Following the study from 2015 that reported on the job interviews in ninety seven different corporations in the United States, we composed a list of fifteen most common screening interview questions, trying to help the job seekers to prepare for their interviews.
We analyzed each question, and we looked at it from the point of view of the interviewers and job seekers. Short hint explains why the interviewers use every question, what they try to find out when asking it, and what you should focus on when answering. Sample answers follow the hint. Enjoy!
(Note: Below the 15 most common screening interview questions, you find the list of fifteen most common behavioral questions.)
Question nr. 1: Can you tell me something about yourself?
Hint: Often the very first question, it helps the HR managers to get a basic idea of your communication skills, motivation, and interests. It is also an ice breaker, and a good answer should help you to feel more relaxed in an interview.
The interviewers do not ask about your education, experience, personal life, or anything else in particular—you can choose what you say to introduce yourself.
However, you should remember that your choice reflects what matters to you the most. In a job interview, it should be your education, working experience, and skills, simply things that are relevant for the employer.
You can mention one or two hobbies, or something from your personal life, just to show them that you are human, and have a life outside of work.
I am Mario, 25 years old, and I have just finished my Masters in Economy. I enjoy team work, and I am looking for my first job, ideally in a big company. I want to learn, and meet like-minded people in work. In my free time I like to run, read, and meet with friends. I try to have positive outlook of life, and take everything that comes my way as an opportunity to become a better person.
Question nr. 2: Why did you apply for this job?
Hint: Motivation of job applicants is one of the deciding factors in every interview. The HR managers try to understand your motives. Do you apply for a job just to earn money, or just because you have studied the same field? Do you apply because you need a job, or because you desire to have this one?
Your goal is to convince them that you desire to have the job, and that you have a good reason for choosing the offer they advertise.
Pre-interview research should help you to find a good reason. Think company culture, their vision and goals, the value they bring to their customers and business partners. Try to look for something that goes beyond your personal role in the company, something you can compliment.
I really like the job description and believe I can fit well here, and bring some value to your team of financial analysts. On the top of that, I have the right working experience for this role, and I would really enjoy working in an international environment.
Your store is just ten minute walk away from my apartment, and I shop here regularly. I like the way the employees approach customers, and I would be proud do be a member of this team. On the top of that, I like the vision of your company, the way this store is organized, and overall I have a good feeling about the place.
Question nr. 3: Why did you leave your last job? / Why are you planning to leave your present job?
Hint: Changing a job, or even a career, is not anything extraordinary. Nevertheless, employers want to understand why you plan to make a change, or why you were forced to make one.
They try to understand if they can count with you in a long term, and what kind of an employee you are—if you look for good or bad in your job, and in your colleagues, if you demand a lot from the people or not.
Regardless of your past experience, you should focus on the good things. Even if they fired you, try to speak nicely about your former colleagues and bosses. Nobody wants to hire an employee who will complain about everything.
I have had my job in a restaurant for four years. While I enjoyed the company of my colleagues, and believe that I helped the guests to feel welcome at the place, I felt like I needed a change. The duties were repetitive, and I felt I was not moving forward. That’s why I left, and decided to apply for your offer, as I really see a potential for learning and growing professionally in this company.
They fired me, because I had a different opinion than the director of the company. Nothing wrong with that—we just had a different philosophy of leadership, and we imagined a different future for the business. Maybe he was right, maybe I was—only time will tell. But I wish them all the best and do not want to focus on the past. Now I am here, looking for a new challenge, and a chance to help your company prosper.
Question nr. 4: Can you tell me something about your education?
Hint: A diploma or a degree has never made a good employee of anyone. Nonetheless, HR managers often inquire about the education of job applicants, trying to understand their attitude to learning, and to education in general.
You should focus on the things you learned—the practical skills and abilities that will help you in your job, not on the names of degrees and institutions.
I have studied at ABC University. I acquired knowledge of statistics, project management and accounting. I was always seeking opportunities to put the lessons to practice, taking part in projects and competitions we had at school. I believe that my education and internship that followed prepared me perfectly for a job of a project manager.
