- “Tell me about yourself.”
This is usually the opening question in an interview and it’s the perfect moment for you to toot your own horn — not to tell your life history. Your answers should be a quick rundown of your qualifications and experience. Talk about your education, work history, recent career experience and future goals.
Suggested answer: “I graduated from University X and since then, I have been working in public relations with an agency where I have generated millions of PR hits for my clients. While I’ve enjoyed working on the agency side, I’m looking to expand my horizons and start doing PR for corporate companies such as this one.
- “Why did you leave your last job?”
This is your chance to talk about your experience and your career goals, not to badmouth a former boss or give a laundry list of reasons for your exit. Instead, focus on what you learned in your previous position and how you are ready to use those skills in a new position.
Suggested answer: “The company just wasn’t a good fit for my creativity, but I learned that organizations have distinct personalities just like people do. Now I know where I’ll be a better fit.”
- “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Let the employer know that you’re stable and you want to be with this company for the long haul. Keep your aspirations to take over the firm with which you are interviewing, own your own company, retire at 40 or be married with five children to yourself.
Suggested answer: “I want to secure a civil engineering position with a national firm that concentrates on retail development. Ideally, I would like to work for a young company, such as this one, so I can get in on the ground floor and take advantage of all the opportunities a growing firm has to offer.
- “What are your weaknesses?”
The key to answering this age-old question is not to respond literally. Your future employer most likely won’t care if your weak spot is that you can’t cook, nor do they want to hear the generic responses, like you’re “too detail oriented” or “work too hard.” Respond to this query by identifying areas in your work where you can improve and figure out how they can be assets to a future employer. If you didn’t have the opportunity to develop certain skills at your previous job, explain how eager you are to gain that skill in a new position.
Suggested answer: “In my last position, I wasn’t able to develop my public-speaking skills. I’d really like to be able to work in a place that will help me get better at giving presentations and talking in front of others.”
- “Why were you laid off?”
This question will become more common as the economy continues to slow down. It’s a tough question, however, especially because many workers aren’t told exactly why they were laid off. The best way to tackle this question is to answer as honestly as possible.
Suggested answer: “As I’m sure you’re aware, the economy is tough right now and my company felt the effects of it. I was part of a large staff reduction and that’s really all I know. I am confident, however, that it had nothing to do with my job performance, as exemplified by my accomplishments. For example…”
- “Tell me about the worst boss you ever had.”
Never, ever talk badly about your past bosses. A potential boss will anticipate that you’ll talk about him or her in the same manner somewhere down the line.
Suggested answer: “While none of my past bosses were awful, there are some who taught me more than others did. I’ve definitely learned what types of management styles I work with the best.”
- “How would others describe you?”
You should always be asking for feedback from your colleagues and supervisors in order to gauge your performance; this way, you can honestly answer the question based on their comments. Keep track of the feedback to be able to give to an employer, if asked. Doing so will also help you identify strengths and weaknesses.
Suggested answer: “My former colleagues have said that I’m easy to do business with and that I always hit the ground running with new projects. I have more specific feedback with me, if you’d like to take a look at it.”
- “What can you offer me that another person can’t?”
This is when you talk about your record of getting things done. Go into specifics from your résumé and portfolio; show an employer your value and how you’d be an asset.
Suggested answer: “I’m the best person for the job. I know there are other candidates who could fill this position, but my passion for excellence sets me apart from the pack. I am committed to always producing the best results. For example…”
- “If you could choose any company to work for, where would you go?”
Never say that you would choose any company other than the one where you are interviewing. Talk about the job and the company for which you are being interviewed.
Suggested answer: “I wouldn’t have applied for this position if I didn’t sincerely want to work with your organization.” Continue with specific examples of why you respect the company with which you are interviewing and why you’ll be a good fit.
- “Would you be willing to take a salary cut?”
Salary is a delicate topic. In today’s tough economy though, how much a company can afford to pay you might be the deal breaker in whether or not you are offered a position.
Suggested answer: “I’m making $X now. I understand that the salary range for this position is $XX – $XX. Like most people, I would like to improve on my salary, but I’m more interested in the job itself than the money. I would be open to negotiating a lower starting salary but would hope that we can revisit the subject in a few months after I’ve proved myself to you.”
