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Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them Effectively
For a newbie, it is always a scary thing to imagine all the horrible questions one will face at their interview. It can be daunting to imagine the worst, or to wade through hundreds of “suggested” questions one could Google. To ease those pre interview jitters, and to give fresh B-school graduates a quick peek into what to expect, here is a list of some very common interview questions, with some suggestions about how to answer them effectively. Practice these, get comfortable with the questions and research and tailor your answers to them, before interview season. This is sure to get you feeling far more confident, and take away the burden of coming up with answers on the spot. That would, in turn, leave your mental RAM free to concentrate on the specific ones, the googlys, and the twisters!
Can you tell me a little bit/something about yourself?
This is an old, tried and tested favourite of interviewers. Often asked at the beginning of an interview, this can be your opportunity to give a short pitch which can interest them in who you are. What they really want to know is whether you would be an excellent fit for the job. This is Not the place to just repeat what is in your CV. They’ve seen it, they have it in front of them. This is your chance to display other information and qualities. Try to answer by sharing some of your personal interests and experiences that don’t relate directly to work, but showcase some useful skill or attitude. This can be a favorite hobby or what motivates you, or interesting life experiences. This question can seem simple and lead to people rambling, but it is a crucial gateway. Try to let your answer show them exactly why you’re the right person for the job. Limit yourself to 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences that showcase some necessary skills for the interviewer and try to provide important and relevant highlights from your background which show your suitability for the role. This helps to make you more memorable to the interviewer.
Another version of this question may be “How would you describe yourself?”
Always remember that when interviewers are asking you to talk about yourself, about something personal to you and not just job skills, they are checking how your qualities and characteristics, your personality, align with the skills they requirefor the job role. Follow the guidelines given above.
What makes you unique?
Employers often ask this as a way to identify why you might be more qualified than other candidates they’re interviewing. Focus your answer on why hiring you would benefit the employer. As you don’t know the other applicants, it can be challenging to think about your answer in relation to theirs. Addressing why your background makes you a good fit will let employers know why your traits and qualifications make you well prepared. If you do not have much work experience to draw from, bring up a life event that showcases necessary skills.
Example: “What makes me unique is my experience of four years in retail. Because I’ve had first-hand experience fielding shoppers’ questions, feedback and complaints, I know what customers want. I know what it takes to create a positive consumer experience through marketing.”
What do you know about the company?
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Do due research about a company BEFORE you appear for an interview, and the research should not be just about memorizing the company’s “About” page. This question is how interviewers check whether you really care about the job at all, and whether you are willing to do the hard work for it. Read up on relevant news articles, do background research into the company’s history and even bring up any controversies, if you like. The idea here is not a show of some kind of loyalty or “jihuzoori”, but to show them your research skills and your dedication to actually do the research.
Why do you want this job?
Companies want to hire candidates who are passionate about the job, so prepare your answer about why you want this particular position, carefully. Do some research to be clear about the role, the actual work involved, and identify a few key factors and skills that are required for it and which make the job a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the human interaction and I find great satisfaction in helping others to solve problems”). Also bring up the company research you have done, draw from it and mention why you would love to work for this particular company in this specific role (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you guys are doing great things, so I want to be a part of it”).
This is a great opportunity to show them that you took the time to research the company and thought about why you would be a good fit. Mention the aspects of the company that appeal to you and align with your career goals. Employers want to know that you are confident that you will fit in very quickly. So do research and talk about the company culture, about why others seem to enjoy working there. Make sure you sound genuine, and not as if you are reading a script.
Example: “The company’s mission to help college graduates pay off their student loans speaks to me. I’ve been in that situation and I’d love the opportunity to work with a company that’s making a difference. Finding a company with a positive work environment and values that align with my own has remained a priority throughout my job search and this company ranks at the top of the list.”
Why should we hire you?
This question seems quite rude and intimidating, but if they are asking it, consider yourself lucky. This is the perfect opportunity to sell yourself and your skills. Your job here is to come up with an answer covering three things– that you can do the work, you can deliver great results, and that you’ll really fit in with the team and the company culture. This is the chance to prove that you are likely to be a better option than any of the other candidates.Your answer should address the skills and experience you offer and focus on why you’re a good culture fit.What they want to know is whether you have all the required qualifications. Make your response a confident, concise, focused sales pitch that explains what you have to offer.
Example: “You should hire me because my experience is almost perfectly aligned with the requirements you asked for in your job listing. I have seven years’ progressive experience in the hospitality industry, advancing from my initial role as a front desk associate with Excalibur Resort and Spa to my current position there as a concierge. I’m well-versed in providing world-class customer service to an upscale clientele, and I pride myself on my ability to quickly resolve problems so that our guests enjoy their time with us.”
