Job interview questions like these are so common, you’d think most candidates would just breeze right through them.
These common interview questions are the very same ones that constantly trip candidates up!
I’ve seen this happen countless times.
A candidate turns up at an interview. Did his homework on the company. Smoothly sells himself and how he can add value with his experience and capabilities.
Then he’s hit with one of these questions.
The confident facade crumbles.
So many jobseekers take basic interview questions for granted.
Don’t be one of them!
- Tell me about yourself
- What are your expectations from this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Can you explain your career gap?
- What’s your leadership style?
- Do you work well under pressure?
- Why do you want this job?
- How long do you plan to work for us?
- Do you have any questions?
1. Tell me about yourself
Interviewers like to ease into interviews with this question.
It’s a deceptively simple and generically broad question – one that could easily lure you into narrating your entire life story.
Don’t fall into that trap!
When interviewers ask this question, they’re trying to find out how compatible you are with the role and company.
How to answer “Tell me about yourself”:
A simple way to respond to this is to structure your answer into Past, Present and Future:
1. Past: How you got to where you are in your career today, your previous work experience. Your unique career narrative!
2. Present: Share about your current role and scope, your accomplishments
3. Future: Build off what you share about Past and Present, talk about what you’re looking for in your next career move, and why you’re a great fit for this role
For example, in an interview for a Sales role at a software firm, you could lead with this:
|“I’ve loved building computers since I was fourteen! I found it was cheaper to build them on my own than to buy a pre-assembled one, and I also had the opportunity to sell these custom-made computers to my friends. Later on, I set up my own eCommerce website and sold them there too. When I’m not making computers, I enjoy writing my own code and committing them onto my Git repository, and am in the midst of contributing to an open source project.”|
Why does this answer work?
- Shows your enthusiasm and genuine interest in the field
- Highlights your entrepreneurial ability and self-starter attitude
- Demonstrates your technical expertise – skills and knowledge in software and hardware
Follow this up by talking about what you currently do at work (Present), and where you see yourself headed in your career – relating that to your desired new role (Future).
But keep it short!
Don’t go into too much detail here and bore your interviewer.
Keep your answer succinct, no more than 2 minutes.
Think of this as a Cliffs Notes summary – it should give your interviewer just enough of an overview of the most important, and relevant, parts of your career story.
If interviewers want to hear more about a particular aspect, they’ll definitely ask follow up questions!
What about personal interests and passions?
You can talk about these too!
If they’re related to your work (as in the above example), do talk about your passions and interests if you’re comfortable – they’re part of your career narrative, and will make you more memorable to interviewers.
If they’re not relevant, you can speak about these briefly – especially if they show your personality, and affirm why you’re a good fit for the company!
2. What are your expectations from this job?
Don’t confuse this question with salary expectations! (don’t even bring up salaries until you are offered the role)
This question is about your professional expectations – what you hope to learn, contribute, and achieve in this new role.
|“I believe I’ll be able to achieve professional advancement through exposure to new design tools such as AutoCAD and Figma. I’m proficient in Adobe Bridge and Adobe XD, which I’d used while working at ABC Graphic Design Co, working on projects for clients in the FMCG and Healthcare industries. I’d be thrilled to share my knowledge on these sectors and tools with my colleagues. In addition, this role also grants me a new opportunity to work on Real Estate related projects, which I haven’t had the chance to do.”|
- Demonstrates your enthusiasm to and commitment for professional growth
- Shows your willingness to share your own knowledge and expertise with your colleagues and add value to the firm
3. Why should we hire you?
The trick to answering this question is in connecting your past work experiences and achievements to how you’ll contribute and add value to your new firm.
|“I believe my depth of experience in Sales and Marketing in the B2B technology industry, where I worked for ABC and QWE Company handling marketing across all channels in SEA, make me a good fit for this role, with its similar scope and focus. In my previous role, I led regional, cross-functional teams and drove strategy that tripled sales to over $90 million within 6 months. I’m confident of leading the team at XYZ Co. to achieve results.”|
Why does this answer work?
- It shows relevance of your past work experiences – depth and breadth of scope you handled
- Emphasises your achievements – sells the interviewers an aspirational result backed by numbers.
4. Why did you leave your last job?
Whatever reason you had for leaving your job, it’s important that you frame your response positively.
Don’t smear your former boss, colleagues or company, even if you had a terrible past work experience.
It reflects poorly on you!
