Interview Series: The 5 Most Common Interview Questions

Need to prepare for an interview but don't know where to start? Once you've been through a few interviews, you'll notice pretty quickly that most of them follow the same script. For the most part, an interview can be divided into 3 parts:

General/Personality Questions

These are the questions that pretty much everyone has been asked at least once in their career. While the questions themselves don't offer much variance, keep in mind that the personality traits an interviewer is looking for is going to differ based on company and role.

Technical and Role Specific Questions

These are the questions where you're just going to have to know your stuff. For example, if you're interviewing for a programmer/developer type of position, you can expect to be tested with some programming related questions on the spot.

Your Turn to Ask Questions

At the end of every interview, you should be given the opportunity to ask your own questions. Remember that you're scouting out this company to see if it's a good fit just as much as they're scouting you out. Need some ideas on what type of questions to ask? Check out one of our previous posts here.

The interview process essentially boils down to:

  1. Knowing Yourself
  2. Knowing Your Role
  3. Knowing the Company

To stand out as the best candidate for the job, you're going to want to become an expert at all 3. This article will be part 1 of 3 in the Interview Breakdown Series, starting with:

JobInterviewPostIt

The 5 Most Common Interview Questions:

I'm going to breakdown the 5 most common interview questions according to CareerBuilder (2016 survey: Sample Size 2595) and teach you not only what you should say, but also what you shouldn't say.

1) Tell Me About Yourself (Asked in 55% of interviews)

Whenever an interviewer asks you this question, they’re really saying “tell me about yourself professionally”. They’re not really asking you about your hobbies, they’re asking you to give them a summary of your professional experiences and education so far. This question also gives you the opportunity to talk about why you’re a good fit for this job without explicitly stating it. It gives you the opportunity to break down your qualifications, skillset, and what you hope to bring to the table.

Think of this question as a way to verbally summarize your resume. First of all, you should absolutely know every bit of information on your resume like the back of your hand, that way if the interviewer asks you about a specific task you wrote down on your resume you won't get caught off guard.

You wouldn't believe how many people put things down on their resume, only to later forget that they even put it on there! Here's an example of a real life conversation I've had:

"Could you tell me about your experience performing this task at company X?"

"Oh wait! Uh... Yeah so I guess I did that at company X, and uh..."

That sort of response doesn't really instill a ton of confidence in the interviewer. After all, if you don't have confidence or knowledge of your own experiences, duties, and skills, how can the interviewer? Another survey by CareerBuilder (2018 survey: Sample Size1014) showed that "lacking accountability" was an instant fail according to 52% of interviewers. This first part of the interview is about knowing everything there is to know about your own professional life, especially everything that's on your resume!

Common variations:

  • Tell me about your (work) experiences so far
  • Tell me about what you've done so far
  • Tell me about what you did at your last company
  • Walk me through your work/job history
  • ETC.

2) Why Do You Want This Job? (Asked in 50% of interviews)

Remember how I said every step of the interview process is going to be about knowing yourself, knowing your role, or knowing the company? This question is going to require you to know all 3. I would say this is where about half of the interviewers wash out, and that's because they're lacking in one of those 3 areas I mentioned. This is where your research and preparation will determine your fate by either priming you as an awesome candidate or failing you in the clutch. Some very important statistics to keep in mind:

  • 45% of interviewers say that "knowing nothing about the job or company" is an instant interview fail
  • 35% of interviewers say that "knowing nothing about industry/competitors" is an instant interview fail

And while many others may not necessarily fail you on the spot for lacking knowledge about the job or company, you can bet that it won't make a great impression either.

How You Should Respond

Two things to give yourself the best chance:

  • Talk about how passionate and excited you are about the role you're interviewing for. Regardless of how true it is, you should show that you truly enjoy something about the role.
  • Read through the company "About Us" page and mission statements, then align your characteristics and traits to match the company.

