You applied for a job and now you have an interview scheduled. Congratulations! You are excited to sell yourself to the employer, but then realize you now need to talk to someone. A moment of fear comes over you and you start asking yourself what types of questions will be asked how should I respond? You can have a successful interview with a bit of preparation. First, research the company online and learn about what they do and determine what interests you about the company.  Then prepare for top interview questions.  What are some of the top interview questions you may be asked in today’s world? See below, by the Outcomes Employment Support Team.

Why do Employers Interview? The employer wants to make sure that the right person for the job gets hired. An employer that makes a bad hiring decision will lose money and can face lower productivity.  The bad employee hired can leave a bad impression with all stakeholders.

Remember that it is less about providing the “right” answers and more about demonstrating that you are the best candidate for the job.

Also, do not be surprised if there are some follow-up questions, asked in addition to the initial interview question.

Understand the question, why and how to respond.

1. Tell me about yourself.

The Purpose

This is a very common (and tricky) job interview question.

The employer askes this open-ended question, because they hope prospective candidates will offer insight about their goals and priorities.  This helps the employer better understand the applicant.

How to respond

There are three things to tell the potential employer First, discuss your current job role if you are currently working in a paid or volunteer job.  Second, tell the interviewer about your past work (paid or volunteer).  If you have a specific detail about something you did and can quantify the answer that is even better. Third, finish by telling the employer how your past experience can help you be successful in the role you are applying for and if appropriate how your experience aligns with your long-term career goals.

2. Why do you want this job? or Why should we hire you?

The Purpose

Employers are generally interviewing three or more candidates for an open position. The employer is trying to understand why you are the best fit for the position that is open. This is your opportunity to give your sales pitch as to what you can offer the employer.

How to respond

Think of this question as your advertisement.  It is similar to an advertisement in a magazine or online to purchase a certain product such as coffee. The advertiser wants you to buy that product you as a candidate want the employer to hire you.  You want to respond with you should hire me and provide three examples of why you should be selected over other candidates. An example is you should hire me because I have proven ability to provide great customer service and customers come back asking for me when they came to purchase items, I am passionate about providing care to those that need assistance or support, this keeps me motived and excited about doing my personal best on the job.

3. What is/are your greatest strength (s)? (ideally you want to list 3 (three))

The Purpose

The employer is looking for a candidate that can complete the job tasks, someone that will work well with the team and fit the company culture. The interviewer is working to decide if your strengths meet the company’s needs, that you can do your job and will go that extra mile if needed, you have the talents, skills, knowledge and/or experience that makes you stand out from other candidates, will you add value to the team and if you are the best person for the job and if they want to move forward with the hiring process,

How to respond

You want to describe your strengths in some or all the following areas: experience, talents, soft skills, education/training. Experience would include type of task you have experience with or expertise that may be useful to the employer such as operating a cash register.  Talents include abilities such as organizing events, selling products or the ability to get the job done even if multiple barriers occur.  Soft skills include competencies such as problem solving, team building, or influencing others. Education/training include things such as college degrees, certifications, training seminars and/or internships you had related to the company’s field.

4. What is your weakness?

The Purpose

The employer wants to know can you look at yourself, honestly describe the professional areas that you need to develop and present it as something you work to improve. The employer is looking at a candidate own self-awareness. The employer is looking to determine areas you can grow in as a person and as a teammate.

How to respond

As an applicant you never want to say you do not have any weakness (hint we all have weaknesses).  The weakness you describe will not interfere with the duties of the job you are interviewing for. An example is yes, I have a couple weaknesses my biggest weakness is I do not work well as part of a team.  Therefore, I became a dishwasher.  I am responsible for the dish room and can spend most of the day alone.

5. If you are working or volunteering why do you want to leave?

The Purpose

The question is never easy to navigate but a very common question when you are in an interview.  The employer wants to know why you are leaving a paid job, volunteer job, or internship. The reason they want to know is they want to make sure that you will not have the same reason to leave the position you are currently applying for.  How you respond to this question also lets the employer know how an applicant will handle difficult situations or difficult people.  The ability to answer this question demonstrates a certain level of work maturity.

