The Real Meaning Of 5 Common Job Interview Questions

Job interviews are a bit like first dates. Both parties want to see if there's good energy before taking things further, and testing the ground requires subtlety.

Job interviews are not easy, and they would be even harder if employers turned them into simple interrogations. That is why Human Resource departments have developed questionnaires that aim to discover whether or not a candidate has what they need, while keeping the phrasing open enough for it to feel like a light conversation—at least ideally.

Even though different companies look for different features, there are always a few questions that seem to pop up in even the most diverse of application processes. But, what do employers really want to know when they ask these questions? Learn to think like an interviewer and your answers will be more focused and strategic.

1. Tell me about yourself

job interview

They have already read your CV, so this is not the moment to spell it out for them again. Instead, see this question as an opportunity to highlight parts of it that you feel might give you an edge for the job, or go through aspects of your personality that match those the position requires.

Some people make the mistake of getting too personal when answering this question. Even though it’s a good idea to be yourself and let some your your best features shine, don’t take it too far or dwell on experiences and hobbies that are irrelevant for your potential employer.

Since this is usually the first or one of the first questions they might ask, you can give a quick summary of your experience and combine it with a couple of brief anecdotes that reflect your professional behavior.

2. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Do you want to travel the world, or do you see yourself starting a family in the suburbs? Are any of those goals compatible with the position you applied for and the company’s values? With this question, employers might want to find out if your intentions with the company are long- or short-term and if you have a good idea of what is it that you want to accomplish in life.

Whatever you do, don’t say you have no idea as that lack of vision will play against you. Even if that is the case, explain how you keep yourself open to all possibilities.

It is a good idea to focus on professional goals instead of personal ones when you apply for an entry level job. It makes sense to see yourself as a valuable part of the company, perhaps in a middle-management or supervisorial role. Let them know that you don’t fear growth and responsibilities.

3. What do you know about this company?

They know what they do, and it is very likely that it is clearly expressed on their website, so this is your moment to show that you’ve done your homework. Of course, they don’t want you to tell them what you’d been able to memorize while checking out their website on the way to the interview; they want to hear that you’ve been proactive and gone beyond that.

Is it a shop? Visit it and identify their best features? Do you see room for improvement? Take note of this and raise it in the interview. If it’s a customer service company, why don’t you try giving them a call and see how they respond?

Follow them on social media, and see how they express themselves; if it’s any sort of media, read it frequently and get a glimpse of their editorial guidelines. Anyone can read a mission statement, so this is your chance to go the extra mile and show you actually know what they stand for.

4. Why do you want to work for us?

job interview

Most people will tell an interviewer how much they like a company and feel that their skills are a good match for the position for which they are applying. However, this question—which is usually related to the one above—gives you a chance to prove that you know what you’re getting into.

Read the job description very carefully and identify what it is that attracted you to apply? Does the business have a set of values that you identify with? Explain this in the interview. Do you know people who work there and think that it’s a fantastic place to work?

This is also a good response to give. Avoid focusing mainly on the salary or benefits as it will make you seem like the type of person who would not make a loyal employee and is waiting for a better offer.

5. What are your weaknesses?

Even though many will tell you this question is obsolete and many companies have moved towards more positive phrasings, it is still very likely that you’ll run into an old-school interviewer who will throw this curveball. Avoid the temptation of telling them that you are too much of a perfectionist as it will only make you look fake.

Instead, realize that they actually want to know about your ability for self-criticism and potential for growth—also, discard irreconcilable flaws that would make you unsuitable for the position.

Choose a real flaw that you have but that is not an impediment for you to excel at the position, and don’t finish your answer without explaining what have you done to overcome it and improve yourself. A bit of personal growth will give your answer an edge, and turn this tricky one into a positive story.

Regardless of the position or company to which you’re applying, you’re likely to have to answer most if not all of these common interview questions. Know what type of answer the interviewer is looking for and what they’re really trying to determine, and you’re guaranteed to move further up the shortlist of candidates. What other common questions have you been asked in job interviews? Share them below.

About the author

Gabriela Guedez Hamerlok

Gaby’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.

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