Job interviews can be tough, even if you have done lots of them. Feelings of stress and anxiety are common in many interview candidates, and this is totally normal. The key is to be able to keep your anxiety under control and manage any stress so your interview stays on track.
One way to have your bases covered on a job interview is to prepare well in advance for the interview questions. Having your answers prepped will really help to minimize your stress levels and ensure any anxiety doesn’t take over. Further, having some smart questions to ask the hiring manager can also demonstrate your commitment to the role and the company. In this article we explore:
11 common interview questions and answers
8 killer questions to ask the hiring manager
Avoid delivering your answers to interview questions like a script. Try to talk conversationally. The preparation is all about being ready for the types of questions you may be asked so you can drive the message home that you are the perfect person for the job.
11 common job interview questions and answers
Here is a list of 11 popular job interview questions and some sample answering techniques to get you inspired and ensure you are ready for your next job interview.
1. Tell me about yourself
This common interview question can be overlooked in terms of interview preparation. While it may seem a pretty straightforward question, it can be an easy one to trip on or truly blank on if you haven’t prepared anything in advance.
Don’t be tempted to tell the hiring manager a war and peace version of your personal and professional history. The best option is to develop an elevator pitch that provides a snapshot of who you are and why you are perfect for the job.
Start your pitch by talking about your current role and highlight something you achieved in this role if possible. Next, talk about your progression to that role, whether that was via promotion, professional development, or experience with a different company. Finally, link back to why all this experience makes you the best person for the role.
“I’m currently working as a marketing executive at Blue Mountain and I’m responsible for key client accounts. I recently worked with DEF Company on their new rebrand, and I led their Eclipse campaign which won an industry award. Prior to that, I worked as a marketing assistant for a major retailer, and that’s where I really developed a passion for digital communications. This is why I am so excited about this opportunity at ABC Digital Marketing.”
2. Talk me through your resume
This is another popular interview opener, which can turn into a long and rambling answer if you’re not careful. The best option is to group together qualifications completed with your past jobs so you are telling a career story. Just make sure that you’re highlighting relevant skills, experience, and accomplishments for this job as much as possible.
You can choose to outline your career story in chronological or reverse chronological order (as per the “Tell me about yourself” question). Chronological works well if you have an interesting anecdote to tell the interviewer about starting on your chosen career path. Finish up with a summary of how your past and present experiences are the perfect blend for the role and your commitment to the company in the future.
“My high school History teacher, Mrs Smith, was probably my biggest inspiration and the reason why I decided to become a teacher. She was passionate about history which was infectious and really brought the subject to life.
So I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree in History, followed by a teaching internship and state teaching certification. Then I was lucky enough to secure a permanent teaching job at Evergreen High School, where I taught social studies to eighth-graders for three years.
During this time, I noticed that a fair amount of the students really struggled with reading and writing, so I provided additional support via an after-school reading program led by the English department. After six months we started to see real improvement in student grades and attainment, so the program was rolled out across the school.
I loved helping students who really struggled with reading and writing, so I then decided to return to school to complete a master’s degree as a reading specialist. I’m excited now to start my journey as a Reading instructor and your district is my first choice. Your long-term strategy focused on progressing literacy and reading success is really close to my heart, and I would love to support these objectives.”
3. How did you hear about the position?
When an interviewer asks this question, they are looking to discover your motivation for applying to the company. It’s also useful recruitment information in terms of how candidates are finding out about job opportunities.
If someone recommended the role, then don’t miss the opportunity to tell the interviewer the person’s name and their connection to the company. This will make you stand out among the competition, and it's a chance to show your passion and connection to the company.
If you heard about the role from a recruiter, discovered the company via an article, or saw the role advertised on a job board, you can still show your enthusiasm. Talk about why you chose to apply to the company over others. Explain what you have learned during the interview process that has made you even more excited about the job and joining the company.
“I was told about the job opening by Sara, who works in the sales team. We used to work together at RST Company and we met up again at a recent networking event in New York. Sara mentioned the job opening and thought I would be a great fit due to my strong background in B2B and B2C sales.”
