Heath Alva
Posted February 12, 2021

The top job interview questions and how to answer them to get that dream job

You've gotten the call for an interview, now get the tips on how to answer the top interviewing questions to get hired.
Heath Alva
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The top job interview questions and how to answer them to get that dream job
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Few things feel better than getting a “we’d like to bring you in for an interview” email or phone call.

But uneasiness replaces that joy after only a few moments.

Now, you have to prepare for the interview — and a big part of that is knowing how to answer all the questions companies throw at you.

Preparing for each job interview question is one of the toughest parts of the whole interview process.

There are dozens of possible questions, and you don’t know ahead of time which ones they’ll ask. All the while, you’re on the spot, with a hiring manager (or several) awaiting your answer.

To help you nail your next job interview, we’ve put together a list of typical interview questions. Before we get to those, though, let’s look at some general interview preparation tips.

How to prepare yourself for a job interview?

Here are 5 tips to help you prepare for your next interview:

Know your resume inside-and-out

The employer only has information from your resume and cover letter, so they could bring anything from it up at any time. Know every detail of your resume, from previous job duties to certifications to skills. Be sure to go through your experience section of your resume to review and remind yourself of past experiences.

Bringing hard copies of your resume shows that you’re prepared and considerate, whether or not the interviewer forgets to bring the copy you sent them. Print off and bring in several copies just in case you have multiple interviewers.

Dress for the job and company

Not all interviews call for formal wear. Some companies — often in creative industries like marketing — have casual dress codes. Interview attire might entail more business casual wear.

When in doubt, though, it’s better to be more dressed up than less.

Another tip: make sure your outfit is clean, pressed, and ready to go the night before. This will minimize prep time in the morning and take a bit of stress off your shoulders.

Relax

Even the most experienced professionals get a knot in their stomach when interviewing. It might be hard, but try to relax.

Here are some quick tips:

  • Listen to calming music or sounds on the way to the interview.
  • Take several slow, deep breaths outside before walking into the building. Fresh air can help clear your mind.
  • Walk with good posture. It will make you feel more confident.
  • Get into an outcome-independent mindset. Tell yourself mentally that you “don’t need the job”, and you’ll feel less stressed about the outcome.

Remind yourself that you’ve done plenty of research and preparation ahead of time. You’re more than ready. You can knock it out.

Don’t memorize your answers

Memorized answers can sound canned and unnatural. Plus, it’s impossible to prepare for every possible question — even with this guide.

Instead, your best course of action is to research the company ahead of time and thoroughly understand your main talking points. That way, you can give impressive, intelligent answers that demonstrate how your background makes you the perfect fit, regardless of what they throw at you.

Why are job interviews so hard?

Job interviews are hard for several reasons, the main one being that hiring good employees is expensive for companies, so they want to take their time.

In 2016, a study found that the average cost of hiring an employee was around $4,129. It’s been a few years since then, but costs certainly haven’t dropped. Plus, they’ve got to pay that new hire a salary and benefits.

They don’t want to pick someone who ends up being the wrong fit or won’t last, only to have to start the process all over again.

Manpower’s Talent Shortage Survey found that 69% of employers have trouble filling jobs.

(Image Source)

The job search is also an emotional process for you, especially if you don’t have much job history. You might feel a stronger “need” for the job. The more invested you are in landing the gig, the harder and more stressful the process can seem.

Fortunately, being prepared to answer these common interview questions should make the whole process feel a lot easier for you.

The top interview questions and how to answer them

Tell me about yourself

This one seems confusing and vague. What do you tell them about yourself?

The answer: make it a short sales pitch for why you’re a good fit.

A good formula to follow is present, past, future.

Briefly detail your current or most recent role, then give a quick background about your general experience and how you got to your current job. Lastly, tell them your vision and goals for your career, and show how those align with the company.

What is your biggest strength/weakness?

Strengths are easy to talk about. Highlight your job-related and soft skills.

A job-related skill might be knowing how to use a particular software program, whereas a soft skill could be your critical thinking abilities or detail-orientation.

On the other hand, weaknesses might feel awkward to bring up in an interview — but employers value honesty and improvement.

So tell them about something relevant you’re not so good at, but explain how you’re working on improvement in that area.

For example, say your weakness is you take constructive criticism personally. Perhaps you’re addressing this by gritting your teeth and proactively seeking feedback on your work.

Tell me something that is not on your resume

Hearing this question is a good sign your employer likes you for the role. They want to learn more about your experience and see if you’d mesh well with company culture.

You have a few options here:

  • Highlight another strength.
  • Elaborate on how the company’s mission excites you and how your experience helps the company accomplish it.
  • Share a personal detail or story that makes you stand out and demonstrates your abilities further.

For an example of that last point, imagine you like working on cars and have a project car. Telling your employer a bit about that makes you stand out. It also lets you show off mechanical abilities, time management skills, and an eagerness to learn, among other valuable traits.

How do you handle success/failure?

Recruiters want to see that you don’t brag or gloat about success — they might also want to see that you give credit to others when it's due.

Tell a quick story or two of something you accomplished and how you celebrated and learned from it.

Like weaknesses, it can feel weird to talk about failures. Here, the interviewer wants to see that you stay calm and handle failures professionally.

The best way to address this question is to pick a specific example of a failure (that isn’t too recent) that you handled well and learned from. Explain how you’re working to avoid those failures in the future, and talk about the success you’ve seen by doing this.

