How to Answer Common Job Interview Questions

One of the most nerve-racking parts of any job interview is knowing how to answer the job interview questions.

Succeeding at job interviews is a crucial part of the job consideration process. How you answer each of the questions the job interviewer asks will be the major determiner of how successful you are in the interview and whether you get the job! 

That's why it's important to have an idea of the most common job interview questions and how best to answer each one. That way, you can go into each job interview already knowing how to answer any question they through your way. 

Tips for Answering Job Interview Questions

How you answer each question isn't the only thing that matters. There are other tips you'll want to keep in mind during the interview while you are answering each question. 

For more information on the dos and don'ts of job interviews read, Job Interviews Tips. There you'll be able to go over even more dos and don'ts of job interviews. 

  • Practice with a Friend
  • Network and Socialize in your Field
  • Research the Business
  • Review the Job Description Again
  • Pick the right Outfit
  • Bring a Notepad and Pen
  • Avoid Fidgeting
  • Avoid Filler Words
  • Make Eye Contact
  • Keep Body Language Open and Friendly
  • Don't Criticize Others

How to Answer Common Job Interview Questions

The best way to successfully answer typical job interview questions is to have a story in mind for each possible question. Brief, informative stories can successfully answer the interviewer's question and illustrate your experience and skills at the same time. 

It's also helpful to practice answering questions by reviewing job interview question and answer examples. These sample job interview answers can help you better determine how you would want to answer each question. 

Download a Job Interview Questions Practice Sheet.

You want to take every opportunity during the interview to show your worth as an employee. So make sure to answer each interview question in a way that will help the interviewer see what you can bring to this job. 

"Tell me about yourself."

This question leaves interviewees everywhere at a loss for words. It's hard to talk about yourself, but you'll want to learn how to talk about yourself in relation to your field to answer this question.

Another way that interviewees mess up this question is by giving useless information about themselves. They hear, "tell me about yourself" and start talking about their likes, dislikes, and hobbies. But this isn't necessarily what an interviewer wants to know when they say, "tell me about yourself."

What an interviewer wants to know by asking this question are things related to the job. If you're applying for a science job they don't necessarily want to know how you like soccer. They want to know about you in relation to the field you've chosen, what you've done so far, what you hope to accomplish in the future, and who you are in relation to your chosen career.  

When an interviewer says, "tell me about yourself" they want to hear a brief overview of your career so far. 

Example Answer:

"I just finished school as a computer science major and interned over the summer with a local software development firm where I learned to put my knowledge to practical use. While I was there I worked on several important projects on my own and in teams. I learned to meet deadlines and coordinate with others to solve problems."

"What are your strengths?"

When an interviewer asks about your strengths and weaknesses they are trying to determine how you perform your job and what it will be like to work with you. 

When they ask about your strengths they want to know what good characteristics, skills, habits, and experiences you might bring to the table. For instance, maybe you feel you've had a lot of practice public speaking in your past employment and that public speaking has become a strength you've used in jobs before. 

If you have a particular strength within your field they want to know how you got there and what you learned from developing that strength. They want to see how you function as a person and potential employee.

Example Answer:

"One of my strengths is that I work really well with others. At my last job I worked in different groups of people for all our projects and learned to work under multiple management styles. I also had to figure out how to communicate effectively with different personality types. This taught me how to manage myself really well in almost any group setting."

"What are your weaknesses?"

It might seem counterintuitive to talk about your weaknesses with someone you hope hires you, but there is a specific purpose to this question. If you have a weakness within your area of expertise they want to hear about the efforts you're taking to overcome that weakness. 

They also want to know about the areas you plan to develop and grow stronger if you take this job. Asking about your weaknesses is an opportunity to show the interviewer how you deal with personal weakness, how you overcome things and search for self-growth, and whether you are self-aware and humble enough to recognize you can always improve.  

Example Answer:

"I have always had difficulties with public speaking. Throughout much of my life, giving presentations at school or at work was a difficult and nerve-racking task for me. That's why I decided to take a public speaking course in college so I could learn to overcome my fears, gain lots of practice with public speaking, and become confident in my abilities to present in front of others." 

