Updated October 1, 2019

Correct Answers to 23 Common Interview Questions

Nailing a job interview is all about answering tough questions without breaking a sweat. Fortunately, potential employers tend to ask pretty much the same questions.

Prepare with answers to the 23 most commonly asked questions, and you'll be more likely to turn your nerve-wracking job interview into a smooth job offer.

1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Hiring managers don't ask this question because they're genuinely interested in hearing your entire life story. They want to (briefly) get a feel for who you are and what you're capable of — and how you stand out from the crowd of applicants.

A study by Switzerland psychologists uncovered that interviewees who provide unique answers are more likely to get hired, even if their abilities aren't up to par with the other job candidates. Make your response as unique as possible to the situation to keep the interviewer from tuning you out.

2. Why are you interested in working here?

This is a tricky question to navigate. Your best approach is to be honest, but the truth may be you picked the company because it's the closest one in your field to your house or it's the only callback you've received. So find an honest answer that works — steer the conversation to why the hiring manager works there and see how you can match the person's interests.

Honesty is a key way to win a job (even if it means holding some truths in); a study from Northwestern University showed that hiring managers are more likely to choose a candidate that they feel is most like themselves.

3. What do you know about the company?

Going into a job interview without knowing anything about the company is the kiss of death. A survey by research firm Millennial Branding showed that 43% of hiring managers base their final decision on how well candidates grasp the company culture.

Instead of regurgitating a list of basic facts that anyone could find out through a Google search, go deeper into your research — look at the company press releases, Glassdoor listings and LinkedIn postings to read between the lines of what past and former employees have to say.

The point is to get a sense of the culture there, by studying the photos for what people tend to wear and reading the quotes from executives to see if it's a fairly traditionally run organization or a bit looser and casual.

4. Tell me about your previous experience.

This can be tough to answer if you haven't been in the workforce very long but that could actually work in your favor. According to a study from Stanford University, potential is often perceived as more valuable than experience in hiring decisions.

If you don't have a lengthy relevant work history, talk up your experiences that would show how much of a team player or multi-tasker you are (such as a big home renovation project you took on for your parents, charities you've helped, or events you have organized).

5. What are your strengths?

When an employer asks you to describe your strengths, it's tempting to hype yourself up, but that can backfire if you overplay your skills too much.

In a University of North Carolina survey of MBA grads, the ones who stuck to the facts when discussing their strong points with prospective employers were more likely to land the gig and they were more satisfied with the job they got overall.

6. What do you still need to work on?

Acknowledging what areas need improvement shows that you're human, and humbleness can score you some serious points in a job interview.

In a study of interpersonal interactions, interview subjects who opened up about their perceived weaknesses scored higher marks with the interviewer when they tackled it early on during the interview. Just don't bring up weaknesses that are likely to be a sticking point for the interviewer (keep it to yourself if you have a hard time being punctual — you can privately commit to improving that weakness if you get the job).

7. How would your previous employer describe you?

If your ex-boss has a voodoo doll that looks just like just like you in the top drawer of his desk, feel free to keep that to yourself. Instead, focus on the attributes that made you a good employee at your last job.

In fact, research shows that people who cast themselves in a positive light tend to perform better in job interviews. Just don't trash talk your former employer to make yourself look good.

8. What's your biggest professional accomplishment to date?

Hiring managers want to hear whether you are great or not; your challenge is to avoid coming across as boastful. Give yourself a chance to brag a little about past achievements, but you don't want to be boastful.

Career coach Michael Higgins suggests that you find the right balance by avoiding generalizations and zeroing in your specific achievements. He recommends the STAR technique, which provides an outline for job applicants when answering this very question: Talk about the situation, the task and activity, and the result. By hitting on each point, you'll be giving the full picture and giving equal weight to the actions you took and the results.

9. What's the worst mistake you've ever made on the job?

Here's another example where you want to be truthful in your answer but you don't have to provide the whole truth. Pick a mistake in your past that's understandable and very likely one that everyone has already made.

You want to be relatable but also not get defensive over who was to blame for the mistake. A study conducted by Japanese researchers found that when confronted with a problem in a simulated job interview, participants who attempted to justify past mistakes actually rated higher than those who avoided going on the defense.

10. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Okay, so what the hiring manager is really saying here is If I hire you, what are the odds you're going to stick around? The most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average worker stays on the job 4.6 years and job-changing is especially common among 20-somethings.

If you're planning to stay with the company for the long haul, make sure that's clear to the interviewer. If it's more of a stop along the way, keep your answer open-ended, and stress that you're looking for a place where you can build your career.

11. What makes you the best person for the job?

If this question comes up, one of the best ways to handle it is to get the person conducting the interview to answer it for you.

