7 most commonly asked questions on a job interview

This blog post is all about the 7 most commonly asked questions in a job interview. This article will also cover best practices on how to answer these questions, and why employers like to ask these questions.

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You got an interview, congratulations! It is a huge achievement, and you are much farther than many job seekers trying to land the role. 
So take a moment and savor your accomplishment. 

If you are here is because you want to be prepared for that interview. And for that I applaud you, no really, not all job seekers do this, and it shows on the day of the interview. 

Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, when interview day arrives, most of us feel pretty nervous. 

We want to do well and impress the hiring managers so that we can get a job offer. But how exactly do you prepare for an interview? How much time should I spend preparing beforehand? Are there any questions I should ask or be prepared to answer on the day of the interview? 

As a recruiter, Human Resources Manager, and hiring manager, I have had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds, if not thousands of candidates. And have also been a job seeker myself, so I have been in tons of interviews as well, so I know the feeling. 

This blog post is all about the 7 most commonly asked questions in a job interview. This article will also cover best practices on how to answer these questions, and why employers like to ask these questions. 

WHY SHOULD YOU BE PREPARED FOR THE MOST COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS 

One thing that all interviews have in common is that they will be asking a series of generic questions.

The reason why employers do this is to have a better metric to compare candidates, they ask the same questions and evaluate the candidacy by the answers the job seeker gives. 

This gives you an advantage over other candidates who wing it, although these interviewers use the same old questions, they all have reasons to ask these, and most are looking for specific answers. 

Not knowing how to answer these questions could leave the wrong impression, they might hurt you more than you think and can cost you the job. So be sure to read that blog post to ensure you understand and are able to answer those questions confidently.

  1. TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF 

Another variation of this question could be “can you walk me through your resume?” or “why don’t you tell me more about your background?”

Although most likely 9 out of ten interviewers will ask you this question to initiate the conversation, many don’t know how to answer it, and that is because you might not know why the question is being asked in the first place. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

The reason employers and interviewers like to ask this question is that they want to give you the time to tell them a story about who you are, they want to give you the opportunity to initiate the conversation and maybe even help you feel more comfortable. 

Everyone in the interview is most likely nervous and this question sounds innocent and low stake enough to break the ice. 

Another not-so-popular reason why this question is asked is that the interviewer is lazy, or genuinely did not have the time to review your resume ahead of time, and they want you to start the conversation while they locate your information, and that gives them time to get their act together. 

BEST PRACTICES ON HOW TO ANSWER THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

First things first, this question tends to trick job seekers into giving their whole entire career story, and the key here is to keep it brief and concise. 

It is ok to share a little of a fun fact or something person as you ease into answering this job interview question, only of course if you are comfortable sharing. 

The best practice is to keep this answer to 60-90 seconds or even 2 minutes depending on how long the interview is going to be. 

Write up a sample answer and practice it to check if it is too long, too vague, or too superficial. 

The way I like to answer this question as a job seeker is to start off by telling the interviewer how I started my career, how I revolutionized, sprinkle in some interesting projects, and then close it out by saying why I am looking for new opportunities. 

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“I started my career in HR by accident, as a very typical college graduate I had no idea what I could do with a Management degree, and a mentor mentioned how great my personality will be lined up with recruitment and HR, and the rest is history. What I enjoy the most about this field is the daily interaction with new people, and the opportunity to be the brand ambassador for the company I am currently representing. Recently I organized a social media campaign to advertise the roles and at the same time create brand awareness for a relatively small start-up. Although I love the work I am doing, I am looking for more structure when it comes to projects and potentially more leadership opportunities. In my spare time, I love to go hiking, read books and watch true crime documentaries.”


2. WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES? 

This question can also be camouflaged as “what is something you’d like to improve on?”

To be quite honest, I am not a fan of this question, and as a recruiter, I have never asked this question unless I was specifically instructed to do so. 

Nevertheless, it is a very common question you should be prepared to answer during a job interview because it can be one of the trickiest ones. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

Employers like to ask this question to see how self-aware you are when it comes to your shortcomings, and how you are going to make that weakness better. 

Self-awareness often makes for strong leaders and it also indicates how constructive feedback is received on your end. 

BEST PRACTICES ON HOW TO ANSWER THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

Stay away from using strength in disguise, meaning, it is not going to sound good if you say something like “I work too hard”, “I am a perfectionist”, etc. 

The best way to answer this question is to pick something you are genuinely lacking experience in, or something you wish to improve upon and elaborate on an example where you had to use this weakness, how you are actively improving, or what are your plans to make that better. 

This is a great opportunity to showcase what an action taker you are and you are a long-life learner. 

Another thing you should stay away from is naming a weakness that is explicitly needed to do the job. For example, if “strong communication skills” are a must-have on the job description, do not say you are looking to improve your communication skills. 