"Tell me about a time you failed."

This is your opportunity to pull out a preplanned story to illustrate something beneficial for the interviewer to know about you. For example, maybe you had to give a presentation at your most recent job and you feel you failed because you were really nervous the whole time. 

You can then go on to explain how this experience with failure taught you something about yourself and showed you that you needed to practice presenting in front of others more often. 

An interviewer doesn't want to hear about a time you experienced failure. They want to know about what you did afterward to learn from that experience and gain more skills for the workplace. 

Example Answer:

"Once, I feel like I failed at my job when I miscommunicated with my boss. I took the project in a certain direction because I made assumptions about what my boss expected of me, rather than talking about expectations for the project beforehand. I learned from that experience that it is always better to ask questions to make sure everyone is on the same page rather than going forward with my own assumptions." 

"Tell me about a time you succeeded."

Don't be fooled. This isn't just an opportunity to boast about yourself. This is an opportunity to tell a short story about yourself that illustrates important knowledge, talent, and skills that you can bring to the workplace.

Maybe you won a writing contest that you're really proud of. Don't miss that chance to talk about how that success taught you that hard work pays off, or that asking for help from others can help you achieve your goals. 

They don't just want to hear about one of your achievements. They want to hear the specifics of how you were successful and how the process that brought you success can be beneficial in this new job. 

Example Answer:

"Recently I submitted an essay into a writing contest and got first place. This was a goal of mine for a long time but it wasn't until after I better learned how to set SMART goals that I was able to finish the essay and submit a quality piece of writing." 

"Where do you see yourself in the future?"

This question might come with an arbitrary amount of years tacked onto it like, "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" or "where do you see yourself in 10 years?" But the intentions behind the question are the same. 

The employer wants to know what your long-term goals are and whether those goals will be best served at this job. They want to know what you can gain from this job and what this job can do for your future plans.

Actually, sit down and make a current 5-year plan for yourself. It's ok if your 5-year plan changes each year, it's just good to have ambitions, an eye on the future, and responsibility for yourself and that future. 

This is your opportunity to show them you are a goal-oriented person and know how to make plans to reach those goals. 

It's also a chance to show them that you applied for this job intentionally and that you will have a specific, personal, thought-out purpose and fulfillment at this job. Even if that fulfillment is to reach greater heights later on in your career. 

Example Answer:

"In 5 years I want to be able to call myself an expert in my field. I plan on achieving this goal through my work and career development here, as well as personal courses and endeavors that will help me to continue learning about my field outside the workplace as well." 

"Why should we hire you?"

What an employer asks, "why should we hire you?" or "what makes you the best candidate for this job," they want to know specific ways you'll contribute and help make things better. 

You can show them how you'll do this by giving examples of the contributions you've made in previous jobs. For example, maybe you love organizing and helped optimize a filing system at your previous job. You could tell this story to illustrate how your eye for detail and organization would make you an asset at this new job as well. 

They also want to know what they would be gaining by specifically hiring you instead of someone else. An interview isn't a very long time to get to know someone, so you want to leave the interviewer with a list of bullet points about you that make you stand out from other job candidates. 

Think before you do the interview about some key characteristics and abilities that only you can bring to this job. Illustrate these key points in the stories you tell throughout the interview and drive them home by offering them up again when asked this question. 

Example Answer:

"I want to work at this job because I want to work in a healthy and positive work environment where I can work with fellow members of my field. I feel that in this work environment I could really thrive, achieve my own career goals, and make a positive impact on this company and the community by the work I do here. I also appreciate the flexible schedules we discussed that will allow me plenty of time in the mornings to take my kids to school." 

"Why do you want to work here?"

This question is closely tied to the "where do you see yourself in the future?" question. They want to know how this job fits into your life and your goals. They want to know why you are excited about this job, how it will elevate your life and your career plan, and all you could contribute to making this position better than when you found it. 

