While you can never predict with certainty exactly what questions you'll be asked in a job interview, some questions get asked so frequently that you'd be foolish not to prepare answers for them in advance. Here are five of the questions that you'll most likely be asked.
(And even if these don't come up, you'll be better prepared by having rehearsed your answers to them, because you can easily weave them into the conversation to engage and impress your interviewer.)
What interests you about this job? It sounds obvious, but a surprising number of candidates don't have a thoughtful answer prepared for this. Interviewers want to hire people who have carefully thought through whether this is a job they want and have concluded that yes, they'd be excited to do the work. If you flounder when asked about your interest and can't explain why you're enthused at the prospect of this particular work, you're likely to get struck from the hiring manager's list.
Why do you think you would do well at this job? The best answers to this question point to past experiences and skills that position you to excel at the work. You want to know your answer to this question backward and forward before walking into your interview … because if you can't make a compelling case for why you'd be fantastic in the role you're applying for, it's unlikely that the interviewer is going to take the time to piece one together on her own.
What has been one of your biggest achievements? Savvy interviewers ask this question because they want to hear what you can achieve when you're at the top of your game—and whether you've had many achievements at all. And moreover, even if your interviewer doesn't ask this particular question, preparing an answer is still helpful, because you may work it into your responses to other questions. Being able to talk fluently about your achievements is a key way to show that you're someone who produces outstanding results, rather than someone who simply does the bare minimum.
Tell me about a time when __________. Fill in the blank with situations relevant to the position. For instance: Tell me about a time when you had to take initiative … you had to deal with a difficult customer … you had to respond to a crisis … you had to give difficult feedback to an employee … You get the idea.
These types of questions—known as behavioral interview questions—probe into what you've done in the past, not what you say you'd do in the future. It's key to prepare in advance for these questions, so that you're not struggling to come up with examples off the cuff. That means that ahead of your interview, you should brainstorm about what skills you're likely to need in the job and what challenges you're likely to face. Then, think about what examples from your past you can point to as evidence that you can meet those needs. Talk yourself through how you'd present them in answer to these questions, making sure that you cover what challenge you faced, how you responded, and the outcome you achieved.
What salary are you looking for? If you don't prepare for this question, you risk low-balling yourself or saying something that will harm you in salary negotiations later. Don't let this question catch you off-guard; prepare for it ahead of time so that your answer works to your advantage.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.