How to Answer the 5 Most Common Interview Questions

A job interview is one of the most stressful parts of the job search process. Trying to figure out what questions you’ll be asked and how to answer them isn’t an easy task. One of the best things you can do to prepare is to get clear on what you do best and make a list of your top skills. No matter what questions they ask, knowing this information will help you craft more personal, memorable and honest answers.

Though you can’t anticipate every question you’ll be asked, there are a few standard questions you will most likely encounter in every interview.

Today I want to dive into the 5 most common interview questions you’ll be asked and provide some insight about the information the interviewer is trying to gather. Hopefully, by knowing what information they’re gathering, it will help you be better prepared to answer. I’ll also share some tips on how to answer these questions and give you some example responses.

1. Tell me about yourself.

This will most likely be one of the first questions you’re asked, so use this as an opportunity to set yourself apart immediately. Answer the question by using your elevator pitch. Don’t repeat what’s on your resume or give your life story. The answer should be concise and to the point, but also convey a little bit about who you are as a person.

Tips on how to answer

  • Mention 1 or 2 skills required for the position in your answer.

Example answer

“I’ve always enjoyed solving problems. It’s one of my best skills. That’s why I pursued a career in project management. Most recently, I led the development of new processing platform integration. I’m a person who thrives in a fast-paced environment, so right now I’m looking for an opportunity to apply my technical experience and creative problem-solving skills at an innovative company like this one.”

2. Why are you leaving your current job?

This question tells the interviewer how self-accountable you are. It indicates whether or not you take full responsibility for your choices or if you blame others when things don’t go as planned. Your response to this question also tells the interviewer how you will speak about the company to others.

Answering the question by saying you’re leaving because of a difficult boss or because you no longer feel challenged in the position shows you view others as the source of your problems. If you respond by bad mouthing your current employer, it shows your main focus is on the negatives.

You want your answer to show you’re interested in up-leveling yourself, your career and that you’re being intentional about your next career step.

Tips on how to answer

  • Give an honest answer, but you don’t have to share details or give a specific reason.
  • Focus answer on your personal growth and career path development instead of why you're unhappy.

Example answer

"I've really taken time to consider how I want to move forward in my career. I have a talent and passion for people development and I want a career that allows me to utilize my best skills. I'm interested in making a change because I want to pursue a path that's more focused on leadership and people development. I know if I find a job that's the right fit for my skill set, my potential is unlimited. This job sounds like an ideal match for me and I'm so excited to be speaking with you today."

3. What are your biggest strengths?

Interviewers have heard it all when it comes to this question, so putting some thought into your answer beforehand is key. Before you go into the interview, think about what it is you do best and how your skills align with the job description.

Engage the interviewer with a story about your strengths and something personal about you. Giving one specific example about your strength is much better than just listing 3 or 4 skills. Be sure not to tell them what you think they want to hear either. They’ll see right through that response.

Tips on how to answer

  • Be honest about what makes you unique and why.
  • Get personal and share what brings you joy in a job.
  • Be specific and give examples of when you have used your strengths to your advantage.

Example answer

“I’m a creative problem solver and enjoy looking for creative solutions. I’ve always been able to take complex things and make them easy to understand. When it comes to solving problems, I pride myself on the ability to see things from multiple angles. It’s something that comes naturally to me and I really enjoy the challenge. I once had a client that needed a new marketing strategy for an existing product. My department tried several strategies and nothing seemed to work. I decided to go back to the drawing board and dissect what had worked in the past and try to put an innovative angle on the marketing campaign. By working my way through the problem and identifying the key issue, I was able to come up with a new creative approach to their campaign.”

4. What are your biggest weaknesses?

This question helps interviewers understand how you view your own shortcomings. Though admitting your weaknesses is hard, no one is perfect. The worst way to answer the question is by saying you don’t have any weaknesses or to use a “canned” response like being an overachiever. It comes across as inauthentic and like you’re trying to be perfect.

Instead, tell a story to redirect the conversation to discuss your talents. Give a detailed example of the situation and how you’ve improved. By being honest about your weaknesses and talking about how you’re working to overcome it or sharing the lessons you’ve learned, it makes you come across as a real, relatable person and shows you’re self-aware.

Tips on how to answer

  • Describe your weakness.
  • Explain a specific situation or task where your weakness hindered you.
  • Share how you overcame it or what you learned.

Example answer

“I tend to be too direct in my communication style. Once I was giving an employee feedback on a performance issue. I was very honest and direct, telling her exactly what needed to change. I realized after our conversation I came across too harshly. With this particular employee, I realized I needed to be specific, yet positive. I should’ve asked her what she thought needed to be changed, instead of telling her. I prefer direct feedback and made the assumption that’s what others also prefer. I learned I needed to be more mindful of individual personalities when coaching, instead of using the same coaching style with everyone. That situation was a game changer for me in terms of how I coach my teams. I can still be too straightforward at times, but I’m more aware of it now and will pivot my communication style once I catch myself being too direct.”

5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Interviewers aren’t asking this question to see if you plan on being with the company 5 years from now. They’re asking because they want to know your ambitions. They want to know if you’re interested in advancement or if you’d like to stay in the same position. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, so be honest about what you want to do. If this is your dream job, tell them. If there’s something you’d like to do next, tell them that as well.

Tips on how to answer

  • Take time before the interview to think about what it is you want and what you really want to be doing.

Example answer

“I often think about my long-term goals and how I want to advance in my career. Working for this company has been a goal of mine for a long time. My main focus is on excelling in this role and contributing to the company. I know if I work hard and do my best, my career will naturally progress. I’m an ambitious person and know once I prove myself in this role, I’ll be interested in the next career step. I’m not sure what that will be at this point, but I’m excited about the possibilities.”

When it comes to answering these 5 common interview questions, the key is not to answer them how you think the interviewer wants them to be answered, but to answer them honestly. Don’t be afraid to use specific examples so you don’t come across as boring. Use your answers to set yourself apart as a candidate and highlight who you are and what makes you unique.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to properly prepare for your interview or what to do after your interview, then consider becoming a member of the 3R Pro community.  

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Renita Burgett