for a while now. I’m really passionate about the work you’re doing in X, Y, and Z areas, so I was excited to apply. The required skills match well with the skills I have, and it seems like a great opportunity for me to contribute to your mission, as well as a great next move for my career.”
20 Tips for Great Job Interviews
1. Research the industry and company.
An interviewer may ask how you perceive his company’s position in its industry, who the firm’s competitors are, what its competitive advantages are, and how it should best go forward. For this reason, avoid trying to thoroughly research a dozen different industries. Focus your job search on just a few industries instead.
2. Clarify your "selling points" and the reasons you want the job.
Prepare to go into every interview with three to five key selling points in mind, such as what makes you the best candidate for the position. Have an example of each selling point prepared ("I have good communication skills. For example, I persuaded an entire group to . "). And be prepared to tell the interviewer why you want that job – including what interests you about it, what rewards it offers that you find valuable, and what abilities it requires that you possess. If an interviewer doesn’t think you’re really, really interested in the job, he or she won’t give you an offer – no matter how good you are!
3. Anticipate the interviewer’s concerns and reservations.
There are always more candidates for positions than there are openings. So interviewers look for ways to screen people out. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself why they might not want to hire you (“I don’t have this,” “I’m not that,” etc.). Then prepare your defense: “I know you may be thinking that I might not be the best fit for this position because [their reservation]. But you should know that [reason the interviewer shouldn’t be overly concerned]."
4. Prepare for common interview questions.
Every "how to interview" book has a list of a hundred or more "common interview questions." (You might wonder just how long those interviews are if there are that many common questions!) So how do you prepare? Pick any list and think about which questions you’re most likely to encounter, given your age and status (about to graduate, looking for a summer internship). Then prepare your answers so you won’t have to fumble for them during the actual interview.
5. Line up your questions for the interviewer.
Come to the interview with some intelligent questions for the interviewer that demonstrate your knowledge of the company as well as your serious intent. Interviewers always ask if you have any questions, and no matter what, you should have one or two ready. If you say, "No, not really," he or she may conclude that you’re not all that interested in the job or the company. A good all-purpose question is, "If you could design the ideal candidate for this position from the ground up, what would he or she be like?"
If you’re having a series of interviews with the same company, you can use some of your prepared questions with each person you meet (for example, "What do you think is the best thing about working here?" and "What kind of person would you most like to see fill this position?") Then, try to think of one or two others during each interview itself.
6. Practice, practice, practice.
It’s one thing to come prepared with a mental answer to a question like, "Why should we hire you?" It’s another challenge entirely to say it out loud in a confident and convincing way. The first time you try it, you’ll sound garbled and confused, no matter how clear your thoughts are in your own mind! Do it another 10 times, and you’ll sound a lot smoother and more articulate.
But you shouldn’t do your practicing when you’re "on stage" with a recruiter; rehearse before you go to the interview. The best way to rehearse? Get two friends and practice interviewing each other in a "round robin": one person acts as the observer and the "interviewee" gets feedback from both the observer and the "interviewer." Go for four or five rounds, switching roles as you go. Another idea (but definitely second-best) is to tape record your answer and then play it back to see where you need to improve. Whatever you do, make sure your practice consists of speaking aloud. Rehearsing your answer in your mind won’t cut it.
7. Score a success in the first five minutes.
Some studies indicate that interviewers make up their minds about candidates in the first five minutes of the interview – and then spend the rest of the interview looking for things to confirm that decision! So what can you do in those five minutes to get through the gate? Come in with energy and enthusiasm, and express your appreciation for the interviewer’s time. (Remember: She may be seeing a lot of other candidates that day and may be tired from the flight in. So bring in that energy!)
Also, start off with a positive comment about the company – something like, "I’ve really been looking forward to this meeting [not "interview"]. I think [the company] is doing great work in [a particular field or project], and I’m really excited by the prospect of being able to contribute."
All you can do is talk through your logic as you try to solve the problem. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself if you get it wrong — sometimes the interviewer is merely trying to assess how you deal with failure.
Your Complete Guide to a Successful Job Interview
Freel suggests researching the company. Investigate if the company has been in the news recently, released new products or won any recent awards. If you have the opportunity to try the company’s product or service, do it so you have firsthand experience with what the business offers.
Candidates should also “research the company through blogs, publications, studies and speaking with industry leaders,” said Taylor Dumouchel, a compensation liaison and program officer at Employment and Social Development Canada. “Use this information to demonstrate your knowledge of the company’s current market position and where they are headed in the future.”