So, do you have any questions for me?
This common refrain toward the close of a job interview can make even the best of us stammer when the tables are turned. But with the national unemployment rate over 8%, sharp interview skills are more important than ever.
Whether or not you re currently looking for a job, try your knowledge: Do you have the right questions to ask your interviewer?
The goal, of course, is to ask a few smart questions thoughtful ones that show you’ve been paying attention and have done your homework when it comes to researching the company and the specific job you re after. At the very least, you want to ask something.
Most employers agree that, No, I have no questions, is the worst possible response. The most frustrating thing for a recruiter is when you don t have any questions at all, says recruiter Abby Kohut of AbsolutelyAbby.com.
We asked professional recruiters to brief us on the top 10 most common interview questions to scratch off our lists immediately plus five effective ones to ask instead.
Questions You Should Never Ask in a Job Interview
- Anything Related to Salary or Benefits
Company benefits [and salary negotiations] don t come into play until an offer has been extended, says Kohut. The same principle applies to sick time and vacation days. It s best to avoid any question that sounds like you assume you already have the position unless, of course, your interviewer brings it up first.
- Questions That Start With Why?
Why? It s a matter of psychology. These kinds of questions put people on the defensive, says Kohut. She advises repositioning a question such as, Why did the company lay off people last year? to a less confrontational, I read about the layoffs you had. What s your opinion on how the company is positioned for the future?
- Who is Your Competition?
This is a great example of a question that could either make you sound thoughtful or totally backfire and reveal that you did zero research about the company prior to the interview, says Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter of CareerTrend.net. Before asking any question, determine whether it s something you could have figured out yourself through a Google search. If it is, a) don t ask it and b) do that Google search before your interview!
- How Often Do Reviews Occur?
Maybe you re concerned about the company s view of your performance, or maybe you re just curious, but nix any questions about the company s review or self-appraisal policies. It makes us think you re concerned with how often negative feedback might be delivered, says Kohut. Keep your confidence intact, and avoid the topic altogether or at least until you receive an offer.
- May I Arrive Early or Leave Late as Long as I Get My Hours In?
Even if you make it clear that you re hoping for a flexible schedule to accommodate a legitimate concern such as picking up your kids from daycare, Barrett-Poindexter advises against this question. While work-life balance is a very popular concern right now, it s not the most pressing consideration for a hiring decisionmaker, she says. Insinuating early on that you re concerned about balancing your life may indicate to your employer that you are more concerned about your needs and less concerned about the company s.
- Can I Work From Home?
Unless it was implied in the initial job description, don t bring it up. Some companies will allow you to work from home on occasion once they see what a productive employee you are, says Kohut. But an interview isn t the time to be asking for special favors. Right now your top priority is selling them on you first.
- Would You Like to See My References?
Interviewing is a lot like dating, says Barrett-Poindexter. It s important to entice with your value and attract them to call you for the next date.’” Offering up your references too soon may hint at desperation. Plus, you don t want to run the risk of overusing your references.
- How Soon Do You Promote Employees?
An individual asking this question may come off as arrogant and entitled, says recruiter Josh Tolan of SparkHire.com.
- Do I Get My Own Office?
This is an uncomfortable one, says Tolan. Of course you may wonder about it, but will something like this really play into whether you accept a career opportunity or not? If so, he says, it may be time to rethink your priorities.
- Will You Monitor My Social Networking Profiles?
While a valid concern in today s culture, this is something best left unsaid. It gives the impression you have something to hide, says Tolan. Play it safe and don t post anything (especially disparaging things) about your company, co-workers, or employers on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere on the internet, really. And yes, even if you re not friends with anyone at work. These kinds of things have a way of getting around.
Questions You Should Definitely Ask in a Job Interview
- Can You Explain the Culture to Me, With Examples of How the Company Upholds it?
Asking for specific insight into the company s culture is key. Everyone will tell you that their culture is great, but examples prove it, says Kohut. This will help you decide if you want to work for them. At the same time, most interviewers are also trying to assess if you re a good cultural fit for the company.
- How Have You Recognized Your Employees in the Past?
This is another example of a smart question that digs for specifics. You want to be sure that your new company appreciates its employees, says Kohut, and that the company values morale.
- What Do You Like Most About This Company?