Example: “I have a passion for application development that’s grown stronger over the course of my five-year career. The company’s mission aligns with my personal values and from my limited time in the office, I can already tell this is the sort of positive culture in which I would thrive. I want to work for a company that has the potential to reshape the industry and I believe you’re doing just that.”
What are your greatest strengths?
Employers ask questions like this to determine how well qualified you may be for the position. When answering this question, it is important to be accurate (share your true strengths, not those you think the interviewer wants to hear); relevant (choose your strengths that are most targeted to this particular position); and specific (for example, instead of “people skills,” choose “persuasive communication” or “relationship building”). Follow up with examples from work or life that show how you’ve demonstrated these traits.This question gives you an opportunity to talk about your technical and soft skills. To answer, share qualities and personal attributes and then relate them back to the role for which you’re interviewing.
Example: “As a cyber security specialist, my greatest strength is my intellectual curiosity. I enjoy researching the latest technology trends so that our critical information technology systems remain uncompromised. Not only do I do this by reading the latest issues of cyber security journals, I also convinced my employer to fund my participation in quarterly information technology conferences. This has allowed me to build a network of peer resources-many of whom are leaders in the field-that I can call upon for strategies when new threats arise to our systems. “
Example:”I’m a natural problem solver. I find it rewarding to dig deep and uncover solutions to challenges. It’s like solving a puzzle. It’s something I’ve always excelled at and something I enjoy. Much of product development is about finding innovative solutions to challenging issues, which is what drew me to this career path in the first place.”
What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
What your interviewer is really trying to do with this question-beyond identifying any major red flags-is to gauge your self-awareness and honesty. So, “I can’t meet a deadline to save my life” is not an option-but neither is “Nothing! I’m perfect!” Strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, maybe you’ve never been strong at public speaking, but you’ve recently volunteered to run meetings to help you be more comfortable when addressing a crowd.It can feel awkward to discuss your weaknesses in an environment where you’re expected to focus on your accomplishments. However, when answered correctly, sharing your weaknesses can show that you are self-aware and want to continuously get better at your job-traits that are extremely attractive to most employers. Remember to start with the weakness and then discuss the measures you’ve taken to improve. This way, you’re finishing your answer on a positive note. Share examples of skills you have improved, providing specific instances of how you have recognized a weakness and taken steps to correct it.
Example: “My greatest weakness used to be procrastination. Friends who knew my work style would tease me, saying, “Panic precipitates performance.” In college, I was the person who pulled all-nighters to finish their essay right before deadline. This isn’t as irresponsible as it sounds-from the moment I’m assigned a project, I’m thinking about it. Most of my first and second drafts get composed mentally, so it’s only a matter of writing down the final draft. And, since I have an excellent command of grammar, I don’t have to spend much time proofreading or revising.However, after I landed my first job as a content writer, it became clear that while this process worked for me (I’ve never missed a deadline), it made my editor extremely nervous. And so I’ve learned to set “early” deadlines for myself, at least 24 hours before the actual deadline, so that my projects now always arrive with plenty of time to spare. “
Example: “I sometimes have trouble saying ‘no’ and end up overwhelmed by my workload. Earlier in my career, I would take on so many projects that I’d work evenings and weekends. It was stressful. I realised this was counterproductive so I started using workload management tools and setting better expectations for myself and my teammates.”
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving amazing results in past jobs, so don’t be shy when answering this interview question! A great way to do so is by using the S-T-A-R method: Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), but spend the bulk of your time describing what you actually did (the action) and what you achieved (the result). For example, “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 person-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.” Life experiences work just as well, and a major hurdle overcome, or weakness corrected can show you in a very good light.
Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced, and how you handled it.
This is almost a variation of the previous question. While asking behavioral questions such as this, the interviewer wants to get a sense of how you will respond to conflict. Anyone can seem nice and pleasant in a job interview, but what will happen if you’re hired and some colleague starts being obstructive or rude? How would you handle that?Describe a difficult work situation or project and how you overcame it.Again, use the S-T-A-R method, being sure to focus on how you handled a similar situation professionally and productively, and close the story with a happy ending, like how you came to a resolution or compromise.It’s important to share details to make the story believable and engaging.
Example: “I think the most difficult situation I face as a production manager is when I have to lay off staff, either because they aren’t doing their job properly or, even worse, because sales are down. When I can, I try to work with underperforming personnel to see if we can’t improve their efficiency. If not, then I hand them their pink slip and give them straightforward reasons for why they are being laid off. No one wants to be fired without an explanation. When this happens, I keep my tone polite and avoid using too many “you” statements; I absolutely do not want to cast shame on them.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you’ve set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn’t the first time you’re considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. For that, you must again be sure to do some research on the growth patterns and verticals within the company and know roughly where a good performance can get you in the specified time. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.Understanding how you imagine your life in the future can help employers understand whether the trajectory of the role and company fits in with your personal development goals. Talk about the skills you want to develop, the types of roles you would like to be in and the things you would like to accomplish.Consider this – In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you’re interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term.
