Answers to 10 most common job interview questions
Here are the most commonly asked interview questions you can expect to be asked in your interview and advice on how you can craft effective responses.
Too many job seekers stumble through interviews as if the questions asked are coming out of left field. But many interview questions are to be expected. Study this list of popular and frequently asked interview questions and answers ahead of time so you'll be ready to answer them with confidence.
1. What are your weaknesses?
"What are your weaknesses" is one of the most popular questions interviewers ask. It is also the most dreaded question of all. Handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits: "I am always working on improving my communication skills to be a more effective presenter. I recently joined Toastmasters, which I find very helpful."
2. Why should we hire you?
Answer "Why should we hire you?" by summarizing your experiences: "With five years' experience working in the financial industry and my proven record of saving the company money, I could make a big difference in your company. I'm confident I would be a great addition to your team."
3. Why do you want to work here?
By asking you, "Why do you want to work here?" the interviewer is listening for an answer that indicates you've given this some thought and are not sending out resumes just because there is an opening. For example, "I've selected key companies whose mission statements are in line with my values, where I know I could be excited about what the company does, and this company is very high on my list of desirable choices."
4. What are your goals?
When you're asked, "What are your goals?" sometimes it's best to talk about short-term and intermediate goals rather than locking yourself into the distant future. For example, "My immediate goal is to get a job in a growth-oriented company. My long-term goal will depend on where the company goes. I hope to eventually grow into a position of responsibility."
5. Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?
If an interviewer asks, "Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) your job?" and you're unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context: "I managed to survive two rounds of corporate downsizing, but the third round was a 20% reduction in the workforce, which included me."
If you are employed, focus on what you want in your next job: "After two years, I made the decision to look for a company that is team-focused, where I can add my experience."
6. When were you most satisfied in your job?
The interviewer who asks, "When were you most satisfied in your job?" wants to know what motivates you. If you can relate an example of a job or project when you were excited, the interviewer will get an idea of your preferences. "I was very satisfied in my last job, because I worked directly with the customers and their problems; that is an important part of the job for me."
7. What can you do for us that other candidates can't?
Emphasize what makes you unique when you're asked, "What can you do for us that other candidates can't?". This will take an assessment of your experiences, skills and traits. Summarize concisely: "I have a unique combination of strong technical skills, and the ability to build strong customer relationships. This allows me to use my knowledge and break down information to be more user-friendly."
8. What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?
It's time to pull out your old performance appraisals and boss's quotes to answer the question, "What are three positive things your last boss would say about you?". This is a great way to brag about yourself through someone else's words: "My boss has told me that I am the best designer he has ever had. He knows he can rely on me, and he likes my sense of humor."
9. What salary are you seeking?
When you're asked, "What salary are you seeking?" it is to your advantage if the employer tells you the range first. Prepare by knowing the going rate in your area, and your bottom line or walk-away point. One possible answer would be: "I am sure when the time comes, we can agree on a reasonable amount. In what range do you typically pay someone with my background?"
10. If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Don't be alarmed if you're asked, "If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?" Interviewers use this type of psychological question to see if you can think quickly. If you answer "a bunny," you will make a soft, passive impression. If you answer "a lion," you will be seen as aggressive. What type of personality would it take to get the job done? What impression do you want to make?
One last question for you: Are you looking for more ways to stand apart from the competition? Of course you are. Join Monster today. As a member, you'll get career advice and useful tips sent directly to your inbox. It's a quick and easy way to stay one step ahead.
What to expect at the second interview
Round one of the job interview is in the books. Now it’s time for round two. Follow these tips to help you prepare and come out swinging.
Congratulations, you did it—you survived the screening interview and got a callback. While the first round of a job interview is all about going over your qualifications and resume, round two is often where the real vetting happens.
“During a second interview, you will need to emphasize your added value to the organization, enthusiasm for the position, and demonstrate that you are a good fit,” says Lynn Berger, a New York City–based career counselor and coach.
To get you ready for round two, Monster mapped out some of the most common questions and situations you’ll face so you can get prepped and be ready to dazzle your interviewers.
New people to impress
A first job interview is typically with an HR person or a department supervisor, but once you’re brought back in, a higher-up manager might sit in. And sometimes, you might even meet with several team members who you’d be working with directly.