Many companies want to learn how you plan to make an impact in the role you are interviewing for, so a strong base knowledge of how the company works and exactly where you can be effective works in your favor.
Besides, it’s detrimental if you’re unprepared should the interviewer ask you a company-specific question. “These are things a candidate should know and be prepared to talk about during the interview,” Freel said. “Doing your research is a signal to the interviewer that you’re not just looking for a job, but this job.”
Reviewing your resume
Your resume is likely the reason the hiring manager called you. Although you may have already submitted a digital copy with your application, bring multiple printed copies of your resume to the interview. Also, print your resume on quality resume paper instead of standard printer paper.
“Don’t assume your interviewer has seen your resume, let alone has an available copy for your interview,” said Amanda Augustine, career expert and spokesperson for TopResume. She recommended bringing at least three copies of your resume to the interview.
“Additional employees may be pulled into the interview process at the last minute,” she said. “Be prepared to hand them a copy of your resume, walk them through your career story, and tie your qualifications back to the position at hand.”
Augustine advised rereading the job description before your interview and reviewing your resume to develop a narrative that explains how your previous experiences have shaped you into a great candidate for the role at this company.
“Always think about your experience in the context of this particular job and its requirements,” she said. “You don’t need to rehash every role that’s listed on your resume, but you should call attention to the parts of your experience that are most relevant for this job opportunity.”
If there are gaps between jobs on your resume, you may be asked what happened. The good news is that you can easily rehearse and prepare responses to questions about short stays or work gaps, said Erica Zahka, account executive at Brainshark.
“Always be honest, concise, and never point fingers at previous employers,” she said. “For short stays, make sure it is clear that the reason you left company X after such a short period of time is not a reason that applies to this role.”
“Explain the gap honestly and with confidence, and then shift the conversation back toward your future goals as they relate to the position,” said Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and chief resume writer at Brooklyn Resume Studio. “If you’re returning to the workforce from an extended leave, talk about what inspired you to make a transition and how you plan to leverage your strengths.”
During the job interview
You’ve done your research, you brought copies of your resume, and you’ve prepared responses for questions that might arise based on your resume. Now the time for the interview has come, and with that comes the oft-dreaded part of interviewing: the questions.
“Candidates get nervous about job interviews because there’s the potential they’ll be asked an open-ended question that will give the interviewer a secret view into who the candidate really is,” said Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of career network Nexxt. “But the real secret is that a lot of the time the interviewer doesn’t know what the right answer is either, or they’ll admit that there is no right answer, so just relax.”
The STAR method
Preparing your own questions
You should also prepare a few questions of your own to ask during the interview. Not only does it give you the opportunity to gain deeper insights into the company, role, and culture, but it shows the hiring manager that you’re truly interested in the organization.
While the standard “What’s a typical day like here?” and “How would you describe your company culture?” are fine to ask, you can stand out from other job seekers by asking unique, insightful questions that ultimately reinforce why you’re an ideal fit for the role.
- What qualities are the most important to succeed in this role? This question demonstrates that you are interested in performing at a high level for the company, and you’re willing to go above and beyond to get there.
- How would my job affect the business in the short and long term? This question shows you want to contribute to the future of the company and help it achieve its goals.
- What challenges should I expect in the role? Knowledge of the position’s complexities should give you an idea of what you can work on to succeed, and asking conveys confidence in your ability to overcome obstacles and handle greater responsibility.
- What do you love most about your job? This serves the same purpose as the “company culture” question, but poses it in such a way that you can connect with the interviewer on a personal level.
- How would employees describe your leadership style? Again, this question gives you an inside look at the company culture, but it also shows that you’re interested in getting to know the interviewer as a person.
- In the time that you’ve been with the organization, how has your career progressed? One of the top factors job seekers consider when choosing a position is whether there are sufficient growth opportunities at the company. Asking the interviewer how they have advanced there should give you an idea of how important training, mentorship and career development are to the employer.
- What is the one piece of advice you would offer to me if I earn the opportunity to join this organization? Whether you get the job or not, this question is beneficial to you. If you’re hired, you already have a tip to help you hit the ground running on day one. If you aren’t, you have something to take with you to your next new job.