Example: “In five years, I’d like to be an industry expert in my field with the ability to train and mentor students and entry-level designers. I would also like to gain specialised knowledge in user experience to be a well-rounded contributor working with design and marketing teams on large scale projects that make a difference in the company and to the global community.”
What’s your dream job?
Along similar lines as the above, through this question the interviewer wants to uncover whether this position is really in line with your ultimate career goals. While “I want to be a Bollywood star” might get you a few laughs, it won’t get you hired. It is better to talk about realistic goals and ambitions-and why this job will get you closer to them.
What are your goals for the future?
This follows from the previous question, in a way, although it can be a standalone. Hiring managers ask about your future goals to determine whether or not you’re looking to stay with the company in the long term. This question is also used to gauge your ambition, expectations for your career and your ability to plan ahead. The best way to handle this question is to determine your current career trajectory and how this role plays into helping you reach your ultimate goals. Again – research. Keep your answer focused on the job and the company, and reiterate to the interviewer that the position aligns with your long-term goals.
Example: “I’m someone who likes stability. My goal is to find a job that I can hold long term with a local company, becoming a valued employee as I gradually advance to positions of increasing authority and responsibility. I’m extremely interested in the teller job here at First Financial Credit Union because of your internal training program. My long-term goal is to eventually become a branch manager after I’ve proven my competencies in customer service and team leadership.”
Example: “I would like to continue developing my marketing expertise as well as my leadership skills over the next several years. One of the reasons I’m interested in working for a fast-growing start-up company is that I’ll have the ability to wear many hats and collaborate with many different departments. I believe this experience will serve me well in achieving my ultimate goal of leading a marketing department someday.”
Tell me about a time when you exercised leadership.
Depending on what’s more important for the role, you should choose an example that showcases your project management skills (spearheading a project from end to end, juggling multiple moving parts) or one that shows your ability to confidently and effectively rally a team. And remember that the best stories include enough detail to be believable and memorable, so pick a situation where you led, and show how you were a leader in this situation and how it represents your overall leadership experience and potential.
How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
Choose an answer that shows that you can meet a stressful situation head-on in a productive, positive manner and let nothing stop you from accomplishing your goals. A great approach is to talk through your go-to stress-reduction tactics (making the world’s greatest to-do list, stopping to take 10 deep breaths, singing, listening to calming music, whatever works for you), and then share an example of a stressful situation you navigated with ease. They want to know what you would do when things don’t go smoothly at work. How you would deal with difficult situations. How you handle workplace stress. Avoid claiming that you never, or rarely, experience stress, that’s not realistic. Tailor your answer in a way that acknowledges workplace stress and explains how you’ve overcome it, or even used it to your advantage.
Example: “I’m not someone who is energized by or thrives in stressful environments. My first step in managing stress is to try to circumvent it by keeping my work processes very organized, and my attitude professional. When customers or associates come to me with issues, I try to look at things from their perspective, and initiate a collaborative problem-solving approach to keep the situation from escalating. I find that maintaining an efficient, congenial office with open lines of communication automatically reduces a lot of workplace stress. Of course, sometimes unanticipated stressors will arise. When this happens, I just take a deep breath, remembering that the person I’m dealing with is frustrated with a situation, not with me. I then actively listen to their concerns and make a plan to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.”
What are your salary expectations?
The #1 rule of answering this question is not answering it in the first round. Just say something like I would like to be paid according to the market normal.
For further rounds, when this actually comes into the negotiation phase, do your research on what you should be paid. Find out the market average for your position and experience. You’ll likely come up with a range, and we recommend stating the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. Then, make sure the hiring manager knows that you’re flexible. You’re communicating that you know your skills are valuable, but that you want the job and are willing to negotiate.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Interviewers ask personal questions in an interview to see if candidates will fit in with the culture and to give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality. In other words, if someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)
If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Seemingly random personality-test type questions like these come up in interviews generally because hiring managers want to see how you can think on your feet. There’s no wrong answer here, but you’ll immediately gain bonus points if your answer helps you share your strengths or personality or connect with the hiring manager. You can also use a stalling tactic to buy yourself some thinking time by saying something like, “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say… “
What do you think we could do better or differently?
