Interview preparation: 41 potential interview questions

It’s natural to get nervous before a job interview and the more nervous you are, the more likely you are to get stressed and flustered by difficult questions. The trick to maintaining a professional demeanor throughout the interview is preparation. What follows in this article are forty-one common job interview questions that are used across a wide selection of roles, companies and industries. Delving into this list will allow you to prepare for the trickiest questions you are likely to come across in your next interview, overcome your nerves, and deliver impressive answers that will ensure you stand out from the competition.

Questions about you

Personal probing questions about your own work philosophy, interests, previous experience and your opinions on previous roles are common in interviews. For the following questions keep in mind that although they may seem personal each of them is designed to discover if you are a good fit for the role. So when answering the questions below it’s important to consider how your answer relates to the role and how you are showing you have the skills and personality to suit your new company, team, responsibilities and manager/boss.

Tell me about yourself?
A common one for the start of the interview. To answer, stick to your professional information and try to include the following:

  • A quick overview of your background and your most impressive responsibilities.
  • A summary of the top achievements in your career so far.
  • An explanation of what you are looking for and why the new job is a good fit for your goals and expertise.

Please note, there is no need to mention why you want to leave your current or previous role until they specifically ask, so keep your answer positive and succinct.

How would you describe yourself?
With this question, the interviewer is probing for info about your traits and skills and if they are aligned to those they feel would help a new starter succeed in the job, so consider the specifics of the role so pick one or two of your relevant characteristics and elaborate on them with examples. Keep in mind that the elaboration is key, you are trying to sell yourself and anyone can reel off a few buzzwords but that’s not going to convince anyone. 

How would your boss/ co-workers describe you?
When answering this question honesty is the best policy, to an extent. Your former boss is likely to be listed as one of your references and will probably be contacted by any new employer, so keep that in mind. In your answer, try and focus on some of your strengths that you have not already mentioned and back them up with examples from your previous roles. Some good ideas for strengths to focus on include: professionalism, dedication to the role, strong work ethic, and your willingness to pitch in on other projects.

What makes you unique?
This question is the perfect opportunity to explain why you are the best choice when compared to the other candidates being interviewed. Obviously, you are unlikely to know much about the other candidates, however you can still prepare for this question in the following ways:

  • Think about why your background and experience makes you a good fit.
  • Review the job description and note down where your skills and experience match up with the requirements of the role.
  • Reflect on previous accomplishments and note down the personal qualities you feel helped you to achieve them.
  • Think back to previous compliments you received in your career and how you earned them.

An important point to note in your answer is that your response should be unique to you. To help make it more unique and interesting, be more specific with examples of your successes and experiences.

How do you personally like to be managed?
Think back at your previous bosses and consider what they did that you feel particularly helped you to stay motivated or develop new skills and knowledge. You should also consider what you know or suspect about your future boss’s management style and align your answer to this.  

What are your pet peeves?
Asking about what annoys you is the interviewer's way of seeing how well you would suit the company’s environment and deal with conflict. Your answer should focus on pet peeves that do not contradict the company’s culture. Keep your answer as short as possible, but do try to include an explanation of how you dealt with annoyances in a positive way. 

What was the toughest decision you made in the last six months?
This may sound like an overly personal question, but its goal is to gauge your problem solving, judgement, risk taking abilities and reasoning. Everyone makes tough decisions, so you should think of one to mention in your interview if asked. Only use a decision that you don’t regret and try to back up the success of the decision you made with benefits, examples and, if possible, statistics. The best answers will prove you can analyse situations and weigh up advantages and disadvantages, look for evidence, and accurately weigh up your reasoning. You could use the example of a difficult interpersonal decision at work or a decision that was backed up by data.

What motivates you/keeps you motivated?
With his question employers are trying to gauge how self-aware and enthusiastic for the role you are. So in your answer, make sure to align your sources of motivation with the role and company, and always back up your answer with the examples. Here are some questions to ask yourself when preparing for this question:

  • What did a great day look like in your previous job and why?
  • What made you choose your profession or field?
  • What prompted you to apply for the new role when you read the ad?