How to handle inappropriate questions
Under regulations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), employers are barred from asking certain questions that can be considered discriminatory. These questions involve ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, family arrangements or other personal identity factors. This Business News Daily article outlines other illegal job interview questions that employers shouldn’t ask.
How to Answer 14 Most Common Interview Questions [+ Sample Answers]
In this section, we’re going to go through 14 of the most common job interview questions and answers. We’re going to explain what the HR manager wants to see in you, as well as give you sample answers you could use.
1) Tell me something about yourself.
This is usually the first question asked in an interview, so it acts as your introduction. Make sure your answer is relevant to the position you are applying for. What you should be aiming for here is to present yourself as the ideal candidate for the job.
For example, at Company X, I led a project for migrating all operations data to a new data warehousing system to cut down on costs. The new solution was a much better fit for our business, which eventually led to savings of up to $200,000 annually.
The lab felt like home, which is why I’d love to work as a lab assistant. I am passionate, hard-working, and extremely responsible. I am also looking forward to putting to practice all the things I learned during my time at university.
2) How did you hear about this position?
So, mention his/her name and his/her position inside the company and give their reasoning for inviting or recommending you to apply for the position. Tell the hiring managers what excites you about the job opportunity or what exactly caught your eye.
“I heard from Jim Doe, my old colleague and college friend, that [Company X] was looking for a new sales director. He encouraged me to apply, saying that my experience managing a sales team at [Some Software Company] would be helpful for [Company X].
3) Why did you decide to apply for this position?
What the interviewer is looking for here is to see how passionate you are about the job or the company. After all, job performance is directly linked to job satisfaction. The happier you are about your position at the company, the more productive you’ll be.
When you’re talking to a person that’s passionate about something, you can pretty much feel them glow as they talk. And if you’re an HR manager who’s interviewed hundreds of people, this is a very good sign to hire the candidate.
Keep in mind, though, that if you don’t know much about the company or the position – that’s OK too. Just be honest and show your passion for the job. However, it’s always better to do your homework before going to an interview..
4) What are your biggest strengths?
There are two answers you could go for here: what your actual strengths are, and what you think the hiring manager or HR representative wants to hear. We would most certainly suggest you go with the first answer.
For this question, you would want to narrow your answer down to at most three strengths. Pick 1 or 2 skills that would help you really excel at the job, and 1 or 2 personal (more or less unrelated) skills.
My biggest strength is that I’m good at picking up new skills. I’ve worked a variety of different odd jobs – things like working as a waiter, house-keeper, cook, and a lot more (as you’ve probably seen on my resume).
As an event manager at Company X, we were organizing an IT conference for a client. There were a ton of last-minute hiccups – some speakers canceled and the catering company said they’d be late for the lunch break. On top of that, we were understaffed because 2 of our volunteer organizers got sick and couldn’t show up.
5) What is your biggest weakness?
It’s also good practice to mention how you are working towards overcoming this weakness and realizing how it affects you negatively. If you can, just balance it with a positive side effect: treat it like two sides of the same coin.
6) What do you know about this company/organization?
Well, I know that you’re one of the biggest investment banks in [town / state / country]. Company X pops up on news pretty often – I’ve read that you’ve invested in some of the hottest tech IPOs, and have several up-and-coming biotech companies in your portfolio.
7) Why should we hire you?
I’m extremely organized, having managed several project teams in my university. I led the organization of Event #1 and Event #2. This involved continuous communication with 12+ companies, 30 speakers, and 15+ sponsors.
8) What are your salary requirements?
The final number you tell them should incorporate all 3 of the points we just mentioned. Do you know for a fact that the company is doing well (and compensates employees accordingly)? You’d quote a higher salary.
It’s tricky to balance talking about your achievements in an interview without sounding boastful. One way to do this is to be as clear and objective as possible about your successes. For example, if you achieved a great sales result or received an excellent testimonial from a customer, you can share these to evidence your strengths without bragging.
Why interviewers ask about strengths and weaknesses
Strategies for answering strengths and weaknesses
The best response is strategically honest. It may be helpful to first reflect on this question from the hiring manager’s perspective. What qualities or competencies are they looking for in this specific role? Then, consider how you can leverage your “strengths” to align with a key competency of theirs—and have a “weakness” prepared that won’t eliminate you as a red flag candidate.
Choosing strengths and weaknesses
Strengths and weaknesses can range from technical skills, workplace skills, interpersonal skills, and productivity. As a rule of thumb, your strengths should reflect one of the role’s core competencies and your weaknesses should be relatively easy to improve.
