If you’ve been on more than one job interview, you may have noticed a little something: you are being asked similar interview questions. That’s not because your potential employers are unimaginative—it’s because these common questions reveal what everyone wants (and doesn’t want) in an employee.
Knowing what questions are coming isn’t enough. It’s how you answer them that counts. So we asked two experts what employers really want to here in response to these eight common interview questions, and how you can ace your next interview.
1. Tell me about yourself.
With this wide-open question—one that’s meant to help the potential employer learn more about you than what they read on your resume—there isn’t a set script. But you can really get off on the wrong foot by rambling, warns Sharlyn Lauby, president of consulting firm ITM Group Inc., founder of HR Bartender, and author of Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers. “Try to remember the job interview is a discussion,” she says, suggesting you talk for a few minutes, and then “ask the interviewer, ‘Would you like for me to explain more?’”
2. Why should we hire you over other candidates?
Career coach Hallie Crawford says this question is your chance to really shine. “You should have a short story or two prepared with leverageable results to illustrate how you would be an asset to their organization,” she instructs, adding you should aim to be specific with those stories. “Saying, ‘I will help you to sell more of your products,’ is not specific and not compelling language,” Crawford says. “But, ‘I increased sales by 15 percent over a three-year period at my last position, so I am confident that I can implement the necessary strategies to achieve similar results in this position,’ is specific with a positive result.”
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3. What would your manager—or colleagues—say about you?
Your potential employer doesn’t expect you to have psychic ability, but he or she does want you to be self-aware, Lauby explains. “Remember that what your manager would say [about you] is probably different than what colleagues would say, and be sure to share a story that might shed some light into your response.”
4. What is your preferred communication style?
“Every organization has preferred methods of communication,” explains Lauby, and so a potential employer asks this question to gauge whether you can keep up with that method. No matter what, “answer this question with honesty,” she says. “If you absolutely can’t stand communicating via text message, don’t say text messaging is your favorite, because you’ll be miserable.” At the same time, if there are methods with which you’re not familiar, “it’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know a lot about [that method], but I’m confident I can learn,’” Lauby says.
5. Why do you want to work for us?
It may not seem like it, but this question takes research, Crawford says. “Do your research about the company before your interview and pick at least two things that you like or admire about the company to talk about,” she suggests. “Tell them about your long term career goals as well, and how this position, and the organization, fit into that plan.”
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6. What would you say is your biggest strength? And weakness?
Like the communication question above, this one is all about honesty. “Don’t feel that your response needs to match what you said your manager and colleagues think of you,” says Lauby. “It’s perfectly natural to say, ‘One skill I haven’t been able to use much in my current role is [insert skill]. I hope to use it more in the role we’re discussing.’”
For your weakness, Lauby warns you shouldn’t make something up to in order to make yourself look better. “HR pros see through the, ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ response,” Lauby says. So instead, think of a skill you’re working on, and can demonstrate some improvement on. For example, say, “I recently attended a customer service training program and I was reminded of some problem-solving skills that I need to start using again,” suggests Lauby.
7. How have you overcome difficult work situations?
Your potential employer isn’t looking to hear a hero story—he or she wants to hear about a problem you solved that you could encounter at his or her workplace, and one that applies to the position you want there. So, “make sure that your situation would describe a strength or personality trait that they are looking for,” says Crawford. “Try to think of a situation that you dealt with that could happen at the new position if you became an employee. And focus on your strengths during the story, not the details of what happened.”
8. Why did you leave—or want to leave—your last job?
When it comes to this question, a potential employer wants to hear your motivation—not your childish complaints. “Most people want to know if it’s OK to share disagreements and the answer is yes—but share them the right way, meaning as an adult,” says Lauby. “I’ve had candidates tell me their boss is an a–h–e. That’s not the way. But you can say, ‘the company has made some changes to their values and we’re not in alignment anymore. I wish them nothing but the best, but it’s time for me to find another opportunity.”