What are the interview questions that intimidate you the most? Questions like “Why should we hire you?”; “What can you offer our company?”; “Tell us more about yourself.”; or all?
You might be perfect for the job, yet the overwhelming task of answering these interview questions in a few coherent sentences leaves you in tears or screams. How about we eliminate this hassle forever?
Unlike any other “how to answer” guide, this won’t force-feed you model answers but model practices on how to approach and think of the perfect answers for these interview questions.
Question 1: Tell me about yourself
The most perplexing of all the interview questions! Well, where do I begin? Summing up your entire professional career in a few lines seems like a reasonable, not at all anxiety inducing, question to begin with.
What they actually mean: What experience, skills, or knowledge do you have that are relevant to the job I am trying to fill?
- Start out with your most recent position and accomplishments and work your way down the lane.
- Pick an accomplishment or key strength and tailor it to fit the job. I might be a copywriter but my strongest suit is research and pinpointing insights, so I always choose to focus on that and how this specific skill set is crucial to the company.
- Make sure to narrow it down to 2 or 3 experiences that showcase that strength/accomplishment.
- Wrap up with how your previous experience positioned you to be the perfect candidate for the job.
Put everything in the form of a coherent story, not standalone bits and pieces and don’t ramble; keep it under 2 minutes.
Put metrics in your answer. For example, “I worked on 50 projects a year, meeting 100% of my deadlines and reaching a client satisfaction rate of 98%.” This will draw their attention to your quantifiable value.
Question 2: Why should we hire you?
Most interview questions are sales pitch questions, but this one specifically is the ultimate sales pitch. Here you should make it all about them; talk about their needs and how you will benefit them.
What they actually mean: What makes you a better hire than all the other applicants?
- Do your homework! Research the company before the interview, figure out their needs, and tailor your answer to focus on the skills you have that meet their needs.
- List your relevant skills and abilities.
- Connect these skills with the job’s requirements:
- The requirements you meet
- The requirements you exceed
- The requirements you don’t meet (this is a chance to show credibility and ability to admit to shortcomings and mistakes)
- Talk about specific things you can help them achieve.
To prove your skills further, use recommendation letters, testimonials, or any other documents that will help establish your point.
Question 3: Why do you want to work for our company?
After the why we should want you comes the why do you want us. This is the employer’s not so subtle way to see how much you are actually interested in this specific company and not just this specific job.
What they actually mean: What interests you about this company?
- Mention work-related reasons why their company interests you.
- Talk about your career goals and how they fit into the company.
- Tell them what drew you to their company. Align yourself with the company’s mission, vision, and values or tell them about any positive experiences using their service or product.
Question 4: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Well, such interview questions should be abolished by now, but we have it on good authority that it’s often asked in interviews. So here’s how to tackle this mediocrity!
What they actually mean: Will you ditch us in a year?
- Highlight the skills you would want to develop along those five years and a general idea of how you are going to do that.
- Show them that you plan on moving up the ladder and not staying at the position you are applying for longer than necessary.
- The key here is to be pragmatic and methodical. Keep it professional, realistic, and applicable with a general or even a step-by-step plan of how you are going to get there.
If you are at the early stages of your career and not sure about the direction you want to take yet, that’s totally okay. Be clear about that and discuss a couple of areas that interest you and how you are planning on exploring them.
Make sure to avoid the widely known “In five years, I will be your manager.”
Question 5: What is your greatest weakness?
This one is very self-deprecating. How can you pitch your weakness in a way that still makes you perfect for the job?
What they actually mean: How will your weaknesses affect your job performance?
- Pick a real weakness you have, nothing that is generic or would sound rehearsed, none of that “my only flaw is that I am a perfectionist” nonsense.
- Discuss what obstacles this weakness created for you or your workflow.
- Then end with the measures you took/are taking to overcome it.
Question 6: What is your greatest strength?
Maybe not as hard to answer as the weakness question, but it will still leave you flustered: how to walk the very thin line between confidence and arrogance when talking about your strengths!
What they actually mean: How will your natural strengths help us?
- Always pick one or two specific strengths to talk about; don’t just randomly list strengths.
- Provide examples to prove how your strengths helped your performance in previous jobs.
Often at interviews, you feel like you weren’t asked about this one specific thing you wanted to talk about. Use this question to direct the conversation towards any experience or accomplishment you want to emphasize.
Question 7: Why do you want to leave (or why did you leave) your current (last) job?
This one is sensitive. Needless to say, you can’t bad-mouth your current or previous employers but you should have a concrete reason for leaving.
