Answering the Top Interview Questions

These are the interview questions asked most often in a job interview.

View each question as an opportunity to show how you are exactly the right person for this employer and this job.

Each article includes sample answers as examples of how the question can be answered. Use the sample answers to help you create your own answers.

The best way to impress interviewers is to have thought about the questions and be well-prepared in advance to answer them.

Then, after the interview, promptly sent a well-written thank you email.

How to Answer the Interview Questions Asked Most Often

These are the top interview questions usually asked in a job interview. Each article includes sample answers as examples of how the question can be answered.

Answering the Dreaded Salary Questions

These are the scariest and most hazardous questions to answer (hazardous both for this opportunity and also for your future income).

The best strategy is to be well-prepared to answer both of them.

How to Answer: What Is Your Current Salary?

This question may be one of the earliest questions you are asked, particularly in a phone screen interview.

While this question is illegal in many locations, recruiters and interviewers still ask it, and the ATS system may still require it. Do consider if you want to work for an employer which asks illegal questions — these may be a warning sign of a corporate culture that ignores rules.

However, where the question is legal, evaluate the many sample answers, including those for the ATS, to choose the best for you or to help you develop your own. Several responses that keep your salary private are provided, like this one:

As I am sure you understand, my employer considers employee salaries to be confidential, and access to this information is limited to management inside our organization. So, I am unable to share it with you. However, if you share the salary range for this position, I can confirm whether or not my current salary is within that range.

Also see the question below for the alternative version of this question now often being asked by employers. Learn more…

How to Answer: What Are Your Salary Expectations?

This is a more acceptable variation of the current-salary question and, again, may be one of the earliest questions you are asked.

The best strategy is to do research to know what a reasonable salary is for the job. A “wrong” answer can result in a job offer with a salary that is too low or the end of the opportunity if you state a salary that is too high.

Doing your own research before the interview is essential. You can also collect more information from the employer which can help you to position yourself correctly, like this:

I need to understand and evaluate the total compensation package before I give you a salary number. Could you share the standard benefits you provide?

The “total compensation package” may include vacation time, personal days, insurance coverage, pension contributions, bonuses (if any), and more, depending on the employer. These parts of the jobs total compensation are typically discussed when an offer is being made.

See the sample answers in this article for ideas about postponing, and then answering this question. Learn more…

Answering the Standard Questions About You

Most interviewers ask some variation of these questions, trying to get a sense of your personality, your general fit for the job and the organization, and what motivates you in your work.

Focus your answers on what is relevant to each job and employer to help them see how well you will fit in.

How to Answer: Tell Me (or Us) About Yourself

Often the opening question, the employer is typically are interested in a quick summary of who you are and what you have accomplished, related to this job opening. They want to understand how well you fit into this position.

This is not an invitation to ramble on about your life history, your favorite baseball team (unless you are interviewing for a job on the team), your car (unless you are interviewing for a car-related job), your school, your family, etc. In fact, keep those thoughts to yourself because they could disqualify for for a job, depending on the preferences of the person/people interviewing you.

Instead, focus on your background, education, and experience that are relevant to this employer and this opportunity, using the 2-part answer formula described in this article. Learn more…

How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

Basically, employers have two concerns behind this question: Could you do the job well? And would you fit successfully into the organization?

Your qualifications appear to be acceptable, or they wouldn’t be interviewing you. This question is to help dig out aspects of working with you that don’t usually show up in a resume or LinkedIn Profile.

Generally, the best weakness is one of these basic types:

  • a strength-in-disguise weakness
  • a strength presented as a weakness (with the recovery)
  • an irrelevant weakness.

Determining your greatest weaknesses can be a big and somewhat scary idea that may take years of analysis to determine. Since you probably don’t have time for all that analysis, find more than 60 possible weaknesses to choose from in this article, giving you examples and helping you find your answers to this question.

Take care to choose the “right” weakness for each job and employer, and be prepared with more than one in case the follow up question asks you for another weakness. Learn more…

How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Strength?

If you are typically a modest person or not accustomed to bragging about yourself, get over it, at least for your job interviews. If you don’t tell employers what your strengths are, they will never know.

Employers ask this question for a couple of reasons: They are interested in what you think your strengths are because that gives them an insight into your personality, and this answer is the quickest way to gain insight into your strengths.

More than 100 possibilities are included in this article to help you choose or find your strengths. Choose the strength most appropriate for the job you are interviewing for. Remember, being “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound” didn’t get Clark Kent his job as a reporter — his writing skills did. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Should We Hire You?

This is a critical question because it will show your success, self-confidence, and preparation. Employers take this question very seriously, and you should, too. Your answer to this question should focus on them, not on you!

You are the seller in this situation, not the buyer. So, you need to focus on the benefits (more than one!) to the buyer. Remember that the goal here is to entice this employer to offer you this job.