How to prep: Read up on the company to understand the employer’s brand, culture, and recent events, and research the people you’ll be interviewing with (if you are told who that will be), says Christol Johnson, manager of career services for El Centro College in Dallas. “Employers are impressed when a candidate knows a lot about them,” she says.
A different setting
Just because the first interview took place in a closed meeting room or office doesn’t mean your next meeting will have the same feel. “It’s very dependent on the organization, so be prepared for meeting more people and maybe it not being all sit-down,” says Berger. You might go out to lunch, or be taken on an office tour, for example.
How to prep: Practice positive body language. “Your presentation and the impression you leave with the interviewer could help the employer decide to make you an offer,” Johnson says. So if you’re walking around the office, stand tall, smile, and make eye contact with staffers. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good handshake. And, of course, be mindful of table manners if food or drink is involved.
Typical second interview questions
Every employer uses different interview tactics, but second-interview questions often require you to reveal not only your competencies, but also your ethics and values and how they fit with the company culture.
“Situational and behavioral interview questions are designed to learn a candidate’s approach to real-world situations,” says Johnson. (We’re talking about those “What would you do if…” or “Tell me about a time when…” questions.)
In addition, some questions are designed to gauge how you prefer to communicate, and your thoughts on work/life balance.
How to prep: Prepare valid examples of your accomplishments—times when you led a team, managed a project, or turned a negative situation into a positive outcome, says Johnson. Ultimately, the employer wants to know that you can handle yourself if challenges arise, as well as hear about how you’ve navigated difficult workplace situations or adapted to change as necessary.
As for oddball questions like what you read last or what animal you most identify with, there’s really no way to be 100% ready for those. The interviewer’s goal here is to get some insight into your personality, while also observing if you’re easily flustered.
How to prep: “Take a step back and understand why they’re asking the question,” says Berger, rather than blurt something out because you let your nerves get the best of you. Try pausing a moment to collect your thoughts (you can say something like, “That’s a question I haven’t heard before,” to buy yourself some extra time), and then give a simple but thoughtful answer.
During a second interview, the tables will once again be turned on you, with the interviewers opening the floor for you to ask questions. In the second interview, you want to get into specifics of the position.
“This is your chance to get a sense of the daily responsibilities, priorities of the job, and the goals,” says Berger. You can also ask about the career trajectory of people who’ve held the position before you, and what impact your role has on the company overall.
How to prep: Look over the original job posting and think back to lingering questions you might have had after your first interview. Again, this is where your research skills can come in handy; ask about recent company news and announcements. As for what not to ask? Don’t bring up salary and benefits just yet—that will come later in the offer stage.
Prove you fit in
Because so much of the second interview is about determining if you’re the candidate who’s the best fit, much of it does come down to how well you hit it off with the employer, says Berger. “You might have someone who asks questions very dryly, while someone else is more conversational,” she says.
How to prep: Try to take cues from the interviewer regarding how casual and conversational you should be. As far as the content of your responses, try putting yourself in their shoes.
“Your ability to identify with the employer’s operations, mindset, and processes will help them determine your fit/ability,” says Johnson. When possible, highlight a connection to the employer to indicate that you’re on the same page.
No matter how you think the second interview goes, if you really want the job, always try to end on a positive note and be explicit about your interest in the role. That’s something simple, but surprisingly, not everyone does it, says Berger. Just being enthusiastic can leave a lasting impression and set you apart from an equally qualified but more reserved candidate.
Think (and prepare) ahead
While the first job interview is more of a get-to-know-you scenario, the second round is much more about the hiring manager picturing you in the role at the company. It's an opportunity not only for the company to check you out, but also for you to determine if they're right for you. And if you both decide to move forward, there will be additional considerations to work through. Could you use some help navigating the process? Join Monster today. As a member, you’ll get interview insights, career advice, and useful tips sent directly to your inbox. From additional interview questions (hello, salary expectations) to negotiating the eventual job offer, Monster can help you position yourself to come out on top.
9 surprisingly effective job interview exercises from improv coaches
A successful job interview requires confidence, thinking on your feet and quickly finding the right words to impress your audience—the same qualities that improv comedy performers need to demonstrate on stage.
And the very exercises they use to prepare can also help you make a great impression. Improv exercises can “allow the interviewee to really make a connection with the interviewer and make the interviewer feel like the interviewee really grasps onto any information that is shared,” says Rebecca Stuard, creative director of Improvolution in the New York City area.
Try these 9 exercises from improv coaches to limber up physically and mentally for your next job interview.
