If you’re looking for the commonly asked job interview questions, then keep reading.
After working for years as a recruiter, I’m going to share the top 20 job interview questions and answer examples, plus do’s and don’ts to get you ready to ace your interview.
For each question, you’ll get:
I’m also including a printable interview questions and answers PDF at the bottom of this article, so make sure you read until the end.
Let’s get started…
This is one of the most common interview questions, and it trips a lot of job seekers up because of how open-ended it is.
Here’s what the best answers include, and how to impress when the interviewer asks this question:
First, keep your answer work-related when answering, “Tell me about yourself.” While technically they’ve left it open to include personal details, it’s not what the typical interviewer is looking for.
And to keep your answer clear and easy to understand, tell your story in chronological order.
Walk them through your background, starting at how you began your career or your current line of work.
If you’re a recent graduate or entry-level candidate, you can discuss your academic work. Why did you choose this field of study? What projects have you done and what have you worked on?
If you have prior work experience, walk the interviewer through your key accomplishments, key career moves you’ve made and why, and end by sharing what you’re looking to do next in your career and why you’re job hunting.
Interview answer example:
“I started my career in Marketing after graduating with a Business degree in 2013. I’ve spent my entire career at Microsoft, receiving two promotions and three awards for outstanding performance. I’m looking to join a smaller company now, and take on more leadership and project management.”
In the sample answers below, you’ll see that the goal is to show them you’ve done your research and didn’t apply to their company without knowing anything about them.
If you don’t seem like you know anything about them, you’ll come across as desperate – somebody who will take any job they can find. And that’s going to make you unattractive to any good employers out there.
So when they ask, “what do you know about our company?”, your primary goal is to show you’ve done your research or knew about their company before applying. If you do this, you’ll be fine.
Interview answer example 1:
“From what I read, your company is one of the leaders in database and website security for large corporations. I read your list of clients on your website and saw multiple Fortune 500 companies mentioned, including Verizon and IBM. Beyond that, I recently had an informational interview with James from the Marketing team, after messaging him on LinkedIn, and he shared a bit about your company culture; mainly, the emphasis on collaboration and open interaction between different departments and groups. That’s something that sounds exciting to me and that I’m hoping to find in my next job. Can you share more about how you’d describe the company culture here?”
Interview answer example 2:
“I know you’re one of the leaders in contract manufacturing for the pharmaceutical industry. I read two recent news articles as well and saw that you just finalized plans to build a new facility that will double your manufacturing capacity. One of my hopes in my current job search is to find a fast-growing organization that could take full advantage of my past experience in scaling up manufacturing operations, so I was excited to have this interview and learn more about the specific work and challenges you need help with from the person you hire for this role.”
When they ask “how did you hear about the position?” it’s typically best to give an honest, direct answer.
The interviewer is simply curious how you came to know about them and the general idea behind why you applied. They’re curious how you’re finding positions to apply to in general, too.
If you found the job through a colleague, through researching employers online, through a job board or job posting, or any other common method, simply tell them the truth.
Good answer examples:
“I found the position while looking for jobs online”
“I heard about it from a colleague/friend”
“Your company was recommended to me by somebody I worked with in a previous job and had heard good things about your organization”
“I saw the job posted on LinkedIn, and the position seemed interesting so I wanted to learn more”
When they ask “why did you apply for this position?” pick something specific that interested you. If you say you love their products, tell them why. That’s the key to giving a convincing answer to this job interview question.
Stay away from sounding like you’re desperate, or that you want just any job. Yes, if you were laid off it’s okay to say that, but then re-focus the conversation on exactly what you’re looking for in the next opportunity and why you feel their company might have it.
You need to sound like you want the RIGHT job and that you’re being picky. Employers won’t hire you if you don’t demonstrate that you want to work for them in particular.
So it’s best to appear picky and selective in your job search. That means being clear about what you want in your next role.
Also, the best answers will stay away from negatives and complaints. Don’t bad-mouth your current company or boss. Focus on the positives of the job you’re applying for now.
Example answer 1:
“Since beginning my career, I’ve wanted to work for a larger organization in this industry, and I know you’re one of the leaders in this space. I’m very interested in your products/services, especially the mobile applications you’re building recently, so I’d be excited to come here and grow my skills with an organization like yours.”
Example answer 2:
“I’ve heard great things about the work environment here from a few colleagues. And when I saw this job posting, it seemed to match my skills very closely. For example, I saw on the job description that you need somebody who’s an expert in Java programming. This is what I focused on in both of my previous positions, and was even the focus of my academic work before graduating from university. I consider myself an expert in Java and it’s a skill I hope to continue specializing in.”
If you’re job searching while employed, this is one of the most important interview questions and answers to know.
(And if you’re job hunting while unemployed, make sure you prepare to answer, “Why did you leave your last position?” instead.)
