You can’t plan for every interview question thrown your way, but you can expect these common interview questions. So, here are 5 standard, predictable, and downright cringeworthy questions that you can prepare for.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at interviewing tips and resume writing, please download our free resume writing guide – it includes an an extensive action verbs list, cover letter writing tips, and an interview guide.
Also, if are in the process of sending out job applications, please consider downloading our easy-to-use resume templates that will get you hired! We make professional resume templates that are easy to use and beautiful so that you stand out.
So, let’s get into the top 5 toughest and (most cringeworthy) common interview questions that you can expect to get asked. Also, please see our article about the psychology of interviewing to get great tips on how to use subtle psychology tips to impress your interviewer.
Common Interview Question #1: Questions about You
- “Tell me about yourself.”
- “What should I know about you?’
Why do interviewers ask ‘tell me about yourself?’
This common interview question can catch some candidates off guard because it can be tricky to talk about yourself in a professional setting. Although, you may think this is a generic icebreaker or throwaway question, you’re wrong. Answering this question strategically can position yourself as well-rounded, thoughtful candidate. So, take this question seriously.
Generally, interviewers ask this question because your response can show a lot about your personality, your confidence and your preparation for the interview. Therefore, if you come unprepared with lots of ‘uhhs,’ or ‘umms,’ this can tell the interviewer that you do not take the job seriously. So, let’s get into how to properly answer this question.
How to answer this interview questions about you
First, here’s how not to answer this interview question – tell me about yourself. Do not:
- Go into irrelevant personal life stories
- Talk trash previous employers and co-workers
- Ask ‘where do you want me to start?’
- Summarize your resume bullet points
Instead, prepare a brief 1-2 minute elevator pitch about yourself as it relates to the job. As you will see in all the following common interview questions and answers, preparation will serve you well. When developing your elevator pitch, think about these things:
- Your recent work history and the experience and skills you’ve gained
- The company that you’re applying to and what interests you about it
- What you hope to offer to the company and learn from the job
So, in crafting your pitch, clearly explain how you are well suited for the job, and moreover, why you want it. Also, try and keep your response short and strong so that you can answer more specific questions about the job.
This interview question is so common that we suggest that you write out your elevator pitch and recite it out loud so that you can hear how it sounds.
Interview Question #2: Questions about Failures
- “We’ve all failed at one point or another, so can you tell me about the biggest failure you’ve ever encountered in the workplace?”
- “Have you ever wanted to succeed very badly at something, but things just didn’t go your way? Tell me about that.”
Why do interviewers ask this question about failure?
Questions about failures are common for good reason because your response tells the interviewer the depth of your self-awareness and ability to take responsibility.
First, by asking this question, employers get a sense of what you consider a ‘failure.’
Second, if this word brings about shame, guilt and fear, employers want to know. Conversely, they want to know if you see failure as a challenge, an integral aspect to work, or an opportunity for growth.
How you choose to answer this question reveals your character and will give the employer insight into how you behave. In addition, your answer and reaction to this question can speak to your willingness for risk-taking, your ability to take accountability for your actions, and your interest in self-growth and learning.
How to answer Interview questions about failure
Before the interview even starts, first evaluate how you truly react to failure. Does it make you miserable? Does it make you feel shame and guilt? Or does it make you feel energized and curious? If failure makes you feel awful, please watch this video about the benefits of failure. It may give you some insight into how you can use failure to grow.
During the interview, take a deep breath because no one likes to talk about their failures. Interviewers know this. So, remember to bring an aura of calm to all your interviews because this will help you succeed. Just look at the the first tip in our post, 5 Secrets to Interview Mastery.
Make sure to prepare an answer for this question. For instance, think about a specific time that you or your team failed at something related to the job you are applying for. If you choose a story about a team failure, make sure that you accept the responsibility that you had in that situation. And don’t make it look like you’re blaming others for this failure.
Share your story of what you failed at and how you responded it it. The interviewer wants to gain insight into how you handle setbacks and stress, so answer this clearly and concisely.
Finally, explain what you learned from the failure and what you would have done differently. Talk about what you believe went wrong and caused the failure, what you would have done differently and what changes you made moving forward.