Flex your imagination
“Take any object—a belt, a pen, a piece of paper—and use it in any way, other than the way it was originally intended. For example, instead of only holding up pants, a belt can be a dog leash, a snake on the ground or a jump rope; a pen can be a dart, a syringe or a lightsaber; and a piece of paper can be an airplane, a telescope or a ball. This exercise gives you practice using your imagination, and is one that is often used in actual interviews to test creativity and flexibility.” —Bob Kulhan, founder and CEO of Business Improv in the New York City area
Put your ears to work
“With a partner, pretend you’re in a scenario, such as two business partners on a plane. Each person must start their sentence with the last big idea of their partner’s sentence. For example, Partner 1 says, ‘I am so excited to go to Florida for vacation. I haven’t been since I started my own cupcake company.’ Partner 2 replies, ‘Yeah, starting your own company is a time-consuming thing...’ This enforces listening and promotes not having an agenda when you speak. You must listen to the end, and although you may have ideas or ‘comebacks,’ you listen to everything before you speak.” —Rebecca Stuard, creative director of Improvolution in the New York City area
Be honest with yourself
“A concept we think about in improv is turning a negative into a positive. Instead of only focusing on the best parts of your job and your personality, take an honest inventory of what isn’t great about you, and figure out what you need to do to not fall into old, less-than-productive patterns. Be constructive and learn from previous jobs, rather than just talking smack about your old boss. Being able to own your own deal and be honest, funny and self-effacing can be refreshing.” —Jeremy Brothers, artistic director of Improv Asylum in the Boston area
“A warm-up exercise can help you relax, get out of your head and into the mental state where you are fully present and in the moment. A great warm-up you can do alone to get in the right mental state shortly before your interview is called ‘Shake ’em 8s.’ Hold your right arm out and shake your right hand, counting up to 8, then repeat the shake and count for your left hand, right foot and left foot. Then repeat the whole process counting up to 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2, until you finally shake each limb 1 time.” —Bob Kulhan, founder & CEO of Business Improv in the New York City area
Harness the power of pretend
“Practice the art of ‘if you don't know it, pretend you do,’ either with friends or by recording yourself. Launch yourself into a seminar about a topic that you know nothing about. The point is not to be correct; it's to practice speaking authoritatively. That way, when you speak about something you do know about, you'll realize you know more than you give yourself credit for and be comfortable with your authoritative tone.” —Holly Mandel, founder of iMergence in Los Angeles
“The main tenet of improv is ‘Yes, and…,’ which emphasizes taking what’s introduced by others, accepting it and building upon it. Practicing this type of response can help someone who might feel self-conscious or doesn't know what to say next. Start with the question, ‘Why do you want this job?’ and just start talking; do not stop, and don't judge in your head or think, ‘I need to start over.’ Practice going and going and thinking of more reasons, even if they sound crazy.” —Holly Mandel, founder of iMergence in Los Angeles
Play both sides
“With a partner, create a situation with a potential conflict, such as parents at a police station after their kids are picked up for underage drinking. One participant plays an uptight do-gooder; the other is laid-back and thinks laws are meant to be broken. Have a conversation where everyone takes turns expressing how they feel and responding. Once it feels complete, stop the scene and switch sides; then go through it again with the roles reversed. As improvisers, we want to be free from having to be ‘correct’—instead, we want to be freed up and just do what our character would do. This breeds acceptance and teamwork in any situation because it forces you to ‘defend’ the other side.” —Rebecca Stuard, creative director of Improvolution in the New York City area
Turn a word into a story
“Practice making up stories based on a random word or sentence you find in an arbitrary news article that you have not read. This practice will not only help with reacting and adapting to unexpected questions, it will help you develop the skills needed to tell coherent stories in real time.” —Bob Kulhan, founder & CEO of Business Improv in the New York City area
Get a status update
“One of the ways we teach people how to play characters in improv is to think about status—the comfort level someone has in any given situation or environment. Someone with high status can own a situation outright; someone with low status might struggle. For a job interview, try looking at everyone as if they’re trying to sell you on working at their company. At some point, if you’re buying what they’re selling, start to consider everyone [as having] equal status—imagine them as your peers in a company. Are these people you want to see every day? If so, great—hopefully they’ll feel the same way about you. If not, it’s not the right scene for you.” —Jeremy Brothers, artistic director of Improv Asylum in the Boston area