They want to hear about which parts of this job you feel the most passionate about and why it's important to you. Maybe you want to work at this job because the position offers opportunities you've been looking for, or maybe it fits perfectly into your schedule or allows you to pursue a passion you've always had. 

At the end of the day, employers want employees who actually want the jobs they give them and who will be happy in this job position. Convey to them how you know this will be true for you if they hire you for this job. 

Example Answer:

"I want to work here because I believe this job position will allow me to grow and learn in my field. Not only will I be able to use skills I already have, but this job opportunity will give me the opportunity to develop new skills, make important connections in the field, and gain experience I can't get anywhere else." 

"Why do you want to leave your current job?"

There are many reasons to leave an old job and seek a new one. 

You might have moved to be closer to family or farther away from them. You might have moved because your partner was offered a new opportunity in their career. Maybe you're looking for different work or a different position. 

Whatever your reasoning, you can use this question to illustrate your plans, goals, and hopes for this new job and why you needed to make this change in your life for a better life and a better career. 

Just remember to never criticize or speak poorly of people who aren't present and keep the conversation as positive as possible. 

Example Answer:

"I would like to leave my current job because while I learned and experienced many helpful things while I was there, the job position I had didn't align as closely with what I want to do in life as this job does. I feel that by making this job change, I can better pursue my 5-year plan and have the ability to do more with the skills I have."

"Why is there an employment gap on your resume?"

There are plenty of valid reasons to have an employment gap in your resume. You might have been laid off due to downsizing in your company or maybe you had trouble finding jobs in your area that required the skills you offer. 

But you can also avoid the question altogether by finding ways to fill those gaps and complete your resume. For example, you can date your employment in years instead of months in order to avoid talking about the few months you had between jobs. 

You can also fill those gap years with whatever you were doing during that time. So instead of leaving that time frame blank, you can list the time in between jobs like you would any other job, and simply write your brief explanation for that time on your resume. That way your resume will answer those questions for them. 

You might also be surprised by the productive things you can list during these gaps instead. Maybe you were unemployed for a while, but you did volunteer work during that time, took care of someone, did freelance work, starting your own business, or managed a household while your spouse went to work. 

Example Answer:

"Because of the area I lived in at the time it was difficult to find job openings that required my specific set of skills and experience. It wasn't until I moved closer to the city that I was able to find more job postings within my field and that's where I found my next job." 

"How would you deal with an angry customer?"

Not all jobs deal with customers but many of them do. Jobs that don't deal with customers might still deal with other coworkers and have similar questions about how you would deal with a difficult coworker or team member. 

The best answer you can give for this question is a real-life example of when you did deal with a difficult person. Put uncomfortable experiences to good use by using them in a job interview to talk about how you managed to calm the person, diffuse the situation, or mediate a problem. 

Many jobs need to know how well you can handle difficult people. You might have to talk down an irate customer or work on a group project with a stubborn person. 

You'll meet and work with all kinds of personalities in the workplace. Use this question to talk about the ways you handle working with all kinds of personality types.

Example Answer:

"My most recent experience with an angry customer was someone who came into the store with a problem with their account. They were upset because they had tried calling our phone services and kept getting put on hold. I dropped what I had been doing to sit down and hear out all the customer's concerns. Once he began to feel heard he started to calm down and I was able to help correct the error on their account. Sometimes an angry client just needs to be heard in order to find the root of the problem so that everyone can walk away happy." 

"How do you handle criticism?"

As an employee, there may be times when your boss will need to give you feedback or correct your mistakes. Mistakes are a normal part of life, and our worth is about how we handle them, rather than never making them. 

So your future boss might want to know an example or two of when you've received criticism from others in a positive way. Talk about instances when you've used it to see faults you were otherwise unaware of, and how you used criticism in the past to become a better person and do a better job at your work. 

As with many of these questions, the best way to show someone how you handle criticism is to tell them a real-life example of when you handled criticism. A brief and simple story example is the best way to ensure the interviewer will remember you and the answers you gave in the interview. 

