The most common interview questions & the best way to answer them

Interviewing is challenging and awkward for a lot of people. And the truth is, qualified candidates miss out on job offers, while less qualified candidates excel in their interviews and walk away with exciting job offers. And not to mention, candidates with killer interviewing skills tend to receive high salary offers.

The good news is that most Human Resource professionals and Recruiters have a list of the same basic questions. What does that mean to you? It means that you can become a top candidate with little research and preparation.


Below are common interview questions, example answers, and tips and tricks to help you ace your interview.

Tell me about yourself?

This question is one of the oldest and most used interview questions. It will most likely be the interview’s first question and probably the most challenging interview question you will be asked. Your answer to this question sets the tone for the rest of the interview. If you ace this one, you will grab the attention of the person interviewing you. If you do not, the odds are the person interviewing you will start to zone out.

There are three types of answers that candidates give.

They freeze up. Not sure what to say? Do you not like being the center of attention? I get it; you dislike being in the spotlight. But trust me, you are not the only one who gets a bit of stage fright with this question.

Try these tips to avoid this if this is you.

Practice. Think of a couple of key points that you want to touch on. Write them down as a reference or memorize them. However, I would suggest memorizing key points, not full-on sentences. I say this because the candidate that freezes up and tries to memorize their answer tends to sound like a recording. And that is not what you want. You want to sound confident. You want to signal to the interviewer that you will not buckle under pressure.

Try not to think of this question as an interview question but rather as a conversation, you are having with a friend or family member. You want to show you can carry on a natural, fluid conversation.

Try pretending that you already know you will not get the job. Maybe it is already promised to the owner’s daughter or nephew. Sometimes by, merely lowering the stakes (in our heads), it can reduce the pressure and nerves surrounding the interview.

They ramble on. Rambling is another major problem when answering this question. And honestly, probably one of the biggest mistakes I see. If you ramble, it suggests you are unorganized, which is a red flag. You are also wasting valuable time on a straightforward question. There is no need to give your life story. Human Resource professionals and Recruiters do not want to know everything about you. They want your related job history and education summed up in a nutshell. By sharing every detail, you could be boring the interviewer, making it harder for the interviewer to understand what you are trying to say.

Tips to avoid this, if this is you.

Keep it around one minute. Yes, one minute. Keep it short and to the point. There is no need to go into every detail as the interviewer is probably looking at your resume.

Practice. If you tend to ramble, try memorizing exactly what you will say and stick to it. This will help keep you on track and avoid rambling.

They ace it. The answer is brief and to the point. Give a general timeline of your professional background. An excellent approach starts with stating your job title and critical accomplishments at your current position. Then work backward to other relevant positions. End it with why you applied for the position.

If you want to try something a little different to help you stand out, talk about your professional and personal core values.

For example, you could answer something like this.

Example below.

HR/Recruiter: Tell me about yourself?

Candidate: I have been a Senior Customer Service Representative at a Fortune 500 company for the past five years. My primary duties include assisting customers with orders and refunds, logging information in the company CRM, and assisting junior reps with policy and procedure questions. I have always specialized in customer service and exhibit servant-style leadership. Before this position, I also worked in customer service for a smaller organization. I chose to follow this career path about ten years ago when I studied Psychology at the University of___. I came across your job posting and thought this would be a great place to grow my skills. I can tell that “Company X” has an exceptional company culture. I’d love to be a part of that.

Tell me about your weaknesses?

