When preparing for a job interview, most candidates are told to be ready to answer questions such as, "Tell me about yourself," "What's your greatest weakness?" and "Why are you right for this job?" While some companies may pose unusual hypothetical questions to assess your problem-solving skills or personality, you can almost certainly count on at least a couple of the old classics.
But a standard question doesn't mean you have to give a standard answer. In fact, it's often in your best interest to respond in a way that sets you apart from other candidates. Hiring managers want to know what makes you unique — and they won't learn that from a canned, rehearsed line about how perfectionism is your biggest downfall.
If you want to really shine in your next job interview, here are some smart tactics to help you answer commonly asked questions. [50 Most Common Job Interview Questions]
Tell me about yourself.
Related question: What are your interests outside of work?
Some interviewers are moving away from this relatively open-ended question, but it still comes up in many job interviews. A Sample Questionnaire infographic advised job seekers to confine their answer to work-related items. If you're asked about personal hobbies and interests, do your best to connect those activities to the skills in your professional life.
What is your greatest weakness?
Related question: Describe how you handled a difficult situation.
Job seekers are often advised to answer this question with a strength in disguise, like "working too hard" or "being too detail-oriented." While these can be legitimate weaknesses, they often comes across as empty filler answers for candidates who don't want to admit to their shortcomings. William Vanderbloemen, CEO and president of Vanderbloemen Search Group, said hiring managers want people who aren't afraid to acknowledge their flaws, but they also want to know that the candidate is working on those weaknesses.
"Give a tangible example of something you tried but failed at ... and then give examples of how you [overcame] that weakness in the workplace," Vanderbloemen said. "Perhaps you took a class or spent extra time honing a new skill."
Why are you looking for a new job?
Related question: What do you think of the last company/boss you worked for?
Although strained workplace relationships often lead someone to seek a new job, it's always in poor form to badmouth a current or previous employer. In another Business News Daily article, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of job-listing site FlexJobs, said to reframe negative issues around yourself to avoid speaking badly of your old boss. It's important to discuss why you are leaving, rather than why you feel the employer is driving you away: Explain that you're ready to grow and develop your career in new ways, or you feel you're ready for something fresh, Sutton Fell said.
What makes you qualified for this position?
Related question: What are your strengths?
If you feel like you're bragging when you answer this question, you're probably doing it right. An interview is an opportunity to sell yourself, and you don't want to be self-deprecating or bashful, said Jane Sunley, CEO of employee engagement company Purple Cubed and author of "It's Never OK to Kiss the Interviewer" (LID Publishing, 2014). It's your chance to stand out from the crowd in a genuine and relevant way.
"Think carefully about the role ... and how what you have to offer will be valuable to [the company]," Sunley told Business News Daily. "Put yourself in their shoes — if you were them what would impress you? Give practical examples to demonstrate success."
Michael "Dr. Woody" Woodward, organizational psychology coach and author of "The YOU Plan" (Keynote Publishing, 2012), advised describing your qualifications using the "SAR technique," which stands for situation, actions and results.
"[It's] a good way to script out your past experiences," Woodward said. "[Tell the hiring manager] what the situation was, the actions you took to resolve it and the positive results that directly came from those actions."
Why are you interested in working here?
Related question: What do you know about our company/our work?
Your answer to this question is a great opportunity to demonstrate how well you researched the company. While the employer may offer a competitive salary and benefits package, that's not what you want to focus on: Instead, show a genuine passion for the company and what it does.
"Spend time researching the company to come up with reasons why this opportunity resonates with you," said Ed Donner, CEO and co-founder of financial tech job search site untapt. "[For example], 'I signed up on your website over a year ago and I loved the platform. After a while, I wanted to learn more about the team that created it and read your profiles. One day I saw your job opening and knew that I wanted to be a part of this team.'"
Vanderbloemen recommended discussing talking about how the company's mission and vision resonates with your personal values. If they don't resonate with you, it might not be the right job for you, he said.
Why should we hire you?
Related question: What can you bring to this company?
This is similar to the previous question, but instead of talking about your interest in the company, you can turn the tables and discuss why the employer should be interested in you. Sunley said that job seekers should show an understanding of the company's overall goals, and explain why you're the one who can help it achieve them.
"You want to make them start to feel that you're 'in the business' already through your understanding of their situation," Sunley said. "Use the company's values and mission as a basis — what are they trying to achieve? Then, when they ask, tell them that you will help them to get there and [explain] how."
Preparing for your interview
It's smart to think through your potential answers to any of these questions ahead of time, but the best way to prepare for a job interview is truly knowing — and being — yourself.
"Worry less about preparing for specific questions and more about knowing your story and what sets you apart from the average candidate," Woodward said. "A great set of talking points along with some powerful anecdotes about past successes can be easily crafted as answers to most questions. It is up to you to get your selling points across as effectively as possible regardless of the questions you are asked."
"Be you," Vanderbloemen added. "It is always evident when an interviewee is trying too hard or embellishing [his or her] accomplishments. The best thing you can do is show that you know yourself well. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and everyone is bad at faking perfection."