Most Common Job Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)
“So, tell me about yourself,” your interviewer begins. “Why should we hire you?”
Job interview questions like these are so common, you’d think most candidates would just breeze right through them.
These common interview questions are the very same ones that constantly trip candidates up!
We’ve seen this happen countless times.
A candidate turns up at an interview. Did his homework on the company. Smoothly sells himself and how he can add value with his experience and capabilities.
Then the hiring manager hits him with one of these questions, and the confident facade crumbles.
So many jobseekers take these typical interview questions for granted.
Don’t be one of them!
Most Common Interview Questions and Best Answers
- Tell me about yourself
- Tell me about your current role and responsibilities
- What are your expectations from this job?
- Why should we hire you?
- What is the reason for leaving your job?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Can you explain your career gap?
- What’s your leadership style?
- Do you work well under pressure?
- Why do you want this job?
- How long do you plan to work for us?
- Do you have any questions?
If you’ve landed yourself an interview with an agency recruiter or headhunter, you can expect most of the above to be asked, but you could also encounter some additional, slightly different interview questions.
Why’s that so?
Well, when a headhunter reaches out or agrees to meet with you, they probably already have a specific role (or roles) in mind for you, and want to determine if you’ll be a good fit for them. You might or might not be told what these roles are before your meeting.
But don’t take this meeting lightly – it’s important to try and impress the headhunter. An awesome headhunter can really upsell you to potential hiring managers and negotiate on your behalf!
Common Interview Questions From Headhunters
- What kind of company do you want to work for?
- What’s your current salary?
- What’s your minimum or expected salary?
- What’s your availability or notice period?
- What do you enjoy most in your current role?
- What’s your least favourite part of your current role?
- What do you know about XYZ company?
How to answer: “Tell me about yourself”
Interviewers like to ease into interviews with this question.
It’s a deceptively simple and generically broad question – one that could easily lure you into narrating your entire life story.
Don’t fall into that trap!
When interviewers ask this question, they’re trying to find out how compatible you are with the role and company.
How to answer “Tell me about yourself”:
A simple way to respond to this is to structure your answer into Past, Present and Future:
1. Past: How you got to where you are in your career today, your previous work experience. Your unique career narrative!
2. Present: Share about your current role and scope, your accomplishments
3. Future: Build off what you share about Past and Present, talk about what you’re looking for in your next career move, and why you’re a great fit for this role
Sample answer for “Tell me about yourself”
For example, in an interview for a Sales role at a software firm, you could lead with this:
Why does this answer work?
- Shows your enthusiasm and genuine interest in the field
- Highlights your entrepreneurial ability and self-starter attitude
- Demonstrates your technical expertise – skills and knowledge in software and hardware
Follow this up by talking about what you currently do at work (Present), and where you see yourself headed in your career – relating that to your desired new role (Future).
But keep it short!
Don’t go into too much detail here and bore your interviewer.
Keep your answer succinct, no more than 2 minutes.
Think of this as a Cliffs Notes summary – it should give your interviewer just enough of an overview of the most important, and relevant, parts of your career story.
If interviewers want to hear more about a particular aspect, they’ll definitely ask follow up questions!
What about personal interests and passions?
You can talk about these too!
If they’re related to your work (as in the above example), do talk about your passions and interests if you’re comfortable – they’re part of your career narrative, and will make you more memorable to interviewers.
If they’re not relevant, you can still speak about your travels, hobbies etc. briefly – especially if they show your personality, and affirm why you’re a good fit for the company!
Don’t forget, recruiters are people too!
So take the opportunity to try and connect with them. It’s a bonus if you find common interests with the recruiter or hiring manager through your personal sharing. You’ll then set a positive tone for the rest of the interview.
How to answer: “Tell me about your current role and responsibilities”
Here’s your opportunity to sell your skills and experiences!
Give a brief overview of 3-5 of your main duties, and make sure to include:
- Keywords: These industry and role specific keywords will show the recruiter or hiring manager that you’re an expert in your field
- Achievements: Show that you don’t just do your job, you’re AMAZING at it!