Otherwise, the most important thing to do when they ask why you are looking to leave your current job is to stay positive and never badmouth your current employer, boss, or even team members.
Rather than complaining or talking badly about your situation, say that you’re looking for more of something positive. What are you hoping to gain from a job change?
Is your current boss a jerk? Say that you’re looking for an environment with more leadership you can learn from.
Good sample answer:
“I’m looking for more leadership opportunities. I’ve been at my company for three years and have really enjoyed the experience but I feel in order to take the next step in my career, it’d be helpful to join a larger organization and use what I’ve learned in the past to lead more projects. That’s why this Project Manager role excited me.”
Focus on a specific work-related challenge and talk about how you overcame obstacles, used it as a learning experience, used the resources around you (including people/colleagues if applicable), and ended up with a positive result! That’s how to answer this interview question. Keep it work-related, not personal.
“In my last job, we were facing a tough deadline and my boss was out for the day. Our client was expecting a project to be delivered by 5:00 PM, but we were far behind schedule. I took the lead on the project, delegated tasks to the four other team members in a way that I thought would utilize everyone’s strengths best. And then I re-organized my own personal tasks so I could dedicate my entire day to contributing to this project as well. The project was a success and we delivered the work on-time. I went on to lead more projects after that, and used what I learned to be a better project manager.”
This question is left off of many lists of common job interview questions, yet it’s extremely important and the wrong answer can cost you thousands of dollars.
The best answers to this question follow one rule: DON’T say a specific number or even a narrow salary range that you’re targeting.
Why? You have the least amount of leverage possible at this point in the job interview and job search process. You haven’t finished interviewing with this employer, and they don’t even know if you’re a good fit for the position.
So you can’t command a high salary right now. There’s nothing to gain by answering salary questions so early, and quite a bit to potentially lose.
If you go too low with your desired salary range, it could limit the offer you receive later, even if they would have offered more normally. Or, you could worry them that you’re not at the level they were hoping for!
Meanwhile, if you share a number or range that’s too high, you could scare them off before they get to know you and see your worth! Whereas, after talking with you in a few interviews, they might have been willing to stretch their budget to hire you! I’ve seen this happen frequently as a recruiter.
Therefore, it’s a lose-lose to tell them your salary target before you know they’re interested in hiring you. When you’re preparing what to say in a job interview, especially an early-stage interview, salary goals should not be a part of it!
You can, however, share some basic research you’ve done into broad salary ranges for this type of position in your city.
“Right now I’m focused on finding a job that’s the right fit for my career. Once I’ve done that, I’m willing to consider an offer you feel is fair, but I do not have a specific number in mind yet. My priority in my job search is to find a position that’s a great fit and will allow me to continue learning and becoming more skilled. That said, I did some baseline research into salaries for this type of role here in Seattle and found that the average seems to be in the $50K to $75K range, so if your job is within that range, I think it makes sense to keep talking.”
For more info, here’s a full article on how to answer desired salary on applications and interviews.
Employers ask, “Why should we hire you” to see how well you understand the role, and to hear your perspective on how your skills can help them.
When you hear interview questions like this, you should be thinking about their role, their needs, and how you’ll help them. How will they benefit if they hire you? What will you improve for them? What will become easier, more efficient, or more profitable?
And show you’ve done your research. Make it clear that you know what this position involves and that you’re ready to perform those exact tasks in your next job.
Example interview answer:
“I read on the job description that you’re looking for someone with experience in ____. I’ve done that for 3 years and can immediately help you accomplish ____”.
If they ask “why do you want this job?” show you’ve done plenty of research to learn about them before coming in to interview. You want to make them feel like you chose them for a reason. This is very similar to the previous question: “Why did you apply for this position?”
Show them that you know what that their job involves (at least as much as you could learn from the job description and company website) and that you’re excited to be interviewing for this position.
The bottom line is: The typical employer looks to hire someone who will want to work for them in particular, not just someone who wants to work any job they can find.
Here’s how to demonstrate that you want to work for them and that you’re a good fit when you answer:
Sample interview answer:
“I’ve been actively searching for jobs since graduating with my Nursing degree. I’m interested in intensive care and emergency medicine and I’ve seen your hospital mentioned as having one of the best ER’s in the region. I thought the job description matched up well with my background, and saw some of my personal strengths mentioned, like multitasking and being able to thrive in a fast-paced environment, so I’d love to begin my career here.”
There are a lot of good answers to this interview question. There isn’t just one “right” answer. Here are some guidelines:
If you chose to leave on your own terms, stay positive and focus on what you wanted to gain from the decision, rather than bad-mouthing or focusing on negatives you wanted to avoid.
And if you were fired or laid off, be upfront and clear. You’re not going to make employers want to hire you by being vague or trying to hide something.
If you got fired, show what you’ve learned from the experience, and what you’ve done to make sure this doesn’t happen again. That’s how to spin it into a positive.