These are some acceptable reasons you can give:
- Career advancement: You’ve learnt what you set out to in your current role, and feel ready to move on. It’s natural to want to make a change, and move on to the next stage of your career. Interviewers won’t fault you for that.
- New challenges and professional growth: You can talk about wanting to deepen your skillset, broaden your perspective, or gain a more well-rounded experience
- Change in career direction/goals: Career goals change. There’s nothing wrong with that too. But you have to show your interviewer that you’re committed and certain about the career you’re now pursuing.
|“I had a great experience working at my previous company. It’s taught me so much about the fundamentals of Social Media Marketing, how to independently plan social media strategies and campaigns, and manage client accounts. I’m ready for a new challenge and want to gain exposure to other Marketing fields, especially Digital Marketing.”|
If it’s been some time since you’ve left your job:
- Personal reasons / Family: If you had say a family issue to handle, or were burnt out and needed a travel break, you can be honest, but assure your interviewer that you’ve resolved your past issues, and are refreshed and ready to re-enter the workforce.
- Education: Another perfectly acceptable reason. Talk about what you’ve learnt, new skills you’ve picked up, and how you look forward to applying that in your new role.
- Retrenchment: Be honest and share the reason you were laid off. Lay offs happen for a variety of reasons. Don’t get caught in a lie.
We share more about how to frame career gaps here.
5. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hiring new employees means investing in them for the long-term.
Employers naturally want to ensure that you’re clear about your career objectives, and that they can support your aspirations.
Here’s what not to say:
- “In your job.”
- “I haven’t planned that far ahead.”
- “At a bigger company with better opportunities”
Your response should be realistic and show that you’ve indeed given your career future thought. Tie it back to the role you’re interviewing for.
|“I’m excited about this role – I think it’ll be a fantastic opportunity for me to broaden my expertise and apply the new skills I’d picked up in my previous job. In 5 years, I hope to have grown my leadership and strategic capabilities significantly to undertake a senior managerial position, leading a team of my own and overseeing larger scale projects in this company.”|
Why is this answer so good? It:
- Communicates a clear direction for professional growth.
- Emphasises your enthusiasm for the role
- Iterates your commitment and desire to grow with the company.
6. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Your answer to this question reflects your level of self-awareness.
When describing strengths, share what you’ve achieved professionally as a result of your strengths.
|“I’m no counselor by any means, but I’m thankful that my colleagues trust me enough to confide in me any personal worries or concerns they may have that are impacting their work. I’m also grateful that they trust my training and are confident to voice any questions they may have when they are unsure. Together, our team of 5 managed to grow Sales revenue by threefold in 6 months.”|
Don’t defend or gloss over your weaknesses.
Identify and be honest about them.
But to give a great answer, talk about how you’re actively improving your weaknesses.
Reposition them as strengths.
|“Well, I used to have really poor attention to detail. Speed is my biggest asset but it sometimes results in overlooking certain glaring mistakes. To reduce errors, I’ve started returning to completed documents or presentations a few hours later with fresh eyes, making mistakes much easier to spot – before sending them to clients. I’m learning better ways to improve everyday.”|
7. Can you explain your career gap?
Everyone has different reasons for gaps in their CV.
If yours is a short gap (1-3 months), you can omit this. It’s understood that you’ve recently left your job and are in the midst of your job hunt.
But never lie about your career gap. Be honest and upfront with the hiring manager.
Acknowledge the gap and explain its circumstances.
Just as you would when talking about why you left your previous job, frame your career gap positively.
For example, if you took time off to study, mention new skills you’ve picked up:
|“I enrolled myself for a Master’s in Business Administration Course while doing freelance work on the side. This allowed me to learn and develop additional skills such as Cross-Border Management and Regional Portfolio Management to better manage your organization’s core portfolio.”
If you took time off for personal or family reasons:
|“I decided to take a personal sabbatical in order to spend more time with my family and take care of my young children. During my spare time, I enrolled in online cooking classes, did some fitness training, and engaged in blogging to develop new skills while staying at home.”
If you took time off to travel:
|“After my stint with company ABC, I spent 6 months travelling to several cities, including Beijing, Paris, and San Francisco. In all my travels, I met a lot of people from different racial and cultural backgrounds, learned various foreign languages, and discovered natural hidden beauties across the world. I can say that this experience renewed my perspective in life, and prepared me to take on new challenges as I go back to the corporate world.”
These answers work well as they:
- Show candidates continuing to stay productive and broadening their skill sets.
- Highlight how activities during career gaps remain relevant to career.