4. What type of work environment do you excel in?
Researching the organization and work culture is key to tackling this interview question. If your preferred work environment is the polar opposite of the company’s workplace culture then your answer isn’t going to impress the interviewer. (This is probably a strong indicator that the role isn’t going to be a good option for you, so it’s worth doing your research as early as possible.)
Check out company reviews online, read LinkedIn posts from employees to see what they say about the company, and look at the company website where there may be information on work culture on the “About Us” page, blogs, or videos.
“From everything I’ve learned about the company so far, I understand your organization is focused on cross-department collaboration, employee relationships, and accountability. I really appreciate this team-first approach, and consider myself a strong team-builder and team-player, so I feel that I would really excel in this environment.”
5. How do you handle stressful or challenging situations?
If the pandemic taught us anything, it is how to handle stressful and challenging situations. With this question, the hiring manager is looking to see how you cope in these types of situations and that you are able to stay calm and be effective.
Provide a specific example and focus on your positive actions in this scenario rather than negative feelings. Don’t deny the stress, as the hiring manager won’t buy it. Instead, think about and articulate how you managed this stress and the soft skills you used to overcome the challenge. Stress-busting soft skills include adaptability, communication, leadership, organization and problem-solving.
“Recently, my manager asked me to take over a critical system implementation project due to an unexpected staff absence. As there was no handover, it was a bit stressful at first, but I remained calm and I got organized.
I reviewed project plans and schedules then met with the project team to ensure we were all on the same page. During these meetings, we troubleshot several bugs and defects so that key milestones were still achieved. As a result the project was delivered on time, on budget, and to exacting specifications.”
6. When it comes to your career, what are you most passionate about?
Hiring managers ask this question to get some clues as to what motivates you. Think about what you are genuinely passionate about in your career and then explain why. You should also provide examples of how you have taken steps to pursue your passion and relate this information as much as possible to the position you are interviewing for.
“I’m passionate about the field of social justice, which is why I chose to volunteer at local shelters for the homeless and other vulnerable populations in the area over the past five years. I’ve recently completed the LL.M. program in Human Rights and Social Justice at The University of Connecticut, which really cemented my passion for this career path. Having the opportunity to practice as a lawyer in the field of social justice would be an honor, especially with a reputable firm such as the Oak Tree Law Group.”
7. What accomplishment makes you most proud?
The proof is definitely in the pudding for this answer. If you can back up the skills and experience being put forward with real, tangible, and specific achievements, then this is your proof that you are perfect for the job. Tell the hiring manager about the situation and the positive outcomes you achieved.
“In my last job as Executive Assistant, I was given responsibility for onboarding new hires to the administrative team. While I directly supported new hires as much as possible, it was clear they were receiving some mixed messages on internal processes and protocols.
So, I designed a user-friendly training manual as a guide to help them quickly integrate into the team and avoid any confusion. The leadership team were really impressed with the guide and how it really improved the onboarding process.”
8. What do you expect to achieve in the first three months?
Many candidates believe that a job interview will be laser-focused on their past experience, rather than what they plan to do if they get hired. However, whatever your level of experience, the common way of thought is that you have three months to make an impact in your new role.
Don’t promise the stars or state that you are going to really shake things up if you get hired. The best approach when answering this question is to take a middle ground. Essentially, you will listen and learn during this three-month period, but also get on with things too.
Review the job description for details of the goals and objectives of the role. Then prepare some specific examples of what you expect to achieve. Try these opening statements:
“This is the approach I would take…”
“Here’s something I have tried elsewhere which I believe could help you.”
9. Why are you leaving your current job?
The key to answering this interview question is to remain positive. If you start to talk negatively about your existing or previous employer, the hiring manager is going to think you will potentially talk badly of them in the future.
Be honest. Was it a layoff on the horizon that triggered your job search or were you actually let go? If you left because you are looking for upward career progression, then talk about how keen you are for a new opportunity and how this role is perfect in terms of your skills, experience, and career goals.
“I’ve enjoyed my current role over the past three years, but now I feel ready to advance in my career. I want some new challenges and I feel that this role would offer me those opportunities. Your company caught my attention because…” State something specific about the company and why you want to work for them.
10. How are you going to improve yourself in the next year?
Hiring managers are often keen to find out your upcoming plans for professional development. This shows a growth mindset, which is something an employer really values. If you don’t have any specific professional development plans, think about how you could strengthen one of your skills, learn something new, or improve on a weakness.
