Acing Common Interview Questions

By Robert Half

Making a positive impression during a job interview is crucial to landing a coveted position. Following are eight common interview questions and strategies for responding:


1. What interests you about this job?

What they’re looking for: They want to know that you’re being somewhat selective in your job search and are genuinely interested in the role and the company.

Your strategy: Your response should illustrate that you’ve done your research. This is an opportune time to describe how your skills are a match for the position.


2. Why did you leave your last job, and what have you been doing since then?

What they’re looking for: They want to know why you are seeking a new job. If you are unemployed, they want to see that you’ve been spending your time productively.

Your strategy: Succinctly describe why you intend to move on. Focus on the future and what you hope to accomplish more than the past. If you’re unemployed and have been taking classes, doing volunteer work or participating in some other relevant activity, be sure to mention it.


3.  What is your greatest career achievement?

What they’re looking for: They don’t only want to know what that achievement is, they’re also looking for information on how you define success: Was it an award you won, collaborating with a team on a project or saving the firm money?

Your strategy: Think about your achievements and be able to describe why that particular success was so gratifying. Focus on successes that boosted the bottom line.


4. What are your greatest weaknesses?

What they’re looking for: They don’t want to know that you’re a workaholic – a clichéd response. Instead, they want to get a sense of how honest and self-aware you are – as well as how you work to correct known weaknesses.

Your strategy: Focus on a genuine weakness that doesn’t directly relate to key job duties and describe what you’ve done to overcome the situation.


5.  How many times do a clock’s hands overlap in a day? (Or some variation)

What they’re looking for: With questions like these, companies are testing your critical thinking skills and ability to think on your feet.

Your strategy: The wrong answer won’t necessarily take you out of the running, as long as it’s well reasoned. Don’t be shy about thinking out loud as you construct a logical solution.


6. Describe a situation in which you had to deal with a professional disagreement or conflict.

What they’re looking for: With behavioral interview questions like this, they want to know how you handle workplace challenges and that you are able to describe difficult situations diplomatically.

Your strategy: Don’t dodge the question or give a vague response. Think of a time when you had a genuine conflict and how you approached it. Look for an example that shows your ability to find common ground.


7.  How would your last boss describe you?

What they’re looking for: They want to see that you are able to view yourself from someone else’s perspective and that you understand the importance of a positive manager/employee relationship. Many will compare your response to that of your previous manager when checking references.

Your strategy: Think of three key positive attributes your boss would use to describe you and describe how these were useful to your organization and valued by your manager.


8. What would you have changed about your last job, and why?

What they’re looking for: Candor is important here; few people wouldn’t change a thing. They also want to know what peeves and dislikes you have and whether you’re able to give constructive feedback.

Your strategy: Diplomatically describe a change that would have broad benefits, rather than just suiting you better.

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