Most job interviews come with a set of stock questions, with a few additional that are specific to the job and company culture. And while many of the stock questions seem easy to answer, it’s always best to know and rehearse your answers before you head into an interview. Preparation is key, even for a simple question like “Why do you want to work for us?” Let’s take a look at some of the common questions and the best ways to answer them.
“Tell me a little about yourself”
This non-question is one of the most common job interview opening lines, and you will probably hear it at every interview. “Tell me about your yourself” is essentially asking for a brief biography as it would apply to the job. The best way to answer this is to tailor your relevant experience into your response.
For example, if you’re applying as an electrical engineer somewhere, mention where you went to school, any tech-related hobbies, and a brief bit about how you became interested in the skill in the first place. If you’re new to the job market, use it as a means to talk about your schooling and how your background influenced the path you’re on. Keep your answers short and don’t drag it out longer than about a minute. You can even think of it the same way as writing a snappy bio for yourself — keep it short and to the point.
“Why do you want to work for us?”
This is one of the tougher questions, because it couches a few different ideas inside: they want to know how much you know about the company, why you think your skill set would work for the job, and what you think you can bring to the team.
The rule of thumb here is to come to the table prepared with some research about the company. The interviewer is fishing to make sure you know about the history, general practices, and its general style of office. Career site Monster.com recommends you answer the question directly with everything you know — for instance, “Based on the research I’ve done, you’re company is great at (whatever it does) and I believe my background, history, and work ethics would be a good fit here.”
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
The two most dreaded questions in a job interview usually come back-to-back — and “what are your strengths?” and “what are your weaknesses?” are difficult to answer. For strengths, pick a skill you have that applies directly the job. For instance, if you’re applying as a file clerk at a hospital, mention that you’re very good with details and can keep track of a lot of things at once. Tailor your strength directly to the job description you applied for in the first place.
We’ve talked about how the question “What is your greatest weakness?” is next to impossible to answer correctly, but as we pointed out, it’s more about a situational weakness rather a personal one. Answer this question in direct relation to the job. For example, if you’re applying for that same file clerk job, but you have trouble lifting something over 23 kg, mention that. Basically, picture the question as a benefit for you, not a hindrance. It’s a chance for you to test the waters of a job to make sure you can fit.
The other approach is to answer the question with an actual weakness, and then elaborate on how you’re working to correct it. Let’s say you respond that you have trouble keeping a clean desk at work. Follow that with, “I’ve been using a few new methods for organisation recently to keep my desk uncluttered and organised.”
Yet another approach is to choose an irrelevant skill when asked about your weaknesses. It trivialises the interview process a bit, but it also makes it so you can answer a question honestly without hurting your chances by pointing out a flaw related to the job.
“Can you talk a little about your work history?”
This is one of the most straight-forward questions on the list. The interviewer is likely looking for similarities in your past jobs to the one you’re applying for. Sandwiched inside this question might also be another one: “Why did you leave these jobs?”
Answer by running down the basics of your employment history as they apply to the job you’re interviewing for, and bring up any skills you learned at each of your jobs that directly reflect the bullet points in the original job posting.
As for the reason why you left, be honest about layoffs, but shoehorn your strengths if you were fired or left on your own terms. For instance, if you were fired, you could suggest that your skills weren’t a good fit your previous job, but they’re great for the job you’re applying for. Of course, if you left for an entirely logical reason like a move, a nasty commute, or because you couldn’t advance, mention that.
“What are your salary requirements?”
This question is only tricky if you don’t prepare ahead of time. We’ve shown how to calculate the average pay of a job before and it boils down to knowing the standard pay rate in the industry you’re applying in and balancing that with your experience. This allows you to give both a concrete and fair number range.
“Tell me about a problem you solved at a past job”
Before you head into an interview, make sure you have a mental list of some accomplishments from past jobs. We’ve noted before the best way to think about responding to these types of questions is by applying the STAR method to formulating your answer:
1. The Situation or Task you were in
2. Action that you took
3. Result of that action
Think about some examples before you head into the interview. You don’t want to walk out of the interview only to remember that time you managed to save the company from collapse with a paperclip and a kitchen timer.
“Do you have any questions for me?”
The answer is always yes. This is your chance to get an inside look at the company to see if it’s a place you want to work. Mashable put together a big list of questions you should (and shouldn’t) ask. Your main goal is to avoid questions with negative connotations like, “How long do people typically stay in this position?” and instead ask questions that give you a better picture of the job itself. For example, “Could you describe your ideal candidate for this job?” can help you gather more information about the position than you did in the original posting.
Prepare yourself for the above questions and you’ll do better on most job interviews. Develop a set of sound bites for each of these questions so you can answer them quickly and accurately without fumbling around in your memory. And if they ask any questions you’re uncomfortable with, know your ways around those as well.
This story was originally published in March 2012 and was updated on January 19, 2021 to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.