Common Job Interview Questions


Strong or weak, the job market is always in flux. That means that while plenty of people resign or retire every year and positions open up, folks also change positions, and new generations come on the scene. If you’re part of the population who’s currently involved in a job search, then you know that it’s a competitive scene out there. 

How can you make yourself stand out among all the other would-be candidates? A lot of it comes down to preparation. We can’t tell you exactly what an interviewer will want to know, but we can give you our best tips for preparing for a job interview. Let’s get into it. 


How To Answer Interview Questions


No matter the question that an interviewer throws at you (and it really can feel more like a throw than a toss sometimes) the goal is to redirect away from any potential land mines and look for common ground. How can both you and the potential employer benefit? How can what seems like a negative be transformed into a chance for growth? There are some general ways of looking at the questions and getting to the deeper inquiry, and we’ll delve into all of it.

Remember: it can be easy to dwell on negatives, be left speechless, or even get defensive. But trust us–none of these default reactions will go over well. Preparing for a job interview is a crash course in acting, sales, and problem-solving, rolled into one. But just as much as we know it’s tricky, we know you can tackle it successfully and land that ideal position. This isn’t about canned responses, because no one likes those. It is about giving some serious thought to a response you feel comfortable with and that will help an interviewer to truly see your value.


Questions About Work and Education


Walk me through your resume. Tell me about a time you disagreed with a supervisor’s decision. Why is there a gap in your employment history? What made you want to leave that job? Explain why you were fired. What was your least favorite part of that position? Why the change in career paths?

Are you sweating yet? Heart rate a little raised? If so, it’s no wonder. These types of inquiries are bad scenarios just waiting to happen, and we all feel that straight away. But take heart–with a little preparation and a focused message, you can get through even the most difficult and potentially divisive questions.

We’d recommend always keeping things positive. Instead of harping on something that truly did anger, annoy, or frustrate you in a past position, take the opportunity to highlight your aptitude for growth, progress, and improvement and how this natural desire was stifled. Explain that you love being part of an ongoing project, but also having opportunities available. Be sure to note why this position and this potential employer will fit you better. Any time of transition is best related to a desire for challenge and new responsibilities.

When talking about the past, focus on telling a career-spanning story. You can group qualifications based on past jobs, or recount things chronologically. Whatever you choose, make it clear how your experiences led you to where you are today and also have prepared you for the future you hope to have with this employer. Show how the position you’re applying for is the next phase in a natural progression of your career trajectory.

If you were fired for performance reasons, this is the time to fess up, but own it. Explain how much you’ve learned about yourself and what’s expected and how that realization has affected your life. Instead of a deal breaker, a firing can be portrayed as an advantage–a moment of growth that prepared you for the job you’re interviewing for. 

In all of these responses, from explaining employment gaps to career changes, you don’t have to share more than you’re comfortable with. Just be confident in your answers and find ways to relate how these life changes honed your best qualities or helped you to learn new skills that will be useful to an employer. Stay focused on the role you’re applying for and always find a way to circle back to how excited you are for this opportunity.


Position-Related Questions


How did you hear about the position? What attracted you to this company? Would you relocate? Why do you want this job? Are you interviewing with other companies? Tell me about your salary expectations. Why should we hire you? Can you start right away?

This category of interview question seems pretty basic but is actually a great opportunity to add some nuance to your interview responses. This will take preparation and some research, but it’s well worth the effort. Feel free to name-drop a professional contact who told you about the position you’re interviewing for, and why you were so excited to learn more. If you simply found the position online, share what specific point in the listing grabbed your attention and spurred you to apply.

Doing advance research about the company you’re applying to means that you can drop specific facts that appeal to you and make you feel like this is a good fit. Maybe your goals and values align, or it could be that you’ve been impressed with the company’s sustained growth and want to be part of its future success. Whatever you settle on, be enthusiastic but genuine, and always, always, be specific. If you love helping people and problem solving, or believe in education, those are great reasons to share when asked why you want to hold a given position.

If you’re given the golden opportunity of showcasing your talents and what makes you the perfect candidate for a position, definitely don’t waste it! Use your reply to assure the interviewer that you can most certainly handle the job and deliver what they’re looking for. Explain how your job history makes you the best candidate, and show how you will fit in well with the company culture and work team. If the interviewer asks what you will bring to the company, this is your chance to put your research into action. Your response can show how your specific skill set was made to help the company tackle current challenges with clear examples of how you’ve tackled situations like this before.

