These frequently asked questions touch on the essentials hiring managers want to know about every candidate: who you are, why you’re a fit for the job, and what you’re good at. You may not be asked exactly these questions in exactly these words, but if you have answers in mind for them, you’ll be prepared for just about anything the interviewer throws your way.
1. Tell Me About Yourself.
This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it’s crucial. Here's the deal: Don’t give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead, give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Muse writer and MIT career counselor Lily Zhang recommends using a present, past, future formula. Talk a little bit about your current role (including the scope and perhaps one big accomplishment), then give some background as to how you got there and the experience you have that’s relevant. Finally, segue into why you want—and would be perfect for—this role.
2. How Did You Hear About This Position?
Another seemingly innocuous interview question, this is actually a perfect opportunity to stand out and show your passion for and connection to the company. For example, if you found out about the gig through a friend or professional contact, name-drop that person, then share why you were so excited about the job. If you discovered the company through an event or article, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what, specifically, caught your eye about the role.
3. Why Do You Want to Work at This Company?
Beware of generic answers! If what you say can apply to a whole slew of other companies, or if your response makes you sound like every other candidate, you’re missing an opportunity to stand out. Zhang recommends one of four strategies: Do your research and point to something that makes the company unique that really appeals to you; talk about how you’ve watched the company grow and change since you first heard of it; focus on the organization’s opportunities for future growth and how you can contribute to it; or share what’s gotten you excited from your interactions with employees so far. Whichever route you choose, make sure to be specific. And if you can’t figure out why you’d want to work at the company you’re interviewing with by the time you’re well into the hiring process? It might be a red flag telling you that this position is not the right fit.
4. Why Do You Want This Job?
Again, companies want to hire people who are passionate about the job, so you should have a great answer about why you want the position. (And if you don’t? You probably should apply elsewhere.) First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you’re doing great things, so I want to be a part of it”).
5. Why Should We Hire You?
This interview question seems forward (not to mention intimidating!), but if you’re asked it, you’re in luck: There’s no better setup for you to sell yourself and your skills to the hiring manager. Your job here is to craft an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, but also deliver great results; that you’ll really fit in with the team and culture; and that you’d be a better hire than any of the other candidates.
6. What Can You Bring to the Company?
When interviewers ask this question, they don’t just want to hear about your background. They want to see that you understand what problems and challenges they’re facing as a company or department as well as how you’ll fit into the existing organization. Read the job description closely, do your research on the company, and make sure you pay attention in your early-round interviews to understand any issues you’re being hired to solve. Then, the key is to connect your skills and experiences to what the company needs and share an example that shows how you’ve done similar or transferable work in the past.
7. What Are Your Greatest Strengths?
Here’s an opening to talk about something that makes you great—and a great fit for this role. When you’re answering this question, think quality, not quantity. In other words, don’t rattle off a list of adjectives. Instead, pick one or a few (depending on the question) specific qualities that are relevant to this position and illustrate them with examples. Stories are always more memorable than generalizations. And if there’s something you were hoping to
mention because it makes you a great candidate, but you haven’t had a chance yet, this would be a perfect time.
8. What Do You Consider to Be Your Weaknesses?
What your interviewer is really trying to do with this question—beyond identifying any major red flags—is to gauge your self-awareness and honesty. So, “I can’t meet a deadline to save my life” is not an option—but neither is “Nothing! I’m perfect!” Strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, maybe you’ve never been strong at public speaking, but you’ve recently volunteered to run meetings to help you get more comfortable when addressing a crowd.
Questions About Your Work History
The meat of any job interview is your track record at work: what you accomplished, how you succeeded or failed (and how you dealt with it), and how you behaved in real time in actual work environments. If you prep a few versatile stories to tell about your work history and practice answering behavioral interview questions, you’ll be ready to go.
9. What Is Your Greatest Professional Achievement?
Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving amazing results in past jobs, so don’t be shy when answering this interview question! A great way to do so is by using the STAR method: situation, task, action, results. Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), then describe what you did (the action) and what you achieved (the result): “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 person-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”
10. Tell Me About a Challenge or Conflict You’ve Faced at Work, and How You Dealt With It.
You’re probably not eager to talk about conflicts you’ve had at work during a job interview. But if you’re asked directly, don’t pretend you’ve never had one. Be honest about a difficult situation you’ve faced (but without going into the kind of detail you’d share venting to a friend). “Most people who ask are only looking for evidence that you’re willing to face these kinds of issues head-on and make a sincere attempt at coming to a resolution,” former recruiter Richard Moy says. Stay calm and professional as you tell the story (and answer any follow-up questions), spend more time talking about the resolution than the conflict, and mention what you’d do differently next time to show “you’re open to learning from tough experiences.”
11. Tell Me About a Time You Demonstrated Leadership Skills.
You don’t have to have a fancy title to act like a leader or demonstrate leadership skills. Think about a time when you headed up a project, took the initiative to propose an alternate process, or helped motivate your team to get something done. Then use the STAR method to tell your interviewer a story, giving enough detail to paint a picture (but not so much that you start rambling) and making sure you spell out the result. In other words, be clear about why you’re telling this particular story and connect all the dots for the interviewer.