How NOT to Respond

  • Don't talk about how you just want money or any job, nobody wants to hire an unenthusiastic worker who's just there for the paycheck.
  • Also don't mention how you're just looking for experience. While this is fine for a college internship interview, we're operating under the assumption that you're looking for at least an entry level job, in which case I would strongly advice against saying you just need experience.

Keep in mind that during every single interview, your goal is to convince the interviewer that you want THIS job, not just ANY job. If you have an "I just need ANY job" type of attitude, they won't want to hire you for this one.

Common Variations:

  • What interests you about this position?
  • What interests you about our company?

Remember, don't say you just need money/a paycheck!

MoneyTrap

3) Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? (Asked in 50% of interviews)

One thing you should never ever do is badmouth your previous employer. Depending on how you do it, it could be a surefire way to guarantee you won’t be getting an offer at the end of the interview! If you did have bad experiences at your previous job, chalk it up to a difference in personality/vision and move on. There’s no point burning bridges or getting worked up over the past.

How You Should Respond

  • If you’re changing careers
    1. Looking for a new opportunity
    2. The career wasn’t a good fit for me and I wanted to find something more aligned with my career path
  • If staying in same career but just changing jobs
    1. I wanted to work for a company whose vision was more in line with mine
    2. I wasn’t as passionate about the projects at my previous employer as I was hoping to be, and from looking at your company I can tell that I would be much happier here.

You answer pretty much boils down to “it wasn’t a good fit”, but how you answer it is dependent on your situation.

How NOT to Respond

  • Again, never badmouth your previous employer! Not only do 48% of employers say it's an instant interview deal breaker, you can guarantee that an even larger amount will look at a negative answer unfavorably.

Common Variations:

  • What made you leave your previous job?
  • Why did you quit your last job?

4) What Are Your Strengths and Weaknesses? (Asked in 49% of interviews)

Strengths

When you’re describing your strengths, make sure you have relevant real-life examples to back up your claim. Oh, you’re a hard worker? Can you describe in what way using your past experience? You’re organized? Explain in detail how you’re more organized than the average worker and how your organizational skills shine through to make a positive impact on the work environment.

Weaknesses

Nothing makes an interviewer roll their eyes harder than when a candidate says “my greatest weakness is that I work too hard!”. Saying that a strength is actually a weakness is by far the WORST interview advice I have ever heard, read, or seen somebody else give. If you were to be arrogant enough to brag about how your greatest weakness is actually a strength, I would check out of that interview on the spot.

Instead, your weakness should be a REAL weakness you’ve acknowledged and one you’re taking the steps to improve upon.

“I’m not the best at finding ways to be productive when all of my tasks are finished. In order to address this, I’ve decided to keep a stricter schedule, revise all my work, and take self-learning courses when I truly have no more tasks at hand.”

“I tend to really try to hit the ground running at the start which is awesome for a couple months, but by doing so I burn myself out. I realized that I should pace myself instead and think of this more as a marathon rather than a sprint.”

Common Variations:

  • What are some areas you can improve in?
  • What are your best traits?
StrengthandWeakness

5) Describe a Difficult Work Situation and how You Overcame It (Asked in 48% of interviews)

This is your opportunity to showcase why you’re going to be such a great fit at your new job. Remember to make the story you tell relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. A story about how you dealt with a rude customer may not be the most relevant story if you’re interviewing for a software developer position with 0 customer interaction.

If you don’t have any relevant stories and you're going to make it up, just make sure that you rehearse and memorize what you're going to say well enough that you it's not obvious you're lying. Lying in an interview is an instant dealbreaker for 71% of employers, the #1 biggest dealbreaker!

Common Variations:

  • Describe a situation where you had a deadline and how did you meet it?

Conclusion

There you go! The 5 most common interview questions you'll likely be asked during an interview.

Keep in mind, the questions here will most likely be only 20-30% of your interview. The rest will be the interviewer describing the role/company, asking you hypothetical questions "How would you solve problem X" or "What would you do if you found yourself in situation Y", asking you technical questions, and you asking questions to the interviewer.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our Interview Series!

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