How to respond

You want to be honest and be respectful.  You never know who the employer knows and if you say something negative about a former employer or person you could end you chances of being hired very quickly.   Here are a few examples.  If you dislike your current job and/or supervisor because of an uncomfortable work environment or you and your supervisor just do not see things the same, you could say something like Since I have been in the role, I came to realize my supervisor and I are headed in different directions. It was a difficult decision to make, I now feel ready for a new challenge.  If you say something like that you should bring the conversation back and say something positive and remind the employer why you are interested in the employment opportunity. If you feel you have outgrown your current role and getting up everyday to work is frustrating you might say something like.   I have achieved everything I can in my current position. I feel to keep growing professionally it is time for me to move to a new employer with more room to grow. I know this organization places a lot of importance on mentorship so the opportunity to learn and contribute is something I am really thrilled about.   If you have been working in an internship or volunteer position and want a paid position. You might say something like I am currently in a volunteer (internship) at a similar organization.  My goal is to find an opportunity that not only challenges me professionally but also compensates me financially.

6. What are your salary expectations?

The Purpose

Often an employer has a few main reasons for asking this question (1) They have a budget and want to make sure that the applicants salary expectation align with what the organization plans to offer.  If all applicants, ask for higher salary than has been budgeted it might mean the employer needs to request more salary for a particular job. (2) They want to know if you the applicant knows how much their skill set is worth in the market and can confidently share the information (3) They want to determine if you are at the appropriate professional level.  An applicant that asks for a significantly higher salary than other candidates may be overqualified for the position and if a candidate asks for a salary on the low end, they may not have enough experience for the position.

How to respond

You need to research salaries for the type of job you are applying for by job and geographical location as areas such as Montgomery County Maryland are going to pay higher wages much higher than a rural part of Maryland such as Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore.   Here are some options for you when you are responding:  You can (1) provide a salary range is you are not comfortable with providing a single number.  In order to do this, you should know the average wage/salary for the job.  Keep the wage window narrow with a variance of no more than $5, 000-$10,000.   An example, I am looking for a salary in the range of $30,000 – $35,000 per year; (2) include negotiation options an example might be requesting more vacation if the salary is not in your range and this is something that you would like, or an employer may offer a health insurance plan that is much more substantial and as an employee you pay very little if anything. his could make the offer much more attractive to you. (3) Redirect the question back to the employer you may only be able to do this if you are still in the early stages of the hiring process and still learning about the specific job responsibilities.  Most likely you eventually will need to provide an amount. It is good to keep a well- researched number in mind when you need to respond to this question.

7. How do you handle stress and pressure?

The Purpose

This is a behavioral question often asked by a potential employer. This question will often be asked if the job you are applying for has tight deadlines that must be met and a fast-paced work environment. The employer may also want to know how well you cope with stress outside of work because life outside of work can impact work performance.  The employer will pay attention to example of how you are motivated by stressful situations and/or how you can minimize stressful situations with careful planning and exceptional communication skills.

How to respond

Think about a situation, task, action and result also known as STAR.   You might give an example of how you handled a stressful situation in a previous paid/volunteer/or internship job what you did and the result of your actions.  You can also share how you handle stress such as meditation, yoga, exercise or taking a walk.  You can discuss how pressure motivates you such as in times of stress for a deadline approaching.  You might say I prioritize and organize my work to complete my work. Ideally, share an example of exactly what you did. Finally, you can mention some things you learned because of stress.  The items you mention might include time management, prioritization, organization, and persistence.

8. Describe a difficult work situation or project and how you handled it.

The Purpose

This is one of the most common interviews questions because this is an open-ended question that an employer can ask anyone. This helps the employer understand how a candidate will respond to a situation that does not have a clear, easy, yes-or no response.  It also helps the employer know how a candidate may respond to unforeseen challenges and difficult situations in the position they are applying for.

