Preparing for work

Common Interview Questions, Motives, and Strategies

Some of the most common interview questions are listed below.  It is important to understand why employers ask the questions they do (their motives), so that you can be strategic in answering what’s really on their mind.  Following the list of motives behind each question are some recommended strategies for responding.

"Tell me about yourself."​
PURPOSE:​
  • To put you at ease and start the conversation.
  • To test your ability to communicate and organize your thoughts.
  • To learn about the match of your skills to the job.
  • To learn about your attitude and find out if there are personal concerns that may interfere with your work performance.

STRATEGY:​
  • Ensure that you take no longer than 60 seconds to answer. You can say a lot in 1 minute, and any longer than this will come across as rambling.
  • Customize your answer for every job, making sure to only talk about what you can offer that’s relevant to the position.
  • Your answer should include:
    • Your relevant work experience, including mentioning sample positions you’ve held in the past that are related to this position.
    • Your education that’s pertinent to the job. So, for example, if you have an engineering degree and are switching to a counselling career, it’s not necessary to mention your engineering degree.
    • A combined total of 3-5 hard and soft skills. Hard skills are those that are specific to the job (for example, doing intake interviews), whereas soft skills are ones that reflect your more personal qualities, that are transferable to any job (e.g., being empathetic or a good listener).
    • A relevant achievement or award that you are proud of and that makes you stand out.
    • Your relevant strengths.
    • Your current career goals.
"Why do you want to work for us?"
PURPOSE:
  • To find out whether you made the effort to research the company.
  • To find out what you know and like about the organization.
  • To see if you would be satisfied with your job and therefore likely to stay.
  • To see if your values fit the company’s values.
  • To find out if you are as interested in contributing to the company as you are in receiving a salary and other benefits.

STRATEGY:
  • To reassure the employer, mention as many positive features as possible about the company and how the position aligns with your interests and goals.
  • Show that you did your research by highlighting specific reasons why the position and company are a fit.
  • Summarize your relevant strengths, education, and experience.
"What are your strengths?"
PURPOSE:
  • To find out how well you know yourself and if you are confident about your skills.
  • To find out more about how your skills fit the job.

STRATEGY:​
  • Use the question to present all the strengths you have that are most desirable to the company including education and training, specialized and transferable skills, and personal characteristics.
  • Focus on 2-3 relevant strengths.
  • Remember this is not a time to be modest: if you hesitate, the employer may get the impression you lack confidence and maturity.
"What are your weaknesses?"
PURPOSE:​
  • To discover if you lack experience/training, teamwork, or people skills, and whether you have a good attitude, motivation, the ability to cope with pressure, or other essential factors.
  • To find out if you are self-aware, open to feedback and learning, and committed to growth.

STRATEGY:​
  • Realize most weaknesses are two-sided and that you can describe a weakness in a positive way. Remember you cannot lie, but it is also not necessary to make yourself vulnerable by over-sharing.
  • Avoid cliché answers such as “I’m a perfectionist”, or “I work too hard”.
  • Be strategic. Think about what is important for the job, and don’t mention anything that could be viewed as a red flag.
  • When citing an example, mention what you learned and steps you took to improve.
  • One weakness that would not be a detriment in the job - lightly delivered - is all you need.
"Why did you leave your last job or are leaving your current job?"
PURPOSE:​
  • To discover any problems that would give a reason not to hire you.
  • To determine whether you had difficulties that may also arise in their company.
  • To assess your attitude towards employers, supervisors, policies, organizational changes, or difficult situations.
  • To avoid making the wrong hiring decision, avoiding turnover.

STRATEGY:​
  • Employees usually leave a job for many reasons and you should mention only those reasons that do not raise red flags. Some of the common reasons for leaving a job include the following:
    • company cutback, laid off.
    • job was seasonal, temporary, part-time.
    • company was reorganized or downsized, and your position was eliminated.
    • you relocated.
    • you went back to school.
    • you wanted a position with more opportunity for growth.
  • Avoid saying that you were fired, even if you were. Instead, mention other factors, as long as they are true.
  • Be careful to say as many positive things as you can about your last job event if it had some undesirable features (all jobs do). If you criticize your previous company or employer, the interviewer may assume you will do the same to them.
"What are your long-range plans?"
PURPOSE:​
  • To discover whether you will stay with the company.
  • To see if you will be dissatisfied after short time.
  • To find out what it is that you really want.
  • To identify your career plans and see if your goals fit in with the company.

STRATEGY:​
  • You need to assure the interviewer of your intention to stay with the company and grow in your career within the company which, of course, you probably want to do if the job proves satisfying to you.
  • Avoid giving the impression that this job is just a steppingstone for you. Hiring and training new employees is costly, as is turnover; so employers want to know that you will stay.
"What salary do you expect?"
PURPOSE:​
  • To see if your expectations are within the company’s budget.
  • To see if you know the local salary ranges for this type of position.
  • To test your confidence in your worth and ability to do the job.

STRATEGY:​
  • It may be dangerous to name a salary at this stage of the hiring process. If you mention a lower salary that the interviewer has in mind, you may be hired at a level less than what you’re worth. If you mention a higher salary, it may be more than the interviewer can afford.
  • One way to handle this question is to ask the employer what salary s/he feels is fair based on your qualifications and the company’s set salary rate.
  • Make sure to research the average salary range for similar positions, ideally in the same industry. If you are pressed for an answer, cite the range according to your research.
  • Talk about your “worth” and “value” as opposed to what you “want” or “need”. Use your education, experience, and results as evidence of your worth.
  • Another option is to explain that your primary interest is the job and the company, and that although salary is important, it is the secondary goal.
  • If you can, avoid stating the wage you want while in the interviewing stages of your job search. The best time to negotiate wage is after the position is offered and you are considering accepting the position. The wage and other compensation details are part of the consideration.

WHEN TO NEGOTIATE SALARY
"When could you start?"
PURPOSE:
  • To find out how soon you can start.
  • To find out if you have other commitments.

STRATEGY:​
  • If you are working, do not give notice until you have a job offer that you plan to accept.
  • Find out ahead of time how much notice is needed to leave your current position.
  • Do your best to plan for being able to start the new job within a few weeks.
  • If unsure, indicate that if you were to receive a job offer, you would promptly inquire about how much notice is required to leave your employment.
  • As much as possible, show respect to your current employer by ensuring you give adequate notice and time for them to replace you.
''Do you have any questions for us?"
PURPOSE:​
  • To bring the interview to a close. Sometimes interviewers ask this question just to be polite, even though they don’t want to spend more time with you.
  • To find out if you are really interested in the job.
  • To find out if you have done any research about the company or position.
  • To find out what really interests you about the job and company.

STRATEGY:​
  • Research the company ahead of time.
  • Prepare written questions and have them handy during the interview. You can either memorize 3-5 key questions or bring out your list and select ones to ask.
  • Avoid asking questions that were already discussed during the interview.
  • Never say that you don’t have any questions. This shows a lack of enthusiasm and preparation.
  • Conclude by asking about the next steps in the hiring process.

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