Career Advancement Hiring Tips Interview Tips Self Improvement

Top 7 Common Interview Questions and Answers (With Examples)

It’s naturally helpful to go over some of the things we’ve learnt previously in this blog. Training and rehearsing these and learning all you can about this area could well be the tipping point of getting that job or otherwise. We did an in depth some time back in Common Interview Questions Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 and you’re encouraged to read those as well.

These were:

1. Tell me about yourself.

2. What are you leaving your last job?

3. Why should we hire you?

4. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This time, we will zero in on more of the most common questions and possible answers.

1. What are your greatest strengths?

This is a great opportunity question..,for you. It’s your chance to pinpoint your key strengths even though this question is a broad one. Just a note here. People generally get nervous with broad sweeping questions and mess up their answers because they don’t know where to start. For questions like these, you just have to highlight two to three strengths.

When answering this, research is key. Study the job description to understand what they need step by step. If mentorship is their focus, then highlight times in your career where you were a good mentor and the outcome of that mentorship, for your staff and for the company. 

Align your work experience strengths parallel to what they are demanding. Do not confuse this with, say, personal strengths. Those are good but personal strengths don’t have any relevance at this point. For example, “I’m loyal. I can be a loyal employee”. This is not what the job description wants.

Acceptable sample answer:

“My work at Company A gave me the opportunity to mentor and train a team of buyers in their negotiation skills. Oftentimes when we needed to do our weekly sales drive, I coached them on how to close some complex consignment deals by presenting a plan for mutual benefit in the long term. Every quarter, we posted a healthy profit in the 15 to 18 percent range for 3 straight years from 2005 to 2007.”

Bad Answers that are vague on the details:

“I’m an experienced sales manager with 5 years under my belt. I inspired and trained my buyers for three years and our sales improved.”

The company has a pain point and they want to hire someone who can solve their problems. Look at the two answers above and see which one answers their needs. Obviously, the first one has more details such as consignment, quarter and percentage which are synonymous to the way trade operates in retail, and that is relevant to that industry.

The second one sounds vague. The crucial details of the experience have been left out.

2. What is your biggest weakness?

An intimidating broad question again. See the familiar pattern here? So just what is your weakness? Just one.

Don’t answer like this.

1. I don’t have any weaknesses.

2. I have an intolerance towards men.

3. I can’t tolerate people who ask dumb questions.

4. I’m a perfectionist.

This is one question that you can answer without relating to the job. (We told you earlier that all your questions must be relevant to the job- but not this one).

This is one question that you can play with ad because the truth is – everyone has weaknesses.

You can talk about a personal weakness that has nothing to do with your job at all.

For example:

1. I can’t resist a sale and I find myself hunting for the best deals.

2. I can’t stand dust and clutter so much so I’m cleaning and wiping down my house every weekend.

Do the above have anything to do with the job you’re applying for? Nothing at all right? So how is it going to affect you?

But it does show that you’re active and not lazy sitting around watching TV over the weekend and have a keen eye for good deals – a personal weakness that could turn out to be a strength for work in sales.

You may choose which weakness you want to share and confession is not good for the soul in this respect. Please don’t tell them you like watching Youtube all day because that’s the end of the interview right there.

3. Why do you want to leave your job?

How are we going to answer this one?

1. If you were retrenched-

“Some of us were retrenched because of the economy”

2. If you were fired-

“I was let go because of some performance issues but I take responsibility for them. Since then I’ve tried to upskill, retrain and learn from my mistakes. I’m confident my previous lack of performance will not affect me for “this job”.

Be brief about this and don’t say bad things like, “the salary wasn’t enough” or “the hours were long”

Remember, you’re there to talk about how you can address their pain points, not defend yourself on why you got fired. Don’t get all nervous and work up as they are only cautious if you did something serious or criminal.

4. Why do you want to work here?

Are you just looking for a job to pay the bills?

Well yes…everyone has the same bills obviously, so we need a better qualifying answer.

What do you think about their company? Do you like what they are doing? Do you like their social engagement and responsibility and you want to be a part of that?

How about their supply chain? You can see that their supply chain can help you enhance your strengths as a marketer as well as contribute your energy to travel and get things done.

Or how about how small they are, like a family with some flexibility that bigger companies can’t afford their employees. 

There are some small companies that are fast, dynamic and with less procedure and process which make them fun without that dry corporate feel.

You can say:

“I feel interested in what you’re doing and If I can be a part of it, I can bring in my strengths to help you in those areas which you specified.” – ( in the job description).

“ And as time goes by, I would like to take on more responsibilities in meeting your future goals”

Wow, what a pledge of faith! A positive forecast to heal the pain points to come! Ask yourself, are there any other candidates who might say something like this.

