Last updated on July 30th, 2018 at 07:31 am
Following a recent study that reported on entry-level and intermediate-level job interviews in ninety seven different corporations in the United States, we put together a list of fifteen most common interview questions.
Helping you to prepare for each question, we hope to help you to succeed in your first (or second) job interview, and get a great job.
Short hint explains why the interviewers use the question, what they try to find out, and what you should focus on in your answer. Sample answers follow the hint. Enjoy the list!
(Note: The questions for entry-level job interviews are similar in all developed countries. Keep reading, even if you live outside of the US.)
Table of Contents
Question nr. 1: Can you tell me something about yourself?
Hint: This is 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 will help you to feel more relaxed.
The interviewers do not ask about your education, experience, personal life, or anything else in particular—you can choose the way to introduce yourself.
However, you should remember that your choice reflects what matters to you. In a job interview, you should talk about your education, working experience, career goals, skills and abilities. You should talk about things that are relevant for the employers.
On the other hand, you can mention one or two hobbies, or tell them something from your personal life. This helps to demonstrate that you have a life outside of work, and are ready for an open an genuine talk in an interview. Check one sample answer below.
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 single job interview. Do you apply for a job just becasue you want to earn money, or just because you have graduated from the field? Do you apply only because you need a job, or do you really want to have this one?
Your goal is to convince the employer that you genuinely want to work for them, and that you have a good reason for choosing their offer.
Pre-interview research should help you to find a good answer to this question. You should learn something about the working environment, their vision and goals, the value they bring to their customers and business partners with their services.
I really like the job description and believe I can fit here, and bring some value to your team of financial analysts. On the top of that, I have the right education for this role, and I would really enjoy working in an international environment.
Your store is just ten minute 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.
Note: For a complete guide on how to ace your job interview, including brilliant answers to thirty most common interview questions (and yes, the most difficult behavioral questions are included in the selection), check our Interview Success Package.
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 are forced to make one.
They try to understand if they can count with you in a long run, they try to understand you as an employee. Do you look for good things, or for bad things in your job? Do you demand a lot from your colleagues, or do you demand a lot from yourself?
Regardless of your past experience, you should focus on the good things. Even if they fired you in your last job (for no real reason), try to speak nicely about your former colleagues and employers.
Nobody wants to hire an employee who will complain about everything, a person who always looks for the worst…
I had my job in a restaurant for four years. I enjoyed the company of my colleagues, and believe that I helped the guests to feel welcome. But I needed a change.
The duties were repetitive, and I felt I was not moving forward anymore. That’s why I left, and decided to apply for your offer, as I really see a potential for learning and growing in your company.
They fired me because I had a different opinion than the director of the company had. 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 the company best of luck, and I do not want to live in the past. Now I am here, looking for a new challenge, and a chance to help your company to 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 will often inquire about your education, trying to understand your attitude to learning, and to education in general.
You should focus on things you learned, primarily the practical skills and abilities that will help you in your new job. These matter more than the names of degrees and institutions–unless you graduated from Harvard or Cambridge….
I have studied at ABC University. I acquired knowledge of statistics, project management and accounting, among many others. I always sought opportunities to put the lessons to practice. I took part in projects and competitions we had at school. I believe that my education and internship that followed after my graduation prepared me perfectly for a job in your company.
Question nr. 5: Can you tell us something about your working experience?
Hint: Employers can read about your experience on your resume. Nevertheless, 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 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, you can at least say that the experience helped you to gain basic working habits, and simply to prepare 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 while we were renovating the house. I believe that I know what it means to have a job, and I am eager to finally start working somewhere, after many years of studying, and preparing for employment.
Question nr. 6: Why should we hire you (and not someone else)?
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–just for having you onboard.
Will you represents a mere monthly expense, or will you become a great investment, an asset for their team? HR managers try to find the answer.
This is arguably one of the most difficult interview questions. You should focus on something unique, a value you can bring to their team. Sample answers should give you some inspiration.
And when you can not find anything special, you can at least list the relevant skills and abilities that make from you a great candidate 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 it is hard to tell whether I am the best one. But I believe to have what it takes to become a great manager.
Note: You will typically have to pass a series of interviews to get a great entry-level job. To see brilliant answers to all difficult interview questions (including the questions you will deal with in your 2nd and final interview), have a look at our Interview Success Package. Once you have it, it will be impossible to fail…
Question nr. 7: What are your strengths?