How to respond

This question allows the applicant to tell a story and is an overall test of your person-to-person communication skills. This question allows the candidate to show their personality and be a real human being instead of the perfect response applicant you are trying to be in an interview. Make sure your example shows how you overcame a difficult situation and an important lesson you learned about yourself and let the employer know the lesson you learned.

9. What are your future goals?

The Purpose

This common question helps the employer determine if your goals are a good fit for the company/organization and want to get an idea if you will stay with them for awhile or move to another job down the road.

How to respond

Hint you want your response to align with the organizations mission or purpose. The best way to respond to this question is to focus on the position you are applying for and the company. This is one reason you need to research the company before you have the interview. If your response is something totally different that the organizations mission/purpose/goals and you share this as your future goal you may not be selected. Remember, the employer is not expecting you to spend your full career with them, but they want to anticipate you will spend a bit of time with them and not leave in six months.  Do not discuss goals outside of work.

10. Can you tell me about an accomplishment you recently had?

The Purpose

An employer will ask this question to gain insight about your demonstrated work and achievements you view as valuable and important.

How to respond

You want to give examples of work accomplishments in the last 3-6 months if you are employed in paid/volunteer/internship work.  The examples give the employer this idea of the projects you have recently completed and what they can expect from you. If you have recently graduated from school and have little work experience you can share a project you recently completed in school.

11. Explain the gap in your employment (Ask if you are reviewing resume and notice large gap prior to COVID – March 2020).

The Purpose

The employer is looking to determine if the candidate is not ready to do the job, they are applying for based on the current level of accomplishments. This may make the hire riskier, for the hiring employer.

How to respond

A candidate needs to be up front and honest.   Gaps in employment do happen and employers realize this.  Remember if you made to to the interview the employer saw something the liked in your application/resume and/or cover letter.  You most likely will not lose out on a job because of a gap you explain but you will lose a job opportunity by lying or trying to cover something up. Explaining employment gaps is primarily about knowing reasons that are okay to share and reasons that are not okay to share. Once you able to determine what you will say you need to be upfront and comfortable with your answer. Here are some reasons you might have gaps in employment:  taking care of a sick family member, taking care of a small child, a medical or health issue, taking time off to find a job in a new city/state, pursing further education or going back to school, completing an apprenticeship or other certification program, pursuing other type of professional training, taking time off to travel, study, work on a solo project, trying to start a business or freelance career, you were laid off, your former company downsized and you had difficulty find a job after that, left the military and took a break to decide your next career move, COVID-19 and concerns about work or need to help the family during COVID-19, I have been actively searching for work and have been selective in my job search and waiting to find the right fit.

Once you know the reason you will share with the employer and why you have an employment gap you may want to do three things (1) explain the situation clearly and briefly.  You do not need to share a great deal of personal details, (2) Show that the situation has ended or is no longer a factor so the employer will not be worried you will take another break form work for the reason you described and you are 100% ready to work, (3) tell the employer again that you are interested in the position and bring the discussion back and focus on the interview and the position.

12. Can you tell me about a time when you disagreed with a decision at work? (Ask if someone has a work history).

The Purpose

When an employer asks this question, they want to find out how you respond in challenging situations at work.  They are also looking to see how you support the organization if you disagreed with your employer about a change being made. This is a behavior type interview question like #7 above.

How to respond  

As noted in #7 above when possible you want to use the STAR method to provide your response.  An example would be my supervisor and I had a disagreement over vacation time.  My siter and brother in-law were coming to the United States from another country. I requested two days off work to spend time with them.  My teammate had recently taken a month off to travel to another country.   My supervisor declined my request for leave.  I was very disappointed and went to the supervisor’s office.  We came up with a compromise. I promised my supervisor I would complete my scheduled job tasks prior to my taking time off.  I completed my job tasks.  I was able to take the time off to visit my sister and brother in-law. By completing my job tasks, I began to gain trust with my supervisor.