One last piece of advice here is to also not mention something that is personality-related, essentially the employer wants to know that this weakness can be improved upon, and often a trait of a personality in an adult can rarely be changed. 

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“One area that I have noticed can use a little bit more attention is my influencing skills, although not essentially needed for the role I have been performing, I realize how important it is to have influence without authority, not only to work collaborative and cross-functionally but also to successfully showcase my point of view to other while evoking a sense of respect for all perspectives. And so what I have been doing recently is spending more time learning what is important to others in the team, so that I am able to serve them in the way they wish to be served and supported, and also becoming more accessible to those that might not obviously be related to the work I do for the organization.” 


3. WHAT ARE YOUR SALARY EXPECTATIONS?

Before we go into more detail about this question it is important to point out that many states prohibit employers from asking you the job seeker about salary history, which is the word it this way. 

Look up your local laws to see if you are in one of these states, 

This question is really controversial, especially on social media, many people think you should avoid this question by putting it back on the interviewer and asking “what is the budget for the salary”, while others urge you to just answer head-on. 

My opinion is that you should proceed however you feel the most comfortable, although I love to educate people through this blog, it is important to me that my readers take this advice with a grain of salt because I don’t know your specific situation. YOU KNOW WHAT FEELS RIGHT FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

Since I have always been on both sides of the table and I can tell you with confidence that different employers have different intentions behind this question, and it is hard to distinguish which one is doing what. 

Even more, a reason to be prepared to answer this question so you are not cut with your pants down. 

Some employers ask because they want to ensure there is not a discrepancy between the budget and your expectations. 

Others might ask because they want to get you for cheaper, yes it sounds awful but it is the reality. 

While other companies might not actually have a budget at hand due to many reasons (different locations, no salary band information, no comp team, etc) 

I have seen all three different scenarios with my experience, which is why I will give you a sample answer for you to decide if you want to give a number or if you want to flip the question back to them. 

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

GIVE A NUMBER

“For what I know about this role so far, some research, and conversations with people in similar roles and industries I would be looking for a base salary of $85,000 – $110,000 USD and that could change depending on scope, impact, and other responsibilities that might come up later in the process as I get to know the role a little more. With that said I would like to know more about your compensation philosophy and how the packages are broken down because my base expectations could change once I understand that a little more.”

DON’T GIVE A NUMBER

“That is an interesting question because we are so early on in the process I would like to have more time to do research and get to know more about what the role entails, would you be able to share the salary range the team has currently allocated for this role? I understand that there might be a big range and the band for someone like that would depend on experience, interview performance, and internal equity, so considering those factors I would like to have an understanding of the compensation package or salary range if you can share.”


4. WHY ARE YOU LEAVING YOUR CURRENT ROLE

This is another question that I tend to stay away from asking candidates because I don’t find value to add to this. 

However, it is a reasonably asked question during job interviews, so it is best to be prepared and not get caught off guard. 

Mistakes you should avoid when you are answering this question is bashing your employer, and staying away from saying anything negative about your current role.

Instead, concentrate on saying why you are looking for a new role as opposed to saying why you want to leave the one you have. 

Also avoid giving personal reasons for wanting to leave that job, like commuting time, not earning enough, etc.  

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

The main reason why they want to know this is because this speaks volumes to your motivators as a job seeker. 

They can use motivation as a way to negotiate with you, and to make their role more appealing to you.

They also want to gauge how you handle uncomfortable situations, since this question can appear to be personal, they are testing if you can stay diplomatic and answer in a way that won’t put the blame on others.

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“While I have learned so much about XYZ in this role, I came to the realization that I want to explore the opportunity to learn more about ABC, and unfortunately given the industry of my current employer it is not a possible path for me to take at this time.” 


5. TELL ME ABOUT A TIME YOU MADE A MISTAKE, HOW DID YOU HANDLE IT, AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT

People make mistakes, we are only human, and being able to learn from mistakes makes a strong leader. 

This question tends to say a lot about a candidate’s ability to take responsibility, be self-aware, and learn from past experiences. 

SO, the best practice here is to pick a genuine mistake you have made recently, give context, try not to blame it on others, and explain how the mistake happened, how you rectified the mistake, and what you learned from it. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

Employers understand that mistakes are bound to happen and they want to know how you handle that. 

Some people can’t handle making mistakes and so they blame others or hide it so that no one knows, but those are not the best qualities in a leader. 

The employer in this case wants to ensure that you are someone of integrity that will still tell the truth even when it does not make you look good. 

Because everyone that is human is bound to make mistakes, how do you handle those mistakes, what do you learn from those mistakes and how can you ensure that the same mistakes are not made again. 

