Employers ask most interview questions to help them figure out:
- if you can do the job
- why you want the job
- if you will fit into the organization
The key to answering an interview question effectively is to understand why the interviewer is asking you that specific question.
Questions about you
- What are your most important skills (abilities, characteristics)?
- What are your strengths?
- Why should we hire you?
- Have you had any experience in this type of work?
The interviewer wants to know how well your qualifications match the job requirements.
An effective answer to this type of question will also help you stand out among the other candidates. Instead of listing your skills or the reasons why you’d be a good employee, describe a situation that demonstrates how you used your skills to succeed on the job. For example, if you’re applying for a job that requires you to deal with customers, describe how you used patience and communication skills to handle a potentially difficult situation.
For more information about a technique that will help you describe your accomplishments, check out Analyzing Your Accomplishments [PDF].
Questions about why you want the job
- What is it about our services or products that interests you?
- Why did you apply for this job?
- What do you know about our organization?
- Why do you want to work for us?
The interviewer is asking if you’ve done your homework—in other words, are you interested enough in this position to research the organization and the job you’ve applied for?
You can prepare for this kind of question by:
- checking out the company website
- reading annual reports, news releases and articles about the organization
- talking to people who are familiar with the organization
- finding out more about the job requirements
Your research will help you answer these questions in a way that emphasizes the fit between your qualifications and the company's needs.
Questions about your past employment
- Why did you leave your last job?
- How often were you absent from your last job?
- How well did you get along with other workers and supervisors?
- Why were you fired?
The interviewer is trying to find out if you’ve had problems in the past that may make you an unsuitable employee.
If you’ve had work-related problems, handle this situation by:
- anticipating this kind of question
- being honest about the past
- practising your answers
- avoiding negative or emotional responses in the interview
Focus on positive outcomes and talk about what you’ve learned from your experience. Stress that you’re committed to developing new skills, assuming more responsibility and demonstrating your value to your next employer.
Questions about your commitment
- Why have you changed jobs so often?
- Are you thinking of going back to school or to college?
- What are your long-range goals? Are you overqualified for this job?
The interviewer wants to know if you will stay at this job for a reasonable length of time, so the time and money it takes to train you will not be wasted.
The best approach is to frame your answers around your career goals and how they relate to the position you’re applying for. Clarifying your career goals before the interview will help you explain how the job supports them so that you can assure the employer of your commitment.
If you’ve changed jobs often, give a brief, honest explanation and then change the focus by asking a question. For example, you could stress that you’re looking for a position that gives you the chance to develop and then ask the interviewer if you will have that opportunity in this job.
If you’re overqualified for the position, emphasize how your experience will benefit the employer.
Questions about job requirements and the organization’s culture
- Are you willing to relocate? retrain? travel?
- How do you handle repetitive work?
- Do you prefer working by yourself?
- Can you work under pressure?
- What kind of supervisor do you prefer?
- How do you react to criticism?
- What would you do if...?
- What salary or wage are you looking for?
Directly or indirectly, the employer is asking if you can do the job and fit into the organization’s culture.
If you’re willing to do what is required (for example, relocate, work alone or do repetitive work), say so and give examples of your ability. If you’re unable or unwilling to meet the requirements, be honest. It’s unwise to take a job and then quit because you’re unwilling or unable to do it.
For questions that relate to the organization’s culture, such as what kind of supervisor you prefer or your personal work preferences, all you can do is answer tactfully and honestly.
You can’t really prepare for hypothetical or “what if…” questions that describe a situation and then require you to explain how you would handle it. Think through your response before you answer and then describe the skills and knowledge that you would bring to the situation.
The salary question deserves special attention. It’s a good idea to find out the typical wage range for the position before the interview. The Wages and Salaries section on OCCinfo provides typical salary ranges in a wide variety of occupations based on the Alberta Wage and Salary Survey. Be prepared to answer questions about salary but avoid the issue unless the employer mentions it first. Quote the range and say that you would expect to be paid at the same rate as others who have similar qualifications.
For interview success, be ready for the interview questions
When you understand why interviewers ask specific kinds of questions, you’ll be able to prepare answers that work to your advantage. The time you spend researching and practising your answers will build your confidence and improve your performance in the interview.