When an interviewer asks you hyper-specific questions about what you’re expecting if hired, it’s worth your while to be specific in return. Align your answers to what type of work environment you prefer or what you’re looking for with the descriptions of the position you’re hoping to fill. On the salary front, don’t go in blind.  Do your research to know what you’re worth (experience, skills, education), what you need (bills, obligations, etc), and what other companies are offering. You can present a range that spans above what you’re hoping for, ask what’s the typical range in this company, or even ask to postpone the pay discussion until you know more about the position and other forms of available compensation.

As far as relocating and start times go, you want to be honest without closing down opportunities. Relocation is a serious consideration, and while it can be alot, it could be very worth it. You need to weigh the pros and cons well before you enter an interview so that you aren’t caught off guard. Remember that in this age of remote work, you can always offer alternatives if relocation truly isn’t an option. If you can start immediately, great. If not, any employer will appreciate the need to give notice and should respect your thoroughness.


Questions About Traits and Accomplishments


Tell me your greatest achievement. Share a time when you made a mistake or failed. What is your work (or management) style? 

Most people don’t love tooting their own horn, but this is an arena where that is what’s called for! To make this less awkward, try to stick to a formula that begins with a specific circumstance or situation, share a task you had to carry out, the actions you took, and the great results you achieved. Use time frames to give context, and any available percentages or other data points that can make your success more tangible.

On the other end of the spectrum is the dreaded mistake or failure recounting. As always, be honest, but keep it positive. Own the mistake, don’t blame others, and focus on what you learned. Spin that lesson to show how you’re more prepared for this position. Highlight how past mistakes and failures have made you more self-aware, have helped you to be more open to feedback, and have given you a push to care more about how your role within a company affects business and your team. These don’t have to be detrimental sharings–you get to define what “mistake” and “failure” mean. 

When answering about work style, keep things flexible. You can share your communication and collaboration preferences, or how you like to lead, depending on the role you’re applying for. You can always spin your ideal work style into a story to tell something more about yourself.


Personal Questions


Tell me about yourself–what makes you unique? How do you deal with stress and pressure? What are your hobbies or passions? Do you have children or plan to start a family? What annoys you? What is your dream job? What animal do you most identify with?

Some questions that initially may seem to be personal, could just be a way for an interviewer to assess whether or not you will fit in well with the company culture and the department’s team. They want to see that you are a problem solver who looks for solutions, even in stressful times. 

They also want to get a feel for your personality. Don’t take these questions too seriously, and try to answer them with a focus on how your responses show that you’re a perfect fit for the job. Get excited, too. That always helps your interviewer relate to you better. They may also be testing how well you can think on your feet.

Where things can cross a line is when interviewers start asking about how much money you’re currently making, if you plan to have children, or anything that centers on your family status, gender, nationality, religion, or age. Some inquiries could be labeled as prying at best and illegal at worst. Interviewers may just be trying to make small talk and don’t realize they’re stepping into a red zone. Regardless of motive, these questions can catch you off guard, so it’s best to have a predetermined reply in mind. Try to circle back to the position and how you’d really like to learn more about the company before getting into those details, assuring them that, when it comes to salary, you can come to a mutually beneficial resolution. Any personal information you do choose to share should be divulged with a purpose–show how you are the candidate they’re looking for.


Preparing for a Job Interview Tips: What Interviewers Are Looking For


When interviewers ask seemingly bizarre questions, or ask you to “sell me this pen,” they’re really just running a pressure test. They are going to read body language and how you project yourself and make determinations on how you’ll fit into the company and team. Open-ended questions like “Is there anything else you’d like us to know?” is really an opportunity to summarize why you’d be a good fit. If they ask “What should I know that’s not on your resume?” that’s your chance to share that you know emergency CPR or are an expert baker who loves to share your creations. Keep it light, keep it positive, show how you are an asset.

A good employer is also open to discussion. If you’re asked “What do you think we could do better or differently?” answer honestly. Be positive, but constructive, offering background on why you feel as you do. And if they open the floor to questions, feel free to ask the interviewer about the position, their experience, and what makes them love their company, culture, and team mates. It’s always good to be inquisitive and ready to learn.


Preparing For A Job Search

We’ve said it a few times, and we’ll say it again: be positive, be confident, and be consistent in showing how your unique history and experience make you that just-right candidate that an employer is looking for. As you prepare for your job search, know that the professionals at Technical Search Consultants (TSC) are here to help. It’s our goal to help you advance your career and reach your employment goals. Contact us to learn more about our services and take advantage of our easy online resume submission form.

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