What are you passionate about?
This question should be answered in a similar way to the previous two. Align your likes, interests and motivations to the role, job description and company or department goals. Try and hit these three key elements in your answers: describe something work-related that you are passionate about (doing a great job, helping customers, increasing results etc.), show examples of how you have pursued this passion in the workplace, and relate this back to the role you are applying for.

Tell me about your greatest strengths?
It can feel strange to talk highly of yourself, but in this answer you should highlight your technical and soft skills that are relevant to the role. Remember, empty bragging will be less likely to impress than talking through real examples from your career that prove you have the strengths you are boasting about.

Tell me about your greatest weaknesses?
Although discussing your weaknesses can seem counterintuitive during a job interview, sharing some honest weaknesses shows you are self-aware. Just make sure you can also share the ways in which you have worked to overcome each weakness and don’t choose anything that is too crucial for the role you are applying for. Unsure how to approach this question? Here’s some tips:

  1. Select the weakness
  2. Add background as to why you feel this is a weakness
  3. Provide a specific example of when your weakness could of been a problem
  4. Explain how you have overcome or are working to overcome the weakness.

Why should we hire you?
This question can come across as confrontational and intimidating, so it's important to keep cool and unflustered. The trick is to stick to the skills and experience you can offer them and then move on to explain why you feel your approach and personality suits the culture of the company you are applying to. You can even go one step further and discuss what you can add to the company culture such as improving processes, socializing and recreation, or motivation across the department you will be joining.

How do you handle stressful situations?
Every job is stressful to some degree so it should be easy to think of a few examples of stressful situations you have overcome, that show you are able to cope with challenges at work calmly and leverage your problem solving abilities. Take time on your answer and come up with a few stories of how you have overcome specific challenges in previous roles.

What‘s your greatest accomplishment?
Don’t be tempted to lie about this, instead pick a few examples of accomplishments that highlight your skills and motivation. The STAR method (Situation, Task, Action and Result) we mentioned earlier can also be applied here.

What’s your teaching philosophy?
Although this one may sound relevant only for teaching positions, hiring managers use it for many types of roles to investigate your capabilities in mentoring, instructing and leading a team. The best approach is to prepare an answer that explains what you feel teaching should achieve, and back it up with some examples from your career as to why you feel this is true. 

What does success mean to you?
This question is used to gauge how your definition of success influences your goals and how you measure your achievement. In your answer make sure to mention how you are willing and able to rise to challenges, work hard and accurately judge performance. Make sure to include a few examples of your own achievements in your answer.

Tell us about a time you failed?
This question can be answered in a similar fashion to the previous one about making a mistake. Pick a real failure, preferably in the workplace and start by clearly defining what failure means to you e.g. being caught by surprise/underprepared, missing a deadline or letting down a colleague. Then give an example from your career and share what you learned from your experience to prevent the failure reoccurring.

Why is there a gap in your employment?
Career breaks are normal and honesty is key when explaining a gap on your resume, just make sure you are prepared to explain your reasons clearly and succinctly in an interview. Regardless of your answer try to frame it in a positive light, consider and skills you may have learned during the break that are transferable to the workplace, and emphasise your enthusiasm to re-enter the working world. Remember, just because you should be honest, that does not mean you have to divulge any details you are uncomfortable revealing or feel would hold you back from landing the job.

What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
Interviewers will usually include a question about your hobbies, interests and pastimes to get to know you a little better. Share any work-relevant hobbies or interests first and don’t shy away from anything particularly interesting that you may feel helps you stand out positively from the other candidates. Just be careful not to focus on anything controversial or anything very demanding that your interviewer may feel would get in the way of your work.

Do you plan on having kids?
Although personal questions like this one about your family status are illegal, that doesn’t mean they won’t come up. If this question does come up, just try and politely steer the conversation back to the role e.g. ‘I’m not quite ready for kids yet, but I'm interested in the career paths this company has available…’.  Although you are within your rights to reject these illegal questions, the interviewer might not even realize they are off limits so it's more polite to subtly steer clear of them. Other questions that are illegally but still regularly come up in interviews include:

  • How would you manage a team of all men/or women?
  • Questions about your gender or age
  • Questions about your nationality or religion.

Questions about your work

You can expect that pretty much any question you are asked about in an interview will be about your work, even if it does not seem like it. When in doubt always relate your answer back to your work, accomplishments and why you are the best candidate for the role.

