|  July 21, 2014

The 5 Most Common Interview Questions (and how to answer them)

Some of the most popular posts on The Prepary are about job interviews – how to prepare, what you may be asked, and in general, how to ace them and land a job.

This post is going to share a round up of the top 5 most common interview questions and how to answer them. It’s a longer read (about 5 minutes) but stick with it because it’ll give you a ton of important things to think about before your next interview.

Also, keep in mind that practice and feedback before a job interview will take you from good to great. Find a friend, family member, mirror, or sign up for an hour interview prep session with me, to run through these and get confident!

5 most common interview questions


Why they’re askingFor one, it’s a great icebreaker. Interviewers often use this question to begin the interview. It allows them to learn a bit more about you and determine what things they might want to ask more about.

How to answerI always tell my clients that this is not your life story. It’s the story of what you’ve done, why you’ve done it, and how it’s relevant to the job you’re interviewing for.

This means you need to edit your story to make it compelling to the interviewer. Start at the beginning of your professional journey (generally that’s education) and work your way up to the present moment. Share a bit of detail on each position you’ve held (more detail for the most relevant experience) but keep it brief. End your answer with how you found out about the opportunity you’re interviewing for and why you think it’s a great next step for you.

Keep your answer under 5 minutes. Your interviewer will ask for more details on what is most relevant to them so don’t feel the need to cover everything at once.

[more detail on answering “tell me about yourself” here]


Why they’re askingCompanies want to hire people who are passionate about their mission, product, or service. People who are genuinely excited about working for a company are better employees than those who feel it’s “just a job”.

How to answerFirst of all, make sure you know why you want to work at the company you’re interviewing with. After all, you’re going to be spend many of your waking hours there so there has got to be a good reason! Then take that honest reason and craft it into a professional and eloquent answer. There are plenty of good reasons to want to work somewhere: great leadership, a mission you identify with, passion for the products the company sells or the services they provide, the company culture, etc.

Feel free to pick more than one (but don’t go too overboard) and share what you know about the company that makes you want to work there. It’s a good moment to show that you’ve done your research, know your stuff, and are making a thoughtful decision about your next career move.

[more detail on answering “why do you want to work here?” here]


Why they’re askingThey probably have other candidates in the mix and want to give you the opportunity to sell yourself and differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.

How to answerThis is your chance to sell so don’t be too modest. While you are preparing for your interview, you absolutely must utilize the job description. Find out what the company is looking for (through the responsibilities and requirements section) and figure out the skills and experiences you have that fill those needs.

When answering this question you should share the things you’ve done, your accomplishments, and your skills to make your case. Keep in mind this shouldn’t be a laundry list but rather the things that are going to make the biggest impact.

[more detail on answering “why should we hire you? here“]


Why they’re askingThere is an area of your resume that is particularly interesting to them and probably is relevant to the open job. They also want to make sure you can back up what you’ve listed on the resume.

How to answerSimply tell them more about it! If you’re honest on your resume it should be easy enough to share more details about any given bullet. Examples are key here. They show that you’re not “all talk” and have actual depth in the area they’re asking about. Where you can, share actual results achieved in addition to further describing the task.

[more detail on answering these here]


Why they’re asking: They want to make sure you have confidence (when asking about a strength) and self-awareness (when asking about a weakness). Both are seen as great qualities.

How to answer

  • Strength – First think about your actual strengths. What do you think you’re really good at? What have others (professors, friends, family, former bosses, coworkers) told you that you’re great at? Once you’ve mentally pulled that list together, choose 1 or 2 strengths that are most relevant to the job. Those are the ones you should share in the interview and you should always back them up with examples (i.e. “My greatest strength would be my strong analytical skills. I’ve put them to use in many different scenarios in my past jobs but one example is…”)
  • Weakness – Whatever you do, don’t try to turn a strength into a weakness (I am a perfectionist, I work too hard, I care too much!) This comes across as really insincere. We all have things we need to work on so if you can’t come up with one, it seems like you think you’re perfect… and no one wants to work with someone who thinks they’re perfect! So my advice would be to share something that is legitimately a weaker area for you, but then also share the steps you’ve taken to work on it (i.e. “I once got feedback that I needed to and I really took that to heart. Since then I’ve done X, Y, and Z to improve in that area.”) My only disclaimer on answering is this is that I don’t think you should list an area of weakness that is critical to the job, so steer clear of anything listed in the job description.

[More detail on talking about your strengths + weaknesses]

What common interview questions have stumped you in your job search? Leave a comment and I’ll cover them in an upcoming post.

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