This is a common one at startups, but can also come from established MNCs, just to see how much you have understood about their way of doing business. Hiring managers want to know that you have done your homework. That you not only have some background on the company, but that you’re able to think critically about it and come to the table with new ideas. So, come up with some new ideas! What new features would you love to see? How could the company increase conversions? How could customer service be improved? You don’t need to have the company’s four-year strategy figured out, but do share your thoughts, and more importantly, show how your interests and expertise would lend themselves to the job.
What motivates you?
Employers ask this question to gauge your level of self-awareness and ensure your sources of motivation align with the role. To answer, be as specific as possible, provide real-life examples and tie your answer back to the job role.
Example: “Making a true difference in the lives of my patients and their families motivates me to strive for excellence in everything I do. I look forward to seeing my patients’ reaction when we get a positive outcome that will change their lives forever. That’s why I became a nurse and why I’m pursuing a position in pediatrics.”
Tell Me About a Time You Failed
This is a common interview question that employers ask to see how you handle failure, which is inevitable. Do you get angry and frustrated and give up? Are you able to learn from your mistakes and bounce back when things don’t go your way?They also want to see if you can own-up to having failed and can hold yourself accountable and actually admit to your failures.So when you answer, there are some important things to do. Make sure to admit to a real failure. Describe the situation and explain what went wrong. Show that you take responsibility for the failure, rather than blaming others, and explain what you learned from the experience. Talk about how you used that lesson to get a different outcome the next time you were presented with a similar challenge (e.g. how you turned a past failure into a future success).
Example: “In my most recent position, I had recently been promoted to Supervisor, and was managing the department on my own right before the department closed. An employee was acting out and I confronted him in front of everybody. It made the situation worse and caused a lot of distraction for every employee on the floor. I failed to lead properly in this situation, and spoke to my manager the next day to discuss what I could have done differently. We both agreed that I should have handled this in-private with the employee, by asking them to step inside my office with me. If I had done this instead of reacting the way I did, the situation would have turned out much better. From that point onward, I am always conscious of whether a discussion with a team member should occur in public or behind closed doors, and it made me a better leader.”
What are you passionate about?
Much like the question about motivation or hobbies, employers might ask what you are passionate about to better understand what drives you and what you care most deeply about. This can help them understand whether you are a good fit for the role and if it fits into your larger goals. To answer, select something you are genuinely passionate about, explain why you’re passionate about it, give examples of how you’ve pursued this passion and relate some of the learnings from it back to the job.
Example: “As an experienced, service-oriented professional with more than a decade of experience working in boutique salons, I thrive on creating a welcoming environment for all clients and providing the highest quality skincare services. My specialised training, along with my interpersonal skills, has helped me become adept at developing long-term, trusted relationships that help to build a loyal client base. These relationships are the reason I’m excited to go to work every day.”
Do you have any questions for us?
You probably already know that an interview isn’t just a chance for a hiring manager to grill you-it’s your opportunity to sniff out whether a job is the right fit for you. What do you want to know about the position? The company? The department? The team?You’ll cover a lot of this in the actual interview, so have a few less-common questions ready to go. Questions targeted to the interviewer are especially valuable (“What’s your favorite part about working here?”) as are questions about the company’s growth (“What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?”)This might be one of the most important questions coming from them during the interview process because it allows you to explore any subject that hasn’t been addressed so far and shows the interviewer you’re excited about the role. By this point, you’ll likely have already covered most of the basics about the position and the company so take time to ask the interviewer questions about their own experiences with the company and gain tips on how you can succeed if hired.This is your chance to “interview the interviewer.” In essence, to learn about the company, the role, the corporate culture, the manager’s leadership style, and a host of other important things.Candidates who are genuinely interested in the opportunity, ask these types of questions. Those who don’t ask questions give the impression they’re “just kicking the tires” or not really too concerned about getting the job. Make sure your questions show that you did some research about the company. This is also a good opportunity to add something else (related, but interesting) about you. This question and your question in response can prompt a good discussion, which creates a VERY positive impact in the interviewer’s mind.Remember to close with something like “After discussing this job, I feel as if I would be a perfect fit for it. I’m curious to know if there is anything I said or DID NOT say that would make you believe otherwise.”The answer you get to this question may open the door to mentioning something you did not get to talk about during the interview or clarify any potential misconception over something that was covered.
Example: “What do you love about working for this company? What would success look like in this role? What are some of the challenges people typically face in this position?”
You can ask about the work, the training, the challenges you’d face, the overall direction of the company.Don’t ask about salary, benefits, time off, or anything that isn’t related to the work. Wait for them to bring it up, or until you know they want to offer you the position.
Ask about the company, the team, and most importantly – the specific job
Ask about things you heard during the interview that you’d like more information about
Ask about the interview process: (e.g. “when will I hear feedback, and who will be in touch after this?”)
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