“I was hired for a project management role, but over time that changed and I was no longer being given the opportunity to do the work I was interested in. I left to pursue an opportunity that I felt was more aligned with what I’ve chosen to focus on in my career.”
You can also get more ideas for how to answer this on our list of 20 answers for “why did you leave your last job.”
When they ask, “what’s your greatest weakness?” you want to name a real weakness.
I recommend picking something skill-based, not personality-based.
You never want to say you struggle to work with others, or you’re bad at resolving disagreements, or taking direction from a manager, etc. Those things will get you rejected in the interview.
So pick a specific skill, but pick something that won’t severely impact your ability to do this job.
For example, if the job involves data entry with Excel spreadsheets all day, you do not want to say Excel is your weakness. Or that you struggle to pay attention to details.
Finally, end your answer by explaining what you’re doing to overcome or improve your weakness.
Take a look at the do’s and don’ts and the interview answer example below to get a sense of what the best answers will sound like.
Example interview answer:
“I’m not particularly strong in social media marketing. For the first few years of my career, I focused entirely on email marketing. That’s still what I specialize in, which is why I applied for your Email Marketing Manager job. But I’ve realized it’s also helpful to understand the principles of social media marketing because some of the strategies that work there also work well in email. So I’ve started spending a couple of hours per week of my own time to study and learn this new area, which has helped me a lot.”
Note that you the interviewer might also ask, “what areas need improvement?” In that case, you can use the same approach, and I still recommend naming one single weakness, just to keep your answer simpler and more concise.
There are three big reasons interviewers ask “where do you see yourself in 5 years?“:
So, pick a work-related goal of where you’d like to be five years from now, and make sure it’s slightly challenging or ambitious-sounding.
You don’t want to say, “I see myself in the same position five years from now.”
And make sure to share a goal that is related to the type of job you’re interviewing for. You want to sound like the experience you’ll gain in this job fits your long-term goals.
Otherwise, they’re going to be scared to hire you. Why would they offer you the job if it doesn’t fit the goals you described to them? You’d be unsatisfied, bored, and would probably quit within the first year. No company wants this.
Example interview answer:
“I’m glad you asked. In five years I see myself taking on more responsibilities, either through management or higher-level individual contributions. I’m not sure which path will make sense to pursue, but I know my goal right now is to build a strong foundation and gain valuable experience so that I’ll have a successful future in this industry.”
They may also ask, “What are your career goals” so prepare to answer that, too. You can read career goal examples here.
This is one of the most common interview questions in many fields, from retail to corporate positions, and is intended to find out if you’re able to learn from mistakes and bounce back when things don’t go your way.
Employers want to see if you can own up to your mistakes, be accountable, and also learn and improve from the experience. That last piece is key if you want to give a good answer to this question.
When you answer, “tell me a time when you failed”… here are the most important do’s and don’ts to follow:
Sample interview answer:
“In my most recent position, I had recently been promoted to Supervisor and was managing the department by myself right before the close of business. An employee was acting out and I confronted him in front of everybody. It made the situation worse and caused a lot of distraction for everyone on the floor. I failed to lead properly in this situation, and spoke to my manager the next day to discuss what I could have done better. We both agreed that I should have handled this privately with the employee by asking them to step inside my office. If I had done this instead of reacting the way I did, the situation would have turned out much better. From that point onward, I am always conscious of whether a discussion with a team member should occur in public or behind closed doors, and it made me a better leader.”
This is another one of the most common interview questions you’ll hear.
You may also hear this phrased as a behavioral interview question, like, “Tell me about a time you had to make a difficult decision? How did you handle it and what did you decide?”
With any of these decision-making job interview questions, hiring managers want to know that you’ve made good decisions in the past and are comfortable making a tough decision under pressure. Demonstrate this, and they’ll feel more confident that you’ll be able to make good decisions in your next job, too… while working for them.
So to show the hiring manager that you’re the right fit, prepare to explain how you organize and structure your decisions. The best answers will show that you’re calm and follow a logical system when you make important decisions.
Answer sample 1:
“Just last week I had a situation that describes my process pretty well. One of our largest clients was having an issue with our latest software update and I had to decide between doing a fresh install on their system or trying to troubleshoot. The fresh install would come with downtime, but it was a known variable. Whereas, if we took troubleshooting steps, it could resolve the problem eventually, but the company would be working with multiple software bugs and issues for an unknown period. I spoke to our representative from their company, and also spoke to the Account Manager within our firm who had originally brought this client on, since he had the closest relationship with the firm. The company didn’t express a preference and told us that we should decide what’s best. However, the Account Manager I spoke with said that this company is typically risk-averse and doesn’t like uncertainty. They want to know how bad the “damage” will be whenever a problem arises. Based on this information, I felt the best way to resolve the situation was to do a complete reinstall of the software, causing 30 minutes of downtime, but solving the problem that day. I also spoke to our billing team to provide a special discount to help offset the lost revenue our software caused, which the company appreciated and thanked me for.”
