10 tough practice questions — and sample responses — to nail your next big job interview
Don't get caught without an answer. Come to the interview prepared with these suggestions.
It’s perfectly normal to be both excited and nervous about your big job interview, but sometimes your nerves can get the better of you when the interviewer throws a curveball your way. We’ve rounded up 10 common interview questions and suggested responses so you can feel confident about providing clear and succinct answers.
1. "Tell me about yourself."
This is often the first question posed during an interview and it's the perfect opportunity for you to tout your professional accomplishments -- not to tell your life history. Your response should be a quick rundown of your qualifications and experience. Talk about your education, work history, recent career experience and future goals.
Suggested answer: "I graduated from University X and since then, I have been working in public relations with an agency where I have generated millions of PR hits for my clients. While I've enjoyed working on the agency side, I'm looking to expand my horizons with a corporate PR role."
2. "Why did you leave your last job?"
This is your chance to talk about your career goals, not to badmouth a former boss or give a laundry list of reasons for your exit. Instead, focus on the skills you learned in your previous role and how you are ready to flex those muscles in a new position.
Suggested answer: "While [company X] provided me a tremendous amount of experience for which I am grateful, it isn’t an ideal fit for me creatively. My experiences have taught me what to look for in my next role so it would be a better fit.”
3. "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
Let the employer know that you're stable and you want to be with this company for the long haul. Keep your aspirations of owning a company, retiring at 40 or being married with five children to yourself.
Suggested answer: "I want to secure a civil engineering position with a national firm that concentrates on retail development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing firm has to offer."
4. "What are your weaknesses?"
The key to answering this age-old question is not to respond literally. Your future employer most likely won't care if your weak spot is that you can't cook, nor do they want to hear generic responses, such as “I’m too detail oriented" or "I work too hard." Instead, identify areas in your work where you can improve, and determine how they can be assets to a future employer. If you didn't have the opportunity to develop certain skills at your previous job, explain how eager you are to gain those skills in a new position.
Suggested answer: "In my last position, I didn’t have an opportunity to develop my public-speaking skills. I'd really like to work in a place that will help me become a dependable presenter.”
5. "Why were you laid off?"
This is one of the harder questions to answer, but the best way to tackle it is to answer as honestly as possible.
Suggested answer: "As I'm sure you're aware, mergers and acquisitions in the corporate world can produce unpredictable consequences; unfortunately my company felt the effects of it; I was part of a staff reduction as the result of a reorganization. I am confident, however, that it had nothing to do with my job performance, as exemplified by my accomplishments. For example..."
6. "Tell me about the worst boss you ever had."
Never paint a negative picture of your previous managers. A potential boss will anticipate that you'll talk about him or her in the same manner somewhere down the line.
Suggested answer: "While I’ve learned valuable lessons under each of my prior managers, there are some who pushed me to be my best more than others, and I've learned which management styles I thrive under."
7. “How would others describe you?”
You should always ask for feedback from your colleagues and supervisors in order to gauge your performance; this way, you can honestly answer the question based on their comments. Keep track of the feedback so you can easily share it with prospective employers, if asked. Doing so will also help you identify strengths and weaknesses.
Suggested answer: "My former colleagues have said that I'm easy to do business with and that I always hit the ground running with new projects. I have more specific feedback with me, if you'd like to take a look at it."
8. "What can you offer me that another candidate can't?"
Take this opportunity to address your record of getting things done. Delve into details from your resume and portfolio, and show them your unique value and how you'd be an asset.
Suggested answer: "I'm the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my passion for excellence sets me apart. I’m committed to always producing the best results. For example..."
9. "If you could choose any company to work for, where would you go?"
Never say that you would choose any company other than the one where you are interviewing. Talk about the job for which you are being interviewed.
Suggested answer: "I wouldn't have applied for this position if I didn't sincerely want to work with your organization." Continue with specific examples of why you respect the company and why you'd be a good fit.
10."Would you be willing to take a salary cut?"
Salary can be a delicate topic, which is why you should proceed with caution — but answer honestly so as not to waste anyone’s time.
Suggested answer: "I understand that the salary range for this position is [$XX - $XX]. Like most people, I was hoping to earn a higher salary, but I would regret it if I passed up such a golden opportunity to work for a company I admire because of this. That’s why I would be open to negotiating a lower starting salary but hope to revisit the subject in a few months after I've proved myself to you."
The hiring manager shouldn’t be the only one asking the questions. Here are a few thought-provoking questions YOU can ask that can help give you an edge over other candidates.