Responding to the Top 7 Interview Questions

On Monday, I posted a list of some of the most common interview questions and asked readers to think about how they’d respond to each one. Today’s post digs in deeper and offers tips on answering these questions.

1. What do you know about our company? Here’s your chance to show off the research you conducted about the organization before the interview. That’s right, you’ll need to find out some basic information about your prospective employer before showing up for the interview. Good things to know include: how long the company has been around, what they do and what’s unique about them. If the company has a website, review the About Us pages. Other ways to get more background include asking friends and family what they know about the company.

2. What are your strengths? When answering this question, think about your strengths which would be most valuable in relation to the job you’re applying for. Sure, being a trivia wiz or a great dancer are fun abilities, but they’re probably not what the interviewer is looking for, unless you’re applying to be the next host of “Jeopardy” or a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

3. What are your weaknesses? This is one of the most dreaded interview questions around. Nobody wants to list off their low points to a potential employer. But don’t despair – answering this question wisely can score major points with an interviewer. Instead of focusing on character weaknesses, like a bad temper or laziness, mention weaknesses that are job specific. Also, be sure to tell the interviewer what you’re doing to remedy the problem.

4. How would your last boss describe you? It’s always a little bit difficult to speak for someone else. In this case, it’s usually best to cite something specific the boss said about you in the past. For example, “My supervisor at Widget Manufacturing frequently praised my ability to work quickly and safely.”

5. Why did you leave your last job? Be careful on this question. You never want to bash your past employer or supervisor. You also don’t want to sound money hungry by listing low compensation as your main reason for leaving. Instead, try to focus on what the job you’re applying for offers that your last job didn’t. For instance, the position you’re interested in might have more opportunities for growth, be closer to your home or offer better hours.

6. Where do you want to be in five years? This is your opportunity to share your goals and interests. But, remember to keep it professional. The interviewer doesn’t need to know that you hope to buy a Harley Davidson or win the lottery. Most interviewers ask this question because they want to know if you’ll stick with them over the long haul. Even if you’re not sure where you’ll be in five years, try to give an answer that shows you’d be open sticking around if things go well.

7. Why do you want to work here? The winning answer for this question is not: “Because I need a job.” While that may be what’s running through your mind, the interviewer is looking for specific reasons their job opening appeals to you. When answering this question, think about how your skills would benefit the company. For example, “I want to work at XYZ company because your need for an energetic office manager is a great fit with my background and personality.”

What interview questions do you have a hard time answering? How do you prepare before an interview?

19 Responses to “Responding to the Top 7 Interview Questions”

  1. Emma #

    One question I have got that always throws me off when asked is: “I have a stack of resumes/applications here on my desk. Why should I hire you over all of these other people?” It is always tough to answer especially if they have already asked about your personal strengths since repeating an answer never seems like a good idea.

    September 11, 2007 at 10:02 am Reply
    • Bareng #

      Emma, I couldn’t have said it better. you know some questions you feel like you ask them back “Do you really have to ask that question?”

      May 21, 2012 at 12:59 pm Reply
  2. I agree, Emma, that is a difficult one. I usually find it best to summarize how your unique skills would be of use in that specific position.
    Here’s an example:
    Q. Emma, why should I hire you for this position as sales manager at XYZ Industries?
    A. You should hire me because your need for someone who can sell 25 widgets a day is a great match with my abilities. In the past, I’ve exceeded my sales goals by 10%. On top of that, at my last job, I successfully led a team of 5 other sales people to increase their widget orders by 15%.

    September 11, 2007 at 10:15 am Reply
  3. vincent #

    one question that i always have problem with is, “what are your weaknesses?” the question seems easy but it’s hard ’cause i never thought of my weaknesses or any weaknesses in my passed jobs.

    September 14, 2007 at 2:14 pm Reply
  4. omer mohammed #

    im just wondering to find warehouse job specially, loading truck or unload truck, qarantinte area,checking discrentance report, damage report,,
    the area im intersting, for around beaverton cite, oregon state,

    September 18, 2007 at 8:10 am Reply
  5. Orlando #

    Those are great suggestions Summer. The only thing I stumble with during an interview is not being able to sit still, how do you propose I fix this complex?

    September 19, 2007 at 10:58 am Reply
  6. Fidgeting can be a problem, especially when you’re really nervous. What about bringing a portfolio filled with past work examples to show during the interview? This would give your hands something to do.
    Another idea is to fold your hands on top of the table, sit up straight and make consistent eye contact to ensure that you aren’t wiggling around during the interview.

    September 25, 2007 at 2:10 pm Reply
  7. Lisa #

    I have been in the same field for nearly 15 yrs. I left my last position(employed for 3 1/2yrs)due to an unsatisfactory work environment. Actually, it was due to a hostile employee who I felt had anger issues. I had spoke to my supervisor about this situation and they did not respond only moving him to another office. The day I left,he had me cornered up against a wall yelling at me with clenched fists was the bottom line. I left this position. I was denied unemployment, appealed their decision and won my unemployment claim.Oh by the way the employee was fired 1 month after I left due to insubordination and not following company policy.My question is, how do I answer the question…Why did you leave your last job? I am not a quitter by any means, I have always been a loyal employee with excellent work ethics.