- Metrics: Give a sense of scale and context to your achievements
- Narrative: Make yourself memorable
Sample answers for “Tell me about your current role and responsibilities”
“I’m a Digital Marketing Manager, specialising in digital integration, social media management, and content creation…”
“As Head of Technology I oversee IT infrastructure for 8 business units, across 600 end users and more than 1,500 devices…”
“In leading Sales, I’ve secured 24% year-on-year growth over the last 4 years, bringing in an additional $25M in revenue…”
“As a former Software Engineer, I approach all challenges in a focused, logical manner…”
How to answer: “What are your expectations from this job?”
Don’t confuse this question with salary expectations! (don’t even bring up salaries until you are offered the role)
This question is about your professional expectations – what you hope to learn, contribute, and achieve in this new role.
Sample answer for “What are your expectations from this job?”
- Demonstrates your enthusiasm to and commitment for professional growth
- Shows your willingness to share your own knowledge and expertise with your colleagues and add value to the firm
How to answer: “Why should we hire you?”
The trick to answering this question is in connecting your past work experiences and achievements to how you’ll contribute and add value to your new firm.
Sample answer for “Why should we hire you?”
Why does this answer work?
- It shows relevance of your past work experiences – depth and breadth of scope you handled
- Emphasises your achievements – sells the interviewers an aspirational result backed by numbers.
How to answer: “What is the reason for leaving your job?”
When recruiters ask this, what they’re really asking is:
- What new role would be a good fit for you?
- Are you likely to leave a company again in a short period of time?
- Are there any red flags or issues a potential new employer should be aware of?
So when you answer “Why did you leave your last job?”, be honest, but positive.
Yes, maybe you hate your old job and are drained by office politics and constant backstabbing. But these aren’t reasons you need to share with your interviewer.
Whatever your reasons for leaving are, reframe them in a positive light.
Positive and acceptable reasons for leaving your previous job:
- You’re looking for new challenges, work opportunities and professional growth
- Change in career direction
- You were made redundant or the company closed down
- Your company restructured or underwent a merger or an acquisition
- Your work duties were changed, reduced, or outsourced
- You had to travel on business too often
- You took a longer term break from work
- Your job now requires you to move to a foreign country
- You were employed on a contract basis and are now looking for new opportunities
Poor explanations for leaving your previous job:
- You dislike your job or boss
- You’re sick of your work or bored of your job
- You hate the long hours
- Too much office politics
- Unable to get a promotion or pay raise
- You failed to hit work targets
- You were fired
Sample answer for “What is the reason for leaving your job?”
If it’s been some time since your last job, how do you explain the reasons you’d left?
- Personal reasons / Family: If you had a family issue to handle, or were burnt out and needed a travel break, you can be honest, but assure your interviewer that you’ve resolved your past issues, and are refreshed and ready to re-enter the workforce.
- Education: This is another perfectly acceptable reason. Talk about what you’ve learnt in your studies, share about the new skills you’ve picked up, and how you look forward to applying that in your new role.
- Retrenchment: Be honest and share the reason you were laid off. Talk about what you’ve been doing in the interim – perhaps upskilling yourself, trying out potential new careers, etc.
How to answer: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Hiring new employees means investing in them for the long-term.
Employers naturally want to ensure that you’re clear about your career objectives, and that they can support your aspirations.
Here’s what not to say:
- “In your job.”
- “I haven’t planned that far ahead.”
- “At a bigger company with better opportunities”
Your response should be realistic and show that you’ve indeed given your career future thought. Tie it back to the role you’re interviewing for.
Unsure what your long-term career goals are? We have another in-depth article that’ll help you discover your career aspirations.
Sample answer for “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
This answer works well because it:
- Communicates a clear direction for professional growth.
- Emphasises your enthusiasm for the role
- Iterates your commitment and desire to grow with the company.
How to answer: “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Your answer to this question reflects your level of self-awareness.
When describing strengths, share what you’ve achieved professionally as a result of your strengths.
Sample answer for “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Don’t defend or gloss over your weaknesses.
Identify and be honest about them.
But to give a great answer, talk about how you’re actively improving your weaknesses.
Reposition them as strengths.
Sample answer for “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
How to answer: “Can you explain your career gap?”
Everyone has different reasons for gaps in their CV.
