10 Essential Interview Questions and Answers
You’ve heard the horror stories: interviewers asking, “Why are manhole covers round?” or “Which salad dressing best describes your work style?” And sure, those questions can pop up from time to time. For the most part, however, interviewers stick with the tried-and-true—the straightforward questions that tell them exactly what they need to know. Once you’ve landed an interview, you can master the interview basics with our handy guide. Then, read on for our top 10 list of the most common interview questions (and answers!) below. With some prep and practice, you’re sure to leave a lasting impression.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?
- Tell me about a difficult experience or conflict you had at work. How did you deal with it?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
- How would your colleagues and manager describe you?
- Why should we hire you?
- Do you have any questions for me?
It’s a classic for a reason. This open-ended invitation often kicks off an interview, so make sure you’re prepared with a smart response. Here’s the secret: ensure that almost everything you share about yourself relates back to how you can help this specific business. Don’t share your entire life story—they don’t care. Start with your education, walk them through your career, and focus on your relevant skills. Also, while you might be tempted to do a tell-all, try to keep it concise; this will ensure you focus your response on the most relevant experiences and skills. Feel free to throw in one memorable personal fact, too; it can help you make a personal connection. Still stuck? Check out our full guide here.
While your answer should be fully personalized for your story and your would-be job, here’s an example of a strong response:
“I started volunteering at the local animal shelter when I was eight, and last year I graduated with a degree in zoology. Throughout college, I did an externship as a keeper at the local zoo and spent every summer working as a vet tech at Dove Lewis. I took a position there after graduating and worked there for 1.5 years. Working with animals and saving lives every day was incredible, but I missed the research aspect of my work. I learned a ton about animal welfare and working with different people in times of stress. Now, I’m here in Florida because I love the heat—and the manatees! I’m so excited to have the opportunity to apply these skills and do exciting research as a conservation biologist at your wildlife rescue.”
It’s likely that you’ll be asked one or both of these questions—and you don’t want to say that your weakness is working too hard. Be honest and support your responses with clear examples and/or tangible results. For strengths, link everything back to this business and role. When it comes to weaknesses, don’t get too negative—mention a weakness, but one that wouldn’t negatively impact your ability to perform the job. Then, focus on how you’re working to overcome the weakness to be a better worker. If you’re still stressing, check out our full guide to handling the greatness weakness question. Here are two solid answers to get you started:
“I’m really strong at communicating, whether it’s defusing a challenging situation in the office or explaining a product to the client. In fact, at my last internship, I was named “Chief Communicator” at our end-of-summer awards ceremony. This will serve me well in this position, since I’ll be interfacing with a diverse array of clients all day as a customer service associate. I know that I’ll be able to walk them through their problems clearly and cheerfully, making them feel heard and valued.”
“I have a hard time asking for help. This can be good, because it forces me to work things out for myself. But sometimes, a person needs assistance, and that can be a challenge for me. At my last job at a resource-strapped nonprofit, I oversaw all print materials for our big fundraising event. I wasn’t familiar with the design program, and I ended up pulling really late nights to get everything designed and printed. It worked out, but I could have saved myself time and stress if I’d just asked for help from our contract designer. I learned from that, and now I’m really intentional about asking for help when I need it.”
At any company, you’ll be working with a lot of different people in a lot of new situations, and your interviewer wants to ensure that you can get along with everyone and stay cool under pressure. You can use the STAR method for this classic behavioral interview question. In telling your story, briefly describe the negative part of the situation, and then concentrate on the resolution and positive outcome.
“My classmate and I had very different ideas about how to move forward on a group term paper. We sat down and discussed each of our ideas, and soon realized they both had merit. So, we combined them and presented a unified, stronger front to the professor. By practicing empathy and understanding my classmate’s perspective, we wrote a great paper.”
