Job winning answers to your top 15 interview questions
1. Why do you want to work in this industry?
Don’t just say you like it. Anyone can do that. Focus instead on your history within that industry, and if you can, tell a success story.
“I am fascinated by the way government works with lawmakers to accomplish change. In light of recent political events, we are already seeing how much the government can accomplish when the right people and resources are utilised. This is especially true for energy conservation efforts with the Department of Energy. When I worked at my previous employer, I initiated efforts to create a more “green” office – decreasing paper and electricity use by 25% after three months – saving the company $10,000 that year. Working in the administrative office of the DoE, with its resources, I know I could take this type of project to the next level. I would find career and personal fulfilment in that."
2. Tell us about yourself.
Focus on your strengths and how they pertain to the role. If possible, illustrate with examples.
“I’m really energetic, and a great communicator. Working in sales for two years helped me build confidence, and taught me the importance of customer loyalty. I’ve also got a track record of success. In my last role, I launched a company newsletter, which helped us build on our existing relationships and create new ones. Because of this, we ended up seeing a revenue increase of 10% over two years. I’m also really interested in how companies can use web tools to better market themselves, and would be committed to building on your existing platform. This is especially important as the government moves into more Web 2.0 initiatives.”
3. What do you think of your previous boss?
Remember: if you get the job, the person interviewing you will some day be your boss. The last thing they want is to hire someone who they know is going to tamper with their reputation some day. Instead, stay positive, and focus on what you learned from them.
“My last boss taught me the importance of time management – he was extremely deadline-driven. His no-nonsense attitude pushed me to work harder, and to meet deadlines I never even thought were possible.”
4. Why are you leaving your current role?
Again, stay away from badmouthing your job or employer. Focus on the positive.
“I’ve learned a lot from my current role, but now I’m looking for a new challenge, to broaden my horizons and to gain a new skillset – all of which, I see the potential for in this job.”
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
There’s really no right answer to this question, but the interviewer wants to know that you’re ambitious, career-oriented, and committed to a future with the company. So instead of sharing your dream for early retirement, or trying to be funny, give them an answer that illustrates your drive and commitment.
“In five years I’d like to have an even better understanding of how this agency works. Also, I really love working with people. Ultimately, I’d like to discover whether I potentially could eventually aim for a managerial role at this agency, where I can use my people skills and department knowledge to benefit the people working for me, and the agency as a whole."
6. What’s your greatest weakness?
This question is a great opportunity to put a positive spin on something negative, but you don’t want your answer to be cliché – joking or not. Instead, try to use a real example of a weakness you have learned to overcome.
“I’ve never been very comfortable with public speaking – which as you know, can be a hindrance in the workplace. Realising this was a problem, I asked my previous employer if I could enrol in a speech workshop. He said “yes.” I took the class, and was able to overcome my lifelong fear. Since then, I’ve given lots of presentations to audiences of over a 100 high level executives – I still don’t love it, but no one else can tell!”
7. What salary are you looking for?
If you can avoid it, don’t give an exact number. The first person to name a price in a salary negotiation loses. Instead, re-iterate your commitment to the job itself. If you have to, give a broad range based on research you’ve conducted on that particular role. If the role is with a non-independent agency and therefore must use the Pay Schedule, think of ways to talk yourself up the scale.
“I’m more interested in the role itself than the pay. That said, I’d expect to be paid the appropriate range for this role, based on my five years of experience. I also think a fair salary would bear in mind the cost of living. Further, I think my education and background puts me at a higher level in the pay scale.
8. Why should I hire you?
A good answer will reiterate your qualifications, and will highlight what makes you unique.
“I’ve been an Team Leader for the past ten years – my boss has said time and time again that without me, the team would fall apart. I’ve also taken the time to educate myself on some of the software I regularly use. I’m an Excel wiz now, which means I can work faster, and take over some of what my boss would traditionally have had to do himself.”