Question nr. 5: Can you tell us something about your working experience?
Hint: Employers can read about your experience on your resume. Still, they want to hear what matters to you, and they want to see your attitude to your previous jobs.
You should pick two or three roles that are most relevant for your current job application, and then you should speak about your working duties, achievements, and lessons you learned while having them.
If you had just one job in the past, and it was completely irrelevant to the one you try to get, say that the experience helped you to gain basic working habits, and simply prepared you for an employment in general.
I have done a lot of things in my life. It helped me to gain a good understanding of business. From 2001 to 2004 I worked as a project manager for Siemens. We were working mostly on smaller energetic projects, water plants. I hope to use my knowledge and contacts from the industry in my new job. I learned to lead projects from scratch to success. From my other jobs I can mention my role of marketing manager in CDE, from 1998 to 2001, and my freelancing experience from 2005 to 2010. Would you like to hear more details about one of my roles?
As you can see on my resume, this is my first job application. But I have done some volunteering for Red Cross before, and I worked a lot with my father when we were building the house. I believe I know what it means to have a job, and I am eager to finally start working somewhere, after many years of studying.
Question nr. 6: Why should we hire you?
Hint: If someone hires you for a job, they will pay you a monthly salary, and they will also pay money to the government each month.
Will you represent just a regular monthly expense, or will you become a great investment they made, an asset for their team? HR managers try to find out the answer.
You should focus on something unique, a value you can bring to their team. Ideally it should be something that distinguishes you from other competing job applicants. If you can not find it, however, you will do well listing your skills and abilities relevant for the job.
I had the very same job with one of your competitors, and I can bring a new perspective to your team. We can talk about things they did better, and I believe my feedback and experience will help to improve your own results.
I am young, eager to learn, and motivated to work hard. I have the passion for numbers, and I would really enjoy having this job. Of course I haven’t met the other applicants for the job, and they are likely also motivated and ready to work hard, but I believe I would be a good choice for this position.
(Note: Do you like the answers? If you want, you can check our Interview Success Package, where you will find multiple brilliant answers to all screening and behavioral interview questions.)
Question nr. 7: What are your strengths?
Hint: Professional interviewers should be able to identify your strengths—that’s what they get their salary for, after all. But the interviews are sometimes led by people who aren’t skilled in HR. Sometimes, they will actually have no idea about interviewing people (think owners of small business, as an example).
One way or another, your answer should correspond with your interview presence. If you struggled to formulate your thoughts in an interview, and said that you had great communication skills, while narrating your strengths, interviewers would not believe your answer (and they would start doubting your other interview answers).
You should pick relevant strengths. If possible, you should elaborate on your answer, saying how you demonstrated your strength in your professional career.
I love to talk to people, and I believe I do understand them well—what they need and desire. This helped me in my volunteering experience in a nursing home, and I hope to use this strength in my social work career.
Responsibility is my greatest strength. I consider my job the first priority, and it has never happened to me that I came late to work, or that I did not finalize my tasks in time.
Question nr. 8: What are your weaknesses?
Hint: I will repeat myself. Professional interviewers should uncover your weaknesses, after talking to you for five minutes, or even for less.
But anyone can lead an interview with you, and good interviewers often use this question as well, trying to see what you think of yourself. Can you admit having a weakness? Are you humble?
Those who believe to have no weaknesses can hardly move forward in their life, since they do not see areas for improvement. You should not leave such an impression in your job interview.
I am not very patient. That’s obviously bad. But I am working on it, trying to control myself, staying tolerant to my colleagues. It’s not easy, but I have definitely made some improvements in the recent years.
Sometimes I struggle to focus on my duties. However, I practice every day, trying to eliminate useless thoughts, and my concentration has improved over the years. I still continue working on it though, trying to eliminate distractions in work.
Question nr. 9: What are your goals in five years time?
Hint: Every responsible person has some goals. When recruiters ask you about your goals and dreams, first of all they want to hear that you have some goals and dreams.
