10 Commonly Asked Questions about Job Interviews
You may have experienced uncomfortable moments during job interviews when a question was poorly phrased, or instead of discussing stimulating professional topics, you were asked stress interview questions or even illegal questions.
Use every interview question as a chance to highlight why you are the right fit for the role you’re interviewing for.
A well-prepared employer would focus on your skillset and their organization. However, once you’ve been asked some of the ‘tricky’ questions, you may wonder if they would come up in future interviews and how to be prepared. These questions are usually phrased not from a position of supportive dialogue, but from a position of power — to test the candidate.
Use every interview question to demonstrate your professionalism, poise, and ability to do your work.
Do not take any question personally, and find a way to bring it back to the main goal of the interview: provide your interviewers with more examples of how you are qualified for this role.
Let’s review ten commonly asked questions about preparing for job interviews.
“What’s the best way to prepare for job interviews?”
Role-playing is essential in interview preparation and salary negotiations.
You can role-play by yourself, with a trusted colleague, a friend, or a career coach. Your friends may be supportive, but they would not necessarily offer several scenarios and extensive feedback you may need.
An interview coach can walk you through the most uncomfortable questions or issues. Let them know your doubts, concerns, or perceived weaknesses — and work through them. If you are a recent graduate, have several mock interviews via university career services. If you are applying for a higher-level role, build more confidence with a career professional.
Role-playing is especially crucial for salary negotiations; you want to do market research and rehearse how to state your desired compensation package (the salary range or the specific number, and your unique differentiators that justify asking for it).
“I’m preparing for a video interview. What should I check?”
Check how the light lands on your face. Make sure your eyes can be seen clearly and are not blocked by shadows. You want the interviewer to see your head and shoulders in the frame.
Make a connection right away through your sincere smile and eye contact. Move the software window very close to your camera; that way you can look at the interviewer’s face (eyes) and look into the camera, so they can see your eye contact. It is not ideal on video, but an approximation is possible.
“I know a company would normally select 3-5 candidates to interview for any given role. What do I need to know to stand out among my competitors?”
Establish a system for articulating your strengths and differentiators. They are an important part of your career story and can be used in your cover letter, resume, or interview preparation.
Use this worksheet to list all the differentiators you can think about.
When preparing for a specific role, review this list and pick the most pertinent differentiators. Back them up with examples of results and successes, which you can illustrate (in a few sentences) with before-and-after scenarios. Use these specifics to help your interviewer understand how you solve problems, set goals, and work with your colleagues.
“I hear a lot about the importance of telling a ‘story’ in a job interview. What exactly is meant by a ‘story’?”
There is a significant emphasis on story-telling in career services. In this context, ‘stories’ can mean brief, effective, and positive examples of your performance. These stories blend facts with narrative and detail to make facts memorable.
Usually, thinking about before-and-after scenarios helps. Try following the “Challenge – Action– Result” formula. During the interview, give your interviewers a brief example of the project from inception to finish – where did you start, what challenges did you overcome, and what was the result?
Stories may also involve examples of how you supported a team or an individual employee in achieving their results. Such stories would illustrate your relational, coaching, and leadership skills.
Have you uncovered a problem that was causing your employer losses or setbacks? Tell the interviewers about how you analyzed the problem and found solutions.
For each example of successful performance, draft 3-5 sentences: accurate information with a tint of personality, narrative, evolution, or positive emotion. Here’s an example:
Challenge: When I joined Company XYZ, almost all team members (CEO, managers, senior recruiters, and proposal writer) were involved in training new recruiters, in one way or the other. This extended the onboarding process, impacted everyone’s schedules, and sometimes made the training overwhelming for the new hires.
Action: I used my background in education and writing to streamline the training. I collected everyone’s training notes and materials, drafted a concise training manual, researched Learning Management Systems (LMS), and recommended a simple, inexpensive online LMS where we could upload the manual and video lessons.
Result: The LMS and training materials were approved by the leadership and were used to train new hires in a self-paced course over 2 days. The company selected two dedicated trainers to mentor the new hires during the training. The new process improved accountability and saved 8+ hours of each team member’s time a month. It also ensured business continuity: the course was available to every new team member in a centralized system and could be easily accessed and edited as needed.
“I have a gap on my resume, and I am not sure how to address it. Do I need to address it at all?”