Do not use a googled answer to this question. I repeat. Do not use a googled answer to this question. I know it sounds hypocritical, considering you may have found this article by searching “answers to common interview questions.” If you googled the answer to this question, I assume articles popped up telling you to answer this question by turning a negative into a positive. While this is a good and 100% accurate approach, you must be honest. Human Resource professionals and Recruiters are like little detectives. They have conducted hundreds and thousands of interviews. They have a pretty good “gut feeling” on how to evaluate candidates. If they get the same answer repeatedly, it is obvious who “googled” the answer and who is being truthful. For example, Human Resource professionals and Recruiters often hear this answer: “I’m a perfectionist.” While that is a great answer, it is not always truthful. Be authentic. If you googled the answer to this question, the odds are other candidates did too. From an employer’s perspective, they will get the same generic answer nine out of ten times. Do not let that be you. Stand out. Be honest. Nothing better than a candidate who is confident in their flaws. At the end of the day, we are all human. I promise you the person interviewing you will value your honesty with this question more than a generic googled answer.

What are your great strengths?

This is hands down the most straightforward question for candidates. Employers are handing you the answer on a silver platter. So, how does one get the silver platter? Easy. Review the job description. Employers are telling you exactly what they are looking for. It does require a little research on your part. I’d suggest reading the job description, highlighting the duties you excel at, and touching on. There is no need to focus on strengths that are not relevant to what the organization is looking for.

For example, say you’ve done your research. You looked at the job description and determined that Company X is looking for candidates with great time management skills, a team player, and the desire to learn. You could say something like this.

Example below.

HR/Recruiter: What are your greatest strengths?

Candidate: One. I am very good at managing my time. I am a punctual person by nature. I always arrive early and stay late to ensure my work is completed on time. In my current position, I work in a very deadline-driven environment. I’m good at organization and adhering to my project due dates. When I work, I always take the initiative. You do not have to tell me twice to do something.

Two. I work best in a collaborative team environment. I find it easier to accomplish a project when everyone works together and communicates well. I firmly believe that “two minds are better than one.” I have found that some of my best projects have come from bouncing ideas off my teammates.

Three. I have the drive to succeed. I have an “old school” work ethic. I can thank my parents for this. They taught me the importance of setting goals and achieving them. I am always looking for ways to improve myself and grow. I like to see results and be proactive and responsible for my actions. I don’t wait for instructions and am not afraid to ask questions.

Why did you leave your last position?

The most important aspect of answering this question is that you do not speak negatively of your previous employers. Never. Not even if it was indeed a horrible work experience for you. Find the silver lining and talk about that. Human Resource professionals and Recruiters use this question to gauge how you will interact with their team. If you are negative, they will also assume you will be negative with them. Positivity is contagious, and so is negativity.

Keep this answer simple.

Example below.

HR/Recruiter: Why did you leave your last position?

Candidate: I’m looking for new challenges.
Tell me a time that you failed?

Be honest. If you did not do as well on a project or did not meet a deadline, speak to that. Whatever it is, be honest. Once you have honestly answered a time, you have failed to follow up with how you learned and grew from it. HR and Recruiters are looking to see if you are confident about owning up to your mistakes. They are asking this question to see how you handle constructive criticism. They are looking for humble leaders.

Why should we hire you? Or why do you want to work for Company X?

Human Resource Professionals and Recruiters are asking this question to see if you are a good fit. Be ready to discuss in more detail how this position directly connects with your passion and how it will help advance your career in a way that will benefit the company. Show that you are a fit. Be concise, focused, and professional in your response.

This may seem obvious, but do not speak to clearly self-serving areas – such as, I need a job, the salary is great, or the vacation policy is above average. Focus more on your passion for the work and your skill for the position. Compliment the company. This is not about you but about you in relation to the position and how you will be a good fit.

Also, research the company and explain why you want to work with them. It is essential to answer this question with excitement and a strong desire to work for the organization. Think of this question as dating. You want to be on a date with someone who shows interest in you. You do not wish to be on a date with someone who seems uninterested—same concept.

Example below.

HR/Recruiter: Why should we hire you? Or why do you want to work for Company X?