The question of, “Why should we hire you?” can take a variety of forms such as, “Why do you think you will be successful in this position?” In this answer, do double-time by selling yourself and by demonstrating your knowledge of the company. Learn more…

How to Answer: Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

This question is extremely easy to fumble. “Your job” or “CEO” are not good answers! Keep your answer somewhat general since a lot can happen in 5 years, but don’t be too vague since a non-answer will make you look like you don’t take your career — or your job — very seriously. And, very few employers will be interested in you then.

Yes, they want to know if you are planning to stay, and what you think your future holds. The candidate who takes time to prepare a list of personal goals in advance of the interview will be able to communicate his/her strengths and potential fit best.

Preparing for this question is a very good exercise in figuring out what you enjoy doing, what is meaningful to you, and — really — what you actually want to be doing in five years. This could help you focus your job search, in addition to providing a good answer to a question in a job interview.
Learn more…

Answering Questions About Your Interest in THIS Job and THIS Employer

Employers want to avoid job candidates who are not interested in them or in the job.

If you are not interested in them, they are definitely not interested in you.

Demonstrate your interest by being well-prepared and by having good answers, relevant to each job and employer.

How to Answer: How Did You Find This Job?

This question is often asked early in an interview. Often this question is asked so that the employer can understand which recruiting method or platform being used is the most effective.

They also ask this question to gauge how interested you are in the job and in working for them. Did you just stumble over the opportunity on a job board, or — best! — did an employee bring it to your attention and refer you for the job?

Even if a question is not particularly challenging or complex on the surface, take care with your answer. In general, being honest is the best strategy, but be careful with how you respond to this question. With your answer, do your best to express your enthusiasm for this employer and this job. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Putting together the answer to this question is a good exercise for your job search and career. Is this employer a good place to work, or NOT? You don’t want to be looking for a new job too soon.

This may sound like an invitation to describe how landing the job will benefit you. Again, it’s not! The want to understand how much you know about them — how interested you really are in the organization and the job.

When you are asked this innocent-sounding question, you must have a strong, relevant answer. Your answer should demonstrate your knowledge of the company and the skills, talents, experience, and strengths you have that are a match for their culture and the targeted position/department.
Learn more…

How to Answer: What Do You Know About Us?

Lack of knowledge about the employer equals lack of interest in the interviewer’s mind, which is deadly. If you aren’t interested enough in them to know some relevant information about them (like why you want to work there), they are definitely not interested in you.

Don’t exaggerate or over-do the compliments. Demonstrate that you have done enough research to know that you are truly interested in working for the organization, but avoid seeming like a stalker — e.g., don’t track down where people live or mention what cars they drive (even if you are a big fan of that location or car).

Too many candidates just hit the apply button for no reason (apparent to the employer). Show that you are NOT that candidate. Show that you are very interested in working for this employer. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Do You Want THIS Job?

First of all, even if the question is not asked, you should clearly know why you really want the job. Consider this as your opportunity to position yourself well and to gain a competitive advantage over other candidates.

This may sound like an invitation to describe how landing the job will benefit you. But, it’s not! Describe why this job interests you, sharing both your personal goals and your understanding of the job.

Use the Career Matrix described in this article to decide if you really do want this job and why you want it. Then, answering will be easy. Learn more...

Answering Questions About Why You Are Job Hunting

Proceed very carefully when answering these questions!

Interviewers want to understand what is motivating you to job search. Are you never satisfied with a job (a “job hopper”)? Are you in trouble with a current or former employer? Would you be “a problem” to manage?

The interviewer’s goal, as usual, is to avoid making a “bad hire.” They want to know if the reason you are job hunting is the reason they should not hire you.

How to Answer: Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?

Careful! No ranting and no trashing of your current employer. Many good reasons exist to decide to leave, and they can have nothing to do with how horrible your manager might be.

If you speak poorly of a company or boss during an interview, what proof does the potentially new employer have to believe that you wouldn’t say the same thing to a customer or coworker in the new company? Everyone knows that would be bad for business.

So, knowing that you shouldn’t say anything negative regarding a company or individual supervisor in an interview, how should you answer this question?

Unless you are part of a well-publicized corporate implosion (e.g. Enron, Lehman Brothers) or reorganization that happened recently, stay positive in your response. Start by responding with “What I really like about this job and company that is different from my current one is…”

Take the opportunity to share what you’ve learned about the potential new company (demonstrating your interest in the opportunity). Talk about the environment and culture of this company, and how you feel it’s a strong match with your strengths and experience. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job — After Being Fired?

Keep in mind, that most everyone you talk to has likely been terminated at least once in his/her career, or if he/she hasn’t been terminated, they know several good people who have been terminated. Being fired is a “speed bump” in your career that has happened to literally hundreds of millions of people who have gone on to have great careers.

The main thing to remember is no matter how bad the situation was, don’t say anything blatantly negative about the employer. No trash talk in a job interview or networking situation. Regardless of the reason, you can frame the situation so that you don’t come across as someone an employer would avoid hiring.

When possible, sandwich your response between two positive statements. Don’t dwell on the experience. Answer the question, briefly and positively (examples included), and move on. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job — After a Layoff?