So, here are the ways we recommend you to answer this question:
- Examine how you respond to failure
- Take a deep breath
- Prepare a real life story for this question
- Share your story and take responsibility for your role
- Explain what went wrong and what you would do differently
- Illustrate what you learned
Alternatively you can use the STAR interviewing technique which stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. This is a strategy that can help you answer tricky behavioral interview questions, like this one about failure.
Situation – Explain the situation you were in.
Task – Describe the duty you had to complete
Action – Illustrate the specific actions you took to complete the task
Result – End with the result of your efforts
The STAR interviewing method tends to give your response structure and delivers the information the interviewer is searching for. However, we find that the preemptive steps of examining your reaction to failure and employing a calming tool (deep breathing) can make space for a more considered response. You can read more about the STAR interviewing method here.
Interview Question #3: Questions about Conflict
- “Explain a situation when you had a conflict at work and how you handled it.”
- “How do you handle disagreements when working as part of a team? Provide an example.”
- “Explain a situation when you disagreed with a rule or policy and how you handled it.”
Why do interviewers ask questions about conflict?
Similar to questions about failures, questions about how you handle conflict can be awkward to discuss. However, by asking this common interview question, the interviewer can predict how your relationships with your workmates and clients might be. This behavioral interview question may pop up especially if you are applying for a position in an especially high stress industry.
From your response, the interviewer can learn about your personality, problem solving ability, and workplace professionalism.
How to Answer Questions about Conflict
Before your interview, prepare a specific, real-life situation of four different possible conflicts:
- Struggle with a boss
- Conflict with a co-worker
- Disagreement with rule or policy
- Friction with a client or customer
Regardless of the specific conflict situation, you want to communicate two important things about yourself to the interviewer. You want to demonstrate a high level of:
- calm and rational problem-solving skills under stressful circumstances
- empathy to see the situation from the other person’s perspective
So when you are asked to give a specific example of how you handled a conflict situation, again, take a deep breath. This can be an awkward question to answer, but interviewers know this. Take your time to gather your thoughts and answer calmly and concisely.
First, understand that you must tread carefully, especially if it’s a question about disagreeing with a superior. Under no circumstances should you trash talk the person you had a conflict with. Stay away from any negative talk about co-workers, clients, or bosses. And most importantly, keep the tone positive when discussing workplace conflict.
Here is a great response to the most difficult conflict related interview questions about friction with a superior:
Question: ‘Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a manager.’
Answer: ‘It’s not easy to express frustration, especially with a manager, however, I felt it was important to express these feelings during one occasion. I had wanted to work on XYZ project for some time and had shared this with my manager. When she assigned this project to my co-worker instead, I requested a meeting with her to express my disappointment. I professionally and politely expressed how I was feeling ignored and unappreciated at work. She thanked me for my honesty and bravery in expressing my frustration and told me that there was another project that they felt was better suited to my skillset and interest. Ultimately, I ended up loving this project that I was assigned to and felt like I had deepened my professional relationship with my manager.’
Interview Question #4: Questions about Your Future
- “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
- “What are your future career goals?”
Why do interviewers ask questions about your future?
Interviewers don’t expect you to know exactly where you will be in the next 5 – 10 years, but they do expect a considered answer. By asking questions about where you see yourself in the future, the interviewer is really asking what your ambitions are and how long you’re planning on staying with the company. They also want to know if you are taking the position that you’re applying for seriously and if the job will satisfy your ambitions.
Hiring managers want to hire someone who will stick around and do good work while they are they so your answer should reflect these things.
Now, let’s get into how to answer this question
How to Answer Questions about your Future Ambitions
First off, here’s what the interviewer does not want to hear:
- Promotions to XYZ position
- How you want to own your own business, be famous, be back in school – etc annoying pipe dreams that are not related to the company
- That you want to be working in a different company
- “Ummm.” “Hmm.” “I’m not sure.” “I don’t know.”
So now that we’ve reviewed what the interviewer does not want to hear, let’s go over what you need to communicate in your answer to this common interview question.
