Best Way To Absolutely Nail Any Job Interview
The five questions in this guide are some of the most common ones that interviewers ask. Even if you don’t get these questions exactly, you’ll likely get variations of several of them.
Typically, hiring managers will start with some open-ended questions aimed at getting to know you, your work experience, and your professional qualifications. Then they might move onto behavioral questions, which ask you to provide specific examples of accomplishments, challenges, conflicts, or even failures.
Below you’ll find five common interview questions, advice for answering them, and a sample response for each one. For a comprehensive list of the 100 most common interview questions, check out this guide!
Question 1: Tell me about yourself
This opener's a common icebreaker question. It’s so open-ended that everyone can think of something to say. Hiring managers often use this prompt or something like it to invite you into a conversation and help ease the normal job interview anxiety.
The open-ended nature of this kind of prompt can also be challenging, though. While you can definitely think of something to say, you also want to be strategic and not say too much. Below are some pieces of advice for answering this question, as well as some tips for what not to do!
Sample Answer to Question 1
In this sample response, the applicant’s applying for a customer service job in a retail company. The job she seeks calls for strong interpersonal skills and an upbeat, optimistic attitude.
I’ve always loved interacting with people and feel I have strong interpersonal skills. I studied Communications at University X, and that gave me a whole new set of skills to work with people and help them get the information and support they need.
After graduating, I sought out a position on the customer experience team at Dubspot, where I’ve been working since. In this position, I communicate with dozens of customers’ everyday over the phone, by email, and through instant chat. I help resolve any issues with the software and lead trainings for new clients.
I enjoy helping people resolve issues and aim to continue on in a customer-centric role. Since I’m passionate about the fashion industry, I’m looking to move into a customer experience in a retail, rather than software, company. I’m a huge fan of your products and am a long-time customer. I find helping people to be very gratifying, and I’m really excited to contribute my interpersonal skills and positive attitude in this role.
Question 2: What Do You Think Are Your Greatest Strengths?
If you only prepare one talking point for your interview, it should be the strengths you'd bring to the role. While the hiring manager might not ask you this exact question, she'll probably use some variation of it, like,
- What are you good at?
- What skills would you bring to this role?
- What would you contribute here?
Sample Answer to Question 2
Here's a sample answer from someone applying for a managerial position in a restaurant. The new job wants someone who's willing to take on a number of responsibilities.
I'd say my greatest strength is a willingness to take on a wide range of responsibilities. While I was technically a server at Solera Restaurant, I also helped plan large events, do event set-up, process payments, and bus tables. I work hard and try to contribute where I can, especially when things get busy or people seem overwhelmed.
Not only does this help ease the burden on others, but I get to learn about different aspects of the industry firsthand. I support my fellow workers and get the chance to expand my skills at the same time.
Question 3: What Would You Say Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?
If you’re not prepared to talk about your weaknesses or "growth edges," then this question could seriously trip you up in an interview. You’re focusing so much on showing that you’re the best person for the job, so how can you shift to talking about weaknesses in a strategic way?
Some variations of this traditional question might be:
- What are some areas that you need to develop?
- What are some skills areas that you could grow?
I’ve struggled for a long time with public speaking. This weakness was a big challenge in college, where presentations were a major part of several of my classes. I realized early on that I needed to improve in this area, so I started by meeting with my advisor about resources for improving public speaking.
We talked about techniques like challenging myself to participate at least once in every class and calming nerves with breathing. I also took a public speaking class recently that helped me improve a great deal.
A couple months ago, I gave a presentation in front of about 60 students and parents, and it went really well. My nerves are still there, but I feel like I’ve come miles from where I was freshman year of college. Working on my public speaking is a skill that I actively continue to work on and try to improve.
Question 4: Why Do You Want This Job?
This question wants you to explain why you're pursuing the position and why you think the organization should hire you. Presumably, you've done some thinking about this before applying. Now it's time to form an answer that won't just share what you want but will also show the manager that you'd make a great hire.
Sample Answer to Question 4
This applicant's applying to a programming position in a start-up in the environmental sphere. The job description wants someone who's willing to take on a range of responsibilities, cares about its environmental mission and knows CSS, Java, and Ruby.
I'm drawn to start-ups because I'd love to be part of building a company from the ground up. I really appreciate its culture of a small, close-knit team of passionate people who are ready and willing to wear many hats.
With my versatile skill set in computer programming and experience building websites, I feel my interests and skills are perfectly aligned with this position of web developer. I would use my knowledge of CSS, Java, and Ruby to build out the company website and grow our online presence.
I also share this company's commitment to sustainability.
I'm extremely motivated by your environmental mission and could immediately start taking steps to meet your short-term and long-term goals.
Question 5: Describe a Time That You Failed
This question is a behavioral one because it asks you to talk about a specific example that illustrates something meaningful about you as a professional.
Some variations of this question might ask you to talk about a conflict at work, a challenge, or a behavior that negatively impacted your team. So how can you describe a failure while still leaving a positive impression of your skills and abilities?
Sample Answer to Question 5
In this sample answer, a teacher talks about a mistake she made with a summer course she taught. Notice how she talks just as much about what she learned as about the failure itself.
The first class I taught was a four-week essay writing course for high schoolers over the summer. Due to the short-term nature of the course, I jumped right into the material without setting aside time to talk about behavioural expectations. Issues later arose, like students showing up late, talking over each other, and using cell phones in class that could have been prevented, or at least reduced, if I’d taken the time to lay the groundwork.
That course was a huge learning experience for me, and since then I always take time on the first day to discuss classroom norms. To make students feel more invested and accountable, I also elicit ideas from them on what they need from me and from each other in their ideal learning environment. That mistake in my summer class taught me a lot about the importance of proactive behavioural management. I can always loosen the reins as I go, but it’s much harder to rein them back in once they’re out.