What’s your dream job?
Obviously it’s tempting to directly say that the job you're applying for is your dream job; however this sort of blatantly flattery may make you appear dishonest. Instead, describe a job that closely resembles the one you’re applying for to illustrate how your passions are closely aligned to the role. Here’s four steps to crafting your perfect response:

  1. Name the skills you want to utilize
  2. Describe the general tasks and responsibilities
  3. Explain your personal values (aligned to the companies)
  4. Note something specific you like about the job you are applying for.

Describe a difficult work situation and how you overcame it?
Designed to assess how you handle high-pressure situations at work, your answer should highlight your level-headed approach to problem solving. Use examples and facts to demonstrate how you dealt with specific situations in the workplace, but obviously try not to choose a situation that highlights a mistake on your end. One approach that works well for answering this type of question is the STAR method: Situation, Task, Action and Result (or learning).

How do you handle conflict at work?
Unfortunately conflicts are a natural part of the workplace, what with so many colleagues and stakeholders with such varying focuses, opinions and interests. The best answers to this one will explain how you entered conflict with a colleague, client or manager and how you stayed patient and constructive to reach a resolution. Focus on what you learned and make sure it illustrates how you respect others’ opinions and collaborate well with your colleagues.

Why would you like to work here?
Interviewers use this question as an easy way to check you have done your research and have a decent understanding of the company. So to prepare you need to do just that… Looking on the website and social media channels is a good place to start. Then, focus on aspects of the business that are most important to you, but make sure you have a strong knowledge of the companies key details, including:

  • Company history
  • Products, services and offering
  • Target market, audience and competitors
  • Workplace culture
  • Overall mission and goals
  • Recent company/industry news.

How do you prioritize at work?
This is an important question and you should carefully prepare an answer that showcases your organizational skills and ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Begin by explaining the system you use, whether that's an app, written to do list or a spreadsheet. Then explain how you would react to something urgent and unexpected that was asked of you i.e. the way you evaluate and shift your schedule to allow time for the new request.

Why are you leaving your current job?
There are plenty of good reasons to leave a job, but when you are asked about this in interviews make sure you focus on the positives of the change rather than speaking negatively of your previous role or employer. You need to convince the interviewer that you have seriously considered the change and what you want out of your new position. Start by describing the transferable skills you have honed in your last role, then pick something different about the new role that you are most interested in learning about (that could be a new responsibility or something relating to the company).

What did you enjoy most about your last role?
Your response to this question will tell your interviewer about your motivations and personality, so it’s important to list a few positive elements of your previous role to talk about. Just make sure that these positive elements are also true for the role you are applying for.

What did you enjoy least about your last role?
Once again, the important thing is to try to be as positive as possible about your previous role and make sure not to speak negatively about elements of your last job that are also true for the role you are applying for. Mentioning a standard admin task is an often easy way to offer a satisfactory and understandable complaint, bonus points if you can go on to explain how you improved this element of the role.

What does customer service mean to you?
Used in interviews for public-facing roles, with this one hiring managers are trying to learn what aspects of customer service you feel are most important and if this matches with their company’s own values. To prepare, take a look at the employer’s website and customer service policy and see if you can think of some examples from your previous roles of how you have acted in alignment with their ideas. If you struggle to think of some examples from your career, try thinking back to your own experiences as a customer.

Please talk us through your work experience?
Interviews may not be familiar with your work experience, so this could be a way for them to catch themselves up. In your response, explain your previous experiences in such a way that highlights the responsibilities and achievements that are most related to the role you are applying for. To keep things on topic start by quantifying your experience, then connect it to the role, and finally end with an explanation of one of your key goals relating to the new role.

How do you work under pressure?
We all get put under pressure at some point in our careers and in your answer you should focus on how you stayed calm, reasonable, made the right decision and found the solution for whichever difficult situation you were faced with. This response can also leverage the STAR method we explained earlier.

What’s your management style?
The best types of managers utilize a strong but flexible style, so in your answer think about some examples of how you have utilized both these traits in your management or leadership. You can also include some of your most impressive achievements as a manager.

Questions about your future

When answering the following questions it is important to reassure the hiring manager that your aspirations for the future suit a long-term commitment with the potential new employer. Keep in mind that most companies will have to invest considerable time, money and resources to get you up to speed in your new role, so if you don’t sound serious and enthusiastic about working with a company for several years this can be a huge red flag for any potential employer.