Secondly, your goals should somehow relate to their business, or at least they should not interfere with them. For example, if you dream about running your own business, or about traveling the world, you should not say that in your job interview. Companies do not want to hire people who will leave them after a year of employment, to pursue their traveling or entrepreneur dreams.
I would like to have a managerial role in five years time. However, I understand that I need to learn a lot before it can happen, and I believe that this position in your company is a perfect starting point for my career.
I do not dream much about the future. If I have a teaching job, and if I do it well and get a good feedback form my students, it will make me happy in life. That’s likely my only goal—to be happy, and to do my best in both professional and personal life.
Question nr. 10: What have been your biggest achievements so far?
Hint: Employers try to find out if you have just “gone to the job”, or if you actually tried to achieve something with your work.
If possible, speak about your achievements from the perspective of an employer (helping them to find new customers, helping them to improve their reputation, building good atmosphere on the workplace, etc), not about from your own perspective (getting promoted, earning a degree or certification, etc).
If you have no other option, however, you can talk about personal promotion, employee of the month award, or other recognition of your good work.
If you apply for your first job, you can speak about achievements from personal life. For example, a chain smoker who managed to quit smoking recently shows their strong determination and will, narrating how they managed to quit smoking.
When I worked as a Sales Manager at ABC Inc., my sales volume grew by twenty percent or more each year. No other sales representative achieved similar results, and nobody helped their business as much as I did.
I have become a better person over the years. I learned to listen to the others, and to see the good things in people, which is something I had struggled to do early in my life. I consider this my biggest achievement, since it made my life better, and I hope people enjoy my company more now.
Question nr. 11: What characterize a good boss/ colleague from your point of view?
Hint: You won’t work alone. Employees interact with each other, and the interviewers try to find out if you can fit into the team on the workplace.
You should not mention something personal in your answer, for example saying that you prefer young collective, or that you work better under a boss who are older than you.
Such an answer could easily backfire—if a boss was a young man, they would not hire you. The best thing to do is mentioning something neutral and emphasize that you can get along anyone.
Ideal boss doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t even matter to me. I want to focus on my job, and my duties, and I try to avoid any conflicts with other employees. Everyone is different, and I respect the individuality of each person. But I do not try to think much about my colleagues, what they should do better, how they should act. I simply prefer to focus on my own duties, and on my good attitude to other people. That is the only thing I can control.
I can get along with everyone, and I do not have special preferences. The most important thing is to see that my colleagues try their best in work, day in day out. But whether they are old or young, whether they like dancing or watching football doesn’t make any difference to me.
Question nr. 12: What motivates you in work?
Hint: Interviewers try to find out whether you work only for money, or are driven by a passion that comes from within you, that magical driving force that helps us to deliver our best in job.
Your motivation is actually tested during the entire interview, and you should demonstrate it with the enthusiasm for the job offer, for yourself, and for the world in general.
Answering this particular question, however, you should speak openly about your motivation, something that drives you. It can be a desire to help people (great choice for a nurse, a social worker, a teacher), and it can be a desire to support your own family, simply a goal to live well.
Meaningful purpose of this job motivates me. I would be proud to teach young children, as I believe I can become a good role model for them. And I do not want to be a bad role model, so you can be sure I’d try my best in each class.
I love to work with people. I am very social, and I enjoy talking to strangers. I believe that the nature of this job is motivating enough, at least for me it works that way.
Question nr. 13: What are your salary expectations?
Hint: If they start talking about salary, it is mostly a good sign. It means that they consider hiring you (unless they just blindly follow an interview template, and ask every job candidate exactly the same question).
Anyway, you should say that salary is not a deciding factor for you. But if they insist on hearing a number, you should say something to backup your expectations (average salary statistics, the sum of money you earned in your last job, etc.)
I like the job description, I like your bank, and I would be proud to have this job. But as far as my knowledge goes, average salary for a teller in your institution starts at $29,000. I would accept that number for the start.
This is my first job application, and I am motivated to learn. I understand it is an entry level position, so the salary offer won’t be great. At the same time, however, the possibilities of promotion are almost endless, so I would accept your standard salary offer for entry level jobs. I am sure that once I prove myself worthy of promotion or a raise, you won’t hesitate offering it to me.
