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AHS Careers Blog

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How to Answer the 20 Most Common Interview Questions

Posted by Steven Mostyn | Mar 8, 2018 11:49:59 AM

No matter the industry, employers repeatedly ask candidates the same questions. If you understand the true meaning of these questions and prepare great answers ahead of time, you will increase your chances of landing a role. Below are the 20 most commonly asked questions during interviews and tips on how to answer them.


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1. What is the reason you are looking for a new position?

Employers ask this because they want to know why you are looking for a job. When answering this question, always speak in positives. If you are currently employed, do not mention that you’re looking for a new position because of performance issues, issues you have with managers, or other conflicts. If you answer negatively, you will be seen as a liability. Another thing, don’t say you are looking to make more money, unless you are interviewing for a job in sales. Doing so will make you seem money-driven as opposed to job-driven. A good answer to this question is, “I am looking for growth and advancement opportunities.”


2. Have you ever interviewed or worked for our organization before?

If you have interviewed with the organization before, the interviewer will check to see how your previous interviews went. If you have previously worked for that company, your past performance records and hire eligibility will be verified. Therefore, always answer truthfully.


3. What do you know about our organization?

This question checks to see if you have done your homework and actually know about the organization you are interviewing with. Employers want to see that you are passionate about working for them. In preparing ahead of time for the interview, research the company. When it comes time to interview, you will be able to recall positive facts about the company and communicate the reasons why you are interested in working for them.

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4. Why do you want to work for this organization?

This is like the previous question, as you will need to do your homework beforehand and research the company. Give the employer specific reasons why you want to work for them, based on the research you have done. Positive answers like culture, career growth, advancement, and chances to learn new skills will get you in an employer’s good books.


5. Please go over your work history/education on your resume.

The interviewer is looking to get a basic understanding of your background. Even though the interviewer probably has your resume in front of them, give a basic summarization of your relevant positions and education. Expand on this by providing examples of your major accomplishments and achievements. This is a great opportunity to sell the interviewer on your background, proving that you are the perfect fit for the role.


6. How many years of experience do you have?

This is not the time to exaggerate. Answer this question honestly. Potential employers can and will find this out on a background check.

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7. Why do you feel you are the right person for this job?

The point of this question is to see why you believe you are qualified for the role compared to other applicants. If you do not answer with good, solid examples, it could be game over for your interview. Think of something that will quantifiably convince the hiring manager that you are the right person for the role. For example, a person interviewing for a sales position might answer, “For 5 years, I have destroyed sales targets for your competitor, and I could do the same for this organization.”


8. What are your weaknesses or areas you need work on?

In this classic question, the interviewer is trying to gauge your honesty and self-awareness. You should reply in such a way that you do not come across as flawed while still giving a concrete answer. There are several ways to tackle this question. One is to give a weakness not relevant for the job, such as a back-office accountant saying they would like to improve their public speaking. Another way is to give an answer that shows you are improving, such as, “When I first started, my public speaking needed some work, but through practice, I have made huge strides and now consider myself a decent public speaker. My goal is to become a great public speaker.” A third way to answer this question is to put a positive spin on it, such as being a perfectionist.


9. What are your greatest strengths?

In asking this question, the interviewer is trying to see how you could be an asset to their company. Give them a few examples relevant to the role you’re interviewing for that will sell them on you. An example for a programmer might be, “I have superior analytical skills that allow me to diagnose issues.” If you are a great team player, you might answer, “I’m an expert at interacting and collaborating with large groups.” If you’re an innovator, you could say, “The ability to create new designs from scratch is my greatest strength.”

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10. Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

The interviewer is looking to see what differentiates you from other candidates based on your accomplishments. For your answer, mention one or two accomplishments, for example, performance awards, major projects you have completed, or even outstanding work reviews you have received. Everyone has had some accomplishments at past jobs. If none spring to mind for you, think hard and be creative; you’ll find something to be proud of that you can mention in your interview.


11. What was your biggest failure at your last job?

This is a very tough question. The hiring manager wants to see what failures you’ve had and what you’ve learned from these mistakes. Answer in a way that puts you in a good light but is honest. For example, an HR professional might mention an over-achievement goal as a failure: “At my previous job, I was only able to get 8 out of 10 policies approved by leadership. However, from this experience, I learned that every leader has different needs, and after applying this lesson I was able to get my next 4 policies approved.” Think of something similar, based on your own job experiences, and put the most positive spin as you can on your answer.

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12. Why is there a gap on your resume?

