Not having an answer to common job interview questions can make a stressful experience worse.

​The good news is that interviewers tend to draw their material from a well-established pool of reliable, tried, and tested questions.

Don’t be fooled, however. There are still ways to drop the ball even when you have a pretty good idea of what’s going to be asked. Below is a list of the 10 best (and worst) answers to common interview questions.

1. Why Do You Want This Job?

How Not to Answer:

“I was fired last year and I’ve been desperately looking for a new job since then.”

Avoid being too candid, especially if the reason isn’t flattering. Many candidates struggle with this question, in part because it seems simple at first. However, the last thing you want to do is come off as desperate, undesirable, or like you haven’t given it much thought.

How To Answer:

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity with a growing company. With my prior experience in client management, I believe I will be an asset during the upcoming expansion that I’ve read about.”

It should go without saying that you’ve researched the company you’re interviewing with. Use this as an opportunity to cite one or two facts you’ve learned that drew you to the company, especially if they relate to the position.

Everyone is going to say “it sounded like a good position in a good company.” Set yourself apart with a strong answer to a common question that sees its fair share of ho-hum answers. 

2. What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

How Not to Answer:

“I’m constantly late and I goof off at work too much”

The bad part about this question is that if anyone answered it honestly, no one would ever get hired. The good part is that the interviewer doesn’t really expect an honest answer. They’re more interested in how you approach the question.

Avoid giving yourself backhanded compliments such as “I’m a perfectionist,” “I work too hard,” or “I care too much about my clients.” These answers are bogus and everyone knows it. Also, avoid the dreaded “I have none” response. You’ve just lied.

How To Answer:

No one expects you to reveal a deep, personal flaw. A better approach is to take a weakness, especially if it’s one you’ve conquered, and demonstrate how you’ve managed to overcome it.

“I used to work much better on my own, and group projects were difficult for me. I knew I had to break out of this so in college I forced myself to take classes that focused on team building. I’ve even taken a few extra courses on the subject and attended a few seminars. I think there’s always more work to be done, but I don’t worry about working in a group setting anymore.” 

3. Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

How Not to Answer:

Whatever you do, do not say some form of “I don’t know.” It conveys the notion that you aren’t goal-oriented and haven’t thought about the future. You also want to avoid telling the interviewer that you envision yourself running the company, or worse, that you’ll have their job.

How To Answer:

If you avoid the obvious pitfalls, this is a question that can be answered in several safe ways. Working hard and growing with the company, hopefully moving into a management role, taking on more responsibilities, etc.

Be honest about your desire to advance your career, but frame it in a way that’s good for the company too. One “cute” answer I’ve heard is: “Celebrating the 5th anniversary of you asking me that question!” It’s a corny response, but can resonate with the right interviewer. 

4. Tell Me About Yourself

How Not to Answer:

This is a dreaded question because it doesn’t have a direct answer and it forces you to give a short speech about yourself. Whatever you do, do not go on a long diatribe about your life. That’s not what they’re interested in.

How To Answer:

Realize that the interviewer is asking you to sell yourself to them. This is the verbal version of your cover letter. Give them a brief overview of your education, past employment, and relevant skills. Keep your answer short, focused, and related to the position you are interviewing for. They will ask follow-up questions if they want more information. 

5. Do You Have Any Questions?

How Not to Answer:

“No.”

The best interviews should be a conversation, with both sides asking questions and learning new information. If you have no questions, you’re either saying you aren’t interested or haven’t thought that far ahead. Either one is bad.

This is also not the time to ask about money or job perks. You’ve just finished hearing about this exciting job opportunity. When asked if you have any questions, you want something better than “how much time off do I get?”

How To Answer:

This is an opportunity to show that you’ve been paying attention during the interview, are still interested in the position, and have done some research on the company as well. Don’t’ be afraid to put their questions back on them. Some examples:

  • Where does the company see itself in five years?
  • Describe your ideal candidate?
  • If I were to start tomorrow, what are the short-term goals for this position, say over the next three months? Six months? And so on. 

6. Why Should I Hire You?

How Not To Answer:

“I’ll do a great job,” I’m the best person for the job,” I’m really passionate about this position.”