Hint: Professional interviewers should identify your strengths—without asking about them. They get their salary for this capacity after all…
Nevertheless, you can meet a variety of bodies in your job interview. Sometimes the person leading the meeting can have very little experience with interviewing people for the job (think owners of small business, or HR generalists who are just starting their career in the field).
In this case, the question makes at least some sense.
You should pick relevant strengths. If possible, you should elaborate on your answer, saying how you demonstrated your strength in your professional career, how they helped you in the jobs you had (if you had any jobs before).
I love to talk to people, and I believe I do understand them well—what they need, and desire in their lives. My empathy helped me in my volunteering experience in a nursing home, and I hope to use this strength in my career as a social worker.
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 identify your main 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 about yourself. Can you admit having a weakness? Are you humble, or over-confident?
Those who believe to have no weaknesses can hardly move forward in life, since they do not see any areas for improvement. This is not a picture you want to present in an interview. Show us your weaknesses, and tell us how you work to improve on them.
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 is not easy, but I have definitely made some progress 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.
Secondly, your goals should somehow relate to their business, or at least they should not interfere with it.
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…
Goals do change, and nobody can blame you for changing your mind after working in a company for a few months (or even only for a few weeks). Once in an interview, however, you should say things that will help you to get the job.
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 entry-level 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 my life. That’s likely my only goal—to be happy, and to do my best in both professional and personal life.
Note: Enjoying these great answers? You should know that in our Interview Success Package, a specialized product I prepared to help you to get a job of your dreams, you will find great answers to 30 most common interview questions, and even an audio guide that will show you how to win your interviewers over…
Thank you for checking it out!
Question nr. 10: Tell us about your greatest achievement so far.
Hint: Employers try to find out if you have just “gone to the job” (or to the school), or if you actually tried to achieve something with your work.
Whenever possible, you should 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), rather than achievements 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 for the employer.
If you apply for your first job, however, you can speak about achievements from your personal life. For example, a chain smoker who managed to quit smoking recently shows their strong determination and will.
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 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 now.
Question nr. 11: What characterize a good boss/ colleague from your point of view?
You should avoid going for something personal in your answer, for example saying that you prefer young collective, or that you work better under a boss who is older than you.
Such an answer could easily backfire—if a boss was a young man, they would not hire you. I advise you to mention something general, and to emphasize that you can get along with anyone.
Ideal boss doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t even matter to me. I want to focus on my job, and on 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 in job. 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 anyone, 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. Do you know about this magic driving force that helps us to exceed the expectations of everyone, including ourselves? Do you have it within you?
Your motivation is actually tested during the entire interview, and you should demonstrate it with the enthusiasm for the job offer, for your future, and for the world in general.
Answering this particular question, however, you should speak openly about your motivation, something that drives you forward.
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. One way or another, a good answer should always exceeds your own personal needs and desires.
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 perfectly.
Note: Still here? Great! 🙂 You have already read answers to twelve common interview questions, and I can see that you really care, and do your best to succeed in your interview. Once you finish with reading the remaining three answers on this page, do not forget to have a look at our Interview Success Package, the one and only guide you need to overcome all challenges in your interview!
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 questions).
Anyway, you should say that your salary is not a deciding factor, and that you didn’t apply having a number on your mind.
If they insist on hearing a number, however, you should have something to backup your claim (the statistics about an average salary for the position in your country, the sum of money you earned in your last job, etc.). Let’s have a look at some answers.
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.
Question nr. 14: When can you start?
Hint: Most employers 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), explain it clearly.
You can even turn this answer to your advantage. You can show right attitude to work, saying that it would be irresponsible to leave your current employer promptly, without finishing the work you have started.
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. 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. I need two or three weeks at least to finish it, and then I can start working here. But I am ready to sign the contract today, and you can be sure that I won’t change my mind about your offer.
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, since 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, or about something that was clearly 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 in your questions.
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?
Screening part is just the start of the interview process
So you made it to the end! Great.
But you should know that after passing the first, screening part of interview process (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). You will have to deal with them to get the job.
According to the study from 2017, 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 our Interview Success Package. It consists of three parts:
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, and the author of this article–yeah, that’s me :))
To read samples from the eBooks, and to learn more about the package, check the product page: Interview Success Package.
Thank you, the entire team at Interview Penguin you good luck!
InterviewPenguin.com – Your best job interview coach since 2011.
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