Have you ever felt that a job interview is the most unpleasant part of the job search process? While the excitement of a new challenge when applying for a job or the moment of receiving a long-awaited offer seems to be the best moment, the interview itself might come as the worst part of the process, especially if you’re an introvert or if talking to people makes you nervous.
However, it shouldn't be like that. What makes it different is understanding what a future employer might want to know about you, what questions they might ask, and what they would like to hear. Once you are ready and prepared – you'll see how the interview might actually turn into an easy-going, friendly talk without any stress whatsoever.
Yes, getting ready for an interview is indeed challenging. But did you know that if you're invited for an interview – you're already in the top 20% of applicants? On average, 118 candidates apply for one single job, of whom only 20% are interviewed (Simplilearn). The average corporate job opening gets 250 resumes — of those, four to six will be called for an interview (Zippia).
Good news – the first challenging step is behind you, and you're in the top 20%! Your resume and experience were attractive to the company, and now you're invited to an interview. But what's next? What should you not say in an interview and what you should? What are the most common interview questions and answers you should be prepared for?
One more thing you should remember when preparing for interviews is that you don’t have to do it all alone. If you want to feel confident in your answers, ask someone to practice with you. Another great way to gain more confidence and arrive perfectly prepared is working with a mentor. A mentor is an experienced professional who was once in your shoes, and who will help you by sharing their experience to build confidence, learn more about the industry, or avoid common mistakes people make in job interviews.
What are the most common introductory interview questions?
Although there's no interview identical to another, there are some questions that you would likely hear in both creative and technical job interviews – one of them being introductory questions.
“Tell me about yourself”
The most common question during the interview introductions is "tell me about yourself" or "how would you describe yourself." This question might sound easy to reply to; however, the interviewer is paying attention to every word of how you introduce yourself in an interview and how you choose to describe your job experience.
So how do you introduce yourself in an interview and answer the “tell me about yourself” question? You need to understand what the interviewee would like to hear. For sure, it won't be the story of your life or a funny memory from a school trip. The answer should include facts that must be connected to the job you are applying to and show your engagement to get that job. When replying, mention relevant job experience, the scope of your current job, and your career path, focusing on your motivation and interest in the role. Connect the story to the company where you apply, aligning your values with theirs, and point out a couple of recent accomplishments you got.
- My current position is a UX designer. I’ve always liked the idea of improving things and making the products we use easier. My first project included …
- From my childhood, I was interested in writing and creating stories. My early passion brought me here, and today I’m a Senior Writer. I investigated topics like … and wrote for …
- I’ve been in the tech industry for five years, starting as Junior QA Tester, and today I’m a QA Lead. I’m impressed by the world of QA because …
Common interview questions
In addition to the common introductory questions, there are several most common interview questions everyone would hear in almost every job interview, both in online interviews and in-person. Although it might sound repetitive if you attend more interviews in a row – there's a reason these questions exist. The goal is to understand more of how you think and what you consider a real challenge. If you have a scheduled interview, make sure to prepare for these questions, as it might not be that easy to reply on the spot.
“How do you handle stress and pressure”
One of the most common interview questions is "how do you handle stress" or "tell me about your recent stressful experience and how did you handle it." To give a suitable reply, you should understand the reason why this question is asked. The interviewer wants to know what you consider stressful and what is your approach to stressful situations. It shouldn't suggest that the job you apply for is filled with stress. It's rather helpful for a company to know how you would act in such a situation if any would occur.
The best reply is to remember some recent stressful event in your job, tell why it was stressful (tight deadline, crucial mistake), and describe, step by step, what was your action plan. Focus on your line of thought, mention who was involved, how you handled stakeholders, and how quickly the resolution was found. Remember that the interviewer is more interested in how it was handled rather than the end result.
- Recently we’ve had a big outage that happened early in the morning, before the important senior meeting. I was responsible for fixing it. My first idea was to … In order to fix that quickly I … And that’s how I solved it.
“What are your weaknesses”
One of the questions that everyone is tired of but anyway is repeating in every interview is, "what are your weaknesses." What are good weaknesses to have, and what is the best answer to that question? First, understand the reason behind – same as the previous question, the interviewer is interested to see what you consider a weakness and, most importantly, how you would like to improve it.