Answer sample 2:
“I typically list out all available options and then weigh the pros and cons and expected outcomes of each. If other teams or people are impacted by the decision, I’ll ask for their thoughts, too. Sometimes a peer will point out a pro or con that I hadn’t seen, so I find it helpful to talk to others when appropriate. After this, I’ll choose the course of action that I feel is most likely to bring about the best outcome. I also weigh the risks of each possible decision. If one decision has a good potential outcome but comes with too much risk for the company, then it may not be the right choice. Would you like me to give an example? Or did that answer your question…”
You shouldn’t brag about yourself in every interview question and answer, but sometimes it’s called for. And this is one of those cases.
Don’t be timid and don’t hold back. This is your chance to share one accomplishment that you’re most proud of and why. I recommend choosing a professional achievement, but if the biggest win that comes to mind is personal, that’s fine too.
Ideally, share a story that illustrates how you overcome a challenge, went through a transformation, or overcame doubt or fear to accomplish something that you’re proud of. If you can show determination and resiliency, that’s going to impress most employers. However, there are plenty of scenarios where your biggest achievement might show other traits instead. That’s fine, too.
Even if you’re not directly interviewing for a management role, you may face some leadership interview questions.
Employers like a candidate who can take initiative and lead projects and tasks even if it’s not their main role to lead. Plus, that shows you’ve got room to grow and can be promoted in the future.
So before any interview, think about one or two recent leadership experiences, ideally from work situations. Did you lead any meetings or projects? Did you train or mentor anyone? Did you spearhead a new initiative at work?
If you have no examples from work, then look to university experience, sports, or other clubs/activities where you led a project, task, meeting, or event.
Note that you may also be asked, “what is your leadership style?” but this is typically reserved for positions where you’ll be leading as a core part of your role.
While this question is similar to, “Tell me about yourself,” it’s best answered with a shorter response. To prepare, pick two or three key positive adjectives that you’d use to describe yourself and your work, and be ready to explain why.
I would describe myself as careful and hard-working. I’m persistent, and my work ethic is something I take pride in. But I also like to work carefully and ensure that I’m not committing mistakes or having to redo my work. I’ve found that by slowing down and working carefully and methodically, you can often save yourself a lot of time and hassles in the long run.
Employers like to hire a candidate who has interests, passions, etc. This is also why companies often ask, “what motivates you?” or, “what gets you out of bed in the morning?”
When answering, “what are you passionate about?” you have a lot of freedom. The question is very open-ended. I recommend naming one single area. This keeps everything simple and makes it easier to prepare. That’s why I recommend it for multiple interview questions and answers above, too.
So pick one topic that gets you really excited. It can be mission-oriented, like solving a crisis or helping the world. Or it can simply be that you enjoy challenges at work, learning, improving, problem-solving, reaching new levels of skill, etc.
You can also share a personal story explaining how you got into your field of work or why it matters to you.
No matter what you choose, pick one thing, and tell the truth. There isn’t one “right” answer here but employers can tell if you’re being genuine/honest, and that’s what they want to see.
As you reach the end of the job interview, the employer may ask, “do you want to tell us anything else?”
When you hear this, you have two choices.
First, if you feel the interview went well and you don’t have anything else to add, it’s completely fine to say:
“No, I think we covered the important topics here. I’m satisfied if you are. I’m looking forward to hearing your feedback, though, and the role sounds exciting to me.”
This is normal/acceptable and you shouldn’t feel pressure to say more if you’re satisfied that the interview went well. This is not a trick interview question.
However, if there is a topic you wish they had asked about but didn’t, or something unique that sets you apart from other candidates that you didn’t explain yet, then feel free to share it. They’re giving you the opportunity because they genuinely want to know.
You can also give yourself the opportunity to share a final point even if they don’t ask.
Just say, “Is it alright if I share one more detail? Something came to mind and I think it’s relevant.”
99% of interviewers will say, “Yes, sure!”
If you don’t ask good questions in each interview, you might be costing yourself job offers. Asking questions shows interest in the position and shows employers that you’re looking for the right fit, not just any job. This will make them trust you more and want you more.
You can ask about the work, the training, the challenges you’d face, the overall direction of the company.
Don’t ask about salary, benefits, time off, or anything that isn’t related to the work. Wait for them to bring it up, or until you know they want to offer you the position.
“Yes, I have a couple of questions actually. The first thing I wanted to ask: Is this a newly-created position, or did somebody hold this role in the past? And if so, what did that person go on to do after this position?”
If you want to print/save this article so that you can practice these questions and answers on the go, here’s a printable version of this list of questions and answers, in PDF format.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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