The interviewer wants to know that you’re in this for the right reasons and for the long haul. Make it known that you have no reservations about this being the job for you, and emphasize what drew you to this career path. When you consider the future, you don’t have to have a specific role in mind, but ensure your career goals follow a natural progression from this position to more senior roles in the industry. Bonus points for using LinkedIn to research appealing senior roles at the company and referencing them directly.
“Once I’ve completed the virtual internship I’m currently doing, I’m excited to build my skill set as an on-site event planner for your organization, learning everything I can from your expert team. Over time, I’d like to work my way up, eventually taking on managerial roles and being the key point of contact for clients. Overall, I just want to keep moving forward and learning new things.”
Unless you’re planning to be a professional hermit, pretty much every job requires you to play well with others. Your interviewer wants to ensure that you’re versatile, so the best response should incorporate what you enjoy about each style of working.
“As a graphic designer, I spend a lot of time in my head, so I love working independently. I can control the timeline, I can focus, and I can be sure the work is done well. But I also love working in groups because many brains are better than one. We can bounce ideas off each other, creating even better ideas.”
This is your potential employer confirming that you’ve done your homework and are enthused about the work. Know the company, know the role, and know why you want to work there over anywhere else. Do your research and highlight the skills you’ll bring to the table.
“I’ve loved television since before I can remember, and your studio’s shows are among my favorites. Honestly, I got into film because of you. Being behind the scenes and being a part of that magic—even in the smallest of ways—is an amazing feeling, and I would be so honored to bring my knowledge to work here. Additionally, I do my best work as part of a team. Watching your behind-the-scenes production videos on your blog made it clear that you value collaboration and movement across roles.”
This question is your opportunity to brag—so don’t shy away from emphasizing your awesomeness. Yes, we’re all conditioned to be humble, but this isn’t the place for that. This is another behavioral interview question, so tell a story that highlights your unique value for the organization. Your answer will speak to your tangible accomplishments as well as your personal values; after all, this is what you believe is your true claim to fame.
“I previously worked as a project assistant at an organizational development firm, and one of the managers had to drop out of a big engagement one week beforehand due to a family emergency. Because I’d been working closely with the team, they asked me to take over and manage the engagement as the key client liaison. I flew to Texas for the delivery, and it went flawlessly. The VP was so happy that she asked me to come back for the remaining sessions, and the company’s now on track to generate record-breaking revenue, which they attribute to these culture change sessions. This was outside of the original scope of my job, and I was able to support the client with a successful engagement. Afterwards, my supervisor put me on track for a promotion to project manager.”
Interviewers ask this question to check that you have self-insight and understand how others perceive you. Including a “needs improvement” trait in your response shows that you’re self-aware and genuine.
“The other members of my a cappella group say that I’m a natural leader and very diplomatic, but that I need to learn to delegate some tasks to others. I’m working on that!”
This question is another opportunity to really sell yourself, with an emphasis on how your unique qualities can contribute to the company. Start by highlighting your best attributes, and then show how said attributes will benefit the company and make you a perfect fit.
“More than anything, I am an organized person. I pride myself on having never missed a deadline. I’ve never even pulled an all-nighter. Working as your executive assistant will let me help the company and make your life easier. I’m especially excited to be working for a company that produces project management software, so I can help others discover how improved organization means a better, less stressful life.”
This one is guaranteed, so you’d better be ready for it. Sure, an interview is mostly about determining if you’re the right fit for the job—but an interview is also about whether the job is a good fit for you. Repeat after us: never, ever say, “Nah, I’m good. You answered all my questions.” While it’s smart to prepare a few basic questions in advance, your interviewer will be especially impressed by your ability to ask engaged questions based on the interview and grounded in your knowledge about the company.
“What would a typical day look like for this role? What professional development opportunities would be available for someone in this role? Given recent trends in the industry, how do you see the company changing in the next two years?”
Nothing is certain in life, and an interviewer can throw pretty much anything at you. But if you’ve studied these essential questions and answers, you’ll be well on your way to the interview hall of fame—and the role of dreams.