Interview is like a box of chocolate. You never quite know what you’re going to get when you walk into that room. You might get the hiring manager who wants to chit-chat about current events or the guy who doesn’t smile while looking you dead in the eyes the entire time. Either way, some preparation couldn’t hurt. Here, we’re going to break down some of the 10 most common interview questions, translate them and help you form the best possible answers.

1. Tell me a little about yourself. 
Translation: Give me a brief description of your professional experience and how you got to where you are now.

It’s important to remember that this is not a personal question. The interviewer wants to know how you’ve gotten to where you are in your career. You should prepare a 1-minute broad overview of your experience and end with a closing statement about how this new position would fit in line with your trajectory.

2. Why are you interested in working with us? 
Translation: Have you done your research on our company? What about us interests you? What can you bring to the table that is in line with what we do?

This is a great opportunity for you to express how much you’d like to work for the company. Make it clear that you have done your research on the company itself and that you turned in your resume for the position because you want to work there, not just because you need a job. This is not a good time for you to talk about the company benefits, pay or a shorter commute. Instead, talk about how the company values line up with your own or how a specific project is something you are excited about.

3. Tell us about your most recent position. Why did you leave or why are you thinking of leaving? 

Translation: What was the outcome of your last employment? Was it positive or negative? 

This is not the time for you to divulge office drama or explain how much you hate your commute. It’s best to explain how you are looking for new opportunities and in what areas. Prepare a few solid professional reasons for why you are leaving/ why you left. Remember to stay positive and confident in your abilities even if the last position you had didn’t end perfectly. You may also want to think about how the reasons you left your last job will be covered in this new position. Maybe you left because you felt you couldn’t grow anymore in the last position. How will this new position allow you to grow?

4. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 
Translation: What is your career trajectory and how does this position at our company fit in with that?

Depending on where you are in your career, this question could mean a couple of different things. If you are a young professional, they may want to hear that you are ambitious and making strategic decisions based on those ambitions. If you are a seasoned professional, they may want to hear more solid direction.

Also, keep in mind that you need to be careful with how much information you share. If you want the position because you want to gain experience and then leave in a couple of years, it most likely will not benefit you to share that unless the interview is for project based work. Be honest, but choose your words wisely.

5. What are some of your weaknesses?  
Translation: What are some of the things you are working on professionally?

In other words, what is something that at some point in your career has been an issue and how have you worked to overcome it? 

Everyone knows their weaknesses. Some weaknesses are more serious than others, but everyone has them. So, first of all, don’t say that you don’t have any.

Spend a few minutes before your interview to think about your weaknesses. You might think of a few but just choose one. Make sure that it’s the type of weakness you can share without losing you the job. This question is meant to throw you off your game so being prepared will really help you. 

You may want to give an example like this: “I am always looking to improve my communication skills so that I can effectively deliver information to my team and create a more open atmosphere in the workplace.” This shows that you find communication to be important and that you understand how your actions affect others around you.

Also, remember to pick weaknesses that can be developed into strengths.

6. What are you looking for as far as compensation? 
Translation: Tell us your worth.

Don’t be caught off guard by this question! Do your market research for what a good salary would be so that you don’t end up low balling yourself. It’s easy to find ranges on-line. Be confident and sure of the amount you are suggesting, but also keep in mind that there may be a bit of negotiating.

7. What are your strengths? 
Translation: Where do you excel professionally?

Again, this is not a personal question. Make sure to keep your answer relevant to your professional life and also relevant to their job description. Also, although this is a chance for you to boast about your abilities, be sure to do it with some finesse. It’s best not to be over-confident or stuck up about your abilities… even if you are the best in your field!

Also, if you are doing work where you have some analytical data on hand to speak for your performance, go ahead and throw that information into the mix. Did you increase profits at your last company by 25% in the first quarter? Right on! Go ahead and share.

8. How do you perform in a group atmosphere? 
Translation: Do you work better independently or in a group? Are you a leader in the group? 

Depending on the position, this question could mean a couple of different things. If it is a management position, they may want to hear how you have effectively lead a team to reach their goals. If this position is one where you wouldn’t be working in a group, they may be asking you to see if you work better independently. Be sure to be ready for this question before your interview. If you can, ask about the structure of the department you’d be working in so that you can give examples of how you’ve excelled in a similar atmosphere.

9. Tell me about a difficult situation and how you handled it. 
Translation: In what situations were you challenged and how did you grow from it? 

This question isn’t meant to explain to your employer areas you need to work on. This question is about overcoming obstacles and growing professionally. Talk about a project you worked on that was difficult, how you managed to fix any issues and the positive outcome at the end of it.

It is best to only use an example of when you were successful in the end, rather than a time that you tried and failed. Be sure to highlight what you learned and how you grew.

10. Do you have any questions for me? 
Translation: What is on your mind? 

At the end of the interview, you will usually always be asked this question. This is not the time to discuss benefits or salary. Now is a good time to ask about company culture or what the next steps of the hiring process are. It’s a good idea to have a few questions ready to ask at the end of the interview so prepare for that.​

Examples of good questions to ask:

  • What does the average day look like in this position?
  • Why is this position vacant?
  • Is there any part of this position you think could be performed better?
  • Assuming I excel in this position, what could I grow into?
  • What is unique about your company?
  • What is the department culture like?
  • What is the next step from here?