Can you imagine how much easier school would have been if you’d had a copy of your exams in advance so you could come up with the answers and memorize them? Similarly, wouldn’t it be great if you knew precisely what potential employers were going to ask you in job interviews?
You could craft interesting and insightful responses about your experiences, accomplishments and goals, and practice relating them in a friendly, conversational manner.
The thing is, for the most part, you actually do know. There will likely be some industry or job specific questions, or requests for further detail about some of the info on your resume. However, there is a fairly standard set of questions, some variation of which you are almost certain to be asked in every job interview.
The questions that you will always be asked in job interviews:
Is that what you’re wearing?
Okay, they won’t actually ask this out loud, but you better believe interviewers are thinking it the moment they lay eyes on you. If you are dressed too casually, you may appear unprofessional or not serious about the role. If the company culture, or the hiring manager specifically, has issues with multiple piercings, visible tattoos or odd facial hair, these may cost you the gig. It’s also possible to dress too formally or conservatively for a company’s culture.
Do your homework. Wear clothes that are just a touch more formal than required on the day-to-day of the job. The key message is that you take the job – and the opportunity to interview for it – seriously, so you took the time to dress for it.
Don’t say: I’m going to wear my Crocs, I’ll be comfortable, and they can take it or leave it.
See: What to wear to a job interview by industry
Tell me about yourself?
Just about every job interview kicks off with some kind of conversational ice breaker where the employer offers you the chance to introduce yourself. Bear in mind that it’s not really yourself that you’re introducing. It’s your candidacy. Talk about how your professional interests make you the right candidate for the role. Here’s how I answered that question when I interviewed with the VP of HR for Workopolis.
Don’t say: I’m actually an aspiring romance novelist. I just need this gig until the royalty cheques start rolling in.
What makes you interested in this job?
Employers are always more impressed with candidates who are passionate about working for them specifically – over someone who is just looking for a new gig. Explain what you think is great about the company or the role, and how the job excites you.
Don’t say: Because I need the money.
What do you know about our company?
As I said, companies prefer candidates who want to work for them, so they look for candidates who have done their research. Talk about the company’s brand, mission, products or services and how you’d like to contribute.
Don’t say: Well, I hear that you’re hiring!
What would you say your greatest strengths are?
This seems like an easy question – you know what you’re good at right? But don’t take this question strictly at face value. Read the job description carefully, and describe an ability of yours that would lend itself to being particularly successful on the job. Just make sure that they’re true strengths. You don’t want to claim to be good at something you don’t actually know how to do. Think up a relatable anecdote in advance that demonstrates how you have used these strengths on the job.
Don’t say: There’s too many to count. Really, I’m great at everything.
What do you think are your biggest weaknesses?
It feels like a trap. If you answer honestly, you’re admitting to something that could potentially turn off an employer. If you say “I have no weaknesses. I am perfect,” the employer will know you are either a liar or totally lacking in self-awareness, and dismiss you outright. You have to say something.
Think of an actual weakness, something that isn’t an essential requirement for the job, and explain how you became aware of it and are working on improving upon it. This shows that you are reflective, willing to learn, and striving to get better.
The team discusses how to answer the ‘weakness question’ in this Workopolis 180 video.
Don’t say: I’m a workaholic and/or a perfectionist.
Tell me about a challenging situation you encountered at work and how you handled it?
It’s easy to seem positive and confident when everything is going well. With this question, the employer wants to know how you measure up when things get challenging. Talk about a conflict or setback at work, how you dealt with it professionally, and what you learned from it.
The key things to get across are that you can think on your feet to problem-solve, remain calm and good-natured in the face of a challenge, and that you can think strategically and act decisively.
Don’t say: Someone got in my face, so I punched him, or my boss was a jerk, so I quit.
Why did you leave your last job?
If you are currently employed, this question becomes, ‘Why do you want to change jobs?’ Explain that the job you’re interviewing for is just the career move that you’re looking for. It’s not that you’re moving away from a negative, but towards a positive. You’re looking to grow your career in the direction this new position can take you.
If you were fired or let go from your previous job, be honest about what happened, but don’t offer up any negative details. Most people lose jobs at some point in their careers. You pick yourself up, learn what you can from the experience, and move on.
Don’t say: Because my jerk of an ex-boss had it in for me.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Depending on the role and the level of the job, you don’t have to pretend that you want to still be in it in five years. Most people want to grow in their careers, and five years has become a long time to stay in one position. (See: Job hopping is the new normal.)
Instead explain how the job is the right move for your career growth at this time – and how your excelling at it would make both you and the employer more successful. Show how what you can accomplish, demonstrate and learn in this job takes you closer to where you want to go.
Don’t say: In your job – Or – Successfully running my own (insert unrelated field) start-up company.
Why should we hire you?
This is an easy one. It’s not a trick question – employers are offering you the chance to sell yourself. Simply explain why you are enthusiastic for the job and how the accomplishments you’ve achieved in the past demonstrate your ability to be great at it. Be confident, but not cocky.
Don’t say: Because I need the job.
Do you have any questions for me?
This is your chance to take control of the interview. You can often convey your competence and confidence, your job-readiness to an employer more impressively with the questions you ask than the ones you answer.
Asking smart questions can demonstrate that you have some knowledge of the industry, and that you’re already thinking about how you can contribute to it.
Here’s an example of how a woman landed the job with just one question.
Don’t say: No. And don’t ask questions such as, ‘how much does it pay?’; ‘how soon am I eligible for vacation time?’; or ‘how long does it usually take to get promoted?’
Ask yourself these questions. Then think of the industry, company, and job you’re interviewing for, and tailor your answers to be as specifically relevant to the employer as you can. You’ll be top of the class of candidates in no time.