The mistake should be related to your day-to-day job but it should not emphasize an aspect of the role that appears to be critical.

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“We delivered a project late to a very high stake client because I was eager to make a good impression that I oversold and underestimate the possibilities of a delay due to cross-departments needed to put together the final package. As soon as I found out that the project was not going to be completed in time, I immediately gather all the possibilities, the reasons, and the estimated time of completion, and I called the client. I was super apologetic and took responsibility for promising a date that unfortunately was not going to be possible. The client was disappointed but from that point forward I over-communicated with that client and took up a notch the white glove service. I learned from this mistake that is best to be conservative with a date of delivery and be able to deliver earlier than expected, and not overpromise than look bad and make the client upset by not making realistic expectations.” 


6. WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN FIVE YEARS 

This is a doozy because if you think about it, even going back 3-5 years in your life, I am sure you would not have thought back then that you would be where you are. 

This question seems silly and irrelevant but it is a great way to find out more about your future goals and aspirations. 

And most importantly are you using this role simply as a stepping stone or is truly because you like the work/company. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

Hiring managers like to ask this question because if they are smart they would like to appeal to your motivators and what is important to you long term. 

What you see as the answer to this question can be tricky because really you can’t predict where you’s be in 5 years from now. But you do have an idea of where you would like to be and how those connect to the opportunities that this role and company can provide. 

The best tips I can give you here is to think about your career goals, the immediate ones, short, and long term goals, and then connect the opportunities of the role to those goals.  

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“I consider myself to be a long-life learner, I am always looking for to be involved and in the know of the new technologies that are coming out, I like to be a well-informed person, so definitely see myself establishing my name and expert in the field. Once I know I have a strong footing in the basics, and fundamentals, and have become a specialist in the area, I would love to become an official mentor by leading a small team of specialists in the areas of the role. And of course, grow with the company’s mission and values.”


7. WHAT PROJECT OR ACCOMPLISHMENT ARE YOU THE PROUDEST OF, AND WHY

This is another question that touches upon your values and what is important to you. When you are proud of something, most likely you spent and dedicated time and energy towards that project. 

It gives the hiring manager a quick peek into your personality and how much you value recognition, career advancement, etc. 

Picking something that is going to be relevant to the role you are interviewing for will be key here, make it realistic and try to avoid the superhero complex as well as using something that could negatively represent your current or previous employer. 

WHY DO EMPLOYERS ASK THIS INTERVIEW QUESTION

Hiring managers want to know comfortable you are in self-promoting in a way that is not bragging but stating facts. 

This is an important question to answer especially if you are coming from underrepresented backgrounds, it has been established that people that come from underprivileged backgrounds tend to have a harder time expressing themselves in a way that would make them look accomplished or competent. 

Take this opportunity to write down all the things people have congratulated you on and the things you have truly found joy in doing and getting those results. 

SAMPLE ANSWER TO THIS JOB INTERVIEW QUESTION

“Something I am really porous of is that I was promoted within 9 months of my entry-level position as a marketing coordinator. 

Marketing has always been such a fascinating field to be in, it is so much to be learned and things are constantly changing. 

When I started my career it was a startup and as I am sure you know working at a smaller company with limited resources tends to be a recipe for chaos and lack of direction/structure. 

But I took this as a challenge and decided to take a lot of initiative to learn all I needed about how to present our company in the best light possible by creating marketing materials and campaigns around brand recognition. 

I created four social media accounts on different platforms to make videos and posts about what it was like to use our products.

When after five months of constant work one of the posts was picked up by a major news outlet and we received tons of traffic and also the most sales the company has seen in the last year. 

Because of this, I was promoted later to be the Marketing Manager in charge of the social team, and I got to train new specialists and coordinators coming in to support us on the now expanded marketing efforts.”


I hope this has served you in the best way because I am sure this is the right place if you have ever wondered the following:

  • How to interview well
  • The best way to answer tell me about yourself interview question
  • The top 7 most commonly asked questions on a job interview

As always please leave your comments and questions below, I read every single one. If you have suggestions for future posts I am happy to take them into consideration. 

This blog post was all about 7 of the most commonly asked questions in a job interview. 

Come back next week because I will release an additional 8 questions to help you land that job of your dreams. 

IMPORTANT: I AM NOT A LICENSED FINANCIAL ADVISOR OR ACCOUNTANT. THE INFORMATION, RESOURCES, AND TOOLS PROVIDED ON THIS WEBSITE ARE BASED ON MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND INDIVIDUAL OPINION AND IT SHOULD ONLY SERVE AS EDUCATION AND ENTERTAINMENT. BE SURE TO CONSULT A PROFESSIONAL IN THE FINANCIAL SECTOR PRIOR TO MAKING ANY INVESTMENTS OR DECISIONS.

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