In this very competitive job market, it can be nerve-wracking to go for an interview and be stressed about how you’ll stand out from the competition. If you’re looking for a new job and are nervous about an upcoming interview, use this guide to calm your nerves and focus on your preparation to answer some tough interview questions.
Here’s a list of 10 common interview questions and the best answering techniques that will help you dazzle your prospects, shine in your job interviews, and hopefully secure the job you’re after.
1. “Can you tell me something about yourself and describe your background in brief?”
Interviewers like to hear stories about candidates. Make sure your story has a great beginning, a riveting middle, and an end that makes the interviewer root for you to win the job.
Talk about a relevant incident that made you keen on the profession and follow up by discussing your education. In the story, weave together how your academic training and your passion for the subject, combined with your work experience, make you a great fit for the job. If you’ve managed a complex project or worked on an exciting offbeat design, mention it.
Quick Example: “I come from a small town, where opportunities were limited. Since good schools were a rarity, I started using online learning to stay up-to-date with the best. That’s where I learned to code.”
2. “How did you hear about this position?”
If someone recommended you for the position, be sure to say their name. Don’t assume that the interviewer already knows about the referral. You’ll probably want to also follow up with how you know the person who referred you. For example, if you and Steve (who recommended you) worked together previously, or if you met him over coffee at a networking event, mention it. If Steve works at the company and has recommended that you apply for the job, explain why he thought you’d be the perfect fit.
Quick Example: “When Steve Marshall told me about this opening, I reached out to your hiring manager immediately because it seemed really exciting.”
If you found out about the position online, tell your interviewer. Then follow up with why you feel like you’re the ideal candidate for the job.
Quick Example: “I learned about the position through LinkedIn and was excited to apply because the skills required match well with the skills I have.”
3. “What type of work environment do you prefer?”
Be sure to do your homework on the organization and its culture before the interview. Your research on the organization will save you. Your preferred environment should closely conform to the company’s workplace culture. If the interviewer tells you something about the company that you didn’t uncover in your research—for example, “Our culture is buttoned-up and not too stressful”—describe any experience you’ve had that dovetails with the same. Share how your work ethic matches that of the organization’s.
Quick Example: “I like fast-paced work environments because that makes me feel like I am always learning and growing.”
4. “Can you describe your time-management skills?”
Time management is the process of planning how much time you will spend on something and when you will accomplish it. In any busy workplace, employees will need to cope with unplanned interruptions. Craft your answer to address this reality.
Quick Example: “I organize my time according to which tasks are most pressing, but I’m also able to shift my focus when an urgent situation arises that takes priority.”
5. “How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations? “
Share an instance when you remained calm despite the turmoil. If it’s a skill you’re developing, acknowledge it and include the steps you’re taking to respond better to pressure. For example, you could indicate that you’ve started a mindfulness practice to help you better deal with stress.
Quick Example: “While working on a new product launch, things were not going according to plan with my team. Instead of pointing fingers, my first reaction was to take a step back and figure out how we can solve for the problem at hand.”
6. “Do you prefer working independently or on a team?”
Your answer should be informed by the research you’ve done on the company culture. Nevertheless, you should expect that most work environments will have some team aspect.
Quick Example: “I enjoy a blend of the two. I like having a team to strategize with and reach out to for feedback, but I am also comfortable taking on assignments that require me to work independently.”
7. “When you’re balancing multiple projects, how do you keep yourself organized?”
Discuss a specific instance when you stayed on track. Talk about the importance and urgency of the projects you were working on and how you allocated your time accordingly. Explain how you remain organized and focused on the job in front of you.
Quick Example: “I’m used to juggling projects at my current job where I’m often moving between coding one software program to another. I use the timeboxing technique to make sure they’re all on track.”
8. “What did you do in the last year to improve your knowledge?”
Before you apply for a job, try to find someone you know who works at the organization and ask what skills you will need for the position. Then try to brush up on those skills by taking some online courses—or, if you have the time, in-person classes. You may also ask your interviewer what additional skills are needed for the position that you can learn.
Quick Example: “I read a lot of journals to keep abreast of the latest ideas. I also sharpen my skills by constantly taking online courses, such as…” (and then be specific).
9. “What are your salary expectations?”
Never raise the question of salary before the interviewer does.
Before you walk in for your first interview, you should already know what the salary is for the position. It’s often better to discuss a salary range rather than a specific number. Leave room for negotiation.
Quick Example: “Looking at my skills and experience and the average pay scales for this job, I’m looking at a salary around $….” (then fill in with your desired salary range and rationale).
10. “Are you applying for other jobs?”
Honesty is the best policy. If you’re applying for other jobs, say so. You don’t have to necessarily say where you’re applying unless you have another offer. You can also mention that you’re actively looking for offers if your interviewer asks.
Quick Example: “I’ve applied to a couple of other firms, but I really want to work at yours because…”
To make a winning impression, you’ll need to answer each question with poise and passion. But practicing first really helps. Meticulous preparation will allow you to appear confident and in control, helping position you as the ideal candidate when the competition is tough.