“Over the next year I plan to start working towards my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification. I’ve been working as an accounting assistant for three years and feel ready to take the next step. I plan to complete this certification on a part-time basis alongside working as an accounting assistant, which I feel will enhance both my work and studies.”
11. What is your expected salary?
Answering this question can seem like balancing on a tightrope. Before you attend an interview, check out the average salary for the role that you are applying for via an online site such as Payscale. If you have friends in the same or a similar role, then find out what they are taking home in terms of salary.
The best option is to discuss a salary range. Employers will have a budget for the role, so it makes sense to provide a range so you don’t rule yourself out of the game by going too high or pitching too low.
“Based on my skills and experience, as well as current industry rates, I would be looking for a salary between $...and $.....” Here you would enter a salary range and present the rationale behind this decision, based on your research.
8 killer questions to ask in a job interview to the hiring manager
How do you respond when an interviewer asks, “Do you have any questions for us?” It can be easy to go blank, stumble over your words, ask a random question, or quickly say, “No, I have no questions. I think you covered everything.”
You may think that the recruiter is just being polite, but more likely hiring managers are asking you this question to measure your skills and experience against the strength of your potential commitment and passion for their company.
Here are our top eight questions to ask the hiring manager:
1. What is the history of this role?
Finding out about the background of the role offers an amazing insight of what the job will be like if you get hired. Here you can discover if this is a newly created role you can put your stamp on or if there were any specific reasons your predecessor left the role.
2. Can you explain a typical “day in the life” in this role?
This is a smart question as it enables you to find out which job functions are viewed as the most important by the employer. You can then tailor the remainder of the interview and any follow-up emails/interviews to these specific job functions.
The other great benefit is that you can find out if the job is actually a good fit for you too. If your typical workday involves a large percentage of time doing something you dislike, then maybe it’s not the job for you.
3. Why did you join the company and why did you stay?
You may be speaking to your potential direct manager or the HR Manager. Either way, expressing an interest in their career journey is a good way to show your strong interest in joining the company. It also can provide a bit more insight into the company culture and values.
4. What professional development opportunities are available?
Showing a strong interest in professional development will impress an employer, as it’s a major benefit to the company as well as your own professional growth and career development.
Prepare follow-up questions! If the interviewer has a good response to your questions about CPD opportunities, it opens the door for follow-ups, such as:
Are there opportunities for mentoring?
Does the company offer job rotation?
Are there training opportunities available?
5. Can you explain the company culture and how you uphold it?
Company culture is a major factor for both you and the employer in terms of finding the right cultural fit for the company.
The wording of this question is important. When asked in the right way, you will probably get a response that it is amazing. Getting specific examples that show company culture as a priority is proof that everyone probably does love working there!
6. Has anything come up in terms of my suitability for the role?
This is a great way to address any concerns a potential employer has before they make a decision. Not only can you quickly resolve any hesitations the employer may have about you, but this question also demonstrates that you can handle constructive criticism.
7. I read in the news that….
So, this question needs a bit of research, but if you do this it really shows your interest in working for the company. Research any significant efforts the organization is making across innovative areas.
Sustainability is a key focus area currently, something we are all conscious of and likely passionate about. Maybe the company has had a recent merger or acquisition, so you can ask how that has impacted company culture.
8. What are the most important things you would like to see me accomplish in the first 60 days of employment?
Showing that you are invested in the company is the key takeaway here. The interviewer will probably go into more detail in terms of what specific skills and qualities the company is looking for. You can reinforce this in a follow-up email.
Preparation is key to landing a job. Take time to prepare for common interview questions by reviewing the job description and matching your relevant skills and experience to the role.
Whenever you talk about one of your skills, always provide a specific example to back this up, and make sure it is relatable to the job you are interviewing for.
Always be honest about your skills and experience as well as why you are looking for a new job.
Do your homework on the people, company, culture, and role to show your strong interest in working for the company. Research average salaries for this role in case you are asked about your salary expectations.
Ensure you have some well-planned questions for the interviewer. You may only have time to ask two or three questions, but you can certainly make a positive final impression.