Question nr. 14: When can you start?
Hint: Most HR managers prefer to see their new hires on board as soon as possible. If you can start immediately, say it and stress that you are not waiting for any other interviews to finish, or phone calls to come…
And if you can not start immediately (bearing in mind notice period requirements, or other reasons), say clearly why you can not start, and try to turn this answer to your advantage. You can show right attitude to work, saying that it would be irresponsible to leave your current employer without helping your replacement to understand their job.
I am eager to start as soon as possible. I have applied also for two other job offers, but this one is my first choice, so if you need me tomorrow, I can be here in the morning.
I could possibly start tomorrow, but I want to finish the project I currently work on with my employer. It would be unprofessional and irresponsible if I just left them. I will need two or three weeks at least to finish it, and then I can start here. But I am ready to sign the contract even today, and you can be sure that I won’t change my mind about working here.
Question nr. 15: Do you have any questions?
Hint: You will get a chance to ask some questions in your interview. It is good to ask one or two questions at least, as it shows that you still want the job, after everything that has been said and done in your interview.
But you should not ask about something that was already discussed in an interview, or about something that was explained on their job description. Focus on their working environment, next steps of recruitment process, company culture, their goals and plans, their product portfolio, etc.
What are the next steps of recruitment process? Is there anything else I can do to improve my chances of getting this job?
I really like your product ABC. Can you tell me more about the plans you have with the product, and the innovations you plan in the future?
Do you set any goals for sales managers, such as monthly sales volume?
Might interest you as well:
- Questions by job title – Prepare for job specific interview questions
- Interview preparation tips – Learn how to prepare for your interview, in every sense of the work (what to wear, what to bring, how to get rid of stress)
- Interview questions in detail – an in depth analysis of the most difficult screening interview questions.
Screening part is just the start of the interview process
We hope that our list helped you to understand what to expect in your first interview, and how you can make a good impression on your interviewers.
However, after successfully passing the screening part (phone interview, online interview, group interview, or simply the first interview with the employer), you will often have to deal with behavioral questions (second interview, final interview).
According to the study from 2015, these are the fifteen most common behavioral interview questions:
- Describe a situation when you were under pressure in work.
- Describe a conflict you had with your colleague.
- Describe a situation when you went above and beyond with your service (for the customer, for the colleague).
- Describe a situation when you reached a goal and tell us how you achieved it.
- Describe a situation when you had to motivate someone in work (your colleague, your subordinate, or even your superior)
- Describe a time when you had to deal with an angry or upset client (customer).
- Describe a situation when you did not agree with an opinion (or decision) of your superior or supervisor, and knew that they were wrong.
- Describe a situation when you faced a particularly demanding problem or challenge in your personal life. How did that affect you in your job?
- Describe a time when you struggled with motivation in job (it was repetitive, you did not enjoy it anymore, there was no work to do, etc). How did you overcome the crisis of motivation?
- Describe a situation when you were unable to solve the problem on your own.
- Describe a time when you struggled to communicate something to your boss, colleague, or customer. How did you manage to get your message over?
- Describe a difficult decision you had to make in your professional career. How did making the decision affect you?
- Describe a time when you experienced a conflict of your personal and professional interests.
- Describe the biggest failure of your professional career.
- Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important.
Answers to behavioral questions
If you would like to see an analysis and multiple brilliant answers to the questions from the list, have a look at the Interview Success Package from InterviewPenguin.com. It consists of three products:
1.st: eBook, Brilliant Answers to Fifteen Most Common Screening Interview Questions (multiple brilliant answers to all questions from our list, for both people with and without previous working experience).
2nd: eBook, Brilliant Answers to Fifteen Most Common Behavioral Interview Questions (brilliant answers to fifteen most common behavioral interview questions, including answers for people who apply for their first job.)
3rd: Audio recording (mp3) I Will Get a Job (winning interview strategies and advice from the founder of InterviewPenguin.com website, the author of this article)
To read samples from the eBooks, and to learn more about the package, check the product page: Interview Success Package.
Thank you, we wish you good luck in your interview!