Basically, the interviewer wants to hear these 2 things about your future ambitions:
- I want to be here at this company
- I want to be thriving
When you answer this question communicate you excitement for the position and what you are excited to learn about in the coming years. Be specific about what you are interested in learning and how you want to be the best at what you do. Speak about the specific skill sets that you hope to develop while in your role.
Here’s a great response to this question:
In five years, I hope to be one of the best SEO marketers in this niche. I also hope to be thriving in this position or even managing a team of digital marketers to grow our web presence. I am excited for the opportunity to jump into multiple projects and learn a lot about website development and content marketing. So, over the next five years, I see myself taking on complex projects and building important relationships with my team and clients.
Common Interview Question #5: Questions about Salary Expectations
- “What are your salary expectations for this position?”
- “What was your salary at your previous job?’
Why do interviewers ask questions about your salary expectations?
While this is one of the most straightforward common interview questions, it can be awkward to talk so candidly about your salary expectations when you haven’t been offered a job yet. Employers and hiring managers may bring up the question of salary expectations at some point in the job interview. And the reason is simple – money and value.
Here’s why hiring managers ask this question:
- They have a budget. Hiring managers having budgets which why are allowed to ‘spend’ for a specific role. It’s usually given to the hiring manager as a salary range. They want to make sure that your salary expectations align with what the company has allowed for the role.
- They want to gauge your self-worth. A valuable candidate knows how much their skill set and experience is worth and will share it confidently.
- They want to know if you’re appropriate for the job An applicant who asks for a significantly more than the allotted budget may be too senior for the job. On the other hand, answering with a low salary requirement may indicate a lack of confidence or that that you’re at a lower experience level than what the role requires.
How to Answer Questions about your Salary Expectations
Yes, this is tough interview question, but you can manage this stress by preparing your answers to salary-related questions in advance. If you do research on average compensation for both the role and your experience level, you can have productive and informative conversations about pay with your potential employers.
Career passions and learning aside, most of us look for jobs because ultimately, we have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The goal is to get the highest salary you can. Follow these three steps:
- Do your research to find a typical salary range for the position you seek. For example, if you’re interested in a $75,000 salary you can have a range of $73,000 – $80,000 in your head. Here are important factors to consider:
- Your professional level
- Years of experience
- Career achievements
- Ask about the budget for the role. This may seem tricky, but it’s a common negotiation strategy to let the other person make the first offer. One way you can answer this question is like this – “That’s a great question! It would be helpful if you could let me know what your salary range is for this position.”
- Give them a salary range. Based on your salary research and what the interviewer tells you about their budget, you can answer like this:
- If their budget range is lower: “Thank you for telling me what the budget is for this role. I was expecting a range of $75,000 – $80,000 so accepting $70,000 would be too low for me. Is there room to increase the salary for this role?”
- If their budget range is just right: “This might work! My salary range is $75,000 – $80,000
So there you have it! The 5 most cringeworthy common interview questions and how to answer them. Here’s a quick conclusion of what we learned:
Here are the 5 most common interview questions and a quick guide of how to answer them:
All these questions require preparation before the interview even starts. Tip #1 is prepare for these questions.
1. Questions about You: “Tell me about yourself”
How to Answer: Prepare a 1-2 minute professional pitch about yourself in which you go into your recent work history, your skills and experience, and why you want to work at that specific company.
2. Questions about Failure: “Tell me about a time you failed”
How to Answer: Tell a real-life story, take responsibility, and what you learned from the failure.
3. Question about Conflict: “Tell me about a time you had a workplace conflict”
How to Answer: Tell a specific real-life story, your role, what you did, and how you resolved the conflict professionally.
4. Questions about Your Future: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years”
How to Answer: Communicate the you want to be at that company and thriving.
5. Questions about Salary Expectations: What are your salary expectations
How to Answer: First, make sure to prepare a salary range based on some research that you have done. If possible, get the interviewer to tell you what the budget for the role is first.
Learn more about Interviewing
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at interviewing tips and resume writing, please download our free resume writing guide – it includes an an extensive action verbs list, cover letter writing tips, and interview guide. Also, if are in the process of sending out job applications, please consider downloading our easy-to-use resume templates that will get you hired! We make professional resume templates that are easy to use and beautiful so that you stand out from other applicants.