These are answers that interviewers hear all day. They expect you to feel this way.

How To Answer:

What the interviewer is really asking is “tell me what sets you apart.” This is an opportunity to go over your education, experience, and skillset and directly apply it to the position. Highlight relevant accomplishments, i.e. “in my previous role as director of sales I increased revenue 20% over my tenure.”

The question isn’t “why should I hire you?” It’s “why should I hire YOU?” Don’t just tell them you’re the best candidate for the job, show them WHY. 

7. What Are Your Salary Expectations?

How Not To Answer:

“I don’t know. What are you offering?”

The dance around the compensation discussion can be a tenuous one. However, when it does come up; don’t be caught unaware. Not only does a response like this indicate that you’re unprepared for this discussion, it lacks assertiveness. 

How To Answer:

“Based on my experience, and the research available; I think my salary should fall into a range of between X and Y.” 

Generally, you don’t want to be the first person to start talking about money. However, it is going to come up eventually and you want to have a clear, reasonable number or range in mind. Don’t be afraid to cite statistics either.

State it plainly. Be concise, respectful and knowledgeable. There’s no shame in having this conversation, so don’t feel embarrassed by talking about it.

8. Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

How Not To Answer:

“That place was horrible! I couldn’t wait to get out of there!”

Avoid bad-mouthing your former company, boss, or co-workers. Everyone know that sometimes a job isn’t the right fit. What they don’t want is a glimpse at how you’ll be talking about them at your next stop.

How to Answer:

“It wasn’t the right fit for me. I enjoyed my time there, but I was looking for something with more opportunities for advancement.”

Be honest, but tread carefully if you’ve left under poor circumstances. Speak about goals, readiness, or a desire for personal growth and development. The interviewer wants to know that you aren’t going to bail on them in a few months.

9. Tell Me About Your Worst Boss

How Not To Answer:

“He was a jerk! I couldn’t wait to get out of there!”

Like the job question, this is not an opportunity to rip on your former employer. Avoid personal details or complaints. Your old boss may have been a jerk, but this is not the time to bring it up.

How to Answer:

“I once had a manager who had a problem staying on a schedule. It made holding team meetings difficult and group projects suffered. However, we were able to motivate ourselves to stay on task and it really taught me the value to be had in organization and time management.”

Speak in terms of the lessons you learned from the experience. If your boss was constantly late, mention that you learned the value of timeliness. If they were disorganized, you learned the importance of efficient workflow, etc.

The interviewer is more interested in how you’ve dealt with adversity in the workplace than they are in hearing a list of personal attacks on someone’s flaws. 

10. The Random Question

How Not To Answer:

It’s silly, but interviewers will often throw a curveball question into the mix. What kind of color, ice cream flavor, or animal would you be, etc.? The answer isn’t that important, but try not to fumble over your words or blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind.

How to Answer:

The good news is that there really is no wrong answer. The interviewer isn’t going to throw out your resume if you say “aardvark” when they were looking for an “elephant.” Rather, these questions are meant to see how you think on your feet when presented with a scenario that you didn’t spend all yesterday thinking about.

“I would be an apple. Tough on the outside but sweet on the inside” is a better response than “I kind of like oranges because they taste good.”

“I would be a giraffe. Always reaching for the top of the tree,” is a better answer than “being a dog would be cool, I guess.”

It’s perfectly okay to take a moment to consider your answer before responding. Truthfully, these questions may be some of the most important ones you answer. Interviewers will expect you to have ready-made answers to common interview questions. How you handle the ones that stick out can go a long way.

Preparedness is Key

Job interviews take all kinds of twists and turns. The best ones wind up being more like a conversation than an interrogation.

Be prepared for the questions above, research the company, and know a thing or two about why you’re there before you take a seat.

If you study the responses above, you’ll be ahead of the game!

Written By
Michael Quoc is the founder and CEO of Dealspotr, a crowdsourced savings platform that connects emerging brands, influencers and shoppers around today's best deals. At his e-commerce incubator, Zipfworks, he is developing experimental shopping apps and building ecosystems that drive e-commerce. Connect with Mike on Twitter & Linkedin.

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