Four Common Job Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

When you apply for a new job, you open yourself up to an extensive employment screening process. Your prospective employers will want to run a background check to learn about any criminal history you may have; they will want to run a credit check to find out how you handle money; they will want to look into your educational past to see if your resume is telling the truth; and they will want to call your former employers or references to ask probing questions about the way you work and interact with others. All of this is enough to make anyone want to roll themselves up into a ball and never apply for another job again, and that’s without the above list even including the most obvious section of the screening process: the job interview itself.

Four Common Job Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)
Four Common Job Interview Questions (And How to Answer Them)

Indeed, how you perform in a job interview will often be the determining factor for whether or not you earn yourself a job offer. With that in mind, it’s good to know which questions to expect on an interview, and luckily, many questions are standard across virtually all job interviews. Be warned though, sometimes, the most important thing isn’t what you say in response to these questions, but how you say it.

With that in mind, here are five tough questions you might find yourself facing during a job interview.

1. “Why are you leaving your previous job?”

While hiring managers may be truly interested to learn why you are seeking alternative employment, this question is first and foremost a way to gauge how you talk about people when they aren’t listening. In other words, this question is a test, and it’s one you’ll fail if you start throwing your former colleagues under the bus, calling your boss an incompetent moron, saying that you could have run the place better yourself, or otherwise defaming the character and reputation of your former employer. All of those things may well be true, but all a hiring manager will see is a person who is going to be talking about his company in a similarly vitriolic manner a few years down the road.

So what’s the right way to answer? Be graceful about it. Praise the people you work with, state your respect for your boss, and be thankful for the experiences your job has given you. Often, the best way to answer this question is simply to say that you are looking for new opportunities and challenges. That way, you subtly pay a compliment to the company for which you are interviewing while also showing respect for the company you are leaving behind.

2. “Why do you want to work for this company?”

On the surface, this question may just seem like a differently worded version of the first. In actuality, though, the queries are asked separately to acquire completely different pieces of information. Where the first question focuses on an applicant’s past experiences, the second question gazes on his or her potential future. In short, this question is your chance to show that you’ve done your homework and that the position at hand isn’t just one of two-dozen applications you completed in a flurry to find any job available. Talk about specific facets of the organization for which you are interviewing, then discuss how your passions are a match with the company’s mission statement and bottom line.

Why do you want to work here?
Why do you want to work here?

Part of any job interview is presenting yourself as someone who could perform a job in a satisfactory fashion, but a bigger part is promoting yourself as a person who really wants the job, and for all the right reasons (passion in what the company does, a drive to make a difference, etc.) than for the wrong ones (money, benefits, etc.). In many cases, nothing shows passion and investment like an applicant who has done his or her homework.

3. “What were your responsibilities at your last job?”

For the “why are you leaving your previous job?” question, you may have embellished the truth a bit in an effort to avoid criticizing the people you used to work with. You were telling a white lie to avoid looking like the employee who willingly tosses his or her former employers under the bus.

For this question, however, embellishment is what might get you into trouble. Between resumes and interviews, job searchers often feel a desire to make their previous job seem more important or advanced than it was. This can mean anything from overstating the significance of certain employment responsibilities to making up a job title that sounds impressive and credible. However, since most hiring managers will contact your former employers as part of the job screening process, your chances are going to fall apart quickly if you portray your old job as something it wasn’t.

In other words, honesty is the best policy here. Tell the truth about what you did at your previous job, whether it was getting coffee or spearheading an entire IT network. Your prospective employer will appreciate you for being genuine, and chances are that you can still tie your old responsibilities into why you would be a good fit for this new job.

4. “What are your salary requirements?”

Answering this question combines several of the things we have discussed above. First of all, if a prospective employer asks you about your salary at a previous job, don’t lie about it in an effort to negotiate higher pay. Employers have ways of finding out how much you were paid, so lying about it is a good way to kick yourself out of job contention.

What are your salary requirements?
What are your salary requirements?

Secondly, do your homework: try to find out how much the company pays without asking your interviewer (asking about money right away is off-putting). If you can’t find information on the company you are interviewing with, try to find a range for how much someone in your position or industry might make. By taking your experience level into account (not to mention the fact that you would be a new employee), you should be able to guess a salary close to what your offer would be.

Of course, if you don’t feel comfortable with any of this, you can always play it safe. By saying that you would like to wait to discuss salary until you’ve learned more about the job responsibilities at hand, you will show your prospective employer that you are flexible and that money is not the first thing on your mind. Both are attractive qualities.

Of course, there are many questions that you might face in a job interview, but these four are heard in virtually every professional setting, and all of them are deeper questions than they appear to be on the surface. Knowing how to spot the “tricks” or hidden meanings in these questions will give you the ammo you need to deliver a terrific response that helps you land a job.

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