Start by listing off your strong points and then turn the tables by asking the hiring manager why you were picked out of the crowd for the interview. According to persuasion and influence expert Robert Cialdini, getting someone else to expand on your positives reminds them what it is they find valuable about you.

12. Do you have any special skills?

Everybody and their brother is earning a college degree these days, so you really have to have that extra something to stand out during an interview.

Play up the fact that you learned to code at a young age or that you spent a semester in a language-intensive study abroad program, and you'll appear more desirable in the interviewer's eyes.

13. How comfortable are you working as part of a team?

The answer to this question is always yes. Teamwork is an essential skill that's high on the list of expectations employers have of new hires. According to the Millennial Branding survey, 74% of hiring managers want to bring team players on board.

Whether you prefer to be a leader or a follower, come up with real-life examples of times when you've excelled professionally as part of team.

14. What are your salary expectations?

Money doesn't always come up in the first round of interviews, but you should still be prepared talk about it. Obviously, you want to ask for an amount that reflects what you're worth, but there's a right and wrong way to do it.

A study from Columbia University determined that offering a range with your target salary at the bottom puts you in a better position to work your way up to a better deal.

15. Why did you leave your last job?

Instead of saying that you got canned because you couldn't get along with your boss or you were just bored, keep the emphasis on any positives you can muster up. For example, highlight what you liked about the company and then lead into why changing jobs is a necessary step for advancing your career.

Steer clear of letting the interview take on a negative tone in any way; a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that negative tones will likely affect the outcome of an interview—and probably not in your favor.

16. What were your responsibilities at your previous company?

When discussing your previous job role, avoid making yourself look like a put-upon martyr who had to do everything. It's okay to talk about what your responsibilities were in detail but infusing your answer with a shot of humility keeps you from going over the top.

Researchers at Baylor University concluded that employers value honesty and a humble attitude over other personality traits like agreeableness or conscientiousness as predictors of future job performance.

17. What did you dislike about your last position?

Your mom probably told you that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all, but that won't work in a job interview. If you're asked this question, stick to the facts of what made your position lacking, not how you feel about the company personally. Keep a steady pace when answering and avoid making frequent pauses since this can make you seem more anxious and less confident.

Job applicants who are calm are more likely to win their interviewers over; a study of videotaped mock job interviews of 125 undergraduate students found that those who seemed anxious were less likely to succeed in the interviews than those who seem even-keeled.

18. Tell me about a challenge you faced and how you handled it.

Employers ask this question because they want a specific example of how well you're able to roll with the punches and take the lead. Research from the UK suggests that when this topic comes up, you should shape your response around how you were able to take control of the situation, rather than letting it control you.

19. What motivates you to succeed?

With this question, the interviewer is trying to get at what makes you tick. For some people, it's a bigger paycheck but for others it's being able to see the end product once a big project is complete. That was a finding by researchers at MIT Sloan School of Management who looked into the connection workers have with their work — they need to have some sort of purpose or goal. If your ultimate goal (tons of money!) is not appropriate for sharing with the interview, then focus on something you're passionate about that ties into the work you'll be doing.

You want to come across as an enthusiastic person, and this question is an opportunity to do just that.

20. How well do you work under pressure?

When you're not sure how to answer this question, incorporate verbal confidence boosters into the discussion. Researchers gave interviewees certain phrases to use that made them appear and feel more confident and performed better in interviews as a result.

Say phrases like "I do my best work when the heat is on" or "I love being challenged," and you'll be convincing the interviewer (and yourself) that you can be counted on in high-stress situations.

21. Why should we hire you?

There are a hundred different things you could say here but the best approach is to focus on what sets you apart from everyone else that's interviewing for the same gig. Highlight your strengths, stay positive and above all, believe in your own abilities.

If you're feeling a little insecure about your chances, research has shown that adopting a "power pose" for two minutes before an interview can give you the right mindset to project a confident attitude.

22. What questions do you have for me?

At some point, the interviewer will turn the tables and open the floor for any questions you want to ask. Always have something to say here. Good topics include asking interviewer what they like about working at the company, what kind of opportunities there are to advance, and where the company is headed generally.

The one thing you don't want to do is ask bad questions or get too personal. According to a CareerBuilder survey, those are two of the biggest mistakes job applicants make.

23. Is there anything else you'd like me to know?

At this point, you'd want to express your gratitude at being invited to interview and reiterate how interested you are in the position.

Being sincere goes a long way here, and it wouldn't hurt to schmooze the interviewer a little if you can. Research shows that interviewees who make an effort to ingratiate themselves do the best in hiring situations.

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at rebecca@creditdonkey.com. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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