If yours is a short gap (1-3 months), you can omit this. It’s understood that you’ve recently left your job and are in the midst of your job hunt.
But never lie about your career gap. Be honest and upfront with the hiring manager.
Acknowledge the gap and explain its circumstances.
Just as you would when talking about why you left your previous job, frame your career gap positively.
Sample answers for “Can you explain your career gap?”
For example, if you took time off to study, mention new skills you’ve picked up.
If you took time off for personal or family reasons:
If you took time off to travel:
These answers work well as they:
- Show candidates continuing to stay productive and broadening their skill sets.
- Highlight how activities during career gaps remain relevant to career.
- Frame personal time as opportunities for professional development.
How to answer: “What’s your leadership style?”
Interviewers ask about your leadership or management style to gauge your fit with the employer and team.
Here are some examples of common leadership styles.
Support your answer where possible with personal examples and anecdotes.
Sample answer for “What’s your leadership style?”
“I try not to micromanage and believe in allowing my team to work independently. I set clear directions and timelines from the get-go, and trust my team to do the necessary work to accomplish tasks. However, I do weekly check ins with each team member to keep tabs on work progress, and provide as much guidance as needed. I make sure that deadlines are met and expenses do not exceed the given budget of the team.
For example, three months ago, I was tasked to lead a team of 5 to prepare a report for our regional MD. From day one, I called a meeting with the team. We set clear roles and weekly deliverables for each team member, and a realistic timeline. The project progressed smoothly over the next 6 weeks, and my team completed the task a week ahead of the project deadline.”
How to answer: “Do you work well under pressure?”
Work pressure is part and parcel of any job.
At senior and management positions, high pressure situations and stakes come with the territory.
“I don’t get stressed easily.” is never a good answer!
Tell your interviewer about stress management methods you use. Share a real example too of how you’ve successfully managed a high stakes situation under pressure.
It gives your interviewer insight into your decision-making process, and confidence that you know how to keep your emotions in check when dealing with difficult situations.
Sample answer for “Do you work well under pressure?”
“I keep myself calm while prioritising the tasks expected of me to accomplish. For example, I was assigned to complete a 100-page report in a week. The report was requested by a client at a last minute, and I was tasked to complete this above all of my other regular duties.
While multi-tasking can help me complete multiple tasks at the same time, I decided to narrow my focus instead. I rescheduled my less urgent tasks, and focused on completing this report first. Instead of completing the 100-page report in one go, I strived to complete 20 or more pages a day to ensure consistency and prevent burnout.
Choosing to narrow my focus over multi-tasking when placed under pressure allows me to keep my focus and submit higher quality work with fewer errors.”
How to answer: “Why do you want this job?”
Here’s your opportunity to express your enthusiasm in the role, and show you’ve done your research!
First, talk about the company’s strengths – what makes them unique in their field over their competitors, what growth opportunities do they offer.
Then, sell what you have to offer – how you’ll bring value to the organisation through your skills and experience.
Sample answer for “Why do you want this job?”
How to answer: “How long do you plan to work for us?”
Remember, hiring is a long-term investment for the company!
Employers ask this question to gauge your commitment to the company and role.
Even if you’re in it for the long haul, we suggest leaving out numbers that may create unrealistic expectations.
Sample answer for “How long do you plan to work for us?”
Instead of giving a rough estimate such as “5 to 10 years”, use this.
How to answer: “Do you have any questions for me?”
If you’re hearing this, you’ve arrived at the end of the interview.
Remember – an interview is a two-way conversation.
You should always be ready with questions for your interviewer.
Failing to do so is a clear indicator that you haven’t prepared or researched sufficiently!
Take this opportunity at the end of the interview to clarify any questions you may have about the company or the role.
Ask thoughtful questions that reflect your interest in the role and company, and show you’ve done your research.
If you’re wondering what questions to ask during your interview, take a look at these examples.
Great questions to ask during an interview
Questions about the role:
- What are the indicators of success for this role?
- What does a typical day look like in this role?
- If I get this job, what would you like me to achieve in the short- and long-term?
Questions about the company or interviewer:
- How would you describe the management style or culture of the company?
- Why do you enjoy working here?
- What are some of the company’s recent challenges?
- What are the company’s goals for the coming year?
