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How to answer 4 typical but tough interview questions

Robert Half | August 18, 2014


Here are some common interview questions and tips on how to answer each one.

You already know how important it is to prep for a job interview. You research the company, practice responses to typical interview questions and prepare a few questions of your own. But are you sure you’re preparing answers that will make you stand out with the hiring manager? Or are you inadvertently giving responses that are costing you the job?

Even the simplest questions, like “Can you tell me a little about yourself?” can trip up the most qualified candidates. But they can also give you a chance to shine and make a strong impression on your interviewer.

Here are some common interview questions and tips on how to answer each one:

1. “Can you tell me a little about yourself?”

This is one of those “easy” questions that’s actually not so simple. By starting the interview with this general request for information, the human resources manager is likely gauging your confidence level, your enthusiasm and passion for the job, and your ability to communicate clearly.

That’s why it’s best to talk mostly about your career path, rather than your personal life. So focus on your professional experience and skills as they relate to the job posting, and mention where you went to school and what you studied. Then wrap up by explaining why this particular position interests you.

2. “Why do you want to work for this company?”

This open-ended question gives you a lot of latitude to make a case as to why the hiring manager should give you the job. But remember: Although the question is ostensibly about what you want, the interviewer really wants to know what assets you will bring to the company and why you’re a good fit for the position. If you focus on what you’ll get out of the job, the hiring manager could see you as someone who’s self-centered, interested only in yourself and your needs, rather than the needs of the team and company.

So, instead of focusing on how the position would further your career goals or fit with your lifestyle, talk about your admiration for the company and its products or services, explain how well the job posting matches your expertise and experience, and describe your readiness for a new challenge. Make sure you know how to answer interview questions like this one by researching the company and its values, philosophy and challenges.

3. “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”

There’s no need for full disclosure here. Your best option is to stay the middle course. That means refraining from bragging or exaggerating your strengths. It also means mentioning only the weaknesses you’ve conquered and explaining how you’ve turned those weaknesses into strengths.

For example, if you’re a reformed micromanager, you could answer this question by saying something like: “I used to try to get everything done myself, but I’ve learned the importance of delegation and mentoring to allow others to grow.” If possible, provide a specific example of how you accomplished this.

This should go without saying, but this question is not about your personal struggles. Whatever you do, don’t mention any past or present issues with alcohol, drugs, illness or the like. Keep the focus on your professional life.

4. “Why are you leaving your current job?”

Keep your response positive when you answer this question, and make sure you don’t bash your current boss, company or co-workers. Even if you’re struggling with a difficult manager or workplace, hiring managers want to know that you’ll look for solutions rather than complaining about problems. Keep the grievances to yourself and instead explain that you’ve gone as far as you can in your current office and want more of a challenge at work, or that this particular position was so attractive to you that you just had to apply.

If you were laid off or fired, be honest about it, but emphasize any silver lining in the situation. You might say that although your were sorry to lose your job, the time and focus you gained as a result allowed you to look for a new position, like the one you’re interviewing for, that is more in line with your passions.

It’s important to prepare for an interview, and particularly for these typical interview questions. But it’s also crucial to relax, be yourself and let the interviewer see your personality. Pull out too many obviously scripted replies, and you might give interviewers the impression you’re trying to give them the answers they want to hear instead of the truth.

Robert Half is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit For additional career advice, read our blog at blog

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