How to Ace 7 of the Most Common Interview Questions

Job interviews are nerve-wracking, and understandably so—you’re trying to take the next step in your career. You can minimize the anxiety leading up to an already stressful situation, though.

One of the most meaningful ways is by preparing answers to some of the most common, intimidating interview questions. Although you don’t want to sound like you’re giving a canned response, you do want to walk into your interview with confidence. So, practice your responses to these seven questions in the mirror beforehand.

“Tell Me a Bit About Yourself.”

Don’t start rattling off the bulleted achievements listed on your resumé. The hiring manager read your resumé; it’s why you were asked in for an interview. Rather, focus on what’s between the bullet points. Pull out two or three specific accomplishments and go into greater detail. If you improved your company’s sales 30 percent month over month, explain how.

Align your interests with the requirements listed in the job description, or highlight why your professional history makes you the ideal candidate for the job. Emphasis on “professional”—your personal history, unless it relates to the position, doesn’t need to be described in detail to the hiring manager.

“What Are Your Weaknesses?”

“I work too hard” is overused, and a phrase hiring managers will see right through. Relay actual negatives, but focus on how you turned them into positives. Perhaps you procrastinate because you work better under deadline pressure—mention that, but talk about the tools or strategies you’re actively using to better manage your time.

If answered properly, this question can highlight your problem-solving skills; you discovered what wasn’t working and fixed it. Sounds like your biggest weakness is actually your biggest strength.

“Describe a Challenge You Dealt with at Work, and How You Handled It.”

Hiring managers want to gain a better understanding of the role you might play on their team. How you handle conflict is a good sign of cultural fit. So, go in prepared to answer that. Do you prefer to be the problem-solver, or are you more successful at delegating? If possible, choose a scenario in which you and your team came to a resolution or compromise.

“Why Do You Want to Leave Your Job?”

Criticizing your last employer isn’t recommended. Rather, use this question as a means of describing your desired career path and the responsibilities you’re searching for in a new role—preferably ones that are in line with the requirements listed in the job you’re applying for. An example: “I run my current company’s marketing on my own, which has been an exciting challenge, but I’m ready to join a team I can brainstorm ideas with and learn from.”

“Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

This question also helps hiring managers better understand your career goals and desired trajectory. Does this position actually align with your aspirations?

Highlighting your ambition here is important—employers want to know you’ll be dedicated to the role and the company. Be realistic, however. You shouldn’t be telling the interviewer, “I want your job.” Try instead, “I would like to move up the ladder here based on my performance.”

Acknowledging how hard it is to know where you’ll be five years from now is fine. Just position the conversation around how excited you are to tackle new challenges and take the next step in your career.

“What Are Your Salary Requirements?”

Money matters can be uncomfortable to address. If you go in armed with statistics, however, you should walk out feeling fine.

Before the interview, do your research. Use sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to discover the going rate in the field, and then match it against your education and experience. Determine your range and, if asked, respond with the highest number. Note you’re flexible and willing to negotiate, though, because you want the job.

Don’t forget to factor benefits into the conversation. A slight salary cut might mean a better healthcare plan. See if they will disclose the pay range and benefits ahead of time, so you can walk into the conversation better prepared.

“Why Should We Hire You?”

Although an intimidating question, it does offer the opportunity to summarize your experience and reiterate the skills you think you can bring to the department and company overall. Emphasize the cultural fit you’ll be and detail the results you have proven you can deliver.

How can a hiring manager argue with that?