How to Answer the Top 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions

by Scott Sery on December 12, 2012

Searching for a job is not really any fun.  There are applications to fill out, cover letters to write and résumés to update.  Then you wait for the interview.  While some companies move quickly and will call within a day, some might make you wait longer.  Instead of sitting back and worrying if you will get the interview, take some time to brush up on what they might ask, and learn about interview questions and answers.

Tell me about yourself.

This is one of the most common job interview questions.  It is not only a way to get to know you, but also to judge how well you are at answering questions.  What the interviewer is not looking for is what your hobbies are, who your favorite football team is, or whether or not you prefer black olives to green.  This is a chance to briefly outline your work history, and how you landed on applying for this job.

What are your strengths?

The interview is a time to brag about yourself.   Do not hold back and try to look modest, you want to shine above the other applicants.  While it is tempting to tell fish stories (you know, “I once caught a 48 pound goldfish out of the creek in the back yard”), try to keep it real.  Use examples from your past work experience such as, “I have organizational leadership abilities, my department was put in charge of such and such a task and I grouped everyone together, assigned tasks, and helped us finish ahead of schedule with better than expected results.”

What are your weaknesses?

Piggybacked on the strengths question will be one about your weaknesses.  Don’t shoot yourself in the foot here, if you struggle with getting to work on time, make a personal goal to fix that.  Instead, try to make use a real example, “During our group project I would often get caught up with the details of making sure everything was perfect, and forget to focus on the big picture.”  Follow it up quickly with how you are working toward correcting the weakness, “In order to make sure I did not lose sight, I made a chart that tracked our progress, with our goal clearly written out so I could review it each morning.”

Describe a time when…

Interviewers love for you to describe a time when something happened.  They may ask about when you had an argument with a boss or co-worker, when you were wrongly accused of something at work, when you failed to meet expectations, when you did more than was expected, or any number of items.  Make sure you have several different scenarios in mind before going in, admit to what you did wrong, talk about how you resolved the issue, and how you corrected your attitude or behavior so it would not happen again in the future (vice versa for describing the good times of course).

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is where you show your ambition.  If you answer this question with something like, “working for your company of course” you will most likely be passed up due to lack of ambition.  Instead, call upon your research of the company.  Before the interview you should have found a weakness.  At this point you can say “I notice that the company is struggling in such and such market.  I hope to have that corrected and make that sector the strongest of them all.”

Why do you want this job?

“Because I need money” will most likely get you the response, “Thank you for your interest, we will be in touch.”  Instead, point out some of the characteristics of the company, and how they are in line with your ideals.  For example, “I love how last year XYZ Corporation donated over a million dollars, and the employees gave over a million man-hours to ABC Charity.  I want to be a part of a company that does so much good in the world around them.”

Why should we hire you?

Here is another time to let loose with how great you are.  Take some time to review your accomplishments at your current or previous jobs.  Using quantifiable evidence of what a great worker you are will help show that you will be an asset to their company.  If you increased sales tell them how sales were when you started and how they are now.  This will show that you saw the need, took initiative, and made things better.  Follow up with how you want to make the company shine and be able to provide for ABC Charity even more effectively.

What are your salary expectations?

When getting this question, you are often stuck.  Ask for too little, and the company will pay you less than you are worth; ask for too much, and you will be brushed aside as cocky or unaffordable.  While if you took the time to adequately prepare for the interview, and demonstrate effectively your value to the company, you should be able to ask for whatever you want.  However, the best response to this question is with another question, “What is the salary range currently being offered?”  Follow up their answer with a response of, “That describes my expectations perfectly.”  If they are lower than you thought, respond with, “Well, I will be leaving my job where I was compensated $X, in order to make the change worthwhile, I would need to at least be compensated the same.”  Remember, these answers will vary depending on why you are leaving.

Why are manhole covers round?

Or sometimes, “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”  Personally, I have never received a question like this.  But they do exist in many interview situations.  The goal of the interviewer here is to see how quickly you can think on your feet.  They are usually not looking for any particular answer, they are often seeing how well you do under pressure, and how you respond to out-of-the-ordinary questions.

Do you have any questions?

If you do not have questions, you have not prepared for the interview.  You should have spent at least a few hours researching the company, finding out about their history, and where they are going.  Ask questions as to the future of the company, and be specific.  If the company is expanding, ask what their goals are, and make reference to yourself as being an integral part of that expansion.

A job interview does not need to be a scary time.  If you have done your homework, and prepared yourself for the interview, you should be able to go in there and answer all their questions with ease.  This list is just the ten most common job interview questions, but there can and will be more.  Some that are job specific; some that are more versatile.  Take time well in advance of your interview to make sure you are prepared.

By the way, man-hole covers are round so they cannot fall into the hole.

Have you ever been asked any weird interview questions?

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Scott Sery

Scott Sery is a native to Billings, Montana. Within an hour in nearly any direction he can be found fishing, hunting, backpacking, caving, and rock or ice climbing. With an extensive knowledge of the finance and insurance world, Scott loves to write personal finance articles. When not talking money, he enjoys passing on his knowledge of the back country, or how to live sustainably. You can learn more about Scott on his website Sery Content Development

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