12. What’s a Time You Disagreed With a Decision That Was Made at Work?
The ideal anecdote here is one where you handled a disagreement professionally and learned something from the experience. To open, make a short statement to frame the rest of your answer, one that nods at the ultimate takeaway or the reason you’re telling this story. For example: “I learned early on in my professional career that it’s fine to disagree if you can back up your hunches with data.” And to close strong, you can either give a one-sentence summary of your answer (“In short…”) or talk briefly about how what you learned or gained from this experience would help you in the role you’re interviewing for.
13. Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake.
You’re probably not too eager to dig into past blunders when you’re trying to impress an interviewer and land a job.But talking about a mistake and winning someone over aren’t mutually exclusive, Moy says. In fact, if you do it right, it can help you. The key is to be honest without placing blame on other people, then explain what you learned from your mistake and what actions you took to ensure it didn’t happen again. At the end of the day, employers are looking for folks who are self-aware, can take feedback, and care about doing better.
14. Tell Me About a Time You Failed.
This question is very similar to the one about making a mistake, and you should approach your answer in much the same way. Make sure you pick a real, actual failure you can speak honestly about. Start by making it clear to the interviewer how you define failure. For instance: “As a manager, I consider it a failure whenever I’m caught by surprise. I strive to know what’s going on with my team and their work.” Then situate your story in relation to that definition and explain what happened. Finally, don’t forget to share what you learned. It’s OK to fail—everyone does sometimes—but it’s important to show that you took something from the experience.
15. Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?
This is a toughie, but one you can be sure you’ll be asked. Definitely keep things positive—you have nothing to gain by being negative about your current employer. Instead, frame things in a way that shows that you’re eager to take on new opportunities and that the role you’re interviewing for is a better fit for you. For example, “I’d really love to be part of product development from beginning to end, and I know I’d have that opportunity here.” And if you were let go from your most recent job? Keep it simple: “Unfortunately, I was let go,” is a totally acceptable answer.
16. Why Were You Fired?
Of course, they may ask the follow-up question: Why were you let go? If you lost your job due to layoffs, you can simply say, “The company [reorganized/merged/was acquired] and unfortunately my [position/department] was eliminated.” But what if you were fired for performance reasons? Your best bet is to be honest (the job-seeking world is small, after all). But it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Frame it as a learning experience: Share how you’ve grown and how you approach your job and life now as a result. And if you can portray your growth as an advantage for this next job, even better.
17. Why Was There a Gap in Your Employment?
Maybe you were taking care of children or aging parents, dealing with health issues, or traveling the world. Maybe it just took you a long time to land the right job. Whatever the reason, you should be prepared to discuss the gap (or gaps) on your resume. Seriously, practice saying your answer out loud. The key is to be honest, though that doesn’t mean you have to share more details than you’re comfortable with. If there are skills or qualities you honed or gained in your time away from the workforce—whether through volunteer work, running a home, or responding to a personal crisis—you can also talk about how those would help you excel in this role.
18. Can You Explain Why You Changed Career Paths?
Don’t be thrown off by this question—just take a deep breath and explain to the hiring manager why you’ve made the career decisions you have. More importantly, give a few examples of how your past experience is transferable to the new role. This doesn’t have to be a direct connection; in fact, it’s often more impressive when a candidate can show how seemingly irrelevant experience is very relevant to the role.
19. What’s Your Current Salary?
It’s now illegal for some or all employers to ask you about your salary history in several cities and countries, including New York City; Louisville, North Carolina; California; and Massachusetts (Not In India). But no matter where you live, it can be stressful to hear this question. Don’t panic—there are several possible strategies you can turn to. For example, you can deflect the question, Muse career coach Emily Liou says, with a response like: “Before discussing any salary, I’d really like to learn more about what this role entails. I’ve done a lot of research on [Company] and I am certain if it’s the right fit, we’ll be able to agree on a number that’s fair and competitive to both parties.” You can also reframe the question around your salary expectations or requirements (see question 38) or choose to share the number if you think it will work in your favor.
20. What Do You Like Least About Your Job?
Tread carefully here! The last thing you want to do is let your answer devolve into a rant about how terrible your current company is or how much you hate your boss or that one coworker. The easiest way to handle this question with poise is to focus on an opportunity the role you’re interviewing for offers that your current job doesn’t. You can keep the conversation positive and emphasize why you’re so excited about the job.
Questions About You and Your Goals
Another crucial aspect of an interview? Getting to know a candidate. That’s why you’ll likely encounter questions about how you work, what you’re looking for (in a job, a team, a company, and a manager), and what your goals are. It’s a good sign if your interviewers want to make sure you’ll be a good fit—or add—to the team. Use it as an opportunity!