Before you start thinking about what your weakness can be – make sure it's not something from the job requirements list. If your weakness is time management, however, this job requires a person with excellent time management skills, it can be a big No for the interviewer. Be honest and think of weaknesses you have, but something not related to the job. After mentioning that, tell how you work on improving that weakness to show your dedication.
- My weakness is trouble with delegation, even if I have many things on my plate. I prefer doing everything on my own, making sure the quality is high. However, I understand that sometimes it’s fine to ask for help, and I’m learning that. I started to ask my colleagues to help me with …
“Why should we hire you”
The famous internet meme suggests that the best answer to "why should we hire you" is "because you are hiring." Yes, that's true, but that's different from what the interviewer wants to hear. So what to say in an interview to "why should we hire you" or "why do you want this job?” Make sure your answer includes your motivation and your unique skills. Take the opportunity to reply to this question as your personal elevator pitch, and don't be shy to list all of your accomplishments – this question is made just for that.
The best preparation for this question is to think of examples from the job and support that with numbers. Tell what brought your company a partnership you closed or how many new clients you got after you participated in the web page design renewal. The answer should include positives that were brought to a company, from increased awareness to new revenue streams.
- I have five years of experience in this field. My career progressed from … to … while I achieved … As a result of the last project, the company gained …
Common questions for wrapping up an interview
Another common thing that happens in every interview is a question from the interviewer if you have any questions for them. The big mistake is to say No. Make sure you prepare a couple of questions in advance and know how do you end an interview.
Good questions to ask
What are the good questions to ask at the end of an interview? There are several good questions that might show your interest in the role and the company itself. First, ask about your responsibilities, KPIs, and the team you'll be working with. You should be interested in how your day would look like, how many stakeholders you'll need to cooperate with, and what the job targets are.
It's good to ask about your development opportunities and if there's a training budget available, showing the company that you're wired to learn and grow. You should also be interested in a company's culture, its future goals, and whether a pandemic caused some negative impacts. Be mindful of what's important for you and whether the company can provide you with that. For example, ask questions on approach to wellbeing, flexibility, or diversity & inclusion. Remember that interview is made for both parties – for the company to choose you and for you to choose a company. So feel free to ask more questions to understand if the company is the right fit for you.
Here are some examples of good questions to ask at the end of an interview:
- What do you expect from me in this position?
- Does this position have KPIs I should meet, and what are these?
- How does the team look like, and to whom would I report?
- What are the development opportunities in this role? Is there a training budget available?
- Can you describe the working culture? What are the company's priorities?
- Did you have to change business priorities and work operations after the pandemic?
- Are there any activities organized within the company for the employees' wellbeing?
- Does the company support flexible start and finish of the workday?
- Does the company support diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace, and how?
Questions to avoid
There are some questions that you shouldn't ask to make sure you avoid a negative impression of yourself as a candidate. First, don't ask general questions about the company as it might show that you have never checked their website and learned anything about their operations and line of work. Also, don't focus on vacation days, compensation, and benefits – the right time to clarify these details is when you are given an offer. If you hurry and ask about that during your first interviews, it might give an impression that you're not serious about the job or your motivation lies only in the benefits the company provides.
Here are some questions you should avoid asking:
- What does this company do?
- When will I be up for promotion?
- When will I get a raise?
- Can I take a vacation during the probation period?
- What is the worst thing about working here?
- I don't like Mac's (or PC's). Can I use a different kind of computer?
- I don't want a cubicle. Can I have an office with a window?
The perfect interview
If you are reading this, it means you went through all the common interview questions you might get, and now you know what you should say in an interview and what you should not. To summarize, spend a couple of hours preparing for an interview as it's worth it.
Read a bit more about the company, check its social accounts, and notice the values they promote. Read the job description again, know how to give the best reply to “What is your weakness” by finding a weakness that is not listed in the requirements. Remember your accomplishments, prepare an elevator pitch and be ready to reply to why they should hire you confidently.
Most importantly, remember to ask questions to get a better picture of the job and get an understanding of the company, its values, and its culture would fit you. And don't stress! The more interviews you attend, the easier it gets, so keep applying, keep going to interviews, and don't give up. You got it!
Get support from a professional mentor who will guide you along your career journey if you're getting ready to apply for your dream job and don't want to waste your chance!