What they actually mean: What went wrong with your last employer?
- If you were fired: admit to the fact that you were terminated and address why it happened and how you will make sure it won’t happen again.
- If you resigned: talk about how this job change was deliberate. Focus on what you are hoping to gain by moving forward and never talk disparagingly about your previous employer.
- Some examples of why you left your job are as follows:
- Desire to learn
- Desire to take on more responsibility
- Desire to take on less responsibility
- Desire to relocate
- Desire for a career change
- Desire to gain a new skill or grow a current skill
- Company reorganization has led to change in job content
- Desire for a shorter commute to work
- Desire to improve work-life balance
Question 8: What are your salary expectations?
Let’s talk money! This question might be the very first step to any salary negotiations with your employer. Answer with too high a salary and you might scare them off; give them too low a salary and you would be underpaid.
What they actually mean: Can we afford you?
- Do a thorough research about the total compensation this employer provides.
- Total compensation includes the insurance, bonuses, company transportation, vacation days, among others. All of these might seem like added benefits to you but they are added expenses for the employers.
- Research your salary range in the market through websites such as Glassdoor, PayScale, Salary.com, and SalaryExpert.com.
- When you name a number for the employer, base it on all that research combined.
Be flexible. Offer a range that covers the middle to top salary you expect for the job, bearing in mind that if you receive an offer, the offer you receive will most likely be at the bottom of the range you provide.
Question 9: What do you think we could do better or differently?
This is a common question for startups to ask. Companies need to know that you can add something, not only do your job but also contribute to helping this company grow by thinking forward as a part of it.
What they actually mean: Can you think critically and strategically to bring something new to the table?
- Before the interview, you must use their product or service. Also, be sure to check their website, social media pages, and ads.
- Bring your insights and ideas. What new features would you be most excited to build? How would you engage new users (or reengage existing ones)? How could the company increase conversions? How can customer service be improved?
These people have been working at this company for years, so they have probably exhausted any and all options to improve their product. To show that you understand and respect that, try ending your answer with a question like “Did you guys consider that approach as you were working on this? I’d love to know more about your process.”
Question 10: How do you deal with stress and pressure?
Any job is guaranteed to have rough patches where pressure is an all-time high for everyone involved. Employers need to know that you can battle through these times. Here, personal skills and self-management tactics are key to your survival.
What they actually mean: Will you break down or fold when the going gets tough?
- Pick one of the stables of stress and pressure in the workplace, something that surely happens like tight deadlines, communication problems with manager or peers, and so forth.
- Demonstrate how you have a different action plan for these stressful times.
- Delve into the world of energy and time management and pick a tactic that works for you. Sleep cycle adjustment, meditation or breathing exercises, and so on show the employer that you know how to make life changes to adjust to the stress while still maintaining being healthy.
Question 11: Why is there a gap in your resume?
Everything happens for a reason. Your employment gap is grounds for speculation: what would make someone stop working all of a sudden? What could be so important that you would prioritize it over a job?
What they actually mean: Were you just being lazy and that’s why you took the gap?
- Explain why you’ve got gaps in your resume.
- Share the value you picked up along this gap; show them that it wasn’t fruitless to your own development as a person.
- Keep your explanation short. Have a finish line so you don’t trail off into embarrassed silence.
If your gaps are longer or more frequent, consider providing a brief note in your resume with a reason for the gap in employment. Just list it like any other job. Put your previous positions with the dates you held them. And for your gap, you’d have dates there too and a one-line explanation (“I took a hiatus from work in order to care for an elderly family member in need”).
Question 12: Do you have any questions for me?
This is how every interview is wrapped up. It’s better to not just say “No questions, thanks!” You should seize this opportunity to leave an impression.
What they actually mean: Are you going to miss the chance to learn firsthand about the employer, the company, and its environment?
- To avoid being stuck at a job you hate, make sure to learn more about the company, the team, and the job.
Avoid asking about the salary, company perks, benefits, or vacations. Save these questions after they have formally offered you the job. Questions like these make it seem like you are more interested in what the company can offer you, rather than contributing to the work this company does.
- Always research the employers.
- Quantify your achievements in terms of numbers, percentages, or dollars.
- Use storytelling to show how you used your skills in past jobs.
- Always wrap up your answers with how your actions helped your previous employer or how you are perfect for the current position.
Feel like you need even more preparation for the interview, let alone the interview questions part? Book a one-on-one session with one of our career experts and nail your next interview like a pro.