Caution! Be realistic! Be natural!

Employers are trained to catch “over promises” and “sweet talkers.”

Don’t say these.

1. “I heard you are the best employers in Asia with good pay and benefits.”

2. “I like your location because I live nearby so I’ll never be late to work and transport is not a problem.”

3. “I just want to get some work experience in this company.”

4. “My friends recommended you as a good place to work.”

If you’ve been a reader of this blog, you’ll notice how shallow these responses are. You need to correlate your reasoning to your experience. 

For example:

1. “I lost a loved one to cancer some years back. Your groundbreaking research into this new immunotherapy piques my curiosity well enough to be a part of you so I can share bringing this benefit to society.”

2. “I’ve always loved being in design and advertising. I can see possible connections in the way my career has come thus far and the kind of projects you’ve been doing. I believe I can contribute significantly to your current and future undertakings.”

5. Your biggest accomplishment?

This is a noteworthy, high profile accomplishment that you completed or helped complete as a team.

A lot of people just don’t keep track of the great and challenging things that they did. Things that only they could have done. Something that they dug deep to make it happen. Try to remember and write down these accomplishments or say milestones in your career.

For example.(for an ad agency team)

“My biggest accomplishment was when I managed to sort out a series of very difficult and large sized advertorials which had a lot of text. Each advertorial had text that had to be shortened and summarised in under 4 hours to fit the size. Secondly, the ad had to have a proper masthead of photoshop collage and all these had to meet the prepress standards to be transmitted online. In conclusion of the project, my team was recognised and awarded the Innovative Support Award of the year at the local press dinner in 2005.”

6. Describe a pain point or problem you solved in the job.

How did you solve a problem? Perhaps by yourself or with your team? Perhaps it was a client whose problem your company couldn’t solve satisfactorily, until you came.

You could have been handed an unresolved piece of work, which for some reason came up, but you with your problem solving skill came, put out a plan and got things going smoothly all by yourself, to the amazement of those with a different work background to you. Do you remember a success story like this?

For example,

“The publisher was struggling with having to type hundreds of pages of text in order to republish an old book that didn’t have a soft copy. He had to hire a typist to type and proofread all 350 pages and time was of the essence. I presented a proposal to cut that time in less than half by taking photos of each page and converting them to text using OCR. He was simply astounded and wasn’t aware such simple technology even existed. The typing part was eliminated and only the setting needed to be done. For what was thought to take two months, we were done within two weeks.”

You should endeavor to tell work related accomplishments and not personal ones in this regard. Write them down. Practice answering repeatedly and tell a friend to interview you. 

7. Do you have any questions for us?

To stand out as an outstanding candidate of value, you should have done your background research and prepared a set of questions to ask. Don’t ever say NO to this. Saying NO, tells the employer that you’re not really interested or have value in yourself to find out about things, especially about working long term which is a long commitment.

Employers want people who come off as long term and committed to their company so asking questions is a must. You can try to do this naturally by asking one or two questions during the course of the interview (related to what is being discussed at that stage of course. Don’t ask a question to derail and change the topic. Be a good listener first).

Then at the end, it’s your turn to interview them. Sure, you don’t want to waste your time working for a company that’s not suited to you, do you? Think of yourself as an investor of your time and skills to a company. As an investor, surely you have questions.

So there, make a  list of questions related to the job and the company that will tell you whether this company is right for you.

Here are three examples:

1. “What are the challenges that this company is facing overall and on a day to day basis and what can this position do to that affect?”

This question really sets you up to have a bit of affinity with them. It shows you don’t just come to work there but understand your role. You are interested to do your part to alleviate pain points and keep the company going. Remember, every staff is an “individual businessperson” who makes things happen.

2. “What is the best hire you’ve made? What did that person do to be quite good at working here?”

The answer to this will tell you what their mindset is, especially when there are two or more people interviewing you. And you can compare such expectations to yourself especially when it’s not detailed in the job description. Don’t be intimidated. A question like this can really catch them off guard and unprepared so much so they might just tell you the truth.

“We have a staff here who does a fantastic job. She puts in extra hours everyday, even comes in on weekends often and manages to execute the store dress up with practically zero budget.”

Depending on the industry, is this a place you would like to work? If this is up your alley, go ahead but if this is not the work life balance you’re looking for, then this is not for you.

3. What are the next steps after this interview?

You’ve come to the end of the interview. This is one of the most seriously important questions you could ever ask. They may tell you stuff like, “We have a few more candidates to see” or “We’ll contact you by this date or bingo! “We’ll see you for a second interview!”

You need this information to follow up if that date comes and there’s no call. It takes the anxiety off of you. You have rolled the final ball into their court and if they did not get back to you by that date, you can follow up.