13. How would you handle a difficult customer?

The Purpose

This behavioral question asked to a candidate by an employer is to help the employer understand how you approach difficult customers.  They are looking at your customer service skills with others beyond your supervisor or coworkers. The employer is looking for examples of your work experience.

How to respond

As noted in 7&12 above you should think about and use the STAR method to provide your response.  It is important to think about the job you are applying for.  When possible describe a situation from the past that would apply to the job you are currently applying for. Be honest the interviewer will be able to tell if the story you tell is not the truth.

14. Have you ever been fired from a job? (Ask if someone has a work history).

The Purpose

This question is often asked on a job application, but the employer may ask even if you responded to this when you applied for an open position.  The employer wants to determine if something happened in the past that warranted termination of employment.  If yes, this could be a red flag to the employer.  This also gives the employer an opportunity to see if you changed your response from the application you completed. The employer also wants to learn how you coped with being fired and did you take any steps to improve so you would not be fired for a similar situation in the future.

How to respond

Be honest, keep it simple, remain positive, show your personal growth because of the situation and show how you have grown due to the experience.  Remember taking responsibility for a situation demonstrates professionalism and personal development.

You might say something like I was in need of a job to pay my bills.  I took the position without evaluating if it would be a good fit.  After about a month it was apparent that the supervisor and I had very different styles. Now when I look fo ra job opportunity I make sure I fully understand the job description before I apply.  I also now ask questions about the specific job responsibilities and type of management style at an organization.  When I researched this company, I realized you promote a teamwork environment, I think I would thrive in a collaborative work environment.

15. Are you able to the perform essential functions of a job with or without an accommodation? (This is often an application question. Need to be aware of how to answer this question as it could be in an interview as well.)

The Purpose

The employer wants to make sure that applicant can complete essential functions of the job.  You may ask what are essential functions? Essential functions are the job duties that are vital to the position. Therefore the job exists.  Some factors to determine the essential functions of a job include: Does the position exist specifically to perform these essential functions, the number of other employees available to perform the same job functions, the expertise or skills required to perform the essential functions.

How to respond

This will normally be a yes or no response to start. Remember essential job duties may include: Answering the telephone and assisting callers. Recording messages for department personnel. Greeting clients and customers, counting money. To be considered as a candidate the candidate must satisfy job requirements for educational background, employment experience, skills, licenses, and other qualification standards that are job related and be able to perform those job tasks that are essential to the job with or without a reasonable accommodation.

A reasonable accommodation is any change to the application or hiring process, to the job, to the way the job is done, or the work environment that allows a person with a disability who is qualified for the job to perform the essential functions of that job and enjoy equal employment opportunities. Accommodations are considered “reasonable” if they do not create an undue hardship or a direct threat to the employer or stakeholders of the employer. What are some reasonable accommodations? Change of job tasks, reserved parking, improved accessibility in a work area, change the presentation of tests/training materials, provide or adjust a product, equipment or software, allow a flexible schedule, provide and aid or service to increase access, reassign to a vacant position.

16. What do you know about the company?

The Purpose

The employer wants to see how much research and preparation you have done prior to coming in for an interview.

How to respond

Keep in mind if you are one of several qualified applicants being interviewed for a position knowing about the company and responding appropriately may result in a job offer. To prepare for this question do your research, prepare some key talking points, focus on the positive, highlight your interest and enthusiasm.  Things you want to learn are what type of organization the employer is, what is their mission statement, how long has this employer been around, are they a local company or nationwide what is the product or service offered by this organization, what is the size of the organization, determine why the position is open (sometimes by looking at openings you can get an idea about this sometimes you may need to ask during the interview).   If possible, learn something about the person interviewing you.  They may have a short bio on the employer’s website, or they may have a LinkedIn in account.  From your research you can come up with some talking points that will show the employer you did review the website. Once you have shared what you know with the employer it is time to again show your enthusiasm for the employer and that you want to join their team but do so in a way that is genuine and truthful.

TLC Employment Support Team Members:  Brendan Doyle, Jarrett Alston, Khaled El Shafei, Owen Zack and Robert Townsend.