21. What Are You Looking for in a New Position?
Hint: Ideally the same things that this position has to offer. Be specific.
22. What Type of Work Environment Do You Prefer?
Hint: Ideally one that's similar to the environment of the company you're applying to. Be specific.
23. What’s Your Management Style?
The best managers are strong but flexible, and that’s exactly what you want to show off in your answer. (Think something like, “While every situation and every team member requires a bit of a different strategy, I tend to approach my employee relationships as a coach...”) Then share a couple of your best managerial moments, like when you grew your team from five to 15 or coached an underperforming employee to become the company’s top salesperson.
24. How Would Your Boss and Coworkers Describe You?
First, be honest (remember, if you make it to the final round, the hiring manager will be calling your former bosses and coworkers for references!). Then try to pull out strengths and traits you haven’t discussed in other aspects of the interview, such as your strong work ethic or your willingness to pitch in on other projects when needed.
25. How Do You Deal With Pressure or Stressful Situations?
Here’s another question you may feel the urge to sidestep in an effort to prove you’re the perfect candidate who can handle anything. But it’s important not to dismiss this one (i.e. don’t say, “I just put my head down and push through it,” or, “I don’t get stressed out”). Instead, talk about your go-to strategies for dealing with stress (whether it’s meditating for 10 minutes every day or making sure you go for a run or keeping a super-detailed to-do list) and how you communicate and otherwise proactively try to mitigate pressure. If you can give a real example of a stressful situation you navigated successfully, all the better.
26. What Do You Like to Do Outside of Work?
Interviewers will sometimes ask about your hobbies or interests outside of work in order to get to know you a little better—to find out what you’re passionate about and devote time to during your off-hours. It’s another chance to let your personality shine. Be honest, but keep it professional and be mindful of answers that might make it sound like you’re going to spend all your time focusing on something other than the job you’re applying for.
27. Are You Planning on Having Children?
Questions about your family status, gender (“How would you handle managing a team of all men?”), nationality (“Where were you born?”), religion, or age are illegal—but they still get asked (and frequently). Of course, not always with ill intent—the interviewer might just be trying to make conversation and might not realize these are off-limits—but you should definitely tie any questions about your personal life (or anything else you think might be inappropriate) back to the job at hand. For this question, think: “You know, I’m not quite there yet. But I am very interested in the career paths at your company. Can you tell me more about that?”
28. How Do You Prioritize Your Work?
Your interviewers want to know that you can manage your time, exercise judgement, communicate, and shift gears when needed. Start by talking about whatever system you’ve found works for you to plan your day or week, whether it’s a to-do list app you swear by or a color-coded spreadsheet. This is one where you’ll definitely want to lean on a real-life example. So go on to describe how you’ve reacted to a last-minute request or another unexpected shift in priorities in the past, incorporating how you evaluated and decided what to do and how you communicated with your manager and/or teammates about it.
29. What Are You Passionate About?
You’re not a robot programmed to do your work and then power down. You’re a human, and if someone asks you this question in an interview, it’s probably because they want to get to know you better. The answer can align directly with the type of work you’d be doing in that role—like if, for example, you’re applying to be a graphic designer and spend all of your free time creating illustrations and data visualizations to post on Instagram.
But don’t be afraid to talk about a hobby that’s different from your day-to-day work. Bonus points if you can “take it one step further and connect how your passion would make you an excellent candidate for the role you are applying for,” says Muse career coach Al Dea. Like if you’re a software developer who loves to bake, you might talk about how the ability to be both creative and precise informs your approach to code.
30. What Motivates You?
Before you panic about answering what feels like a probing existential question, consider that the interviewer wants to make sure you’re excited about this role at this company, and that you’ll be motivated to succeed if they pick you. So think back to what has energized you in previous roles and pinpoint what made your eyes light up when you read this job description. Pick one thing, make sure it’s relevant to the role and company you’re interviewing for, and try to weave in a story to help illustrate your point. If you’re honest, which you should be, your enthusiasm will be palpable.
31. What Are Your Pet Peeves?
Here’s another one that feels like a minefield. But it’ll be easier to navigate if you know why an interviewer is asking it. Most likely, they want to make sure you’ll thrive at their company—and get a glimpse of how you deal with conflict. So be certain you pick something that doesn’t contradict the culture and environment at this organization while still being honest. Then explain why and what you’ve done to address it in the past, doing your best to stay calm and composed. Since there’s no need to dwell on something that annoys you, you can keep this response short and sweet.
32. How Do You Like to Be Managed?
This is another one of those questions that’s about finding the right fit—both from the company’s perspective and your own. Think back on what worked well for you in the past and what didn’t. What did previous bosses do that motivated you and helped you succeed and grow? Pick one or two things to focus on and always articulate them with a positive framing (even if your preference comes from an experience where your manager behaved in the opposite way, phrase it as what you would want a manager to do). If you can give a positive example from a great boss, it’ll make your answer even stronger.
33. Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you've set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn't the first time you’re considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.