Careers & Education

Typical job interview questions and great answers

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Knowing the questions -- and answers -- in advance makes interviews less stressful
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Being prepared for typical job interview questions can help you land the job

Next to the dreaded annual review, the job interview is probably the most hated aspect of people's careers.

And it's no wonder.  Odds are you're dressed in your least comfortable clothes, sitting in front of a stranger and trying to look competent while the HR interviewer asks you things that must be trick questions.

No one can promise to make job interviews fun, or even stress-free. But you can prepare for some of the typical job interview questions, and the kinds of answers that will keep you on the road to a new job. Here are a few of the most common ones.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

The number of years may vary, but almost all job interviewers will ask this question in some form. The trick is to focus your answer on your career plans.  The interviewer is not asking about your plans to marry your girlfriend, or how you hope to have climbed that last peak in Colorado.

Keep it general, but show that you are taking your career future seriously.  Things to include are the completion of or beginning of planned education, mastery of certain key areas, upward movement in the company, and growth in personal skills. 

Plan for this question before your interview day, then adapt the specifics as the interview progresses. You don't want to repeat information you already shared, even if it was part of your planned response.

Tell me about yourself

This open-ended question is enough to strike fear into the most seasoned of job hunters.

The trick to answering this typical interview question well is to keep the job in mind.  If you're applying for a position as a shift manager in a restaurant, don't talk about your childhood in Maine, your favorite dog or relationship problems. And yes, many interviewers have heard the latter in response to this question.

Keep the answer related to the job, with a few personal notes.  For instance for the restaurant manager position, you could mention how you always wanted to own your own restaurant, or how you love travel especially when you get a chance to sample the local cuisine.

What would you say is your greatest weakness?

Now what?  You know your faults, but this is not the time to bare all. It's the time for strategy.

The interviewer knows this is a miserable question to try and answer.  That's why they ask it.  It's a test of how well you respond under pressure.

The best answer is an acknowledgement of a minor fault. For instance, "I get so involved in what I'm doing sometimes that my coworkers have to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention."  Of course, you don't want to use that example if you're interviewing for a position that requires attention to alarms.

Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a superior's decision

This question is a way to test your ability to balance your respect for channels of authority with a willingness to do what's right.

Before you go in for your interview, pick a couple of scenarios that fit this typical job interview question.  Make sure the story you tell shows your skill in dealing with disagreement, and your commitment to doing the right thing for your company.

Why do you want to work for our company?

One the biggest mistakes people make with this question is to turn it into a list of what the company can do for them.

The right answer is to describe how your skills and training fit with the company's goals, projects or products.  Show that you've done you homework, by mentioning specific news articles, press releases or company reports that caught your interest. Make it clear that you see a mutually beneficial relationship.

Be prepared

No matter what questions an interviewer asks, you will have a better chance of being hired if you're prepared.  Research typical interview questions online, and prepare general answers before you even get the interview.

Once an interview is scheduled, do your research.  If you do your homework, a new job could be on the horizon.

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