Just remember to keep each answer short and concise. A story example becomes counterproductive once it becomes too long-winded. 

Example Answer:

"I used to feel very hurt when given criticism, but then I took an art class in college where we would critique each other's pieces at the end of each week. At first, this felt very uncomfortable for me, but after a while, I began to see how useful criticism could be in helping me improve. Now, even if the criticism is poorly given, I'm generally always able to pull something helpful and positive from it that I can use to make my life easier and better my own work." 

"What would your old employers say about you?"

One reason an employer might ask this question is to gauge how self-aware you are of your own job performance. Many jobs require letters of recommendation or contact information for references. This means that an interviewer might already know what an old boss has to say about you. 

This is why official or unofficial performance reviews with your boss can be helpful for you in many ways. It helps you understand your job performance, how to improve, and gives you actual quotes to pull from for future interviews that ask this question. 

Otherwise, use your best judgment and the experiences you have from working alongside your boss and coworkers to outline some ways you might be described by your old boss. 

Example Answer:

"My old employer would often tell me that I was one of their most punctual employees. I always got to work at least 10 minutes early to make sure shift transfers went smoothly and I was always on time for our monthly meetings." 

"How do you handle pressure?"

Pressure and stress are other common things you might deal with in the workplace. It's only natural then that an employer might want more of an idea of how you might handle the stress and pressures of their particular workplace. 

Think of an instance in the past when you felt a lot of pressure and how you managed it. What helped you not buckle under the pressure? What helped you stay afloat and do your job? What have you learned about yourself and what you can and can't handle? 

How you manage your time and how you successfully manage the pressure are the kinds of things your interviewer wants to know when they ask this question.  

Example Answer:

"In my last job, we had weekly deadlines that we needed to meet. In order to meet these deadlines, I decided to make mini-deadlines for each day of the week that would help me to break down my bigger jobs and always finish on time. By dividing my work up into smaller jobs I was able to tackle big projects with ease and meet frequent deadlines." 

"What questions do you have for me?"

At the end of a job interview, they will often ask if you have any questions for them. This is your opportunity to 1) ask about important information that wasn't available to you before now and 2) ask questions to help you determine whether this work environment is a good fit for you. 

You can also ask some of these questions before your interview, like how much the position pays or what are the scheduled hours. Also, don't be afraid to go in with a small list of questions so you don't forget them during the interview. 

Questions You Should Ask in a Job Interview:

  • Can this job be done remotely?
  • What does a normal day at this job look like?
  • What are the pay, benefits, hours like?
  • How would you describe the perfect employee?
  • What's something you don’t like in an employee? 
  • How would you describe the workplace environment here? 
  • How soon can I expect to hear back about a decision?

Job-Specific Interview Questions

The questions you get asked might also be based on what job you're applying for. For instance, if you're going to work with people or customers a lot, then an interviewer might ask how you handle tough situations with difficult people, or whether you prefer working with others or alone.

They might have a test at the interview depending on the job position. For example, editors might be asked to take an editing test by marking errors in a paragraph of text or answering some basic editing questions. 

Other jobs, like an artist or graphic designer, might expect you to bring a portfolio of your pieces into the interview with you. 

Make sure you know about any job-specific things to expect in your interview. 

Questions About Your Education

You might also get asked about your educational experience. For this reason, it's sometimes a good idea to bring a copy of your resume into the interview so you can look at it as a reference. 

Go through some of the key takeaways from your education. Talk about any internships or job shadowing experiences you had and the things you got to learn and do. 

Talk about some of the key courses you took and what you learned and are now able to do because of them. 

Ultimately, if an interviewer asks about your education they want to know what knowledge and expertise your education gave you.

In Conclusion,

Take enough time to prepare for your interview beforehand. Get a friend to help you practice answering each of these questions. Doing a couple of run-throughs can help you get all your thoughts in order and figure out the best way to say everything. It can also keep you from getting stumped during the interview and blanking on what to say because you've said it all before.