For your strengths, you should be confident, but don’t brag too much. Mention one or two top strengths, and provide thorough contextual examples of how you’ve used them in the workplace. Be specific. Just saying “I’m good at X” is a poor response because it indicates you haven’t given the question much thought. Why are you good at X? How does X help you at work?
As for weaknesses, candidates should not deny having any, make a joke of it, sidestep the question, or psychoanalyze themselves, according to Charles Duquette, a lecturer at the University of Maryland . Further, you should never imply that you don’t get along well with others, that you have anger management issues or other problematic behaviors, or have any weaknesses that deter from your success in the role.
Weaknesses like public speaking and time management are common and resolvable. For technical roles, you can refer to new software or non-essential skill that you have yet to learn. The best responses explain that you have actively worked on this weakness so that it will not be an issue on the job.
The Art of the Job Interview
When answering any variation of this question, providing context in your response demonstrates an awareness of your strengths and how they benefited you in the workplace. Here is a sample structure for a response:
Tips on How to Prepare for a Job Interview
Preparing for your first interview can be daunting and it’s normal to feel a little nervous. By following these interview tips and tricks, you can help calm your nerves and make sure your interview goes as well as possible.
Job interviews are usually preceded by the evaluation of CVs submitted by candidates who have applied for a particular job role; recruiters/employers usually invite the best of these candidates to interview. The job interview is considered one of the most useful tools in evaluating potential employees.
Multiple rounds of job interviews may be used where there are many candidates in competition or the job in question is particularly challenging or desirable. Earlier interview rounds usually involve fewer and less important interviewers and will typically last for much less time and go into far less detail than final stage interviews.
A common initial job interview is the telephone interview. This type of interview is especially common when candidates do not live near an employer, or when an employer does not have sufficient resources to interview many candidates face-to-face. Telephone interviews have the advantage of keeping costs low for both the employer and candidate.
The candidate will usually be given a chance to ask any questions at the end of the interview. These questions are strongly encouraged since they allow the interviewee to acquire more information about the job and the company, but can also serve to demonstrate the candidate’s interest in working for the company in question.
The primary purpose of the job interview is to assess the candidate’s suitability for the job, although the candidate will also be assessing the corporate culture and demands of the job, and whether or not the company is right for them.
Candidates for lower-paid and lower-skilled positions tend to have much simpler job interviews than candidates for more prestigious positions (such as graduate jobs). Usually, the larger the firm, the more intense the interview will tend to be.
A bad hiring decision can be immensely expensive for an employer. The costs associated with hiring candidates, training, severance pay, loss of productivity, impact on morale, cost of re-hiring, and other factors can be very large.
Competency-based interviews (also known as behavioural interviews) are increasingly frequently used by employers. This type of interview is based on the notion that a job candidate’s previous behaviours are the best indicators of potential future performance.
This kind of interview focuses on problem solving and creativity. The questions involved with this type of interview are used to discern your problem-solving skills and are likely to show your analytical ability and creativity.
Candidates may also be asked to deliver a presentation as part of the interview and assessment process. This is stressful and is therefore useful as a predictor of how the candidate will perform under similar circumstances on the job.
In many countries, employment laws forbid discrimination at interview, based on a number of issues, such as: race, gender, age and marital status. Asking questions about these specific issues during a job interview is generally considered discriminatory, and constitutes an illegal hiring practice.
As you’ll know by now, researching all there is to know about a potential employer in the days and weeks before an interview is a necessary but extremely labour-intensive process. It can be particularly draining if you’re interviewing for several positions at once and struggling to come up with interesting nuggets of information to wow your interviewers with.
You’ll be glad to hear there’s a simple way to do this. Simply create an alert about the relevant companies on Google Alerts. It takes about ten seconds to set up, after which you’ll get a daily dose of relevant articles and news items delivered directly to your inbox.
A quick scan of these each evening will keep you up to date with the various employers on your radar. You’ll be first in line to hear about any new projects, expansions or mergers as well as the company’s financial health.
Look at its marketing campaigns. Researching the company’s marketing or advertising campaigns is a good way to see what service or product it is focused on right now. This shows you’re up-to-date with the company’s work and can give you something to mention in connection with your skill set.
Read the mission statement and values. You should be able to find this on the organisation’s website. Think about how you fit into its mission: what skills can you offer to help the company achieve it? What values do you have that fit with its own?