No matter what your level of experience is, job interviews are always somewhat stressful. You go to a building you’ve probably never been to meet with a stranger and answer a series of personal questions that will determine whether or not you’ll land your next job. There are some old standby questions you can try to prepare with, but the anticipation of not really knowing what you’ll be asked until you’re in the chair can be the difference between a confident interview that blows them away, and a horror story you call your mom about in the car on the way home.
You may not know what’s in your next potential employers head, but we have a pretty good idea – one of the features of our job posting service allows hiring companies to ask interview questions as a part of their application process to pre-vett candidates, which means we can see exactly what employers want to know. We looked at over two million questions to find the ones asked most frequently across all industries, and ranked them according to how likely you are to hear them. We’ve also provided some insight into why they’re asked, and tips on how to best answer them. Use this as your guide to help prepare for that next interview.
1. What’s your expected salary range?
Translation: What do you think you are worth, and are you out of my price range?
How should you answer? This question is tough, but it was the most popular of any in our database – which means an employer is probably going to ask it. The risks of a wrong answer are clear here; pick a number too high, you could be immediately out of the running. Too low, you could get hired but then stuck at a paltry wage. The solution to this dilemma is to research beforehand to find out the market price for candidates in your area with experience similar to yours, and use that as a guide in selecting a number you can live on. You should have this number ready as soon as you start searching, but don’t turn a job down immediately if they advertise or offer something lower – factor in their full benefits package and any other added value to find out what you’ll really be taking home. If possible, offer a number range to leave the conversation open for negotiation.
2. What interested you in this opportunity?
Translation: Do your goals and skills align with our company’s needs?
How should you answer? Although the question is framed as an inquiry into your desires, this question is an opportunity to show that you understand the needs that must be met by this role, and how your skills and objectives will enable you to rise to the challenge. Do your research and find something specific you love about the company – are you excited by their quick growth? Creative advertising? Excellent product? Focus on work-life balance? – then illustrate how your goals align with their brand, culture, and opportunities. Check their social networks and recent news on the company for more talking points. Know your strengths and frame them with your understanding of the company and position you’re applying for.
3. Why did you leave your last job?
Translation: Was the reason you left respectable, or does it portray you an unreliable employee?
How should you answer? The story of why you’re looking for a new job usually isn’t a happy one – otherwise, why would you be leaving? Unless your reason for vacating your last role is that you moved out of the state, you’ll want to make sure you come up with an answer that delicately addresses the question. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the future. Instead of blaming your old boss and unfair past events for your departure, discuss new opportunities you are hoping to take advantage of with a fresh start. Use this question as an opportunity to highlight your drive and ambition with some of these starters, “I’m looking for a growth opportunity,” “I had learned everything I could in my last role,” “I need a new challenge.”
This question can become a little more complicated if you were fired from your last position. A good way to address it in that case is by answering with something like “my employer and I came to a mutual decision that my vision was not aligned with the company and brand at large. I am looking to find a role and company where I really work well, and after that experience I have a very good idea of what I have to offer. I feel like a position here would be a great mutual fit.”
4. What is your greatest weakness?
Translation: Are you self-aware? Do you work to improve yourself?
How should you answer? This is another tricky one. No one wants to openly discuss their deficits, especially with someone they are hoping to get hired by. Even though it might feel wrong, avoid giving a non-answer like, “My weakness is that I’m so perfect the bar is too high for co-workers…” They’ll see right through it. Instead, use this prompt as an opportunity to show you’re aware of your behaviors and constantly working on improvements. No one expects perfection, and we all have weaknesses. If you frame yours as an experience you are learning from, you’ll stand out as a thoughtful candidate.
5. What’s the best project you’ve ever worked on?
Translation: What are your best skills, and how do you contribute them?
How should you answer? This is one of your few opportunities to really toot your own horn – but that doesn’t mean you can just dial this one in. You’ll want to squeeze everything out of this answer that you can. Prepare a story that really highlights your skills and abilities (your best bet is to go with ones that are also relevant to the role you are applying for), how they contributed to the project, what you learned, and how you are now an even better employee because of it.
6. Describe a project you worked on that was a failure.
Translation: Do you recognize mistakes, and can you learn from them?
How should you answer? Don’t let the word ‘failure’ rattle you here. Failing often means that you took a risk, and the ability to learn from those experiences is a trait coveted by hiring managers. If you can describe an experience that did not go as planned and explain the positives you took away from it, you’ll appear logical, introspective, and confident in your ability to do better next time. Like the question about your weaknesses, avoid a humblebrag or non-answer. Trying to get away with saying something like, “I’ve never failed significantly” makes it seem like you are hiding something or lack personal insight. Be careful not to shift the blame to someone else or get defensive – taking responsibility and learning from mistakes shows maturity, thoughtfulness, and rich experience. Again, no one is perfect. The hiring manager isn’t trying to interrogate you. Keep calm, and frame it as a valuable learning experience.
7. Describe your overall personality.
Translation: Are you a culture fit? Can you think on the spot?
How should you answer? This might be the scariest question of all. Overall personality? Where do you start? It’s easy to go with a boilerplate response like, “I’m a hard worker and a great people person” when you’re nervous, but with an answer like that they’ll have forgotten you before you’ve left the room. Don’t freak – if you can stay cool, this is a great opportunity to make a big impression. Think about what aspect of your personality also makes you a great job candidate – are you ambitious? Diligent? Personable? Now instead of listing those traits, work them into an answer with memorable details like, “I’ll work 10hr days to make sure an assignment is perfect” or “in my last role, customers asked for me by name.”
It may sound trite, but the most important thing to keep in mind throughout your interview is to be yourself. Sure, you might want to keep some things close to the vest this early on, but these are people you could potentially be spending a lot of time with. Your answers should portray your overall self – your skills as well as your character and disposition. It can be easy to act like someone you’re not in an effort to impress, but remember that an interview is as much a chance for an employer to vett you as it is for you to decide if you want to work for them. What do you want them to know about you?
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