Tell me an accomplishment you’re most proud of

Your answer to this common question tells the interviewer a few things.

  • It shines a light on your character, personality, attitudes, and how you handle success.
  • It reveals more about your background.

Pick an accomplishment relevant to the job opening and elaborate on it. Don’t give too short an answer.

It’s ok to let pride shine through a bit. You should be proud of past achievements.

At the same time, it’s good to avoid exaggerating. Remember that honesty is the best policy.

What is the biggest improvement you’ve made this year?

Employers want employees that are motivated to grow and develop their skills.

Describe a skill or ability relevant to the job that you’ve learned or sharpened over the past year. If you took a course to learn a skill, bring that up.

For example, maybe you earned an industry certification. Mention the certification, but focus on the skills you learned and how you can apply them to the role for which you’re interviewing.

Interview questions about leaving your old job

Why did you decide to leave your previous job?

People leave jobs for plenty of reasons.

Here are some example answers:

  • “I learned a lot from my current company, but I want a change.”
  • “Your company’s new products excite me.”
  • “I wanted to shift into an X role, but my previous company didn’t provide that opportunity.”
  • “Your company’s values match my personal values more than my previous employer.”

Were you fired from your previous job?

Getting fired is embarrassing, especially when interviewing for another job. It’s understandable to worry about your potential employer’s reaction to your firing.

Once again, the best route is pure honesty. After all, lying about firings is grounds for termination if the employer discovers it after hiring you.

So to answer this one, state that you were “fired” or “let go”.

Don’t talk bad about your former boss or company, though. Instead, take responsibility for what happened — even if you feel the firing was unjust — and focus on how you learned from it.

Why have you been without a job for so long?

This is another tough interview question. Long gaps between experience on a resume may signal to employers that other companies didn’t want to hire you for some reason

They want to know what you were doing, and if your skills are still sharp. Plus, they need to know why you want this job. Again, employers that suspect you’ll take any job are less likely to hire you.

Be honest here, but frame things positively. If your reason was attending school, just point that out on your resume.

For other things, such as getting laid off, make it clear that you’ve been looking carefully for the right fit (conveys that you aren’t looking for “just any” job). Also, explain that you’ve been keeping up with skills and the industry. Give some specific instances if possible.

Interview questions about salary expectations

What are your salary expectations?

Now, onto pay. This common interview question tells the interviewer a few things.

  • Do you value your skills and abilities?
  • Can the company afford you?
  • Will the company earn a return on hiring you?
  • Are you at the right career level for the role?

Research similar positions in your area using a site like Payscale.com to find out a salary range before the interview.

(Image Source)

When it’s interview time, give your employer a $5,000-$10,000 range of acceptable salaries based on your research.

Now, if you don’t know much about position, tell the company you’d like to learn the details of it before giving them a number or range.

What were your starting and final levels of compensation?

This helps the employer ensure you’re paid appropriately based on experience.

The straightforward answer here: tell them the starting and ending pay at any jobs they’d like to know about. Make sure the numbers you give match your references and any salary-related application questions.

If you’re changing industries or functions, pay might be quite different. Point this out so the employer isn’t confused and pays you appropriately.

Would you take a job that offered less money?

Interviewers ask this one to see if you’d jump ship for another company with a better offer soon after hiring. At the same time, they want to know if you value your skills and abilities.

To answer, talk about any positive reasons other than money that would cause you to take a job, such as a dream job opportunity, industry changes, or better work-life balance.

A good bet is to stick with the “more fulfilling work” or “better quality of life” answers. After all, most people would take a slight pay cut for a more fulfilling job or better work-life balance.

Interview questions about why you should be hired

Why are you the right fit for the job?

This one is essentially a sales pitch for why you’re the best person for the job. Tie together your skills and experience and demonstrate how you’d meet and exceed the role’s duties and expectations.

Be confident and say “I am the best fit...” instead of “I think/believe I’m the best fit because…”. The more confident you appear to the interviewers, the more comfortable they’ll feel about hiring you.

Why should we hire you?

This one is quite like the previous question, but a bit more bigger-picture.

Hit on your skills and experience a bit, but tie it in with your personality. Explain how this all makes you the best person for the role and fit in well with the company culture.

Once again, researching the company is important to nailing this question. Study the employer’s website, especially their About Us page, to learn more about them.

(Image Source)

Are you a leader or a follower?

Being a follower isn’t necessarily bad. In many cases, it’s good to let others take the lead.

What the interviewer is trying to figure out here is that you know when to step up and take charge, and when to step back and let someone guide you.

Here’s what you should do here:

  • Discuss a time where you took initiative and assumed responsibilities that may not have been in your job description.
  • Tell them about a situation where you followed directions or instructions successfully.
  • Focus on the skills you have that work well in both roles, and how you’ve helped previous companies move forward as both a leader and a follower.

In short, make it known to the employer that you can lead and follow, and you know when the time is right for each.

Nail your next interview

Interviews can leave your stomach feeling knotted, but being prepared helps to ease the nerves.

Do your research on the company beforehand, know how you’ll answer these questions, and follow the other preparation tips outlined earlier.

Most importantly, believe in yourself. If a company wants to interview you, they’re interested.


For more job search tips, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center

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Heath Alva
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Joan Miller

Is it Duluth

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Shayna Resnick

Thank you for sharing

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Zoraida Arboleda

This is thorough and very helpful! Thank you! :)

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