9. What is your greatest failure, and what did you learn from it?
You don’t want to actually highlight a major regret – especially one that exposes an overall dissatisfaction with your life. Instead, focus on a smaller, but significant, mishap, and how it has made you a better professionally.
“When I was in college, I took an art class to supplement my curriculum. I didn’t take it very seriously, and assumed that, compared to my Engineering classes, it would be a walk in the park. My failing grades showed me otherwise. I’d even jeopardized my scholarship status. I spent the rest of the semester making up for it, and ended up getting a decent grade in the class. I learned that no matter what I’m doing, I should strive to do it to the best of my ability. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing at all.”
10. How do you explain your gap in employment?
Employment gaps are always tough to explain. You don’t want to come across as lazy or unhireable. Find a way to make your extended unemployment seem like a choice you made, based on the right reasons.
“My work is important to me, so I won’t be satisfied with any old job. Instead of rushing to accept the first thing that comes my way, I’m taking my time and being selective to make sure my next role is the right one."
11. When were you most satisfied in your job?
Don’t give vague answers. Instead, think about something you did well – and enjoyed –that will be relevant at this new job. This is an opportunity for you to share your interests, prove that you’re a great fit for the job and showcase your enthusiasm.
“I’m a people person. I was always happiest – and most satisfied – when I was interacting with people and patient, making sure I was able to meet their needs and giving them the best possible healthcare experience. It was my favourite part of the job, and it showed – I was rated as “Good or Excellent” 95% of the time. Part of the reason I’m interested in this job at Human and Health Services is that I know I’d have even more interaction with patients, on an even more critical level."
12. What did you like least about your last job?
Try and stay away from anything that draws on the politics, culture or financial health of your previous employer. No matter how true it might be, comments like these will be construed as too negative. Also, you don’t want to focus on a function that might be your responsibility in the next role. So think of something you disliked in your last job, but that you know for sure won’t be part of this new role.
“There was nothing about my last job that I hated, but I guess there were some things I liked less than others. My previous role involved traveling at least twice a month. While I do love to travel, twice a month was a little exhausting – I didn’t like spending quite so much time out of the office. I’m happy to see that this role involves a lot less travel.”
13. Describe a time when you did not get along with a co-worker.
Interviewers don’t like these types of “easy out” answers. And besides, they know you are probably not telling the truth. Think of a relatively benign (but significant) instance, and spin it to be a positive learning experience.
“I used to lock heads with a fellow nurse. We disagreed over a lot of things – from the care of patients to who got what shifts to how to speak with a child’s family. After 2 months, I pulled her aside and asked her to lunch. At lunch, we talked about our differences and why we weren’t getting along. It turned out, it was all about communication. We communicated differently and once we knew that, we began to work well together. I really believe that talking a problem through with someone can help solve any issue.”
14. What motivates you?
It’s not that this answer is wrong – it’s just that it wastes an opportunity. This question is practically begging you to highlight your positive attributes. So don’t give a vague, generic response – it tells them very little about you. Instead, try and use this question as an opportunity to give the interviewer some insight into your character, and use examples where possible.
“I’ve always been motivated by the challenge of meeting a tough deadline – in my last role, I was responsible for a 100% success rate in terms of delivering our products on time and within budget. I know that this job is very fast-paced, and deadline-driven – I’m more than up for the challenge. In fact, I thrive on it.”
15. How would your friends describe you?
While being a good listener is a great personality trait, your employer probably doesn’t care all that much. It’s unlikely that they’re hiring you to be a shoulder to cry on. You’ll want to keep your answer relevant to the job you’re interviewing for – and as specific as possible. If you can, insert an example.
“My friends would probably say that I’m extremely persistent. When I worked as a program developer, recruiting keynote speakers for a major tech conference, I was faced with one rejection after another – which was just the nature of the job. I kept going back to them every time there was a new company on board, or some new value proposition. Eventually, many of them actually said “yes” – the program turned out to be so great that we doubled our attendees from the year before. A lot of people might have given up after the first rejection, but it’s just not in my nature. If I know something is possible, I have to keep trying until I get it.”