3 of the Most Common Job Interview Questions – And How to Answer Them

December 7, 2017

Here are the three of the most common job interview questions – and the best way to answer them.

Going on a job interview is stressful. All your hard work, all your years of experience and it feels like getting the job comes down to 45 minutes with the prospective manager.

Well, we want to help by literally giving you the answers to the test. In her LinkedIn Learning course on the topic, Harvard Director of Career Services Valerie Sutton highlighted the 11 most common job interview questions – and how to answer each one.

We aren’t going to go through all 11 (to see them all, check out the course). But we will cover three of the most common, all of which can be particularly tricky to answer.

    1. What’s your biggest weakness?

Named the worst interview question of all time, most people think the best way answer to this is by saying strengths disguised as weaknesses. For example, saying “I work too hard” or “I care too much.”

But Sutton suggests doing the exact opposite – and answering the question honestly.

How you should answer it: “They're looking for you to have a realistic view of your competencies and the ability to improve on performance,” Sutton said.

Many times you won’t have all the skills listed on the job description. The employer will likely see that from your experience. Rather than leave it unaddressed, when asked this question talk about that weakness, your ability to learn and potentially how you’ve started to address that weakness.

For example, say it's a management position and you’ve never managed before. Sutton suggests talking about management courses you’ve taken or management you’ve done in your personal life, such as managing a volunteer group.

Or, if you don’t have a technical skill listed in the job description, admit that. But then talk about how you learned other technical skills quickly, and how you believe you can learn that skill as well.

Video examples of how to answer it:

    2. Why did (or do you want to) leave your previous company?

Employers ask this question often to ensure you aren’t a job hopper. And it can be particularly uncomfortable to answer if you left your last company on bad terms, i.e. you quit or got fired.

How you should answer it: Rather than reflect on the past, here’s a time to focus on the future, Sutton said. So, talk about what inspired you to apply to this job, and how you couldn’t stop yourself from applying.

This is where research pays off. Talk about why you are interested in the specific position and what about the company interests you. You want to make it clear you left or are planning to leave your current role only because you believe the prospective role is that much better (which should be true).

But what if you left your past company on bad terms, either by being fired or you quit? You should tell them, but you can make it more positive by highlighting what you learned in that role – and how this role will be different.

Video examples of how to answer it:

    3. When have you gone above and beyond at work?

It might not be asked this exact way, but this question – in one form or another – comes up in almost every job interview. Here’s your chance to brag a bit.

How you should answer it: The key when answering this question, according to Sutton: specific examples. You want an example that shows off your work ethic and what motivates you.

While you might cite only one example in your answer, make it clear that wasn’t the only time you went above-and-beyond. Say something along the lines of “I have several examples, but I think the most relevant is…” and then go into your example.

Here you want to follow the SAR – scenario, actions, results – method. That means being specific on the problem your company faced, what you did to fix it and real numbers that showcase the success of the project.

Also, relevancy really matters here. The more closely your example aligns to the work you’ll be doing at the offered position, the more you’ll stand out in the employer’s mind.

Video examples of how to answer it:

Looking for more answers to common interview questions? Watch Valerie Sutton’s full LinkedIn Learning course, Mastering Common Interview Questions.

Other LinkedIn Learning courses you might be interested in are:

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