Preparing for job interviews can often feel like a Sisyphean task. With so many possible questions that an interviewer could ask you, how can you realistically practice answering each one? The good news is that most interviews are based on a cache of basic questions that you’re almost certain to be asked in one form or another. These are questions to determine the Ws: who you are, why you’re interviewing at the company and what you will bring to the role.
“In the job interview, you are literally auditioning for a new role,” writes Cathy Salit in the Harvard Business Review. “Like any good performer, you need to practice in advance,” she says. Use the tips here to craft your authentic response to commonly asked interview questions. Think about related questions that these answers could also be used for. Then take the time to craft a full response and rehearse saying it out loud — practice makes perfect!
1. Why are you interested in this job?
This is one of the most important questions you’ll be asked, so feel free to really think this one through. This is basically your chance to show the interviewer why you’ll be a perfect fit for the role, and what about the role and company attracts you. To give a full answer, you can tell an anecdote about how your background has led you to applying for this position, and how this role is critical for moving you forward in your career.
2. Why are you interested in this company?
Researching a company before the interview always pays off — the more, the better. Does the company have a new product release next week? Was the CEO on the cover of Forbes last month? If so, you should know. It’s also important to not just research the company’s history and the latest news stories it’s been mentioned in, but additionally to gather as much information as you can about the internal company culture. That way, you can speak intelligently about why the company’s culture and values attracted you, and why you’ll be a good fit there.
3. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“Tell me about yourself” is one of those vague questions that can cause you to ramble and get lost if you’re not prepared. But it’s also a common enough interview question that you should definitely have a clear, concise answer prepared for it. Think about this answer in three phases: what you do now, what you did previously and what you want to do next. Make sure to keep it relevant to the job you’re applying for. This means if you’re applying for an accountant position, talk about your previous accounting experience. You can also mention other things you’ve done and interests you have, but keep it mostly focused on accounting. In addition, don’t fall into the trap of regurgitating your resume. This is the time for you to talk about why you’re passionate about the field you’re in. If you can tell a gripping anecdote about what got you into this field, or the moment you realized you loved it, all the better.
4. Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?
First off, if your five-year plan involves working somewhere different than the company you’re interviewing with, it’s best not to mention it. Rather, talk broadly about the type of projects you would like to be working on, as well as the environment and people you would hope to be surrounded by. Try not to get into the specifics of what salary you want to receive and what title you would like to have. Instead, speak about your overarching goals, and how this job will help you accomplish them.
5. What are your strengths?
A simple list of four attributes is not what the interviewer is looking for with this question. You need to flesh each of these attributes out — preferably with compelling, relevant anecdotes. Instead of just saying “I’m a good listener,” tell a story about how you caught something important a client had said during a meeting that none of your other colleagues had heard. These are the stories the interviewer will remember when they think back to the interview.
6. What are your weaknesses?
This question is tricky: it requires a more genuine answer than “my greatest weakness is that I can never leave the office because I love work too much,” but also not something that would set off a red flag in the interviewer’s mind, like “I have trouble not invading the private lives of my employees.” This question is also not an invitation to beat up on yourself (in fact, self-deprecation, even if it’s humorous, should be at avoided at all costs during an interview), but rather to show your capacity for introspection and your potential for improvement. Be genuine — talk about something you struggle with, but make sure to pair it with what you’ve done, and what you are doing, to improve that weakness. Show your growth strategy.
7. How do you handle mistakes?
This is another great opportunity to tell a compelling story about how you’ve grown in your past jobs and experiences. Think of an anecdote you can tell about a mistake you made, what you did about it and how you learned from it. Make sure to make the “what you learned” universal — talk about how you can apply that strategy to future mistakes with similar success.
8. Why are you leaving your current job?
First of all, avoid bad-mouthing your current job, manager and co-workers at all costs — even if they truly deserve it. Your interviewer is not the person to tell these things. It gives a bad impression, especially because the interviewer probably doesn’t want their company to be the one you’re badmouthing in your next interview. Answer this question by talking about your potential for growth in the new job you’re applying for. Maybe the job you currently have didn’t turn out to be the best fit for your goals and aspirations — this is a great opportunity to spell out more about what your goals and aspirations are, and why they align with the role you’re applying for, as well as the values of the new company. In short, make your answer forward-looking, not backward-looking.