First off, I’ll say that these common interview questions are the ones most likely to be asked in your first interview. They are not the common ones for either a second interview or a management position interview. I’ll cover those in other posts.
There are dozens of fairly common questions you may be asked. I’m only going to cover the top five that my experience has shown are asked most frequently, regardless of the type of job.
There are other articles out there that will give you what they consider to be the top 10, top 25, top 50, and even the top 125 most common interview questions. You can’t possibly study and practice answering them all and you’ll be overwhelmed if you try.
This is why I’m only concentrating on the five that have an extremely high likelihood of being asked.
As to studying the others, you’re better off putting that time into your interview preparation research.
Once you’ve done your research and documented how your experience, qualifications, and accomplishments make you the best candidate for that specific job, you’ll be prepared to answer just about anything that is thrown at you.
I won’t be giving you exact answers to use because they wouldn’t be your answers, they would be mine. You should take the concepts and put them into your own words.
In no particular order, here are the five most common first interview questions I’ve asked and have seen asked in hundreds of interviews over the years.
Tell Us About Yourself
This is probably the number one most common – and the first – question asked.
The biggest mistake I see in answering this question is to ramble on for several minutes about your personal life, your hobbies, the names of your children, how many dogs you have, and, finally, something about your qualifications.
Your answer should be your elevator pitch (which you hopefully have already carefully prepared for that job) and no more than two minutes in length.
You may have seen other advice for this question that recommends talking about your outside interests or some major event in your life that occurred recently. The idea here is that this lets the interviewers get to know you as a person.
I’m not saying this is a bad idea, but these are better topics for a second interview, where the goal is more to know you as a person. In a first interview, I’m not interested in your personal life or background. All I want to know at this point is how well you fit the job qualifications.
Stay away from sharing your personal interests and hobbies unless they are directly related to the job. You just never know when a particular hobby or activity may be objectional to someone on the interview panel.
For the first interview, you should concentrate on why your skills and accomplishments make you a good candidate for this specific job. A few short sentences about your education and where you were born are okay, but then it’s time to go right into your elevator speech.
You’ll know better after the first interview what is appropriate to share during the second interview.
What is Your Greatest Strength And/Or Your Greatest Weakness?
Sometimes these are asked together and sometimes they are asked as separate questions. If both are asked, the greatest strength question is usually asked first.
For this question, the best approach is to pick one of the job qualifications for which you’re strong. State it as one of your greatest strengths and then back up that statement by providing examples of your accomplishments.
This way, you don’t sound arrogant or bragging – you’re stating facts. And facts that directly relate to that specific job.
The weakness question is more difficult to answer in a way that doesn’t cast you in a negative light.
The traditional – and now outdated – advice for answering this question is to pick something that is actually a strength and state it as a weakness. For example, “I’m so driven in my work that I tend to wear out the people I work with.”
Every Hiring Manager now knows that approach is something you read in an outdated book on interview advice.
My best advice, and something you probably won’t read anywhere else, is to not answer this question at all. Simply say that, based on the job requirements as you understand them, you don’t feel there is anything in your background that would prevent you from doing a great job in the position.
This avoids the trap of admitting something that makes you look bad. If you have a good resume and have interviewed well so far, it makes it difficult for the interviewer to call you out on it. Even Hiring Managers are reluctant to call someone a liar!
Admittedly this is a bold approach and may not always work. You may still be pushed to admit some sort of weakness. If so, share something that isn’t a job qualification, but is still business-related, and be sure to explain what you’re doing to correct it.
This at least shows you’re self-aware and are taking action to improve.
Why Should We Hire You?
If you’ve done a thorough job on your research, this will be a relatively easy question for you to answer.
State the most important job requirements as you understand them, and then cite an accomplishment or two for each one. This makes a strong statement that you did your homework, you know what’s important to them, and you can deliver it. The proof is your accomplishments.
I once had a job opening for a senior application developer. As I was going through the resumes and cover letters submitted by applicants, I came across what I consider to be the best cover letter I ever read. It has a great lesson to help you answer this question.
What this applicant did in his cover letter was to list each requirement from the job posting. Under each one, he gave his experience and accomplishments. They were almost a perfect match. I wanted to hire him based only on his cover letter!
He was the first one I marked for an interview. He did just as well as his cover letter would suggest, and ended up getting the job.
The point here is when you’re asked why they should hire you, focus on what they want (the qualifications) and how you can provide it (your experience and accomplishments).
Saying that you’re the best person for the job is one thing. Proving it by relating your accomplishments directly to what they are looking for is quite another thing. It’s what will set you apart from other applicants who merely run down a laundry list of skills and experience.
What Are Your Salary Expectations?
This is a question that you don’t want to answer in a first interview.
If you state a number that’s too high, you may remove yourself from consideration before the interview is even over. If you state a number too low and get the job, you may be lowballed on the starting salary.
You should be able to opt-out of this question by saying you’d rather defer any salary discussions until after you’ve both agreed you’re the right person for the job.
If that doesn’t work, try turning the question back to them. Ask what is their salary prediction for this position, given someone with your qualifications and experience. If they name a range, you can decide if it’s within your ballpark.
If you’re still pushed to name a figure, make sure it’s a range, not a specific figure. The range should be based on what’s competitive for that job in that geographical location. The problem, of course, is that this may be difficult to find.
I suggest you do research at salary.com. You can input the job title and location and it will return what the salary range is for that position. It gives a range from the 25th percentile to the 90th percentile. It also gives the average salary (the 50th percentile).
Take the range from the average salary to the 90th percentile. This leaves sufficient room for negotiation once you are offered the job.
Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve asked this question of candidates and been told that they didn’t have any questions.
I get it. It’s been a long interview and this question is usually the last one asked. At that point, all you probably want to do is get out of there.
Don’t give in to the temptation to say that all your questions have been answered, just to end the interview.
You should prepare in advance at least five questions to ask. You’ll probably only ask two or three and this gives you some leeway to choose the best ones based on your interview so far. They should be ones that directly relate to either the job or the company.
Here are some suggested questions that work well for most interviews.
- How will success be measured for this position?
- What would your employees say is the best thing about working here?
- Who would I be working with?
- What do you see as the biggest challenge for this job?
- Is this a new position or one that already exists?
- Everything I’ve heard has convinced me this is the job I want. What else do I need to do to convince you I’m the right person?
This last question is the one almost no one thinks to ask. It’s a great question because it gives you one last chance to sell yourself in case there is still some lingering doubt in the minds of the interviewers.
Since this is almost always the last question asked, your answer will be the last thing they remember about you. Make sure your last impression is as good as your first impression.