How to Answer Common Interview Questions

By Stephanie Hammerwold

So, you have sent in your resume, filled out an application and you managed to land an interview with a prospective employer. Now what? It is hard to know exactly what an interviewer will ask, if they will throw challenging questions what questions you should ask them. Even though each employer does things a little differently, there are ways you can practice your responses to common questions in order to better prepare for the interview. Even if the types of answers you have prepared do not come up in the interview, they will still be good practice for talking about yourself and your experience.

Tell Me About Yourself

Many interviews start with some variation of this statement. Prior to an interview, work on a brief overview of your experience and why you would be a good fit for the job. Include any relevant training or education. This is a commercial about you and a chance to make a good first impression. Remember to keep your statement brief, and avoid going into great detail about your life story.

How Did You Hear About Us?

When an employer asks this question, they are not necessarily trying to collect data on how job seekers hear about the company. They want to see if you did your homework prior to the interview. Always make time to read up on a company before you arrive for an interview. This is also a good way to come up with some questions for the interviewer about the job as well as the company.

When you do your research on the company, get a sense of how you might fit into the culture there. This will help you to figure out how to highlight the areas of your experience that show you are a good fit. An employer may also ask you why you want to work for them. Being prepared with background information on the company will help you answer this question.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? Tell Me About this Gap in Your Employment.

Both of these questions can trip up a candidate—especially if your reason for leaving a job or being off work for a long time were not positive. While you may be tempted to lie to cover up problems in your past, this may lead to trouble when an employer conducts a background check and finds out the truth. It is better that they hear it from you, so put some time into practicing how you will answer questions about problems in our past.

Put a positive spin on negative experiences. For example, if you were fired from a job for attendance issues, explain what you have done to make changes. Maybe the issue was with not having reliable transportation, but you now have a good car, so this is not a problem anymore. Avoid blaming a past employer or your boss for the problems. Accept responsibility, and show how you have changed from the experience.

The same goes for gaps in employment. While you do not need to go into great detail about the reason for a gap, be honest. It is sufficient to say that you were taking time off to look for a new job, go to school or deal with family issues.

What Type of Pay and Schedule are You Looking for?

Be honest with your answers to these questions. Sometimes candidates are tempted to say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. You want to make sure the job is a good fit in terms of pay and schedule, so it can cause problems at the time of hire if you lie about availability or accept a job that does not meet your financial needs.

When an employer asks about pay, they often want to make sure you are in the pay range for the position. It ends up being a waste of time for you and the interviewer if you keep interviewing for a job that is way below the wage you need to pay your expenses.

This advice also works for questions about the type of work environment you are looking for. Remember that you want to make sure the company is a good fit for you, so make sure the business is a place you would be comfortable working.

What Was Your Biggest Accomplishment at Your Last Job?

It is a good idea to come up with a few things you are proud of from your previous work. Remember that you can also draw from volunteer experience and school if your work history is limited. Come up with several different examples as well as things that you learned from in the past. These are stories you can draw from if asked specific questions about things like how you handle difficult customers or a time you worked through a disagreement with a coworker or supervisor.

What are Your Strengths/Weaknesses?

It is usually easy to come up with a couple strengths, but candidates often struggle with how to answer questions about weaknesses. As with blemishes in your work history, turn a negative into a positive. If, for example, public speaking makes you nervous, talk about how you have started attending Toastmasters meetings to work on getting more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd.

Be Prepared to Talk About You

It is a good idea to get a friend to interview you prior to meeting with an employer. This is a chance to practice speaking about yourself and your experience. The more you do so, the more comfortable you will feel during an interview. If an interviewer stumps you with a question, you can ask them to come back to the question later. Just because you cannot come up with an answer on the spot, it does not mean you have automatically disqualified yourself. Many candidates get nervous, and interviewers are often willing to give you a chance to think about your answer.

Are you formerly incarcerated and looking for more help preparing for interviews? Get in touch with us to find out how Pacific Reentry Career Services can help you prepare for your job search.