If you have any gaps on your resume, there is a good chance the hiring manager will ask you about this. This might be the hardest question to answer during an interview. For starters, if you have a valid reason for a gap, such a going on maternity leave or taking care of a sick parent, explain this to the interviewer. If you were laid off for non-performance issues, such as downsizing, you might say, “The gap in my work history is from being laid off as part of a corporate restructuring, and it had nothing to do with my performance.” If you have references to verify this, give them to the interviewer.

A gap caused by being fired from your last job may be the toughest one to explain. Answer truthfully and tell them that you were terminated. This information can easily be found during a background check, so be honest. If there was no just cause for the termination, such as new management getting rid of the old guard, let the interviewer know this. If you have any references to back this up, you should have them in place for this question. If there was just cause for the termination, be honest about it but be sure to emphasize what you learned from the experience and how you corrected it. For example, a person might say, “Early in my career, I was terminated for not being punctual. But I learned from my mistake and, in the 10 years since, I have never been late.” Downplay the termination as much as possible but still be truthful.


13. Tell me about a time you had to work as a team to accomplish a goal. How did you work with that person, and what was the outcome?

This question looks at your ability to work in a team environment. This is not the time to focus on your individual accomplishments. Demonstrate how you cooperate and collaborate with others to accomplish a goal. For example, a payroll analyst might mention having to work with a team of payroll professionals to implement a new payroll system, explaining the part each team member played and how each member’s collaboration contributed to the successful completion of the project.

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14. Tell me about a time you encountered a challenge at work and how you dealt with that situation.

Obviously, the interviewer wants to know how well you deal with a challenge. You might answer by recalling a challenge you faced and how you overcame it. Don’t leave out the details. An example might be, “At my previous job, I was given 5 business days to learn a new software system. I put in extra hours, worked with the vendor to get the basics down, and learned how to use that system within the 5-day time limit. This challenge taught me that I can learn a complex system quickly and achieve a goal, even with a tight deadline.”


15. Tell me about a time you had to deal with an angry internal or external client. What was the scenario and what did you do to turn that relationship around?

This question shows the interviewer how you deal with frustrating situations and how calm you are likely to remain. Make sure to recall a scenario where the way you handled the situation turned an angry client into a loyal, satisfied client. For example, a marketing professional might say, “I was given an internal client who was not happy with their past dealings with the marketing department. I reestablished the relationship by meeting with the client and listening to their needs. After identifying what they were looking for, I could then deliver exactly what my client wanted. The client was ecstatic and is now one of my biggest supporters.”


16. What are your short-term and long-term career objectives?

A company wants to make sure that the person they hire will stick around. This question is a way for an interviewer to see if you are looking to stay in the role (or not) and to see what your long-term ambitions are. When answering about your short term goals, make it clear that the role you are interviewing for meets your short-term goal, and give examples why it does. For your long-term goal, tell the interviewer you see yourself still in the company but in a more advanced role. Mention a specific, realistic role that you see yourself working in.

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17. How many weeks’ notice do you need to give your current employer before starting a new role?

This simple question checks to see how long it will take before you can start working. Most employers want people to start right away.


18. Where are you in your job search?

This question checks to see if you are interviewing anywhere else and at what stage. Keep your cards close to your chest and tell the hiring manager that you are interviewing for roles but this is the role that most interests you. This will make the hiring manager feel you are committed to moving forward with the role.


19. What is your current salary, including full package, and salary expectation, including full package?

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer because you need to be up front about your salary and benefit needs, but not put yourself out of the running by demanding a salary that is too high. One way to go about answering this question is to ask them what salary they offer for someone with your experience. If they answer, go with that if it meets your expectations. You can also say you are looking for a fair salary package based on your experience. If you are forced into giving a number without being given any numbers in return, try to name a realistic salary. If asked about your current salary and benefits, be honest; this can be found out in the background check.

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20. Do you have any questions for us?

How you answer this question is crucial because it shows your interest in the role. Don’t say that you don’t have any questions. Think of intelligent, insightful questions that will make a lasting impression on the hiring manager. Here is a possible question to ask: What do you expect the person you hire to accomplish in 3 months, 1 year and 3 years? Another question could be: What do you like about working for this organization?

Now that you know how to answer 20 of the most common interview questions, it’s time to apply for a job! 

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Topics: job search, interview

Written by Steven Mostyn

Steven Mostyn, MBA, is a senior sourcing manager at Adventist Health System and author of the book, Job Search: Fundamentals of Effective Job Hunting, Resumes, and Interviews. He has more than 18 years of experience recruiting and sourcing for some of North America’s largest companies, including Aon Hewitt, BP, BMO, IBM, Oracle, and Walmart. He is also frequently featured as a speaker on the topic of job searching and recruitment.