Acing a job interview can make the difference between receiving an offer and being relegated to the virtual resume pile, quite possibly never to be contacted again. Even if you’re not the most qualified candidate, impressing an interviewer with insightful answers and thoughtful questions can make you the one the CEO wants to meet.
Often up against a limited time frame to fill a role, human resources managers stake a lot of their decisions based on how well candidates express themselves, assuming that a candidate who shines in a high-stress interview will also deftly handle challenges in the workplace.
These 10 questions have withstood the test of time, because they assess candidates’ general mettle, what motivates them, how they perform under pressure, and the lessons they take from failure and success.
1. What Are Your Weaknesses?
This question may feel like a trap, but it’s not. The interviewer is actually trying to find out how well you deal with your weaknesses.
Do not make up a fake weakness like, “I’m a perfectionist” or, “I get upset when others lack dedication.” Admit a real weakness; your honesty will demonstrate self-awareness. Then, spend most of your time explaining what you do to fix, counteract or work around that weakness in the workplace, offering tangible examples from your current or previous roles.
2. Why Are You Interested in This Role/Company?
The interviewer wants to know if you have real passion for this job, or if you just want a paycheck. Show you’ve done your research; explain what about the company and role excite you and how the company stands out among its competitors. Do not forget to link all that greatness back to your own motivations and the strengths you would bring to the job.
3. Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Role/Company?
This question is a trap. Hiring managers want to see if you will trash your old company and boss. Do not fall for it. If you complain about being micromanaged or treated unfairly, the interviewer may judge you to be a wildcard that could bring unwanted toxicity into the company.
Instead, focus on how this new role offers an exciting opportunity you haven’t been able to access and how the company’s ethos more closely matches your own and inspired you to seek employment there.
4. Why Is There a Gap in Your Employment History?
Recruiters are not as critical of employment gaps as they used to be. They want to hear a great story about a risk you took during your time out of work that showcases your dynamism. Tell them about the classes you took, the business you started, the 20 countries you visited or the career change you needed time to navigate effectively. Do not forget to tie those motivations back to your reasons for pursuing the position.
5. What Can You Offer Us That Someone Else Cannot?
This question is fundamental to your candidacy. Spend much of your prep time developing a short personal narrative that explains who you are and what about you is so special.
Do not focus on the education, skills and internships you share with many of your peers. Concentrate instead on a creative inclination that sent you on a certain path, an issue in the news that captivated you when you were young, or something your parent said that inspired you to pursue a goal toward which taking this job would be a major and gratifying step.
6. Tell Me About an Accomplishment You’re Extremely Proud of.
Think beyond the one thing that other people would agree is your greatest accomplishment. The interviewer wants to learn about your depth and what constitutes success to you. Offer an accomplishment that gratified you more than most people would expect it to, and explain why it did so.
7. Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake.
Don’t fear this question. Everyone makes mistakes; mature workers respond well, adjust and become better for having made them. Do not minimize your culpability, which will make you look immature. Own your mistake, and spend most of the time explaining the revelation you had and the effort you put toward fixing it and preventing it from happening again.
8. How Do You Handle Stress or Pressure?
This question is not asking how stress makes you feel but, rather, how you deal with it. Think of something you do when you are overwhelmed — something that calms you down and also helps you work efficiently. It is true that interviewers hesitate to hire someone who struggles under pressure, but they will be impressed by someone who has an arsenal of strategies and tactics to overcome pressure.
9. What Would Your Direct Boss/Colleagues Say About You?
Rather than giving a stock phrase like “a team player” or “dedicated and loyal,” make this response specific and unique. Have a story to back up your claim; talk about when you stayed until midnight to assist a teammate in correcting a mistake, and describe the camaraderie that that evolved as a result. Good supporting evidence will make your answer more compelling and believable.
10. What Questions Do You Have for Me?
Demonstrate that you know how to think about your work, not just complete tasks by rote. Turn the interviewer’s questions back on him or her to help you understand more about the job and how the company want things done.
For example, if you are asked, “Tell me about a time you had to persevere through a tough project in your work,” answer the question, but then ask the interviewer, “Are there situations that arise here that will require more perseverance than others?”
You can also ask questions that help you learn about the personal experience of the job and that imply that you plan to be there awhile. For instance, you could ask what the interviewer likes most about the company and where leaders hope to take the company in the years to come. Keep the tone positive and inquisitive.
Being a skilled interviewee can help you win jobs over others who are more qualified on paper. Remember that preparation can go a long way, especially when it comes to clearly articulating how your experience, approach to work, and personality make you a perfect fit for the job. Give yourself the gift of time to ensure you are ready to communicate your value and have answers ready for the most popular interview questions.