Explain your personal goals for the future?
This question is designed to find out if you are looking to stay at the company long-term and reveal how ambitious you are. Keep in mind that most companies will be looking for ambitious new employees who are ready to commit to the role for several years, so try and reflect this in your answer. A good place to start is to consider your career trajectory and how this role could help you reach your long-term goals, either through developing your skills and experience or increasing your responsibilities.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
Used for similar purposes as the previous, this is a common question that will help your interviewers discover if your personal plans fit well with the role and company. One tactic is to focus on the professional skills and accomplishments you are hoping to develop and achieve. Alternatively, you could discuss your overall goals for your career, focusing on dream roles, projects and responsibilities. Just make sure you keep these aligned with the role you are applying for.

What other companies are you interviewing with?
Hiring managers will ask this question for one of two reasons:

  1. To see how serious you are about the role/industry/field
  2. To discover who they’re competing with to hire you.

In your answer focus on a few similar roles with similar companies (applications at any stage) and avoid mentioning anything completely different.

Questions about the new role

Below are the more direct questions about the new role. But as we mentioned in the first section, every question you answer should consider the new position’s requirements as the first and most important element of the role.

What’s your salary range expectation?
For this question you will need to ensure you fully understand what salary you can reasonably expect from the role. This means looking at job ads, speaking to recruiters and researching the salary you should expect. It can be a good idea to give a range, starting with your lowest possible salary, to let your new employer know you’re flexible. In your negotiations, remember to consider other forms of compensations aside from your salary, flexible working hours or an annual bonus for example. If you are in the early stages of the job hunt and unsure about what salary to ask for you could try and deflect the question by asking about more specifics of the role.

What can you bring to the company?
This response is similar to that for the question ‘Why should we hire you?”. Focus on your skills that are most relevant to the role and give examples of how you leveraged them for the benefit of your previous employers. Try to also include info about your approach and goals that shows you are aligned to the company’s culture and overarching objectives.

Why are you interested in this position?
In your answer steer clear of speaking negatively about your previous job and, instead, focus on the positives of the new role and how you are looking forward to developing your skills and adding to the company. Here are some things your could mention:

  • How the position is aligned to your future goals
  • What makes you a good fit for the company/role
  • Some aspects of the role you are particularly excited by.

What skills can you bring to the role/company?
In your answer to this one make sure you are specific about your key skills, work ethic and approach to work. Make sure to include some of your more unique skills that relate to the role, hard and soft skills can both be relevant. You can also utilize the aforementioned STAR method in your answer.

What interests you about this role?
When answering this question it is important to be specific, so try to focus on the elements that are unique to this. Similar to the previous question, hiring managers usually ask this question to subtly check you fully understand the role so make sure you have carefully read the job description and compared its requirements to your skills and expertise. A good place to start when preparing your answer to this question is to choose a few of the role’s responsibilities that you find particularly interesting and enjoyable.

Do you have any questions?
Often coming towards the end of the interview, it’s tempting to say ‘no’ and skip out the door to enjoy the rest of the day. However, this is a crucial question that is extremely likely to come up in an interview and not having an answer ready will make you seem thoughtless and unenthusiastic. Make sure to carefully consider what questions you want to ask, here are some good options that will work for most roles:

  • What, if anything, puts you off hiring me?
  • What do you enjoy most about working for this company?
  • Why did the last person leave this role?

Conclusion

Preparing for these questions will put you in good stead for your next interview and help you outshine the competition. The key pattern we should mention that holds true for all the responses to the questions above is that your answers should be honest while not mentioning negative elements of your previous roles employers and managers. In addition, your answers should be related back to your previous experience and what you can bring to the new role,  with positive examples of your responsibilities and achievements wherever possible.

In your next interview keep in mind that interviews are not always presented as a formal set of questions like the ones above. So try to stay flexible and keep the conversation flowing and remember that connecting on a personal level with your interviewer is equally as important as reeling off a bunch of great responses to their questions.


Author

Vicky Blom

As a recruiter, I have been helping candidates find a new job for over ten years. On this website I share my knowledge to help you make a good resume.