    November 3, 2007 at 11:15 am Reply
  8. Lisa,
    Your situation is a tricky one. While the job you left sounds like it was a very difficult one for you, it’s still important that you try to show a positive attitude if asked about your previous employment.
    Perhaps you could try something like, “I really enjoyed my last job and the line of work I was in. However, I left due to a situation that was beyond my control.” If the interviewer asks for further clarification, you could then explain that your work life suffered due to the actions of an employee who was later terminated for insubordination. Explain that this was a one-time occurrence and that you normally get along excellently with those around you (as long as that’s true.)
    Best wishes on your job search!

    November 5, 2007 at 9:07 am Reply
  9. Roger #

    I have a felony conviction that is less than 7 years old, and I
    just got out of prison. What’s the best way to handle the question about the gap in my employment?

    November 15, 2007 at 7:54 am Reply
  10. Hi Roger,
    Thanks for your question. I believe the best way to handle your situation is to be upfront and honest about your conviction and prison time. While you may prefer to keep the matter concealed, it’s probably in your best interest to be forthcoming. For example, if the employer runs a background check and discovers your felony charge, you will look much better if you’ve already discussed the matter with them. You don’t need to provide a lot of details on the situation – just a brief overview should be enough.
    To try and put a positive light on the situation, talk about what you’ve learned from your time in prison and how you have changed since your felony conviction.
    Additionally, if you have personal and professional references, provide these during the interview process. This will help the employer feel more comfortable offering you a position.
    And remember, to keep a positive attitude. Don’t get discouraged if the first few jobs you apply with turn you down. Eventually, you will find an employer that will look beyond your past and see your strengths.
    Best wishes on your job search!

    November 15, 2007 at 10:28 am Reply
  11. Lydia Thomas #

    The question i don’t find easy to answer is where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years time, as God is the only person who knows the answer to that question. The question about your weaknesses well, no person wants to reveal their weak points even if they have any.

    May 5, 2008 at 8:21 am Reply
  12. Anna M. Kirby #

    Hi, I have a problem with the answer to “Why did you leave you last job?” Not only did I work with hostile employees, myself being the only female, but worked very closely with my immediate boss whom sexually harrased me. When I spoke my mind about this situation for the last time he decided almost a year in their employment that I was not being consistant in my work and fired me. I don’t want to bash my last employer, but how do I explain this with out saying “I was fired because I wouldn’t sleep with the boss” or “I was sexually harrased.”
    I also have a problem with “What are you weaknesses” I know everyone has one, and not just chocolate. Thank You

    June 18, 2008 at 1:47 pm Reply
  13. Jennifer #

    Anna
    Nothing good can come from spewing negative remarks about former bosses – regardless of how or why you left. In my opinion, I would not focus on explaining that situation to a potential employer. Instead of venting, focus on what you learned from that employer and how it will help you in your current job search. If an employer asks why you left your previous employment, a good response would be something like this: “My leaving was really not about the job I had but about the next step I wanted to make in my career…” Tell them you learned a lot from your previous job, skills that will enable you to be a more productive employee for their company. But, make sure you are able to list the skills if asked. Explain that you wanted to expand your job skills and felt as though you could achieve that elsewhere. Give answers that make yourself look good and how what you learned from your previous employer will help you succeed in the current job you’re applying for. A good response might be: Don’t dwell on the question – turn the focus back to the job you’re applying for.
    As for the weakness question, you’re right, everyone has one. Employers want to know that you’re human and that you recognize aspects about yourself that might need improvement. If potential employers know you can spot problem areas, especially with yourself and work toward improving them, you’ll prove to be a valuable asset to their team. List areas that you know you need to work on and explain what you’re doing to overcome those challenges.
    I hope this answers your question. Thanks for reading!

    June 18, 2008 at 4:58 pm Reply
  14. Amy #

    I am usually a very outgoing, confident person. But for some reason, no matter what I do, I always get extremely nervous on an interview. It is the craziest thing! My voice becomes really “shaky” and my mind goes totally blank! And then it never fails – they ask me to tell them all about myself. What is the best way to answer that? I obviously know that they don’t want to hear, “Hi! I’m Amy and I’m a Leo who loves the beach!” What are some suggestions as to what the interviewer wants to know about me? And how in the world do I keep myself from getting so nervous? It is very frustrating to say the least!!

    May 3, 2009 at 8:31 am Reply
  15. Dawn Traxler #

    I have a disability I’m deaf in one dear. My question is do I tell the prospective employer that I’m dear in one ear and if I do does that blow my chances of landing the job. The other problem I find is that when I’m applying for a job that I’m interested in but I don’t have any experience but I’m willing to learn what should I do. I’m always interested in learning something new.

    May 7, 2009 at 10:42 am Reply
  16. Janet Drouin #

    I have A disability I’m deaf in right ear .My ? is do I tell the prospective employer that I’m deaf in one ear and if I do does that blow my chances of getting A job? The other problem is if I find A job that I’m interested in and don’t have any experience in it but I’m willing to learn what should I do? I’m always interested in learning something new. I’m A very good person .
    Thanks,Janet Drouin

    July 26, 2009 at 6:35 pm Reply
  17. I’m a senior citizen and my career ambitions are still undefined. My employment spans almost 40 years. At least half the time I worked for temporary agencies. I’ve had a few jobs that lasted from 2 to 5 years (that made me feel proud of myself). I move a lot and I’m a job hopper. During the last two decades, I’ve noticed that longevity on the job is not necessarily what employers are looking for. What’s the expectation that employers have when they look at length of employment on an application?

    July 31, 2009 at 7:05 pm Reply
  18. Bethany #

    “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” I absolutly HATE that question! Honestly, do any of us know where we will be or what we will be doing in ten years?

    August 14, 2009 at 9:55 pm Reply

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