Layoffs happen to many people and are not your fault. So, be prepared to explain about the layoff without trashing anyone or anything at your former employer.
Whether you use the term layoff, downsizing, or RIF, the result is the same; you lost your job and were involuntarily separated.

Follow these simple rules when you answer: keep your answer brief, keep your answer positive, and share something you learned through the process. A job interview is not a time to share grievances or speak disparagingly against an employer. Learn more…

How to Answer: Why Did You Quit Your Last Job

Quitting a job can be messy. Just thinking about the events leading up to your quitting, you may feel frustrated, angry, embarrassed, or anxious. That’s normal. But, you need the interviewer feeling confident, and you need to feel confident. That means you have to feel okay about the circumstances around your quitting.

Acknowledge the courage it took to take the leap. Avoid trashing your former employer, and focus on now — why you are excited about this new job and on the opportunities the new job offers that weren’t available in your last job. Learn more…

How to Answer: Explain Your Gap in Employment

Finding a job when you are unemployed is challenging, but you need to be prepared with an explanations for the gap. You should have an acceptable reason ready for leaving every job you have held.

If you have been caught in mergers and layoffs, simply explain that. A gap of a few months is nothing to worry about. You explain the gap as time spent getting your resume and job hunt up to speed, painting the house and taking an unscheduled, but welcome sabbatical after X years on the job (smile).

With gaps approaching a year and longer, it is important that you were doing something, whether it was temp work, volunteer work, or occasional consulting gigs, along with time spent on your job hunt. For example:

“I’ve never been without a job before. I had no idea it would be this long. It took me months to realize just how much everything to do with job hunting has changed and then another few months to educate myself and get up to speed. That kick-started my job search, and here I am, proof positive of my determination and persistence.”

The fact that they invited you in for an interview means they are interested. Handle this question well, and you’re set. Learn more…

Answering the Closing Questions

These are standard end-of-the-interview questions. They are not guarantees of a job offer, so don’t leap to any conclusions.

As usual, to impress the interviewers, be prepared, and have good answers ready for these questions.

How to Answer: Do You Have Any Questions?

Don’t make the mistake of under-estimating the importance of this question! It’s an opportunity and a challenge.

At a minimum, collect information on how their hiring process works by asking these 5 Absolute Must-Ask Questions for the End of Your Next Interview. When you are invited into a second or third interview, ask these 5 Key Questions to Ask in the Second (and Third) Interview.

Since the best way to avoid taking a job you will hate (resulting in another job hunt too soon) is to learn as much as you can about the job, the employer, your boss, your coworkers, and the environment before you accept the job offer, have your own questions ready.

Don’t feel obligated to wait until the end of the interview to ask your questions. Some questions are appropriate at different times in the interview, as described below, and at different stages of the interview process which often goes several rounds.

Having good questions (not about the vacation days!) is a sign to employers of your interest in the opportunity. This article provides more than 50 possible questions for you to choose the ones you want to ask. Learn more…

How to Answer: When Can You Start?

Another question that seems very straight forward but is in fact a very tricky question, much more dangerous than most job seekers typically assume. Don’t say that you can start tomorrow unless you are unemployed.

A concern behind this question that most job seekers don’t understand — if you are willing to leave your current employer without proper notice (typically 2 weeks), they know that you could do that to them — which will not be impressive!

Understand that being asked this question is not necessarily an indication that a job offer is coming next. Many interviewers ask this question of every job candidate as part of the process of deciding which candidate to hire, but it’s best to be prepared with a good answer. Find several sample answers in this article. Learn more…

For another take on answering these questions, read Smart Answers to Common Job Interview Questions written by Job-Hunt’s Guide to Working with Recruiters Expert, recruiter Jeff Lipschultz.

Why Employers Ask These Questions

Usually, good reasons exist for asking each question. Hiring the wrong person can be a very costly mistake for an employer to make, so interviewers are highly motivated avoid being responsible for making a hiring mistake.

As you are preparing and answering interview questions, keep in mind that employers have 3 main reasons for asking every job interview questions:

  1. To decide if you are qualified for the job — can you actually do the job?
  2. To determine if you are a “good fit” for the organization — will you be a good subordinate, co-worker, or boss?
  3. To learn how interested you really are in the organization and the job — are you applying for every job you see or are you sincerely interested in this job?

Stay focused on this job, this job’s requirements, this employers, and your fit for this job when you answer these questions in an interview. Use recruiter Jeff Lipschult’s Interview Success Checklist to prepare. Resist the urge to “spill your guts,” and NEVER bad-mouth a current or former employer. You are simply moving on in your career.

Bottom Line

Basically, job candidates today have no excuse for being unprepared for these job interview questions today. Being well-prepared helps minimize your stress and nervousness which is a definite advantage. You will be more confident and comfortable, and you will do a much better job of impressing them in the interview. For employers, lack of preparation equals lack of interest, and you know what that means.

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