A gap on a resume may be more common than you think, especially if you are an internationally educated professional who had to navigate immigration, relocations, or global market fluctuations, let alone wars or other traumatic events. Do not let the setback impact your sense of professional self-worth and direction.
What are the ideal roles that your education and experience position you for? Apply for these roles, network with decision-makers, and focus on the value you bring.
As plan B, list the roles one level below your ideal roles or less obviously related to your desired career trajectory. These are the roles from which growth would be logical and possible within a short amount of time (i.e., a year or two).
Also, define your preferred salary range. Think carefully about the lower end of that range; it should be comfortable for you, not simply acceptable. Once you have these basic criteria in place, start looking; hone your career documents and narratives to match your target roles.
If asked about the gap during the interview, briefly tell the real reason for the gap and follow up with the positive actions you took to return to the workplace. Here’s an example:
“I took two years to care for an ill family member, who recovered successfully. During this time, I maintained my connections in the industry through my volunteer work for XYZ Professional Association. With my colleagues at ABC, we have recently completed a project that [improved library attendance by high school students in the community by around 25%]. I also attended XYZ Professional Association’s annual conference where I learned specifically about [the latest online tools for hybrid education].”
“How do I answer the question, What is your (biggest) weakness?”
This question is not about your character traits and not about “the biggest” failure. Here’s how you can structure your response to focus on the present situation and the organization you are interviewing with:
✓ Pick a specific professional skill you have improved recently.
✓ Always answer this question in the past tense. For example: In the past, I had some difficulties with… [advanced Excel functions].
✓ Come up with one example of a challenge that you turned into a new/better skill.
✓ Describe how you got there (additional training, mentorship, practice, teamwork, etc.)
✓ State your current results. What are you able to do now with this skill that you could not do before? How is the employer benefitting?
✓ Wrap up by saying that you enjoy learning new skills as needed, to advance the organization’s goals.
“I am nervous about being judged during a job interview, getting illegal questions, or being lowballed.”
Approach the job interview with kindness and partnership. The rest is up to the organization, and you can simply observe their behaviors.
Kindness puts everyone at ease. It takes a lot of effort to run an organization, and it is an expensive undertaking to hire a new professional. The organization invests fees to list a job ad, time to review the candidates, as well as salary, taxes, and training costs to onboard the new hire. It makes sense that the employer is equally concerned about making the right choice.
A collaborative attitude is important because if you find out early in the interview that the employer is respectful, prepared, and ethical, you can make this conversation productive and memorable (regardless of the outcome). Simply treat the company as a partner in your industry and offer collaborative ideas about the solutions they may need. What follows may be a job offer or a good addition to your network – a positive outcome either way.
If the employer sounds disrespectful, poorly prepared, and unethical, you can give them a lesson in professionalism. You can even wrap up the interview faster (politely) than you normally would if you see too many red flags or inappropriate attitudes this early in the relationship.
“I have been asked illegal or stress interview questions in the past, and I wonder if they will be asked again. The idea makes interviewing stressful.”
Every interview question is an opportunity to tell your potential employer why you are the right candidate for the job — even the trickiest, poorly phrased ones. Especially those.
Be unflappable about the style or the tone of the question itself. For the duration of the interview, practice positive regard and professionalism. Promote your skills and expertise. Once the interview is over, you will know how you feel about proceeding (or not). Practice your neutral, professional answers to these questions:
✓ What is your greatest weakness?
✓ Why did you leave your last job?
✓ What skills does your current boss want you to improve?
✓ Describe a major mistake you made.
✓ How would you describe your relationship with your current boss?
“I do not always have the best things to say about my past employer or my last boss. What if I am asked about them?”
Nurture a positive mindset about all your past roles, no matter what. Focus on your next role.
✓ Look through your most recent roles and identify the achievements, projects, and skills you enjoyed that are relevant to the next role.
✓ Focus on and talk positively about the results you achieved and how you made them happen.
✓ Say a few words about the leadership styles that work best for you and how you perform in the presence of such leaders.
“How should I act if in the middle of the job interview it is clear to me that the interviewer is unprofessional?”
No matter the tone or style of the interviewer, bring the following to any job interview:
✓ friendly, cooperative tone
✓ clarity about your key skills and achievements
✓ short examples of your success stories
✓ your knowledge of the company
✓ intelligent, well-researched questions
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