Candidate: I found Company X on Glassdoor and decided to apply because of the company’s excellent reputation. I saw that Best Companies Group recognized you as ‘one of the best places to work’ in Arizona. Because of this, I was attracted to look at the company’s core values, mission, and vision statement to see if they are congruent with my values. And it does! I bring to the table 10-plus years of industry experience. I’m working towards my PMI certification, which, when I pass, I will be able to bring all the skills and knowledge to Company X. I think this would be an excellent place to expand and grow my leadership skills.

Why have you been unemployed for so long?

I get it. This is a tricky question, but try not to stumble on this question. I see a lot of candidates who either get discouraged or defensive with this question. The Human Resource Professional and Recruiter are not asking this question as a form of judgment but somewhat out of curiosity. Focus on the positive things that you have accomplished during this time.

Example below.

HR/Recruiter: Why have you been unemployed for so long?

Candidate: I know I have been unemployed for seven months now. I was laid off in August 2018. I focused my time on personal development for the first couple of months. I also enrolled in an online course at the local university.

My goal is to get a job to have a job, but rather spend time finding the right company and position. The time off has been great, I have been able to focus on myself, but I am incredibly eager to get back into the workforce.

Also, try to steer this conversation back to your skills and accomplishments whenever possible. Think of it as casually distracting HR/Recruiters from the original question.

What is your desired salary?

This question is tricky and misleading. When you are asked what your “desired” salary is, that does not mean one million dollars; most people would desire that salary, but be realistic. Know your worth, BUT also know the market value. Research what someone with your position title, years of experience, and education should earn. For example, the market value for a cash register clerk will be much different from a financial advisor. The market value for a recent graduate with a CPA will be much different from that of a person with 15-plus years of experience, education, and a CPA.

Keep in mind that the company most likely has a budget and has researched the market value. If you ask for a salary way above the market value, it is like a slap in the face or a joke to the company.

I like to use Shark Tank as an example of this. If you have seen the show, the Sharks will ask the contenders to evaluate their business. The Sharks HATE it when the contenders give an incorrect or too-high evaluation. They will almost negotiate a better deal or say, “I’m out”—the same concept. If the candidate asks for a salary that is way higher than the “going rate,” they will be eliminated from the race. Do not make this mistake.

Also, remember, at the end of the day, companies are in business to make money. Suppose three candidates have similar skills, experience, and education, but one requests much less than the other candidates. In that case, the odds are the employer will go with the less expensive candidate. It’s a business move that will save them money. After all, an organization’s employees are often the most costly “bill” a company has.

Human Resource professionals and Recruiters are looking to see if the candidate’s salary expectations align with the company’s budget and if the position aligns with the candidate your career goals. They want to know if this position is a logical step in your career path.

If a candidate is asked what their desired salary is, they say $100,000 because that is what they are currently making. And then let’s say the organization is offering $50,000. And the candidate comes back and says $50,000 is fine. That is a red flag for a couple of reasons. First, most people are unwilling to take that large of a pay cut. Second, the candidate looks desperate. And third, it indicates to HR/Recruiters that the candidate is not telling the truth.

Or say that the candidate is currently making $50,000 but is requesting a new salary of $80,000. Make sure that the jump in salary is realistic and has substantial evidence to support it. You must explain why if you are trying to make a big jump in pay. The best example is if you have increased your education or certifications. If you have done that, mention it as a part of your salary negotiating strategy.

Example below:

HR/Recruiter: What is your desired salary?

Candidate: That is a great question, and thank you for asking this question upfront. Currently, my salary is $50,000. For my next position, I would like to earn $65,000. I realize that is a pretty big jump in pay. I’m suggesting this salary because, since my last raise, I’ve completed my master’s degree in business administration. My previous raises did not consider this; they were based on years of service and performance.

Do you have any questions for me?

promise you this question will be asked during EVERY interview. And your answer should be yes. Always, always, always ask questions.

For more information and sample questions to ask, see the link below.

You need interview strategies that set you apart. Prepare, practice, and be patient. You will do great!!

Contact NimoHR for more information.

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