By nature, most people like to talk about themselves, so this question helps warm up your interviewer, suggests Barrett-Poindexter. It also provides critical insight into whether you d be happy working with this individual or company. If your interviewer s answer excites you, that can further reinforce your decision to continue the interview process. If the response is lukewarm, it may give you something to think about before deciding to invest in a future here.
- Can You Give Me Examples of Collaboration Within the Company?
This is a great question for team players, says Tolan. It not only shows that you have a quality that s very valuable to the company, but it also gets down to brass tacks when it comes to company culture.
- What are the Most Important Things You d Like to See Me Accomplish in the First 30, 60 and 90 days of Employment?
This question shows you re in invested in what you can bring to the company, and not just what the company can do for you. Expect the answer to go deeper than just a basic skill set requirement, says Barrett-Poindexter. Hope that the interviewer will wander a bit, providing personal insight into qualities he favors perhaps even offering nuggets of detail you can use to reinforce your value in the follow-up thank-you letter.
- “I hated my last boss.”
Your last boss was a miserable person whose main concern was making your life miserable. Of course you don’t have a lot of nice things to say; however, don’t mistake honesty, which is admirable, for trash-talking, which is despicable.”If you truly did hate your last boss, I would be prepared to articulate why your last organization and relationship was not right for you,” says Greg Moran, director of industry sales and partnerships for Talent Technology Corp. “Then be prepared to explain what type of organization is right for you and what type of management style you best respond to.”
- “I don’t know anything about the company.”
Chances are the interviewer will ask what you know about the company. If you say you don’t know anything about it, the interviewer will wonder why you’re applying for the job and will probably conclude you’re after money, not a career.”With today’s technology,” Moran says, “there is no excuse for having no knowledge of a company except laziness and/or poor planning – neither of which are attributes [of potential employees] sought by many organizations.”
- “No, I don’t have any questions for you.”
Much like telling the interviewer that you don’t know anything about the company, saying you don’t have any questions to ask also signals a lack of interest. Perhaps the interviewer answered every question or concern you had about the position, but if you’re interested in a future with this employer, you can probably think of a few things to ask.”Research the company before you show up,” Moran advises. “Understand the business strategy, goals and people. Having this type of knowledge will give you some questions to keep in your pocket if the conversation is not flowing naturally.”
- “I’m going to need to take these days off.”
“We all have lives and commitments and any employer that you would even consider working for understands this. If you progress to an offer stage, this is the time for a discussion regarding personal obligations,” Moran suggests. “Just don’t bring it up prior to the salary negotiation/offer stage.”Why?
By mentioning the days you need off too early in the interview, you risk coming off presumptuous as if you know you’ll get the job.
- “How long until I get a promotion?”
While you want to show that you’re goal-oriented, be certain you don’t come off as entitled or ready to leave behind a job you don’t even have yet.”There are many tactful ways to ask this question that will show an employer that you are ambitious and looking at the big picture,” Moran offers. “For example, asking the interviewer to explain the typical career path for the position is fine.” Another option is to ask the interviewer why the position is open, Moran adds. You might find out it’s due to a promotion and can use that information to learn more about career opportunities.
- “Are you an active member in your church?”
As you attempt to make small talk with an interviewer, don’t cross the line into inappropriate chitchat. Avoid topics that are controversial or that veer too much from work.”This sounds obvious but many times I have been interviewing candidates and been asked about my personal hobbies, family obligations, et cetera,” Moran says. “Attempting to develop a rapport is essential but taking it too far can bring you into some uncomfortable territory.”
- “As Lady Macbeth so eloquently put it…”
Scripted answers, although accurate, don’t impress interviewers. Not only do they make you sound rehearsed and stiff, they also prevent you from engaging in a dialogue.”This is a conversation between a couple humans that are trying to get a good understanding of one another. Act accordingly,” Moran reminds.
- “And another thing I hate…”
Save your rants for your blog. When you’re angry, you don’t sway anybody’s opinion about a topic, but you do make them like you less. For one thing, they might disagree with you. They also won’t take kindly to your bad attitude.”If you are bitter, keep it inside and show optimism. Start complaining and you will be rejected immediately,” Moran warns. “Do you like working with a complainer? Neither will the interviewer.”