- Frame personal time as opportunities for professional development.
8. What’s your leadership style?
Interviewers ask about your leadership or management style to gauge your fit with the employer and team.
Here are some examples of common leadership styles.
Support your answer where possible with personal examples and anecdotes:
|“I try not to micromanage and believe in allowing my team to work independently. I set clear directions and timelines from the get-go, and trust my team to do the necessary work to accomplish tasks. However, I do weekly check ins with each team member to keep tabs on work progress, and provide as much guidance as needed. I make sure that deadlines are met and expenses do not exceed the given budget of the team.
For example, three months ago, I was tasked to lead a team of 5 to prepare a report for our regional MD. From day one, I called a meeting with the team. We set clear roles and weekly deliverables for each team member, and a realistic timeline. The project progressed smoothly over the next 6 weeks, and my team completed the task a week ahead of the project deadline.”
9. Do you work well under pressure?
Work pressure is part and parcel of any job.
At senior and management positions, high pressure situations and stakes come with the territory.
“I don’t get stressed easily.” is never a good answer!
Tell your interviewer about stress management methods you use. Share a real example too of how you’ve successfully managed a high stakes situation under pressure.
It gives your interviewer insight into your decision-making process, and confidence that you know how to keep your emotions in check when dealing with difficult situations.
|“I keep myself calm while prioritising the tasks expected of me to accomplish. For example, I was assigned to complete a 100-page report in a week. The report was requested by a client at a last minute, and I was tasked to complete this above all of my other regular duties.
While multi-tasking can help me complete multiple tasks at the same time, I decided to narrow my focus instead. I rescheduled my less urgent tasks, and focused on completing this report first. Instead of completing the 100-page report in one go, I strived to complete 20 or more pages a day to ensure consistency and prevent burnout.
Choosing to narrow my focus over multi-tasking when placed under pressure allows me to keep my focus and submit higher quality work with fewer errors.”
10. Why do you want this job?
Here’s your opportunity to express your enthusiasm in the role, and show you’ve done your research!
First, talk about the company’s strengths – what makes them unique in their field over their competitors, what growth opportunities do they offer.
Then, sell what you have to offer – how you’ll bring value to the organisation through your skills and experience:
|“XYZ company is a fast-growing e-commerce company in the beauty and skincare space. I understand you’re planning to bring several exciting new products to the market in the coming months. I want to be a part of your business as it grows, and I know my specialised experience in marketing and communications for MNCs in this industry would help your company with positioning and amplifying awareness for these products, leading up and through to launch.”|
11. How long do you plan to work for us?
Remember, hiring is a long-term investment for the company!
Employers ask this question to gauge your commitment to the company and role.
Even if you’re in it for the long haul, we suggest leaving out numbers that may create unrealistic expectations.
Instead of giving a rough estimate such as “5 to 10 years”, use this:
|“I’d love to continue working for ABC Co. for as long as my skills are needed to contribute effectively to the company, and I feel challenged and am able to grow professionally.”|
12. Do you have any questions for me?
If you’re hearing this, you’ve arrived at the end of the interview.
Remember – an interview is a two-way conversation.
You should always be ready with questions for your interviewer.
Failing to do so is a clear indicator that you haven’t prepared or researched sufficiently!
Take this opportunity at the end of the interview to clarify any questions you may have about the company or the role.
Ask thoughtful questions that reflect your interest in the role and company, and show you’ve done your research. For example:
Questions about the role:
- What are the indicators of success for this role?
- What does a typical day look like in this role?
- If I get this job, what would you like me to achieve in the short- and long-term?
Questions about the company or interviewer:
- How would you describe the management style or culture of the company?
- Why do you enjoy working here?
- What are some of the company’s recent challenges?
- What are the company’s goals for the coming year?
You’ve already put in the hard work – done up a killer resume and cover letter, beefed up your LinkedIn profile, rigorously researched the company and role – to get your foot in the door.
You’re this close to landing your dream job.
Don’t let a common interview question be your undoing.
Use these questions as a foundation to prepare thoroughly for your interview.
You’ve got this – we’re rooting for you!
If you found this article useful, you might also like:
- How to Ace Your Job Interview: Winning Job Interview Tips
- 10 Worst Job Interview Mistakes
- 5 Ways to Land More Job Interviews
- Writing Thank You Emails after a Job Interview (with Samples!)
- Writing Follow Up Emails after a Job Interview (with Samples!)
- Resume Samples, Templates & Tips
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