Sound smart with these 3 common interview questions and answers

Hoo, boy. It’s the much-dreaded but necessary next step after you apply for a new job: the interview. Interviews help both you and a potential employer decide if the job would be a fit. Interviews shouldn’t strike terror in interviewees, but for first-time job hunters, they’re pretty darn scary. 

You’re smart and articulate in day-to-day life, but the second you’re in an interview, your brain goes blank. It’s happened to everyone! 

The best way to get over interview jitters is to practice job interview questions ahead of time. We’ve compiled the three most common interview questions here for you to look over. Use our answer templates as a guide to help you craft the perfect, professional answer. 

You got this!

1. Tell me about yourself

Most hiring managers will lead in with this question first. It sounds like they want to hear your life’s story, but that would be a wrong answer. Instead of talking about your childhood or your hobbies, this is a chance to give them an overview of your experience—and explain how you wound up applying for this job. 

Keep your answer focused on the job and your qualifications. If they want to know about your pets or hobbies, they’ll ask. 

Use this formula to answer “Tell me about yourself:”

  • Start with your greatest strength or a professionally-relevant interest

  • Relate that interest to your past experience or current job

  • Mention how you’re excited to use this experience in a new role

If you don’t have job experience yet, that’s okay. You can still tie in experience from school, clubs or volunteer gigs. 

Here’s an example that ties everything together: “I love helping others. In my role as secretary for the National Honor Society, I was in charge of organizing volunteer initiatives. I’d like to bring that passion for helping others into a career. I’m interested to learn how I can bring that skillset into a job at your nonprofit and see if we're the right fit.”

2. Why do you want this job?

Another way to phrase this question is, “Why do you want to work here?” But please, oh please, don’t answer this question with, “Because I need money.” That’s a given. And even if the only reason you applied is because you need the job, this is a time to dig a little deeper.

It’s unlikely you applied to literally every job that came across your computer screen. What sticks out to you about this current company or job? Did you apply at In-N-Out Burger because you love their food and family atmosphere? Or did you apply as an admin at a small business because you’re interested in starting a business someday? 

Keep your answer professional and positive. Answer with something like, “I’d like to work at Barney’s Bakery because I’ve always been interested in culinary arts. I admire your food and I’d love to learn from the best.”

3. Tell me about a time you were in a difficult situation.

As tempting as it is, this is not your chance to lay into a coworker from your last job. This behavioral interview question is your chance to show you’re a responsible, calm and level-headed worker, not someone who’s up for petty squabbles. 

Use this formula to answer this question: 

  • Explain the facts of the situation

  • Demonstrate which specific actions you took to deal with the situation

  • How did everything end? What positive change occurred?

Here’s a way to put it all together: “I was working as a cashier at a fast food restaurant. An angry customer approached me and insisted they had been incorrectly charged for their food by a different cashier. I was able to look over the receipt and realized there had been an error. I was able to refund the overcharged amount and, with my manager’s permission, tried to make it right by covering the entire cost of their meal.”

4. Your turn!

Guess what? Interviews aren’t a one-way street. As a first-time interviewee, it can feel like the interviewer has all the power, but that’s not true. This is your chance to figure out if this employer matches your career goals.

Always come prepared with follow-up questions. Consider asking questions like:

  • What qualities are you looking for in someone to fill this position? 

  • Describe the culture of your business. 

  • How has your experience been working at this company?

Come prepared with at least five questions. If they answer these questions before you have the chance to ask them, you’ll still have a few you can ask to keep the conversation moving. 

The bottom line

Employers use these three interview questions to determine if you’re the best candidate for the job. If you’re new to the world of interviewing, that’s okay! Practice these common interview questions before you go in and you’ll ace the interview process in style.

But the interview itself is just one part of the equation. You also need to dress up for your job interview. But that doesn’t have to break your budget. Here are our favorite picks for affordable interview clothes.