How to answer: “What kind of company do you want to work for?”
Here’s what the headhunter really wants to find out:
- What matters to you
- What you think would be a good fit!
Good things to consider when you answer this question:
- Culture of the company/li>
- Size of the company/li>
- Market or industry/li>
“I really enjoy collaborative, team-focused environments…”
“I like working with small-sized firms, where I feel I can really make a difference…”
“I’d love to transition to the tech sector…”
A good headhunter will try to find you a role that’s a perfect fit, because when you’re happy in your new job, your employer is usually pleased too – and that makes a happy recruiter!
How to answer: “What’s your current salary?”
Here’s the deal:
Great employees get underpaid all the time.
Are you currently earning less than you should be?
It’s okay, recruiters won’t judge you for this. They just want to see if roles they have in mind for you would mean a raise (yay!) or a potential cut (oh no!)
So be honest with them
Money may be a taboo subject for a lot of people, but when exploring a new role with a headhunter, it’s best to discuss it openly.
And one of the benefits of using headhunters is that they can negotiate your salary on your behalf!
How to answer: “What’s your minimum or expected salary?”
Is it wrong to say that you would like to set a minimum expected salary for your next role?
No, not necessarily.
Remember, most recruiters get paid a percentage of your annual salary, so it’s in their interest to get you an amazing salary package!
With this headhunter question, all recruiters really want is to check that their available roles are within your expected salary range.
One of the positions they’re hiring for looks excellent, but the money isn’t quite right?
Again, recruiters can negotiate for you, and maybe get you more!
In the event that a hiring manager can’t adjust the salary, a great headhunter will always discuss it with you:
They do not just pitch you at your lowest price-tag.
How to answer: “What’s your availability or notice period?”
The biggest mistakes you can make when answering this recruiter question?
1. Not knowing your notice period in advance
Did you not know you were having an interview today?
And even worse:
2. Saying that you can leave your current job early
The disrespect that show your current employer will make any prospective company wonder if you’ll be as unprofessional with them.
Smart hiring managers won’t prioritise a weaker candidate over you just because they can start a few weeks earlier.
Don’t worry, and don’t try to cut corners:
Be prepared, be professional, and come out looking like a great candidate!
How to answer: “What do you enjoy most in your current role?”
Wondering why a recruiter would ask this, if you’ve already discussed your duties and responsibilities?
That question was to gauge your skillsets and work experience, while this one is all about your personality and work satisfaction.
Recruiters want to know what makes you happy at work, so they can find a role that’s equally fulfilling and exciting for you.
They’re giving you the opportunity to tell them, so take it and share what you like about your work.
And remember to focus on the why! It’ll help your recruiter build a better picture of you.
The better they know you, the more effectively they can sell you to a hiring manager!
“I love client relationship management, because I really enjoy making connections…”
“…data research & analysis is for me the best part of my role, as I find uncovering hidden insights and trends fascinating…”
“I get great personal satisfaction fixing something that’s broken, so troubleshooting and support is my favourite part of my job…”
How to answer: “What’s your least favourite part of your current role?”
Here’s the top secret to a great interview – stay positive.
Even when tackling headhunter questions that are easy to feel negative about!
All they really want to know is what roles you wouldn’t enjoy, so don’t stress about it.
Relax, be honest, and try to stay upbeat. Saying:
Sounds a lot better than:
How to answer: “What do you know about XYZ company?”
Your headhunter has a specific role in mind for you:
1. If you know in advance which company it’s for:
Be sure to do your research!
Preparation shows you’re a serious professional, and reflects really well on you as a candidate.
2. If you don’t know in advance:
If you find yourself put on the spot and don’t know anything, that’s okay.
You can’t know everything about everyone, even if they’re in the same market as you, and you’re not expected to.
It’s perfectly acceptable to say you don’t know much, as long as you show you’re willing to follow-up after.
You’ve already put in the hard work – done up a killer resume and cover letter, beefed up your LinkedIn profile, rigorously researched the company and role – to get your foot in the door.
You’re this close to landing your dream job.
Don’t let a common interview question be your undoing.
Use these questions as a foundation to prepare thoroughly for your interview.
You’ve got this – we’re rooting for you!
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