Your Study Guide to Answering Common Interview Questions

Interview Questions
21 Oct 2022

An interview is quite similar to a sales pitch. After all, you’re pitching yourself as the ideal solution to the hiring manager’s needs, aren’t you? To do that successfully, one should be able to weave a connection between their qualities, skill, strengths, and experience, and the hiring manager's requirements.

This alone seems like an uphill task for most candidates, the fact that they have to do this while answering the questions posed by the interviewer makes it even more daunting. 

If you find yourselves prepping for an interview, relax, there’s no need to panic yet. You need to understand that an interview is not an examination where every question has only one right answer.

There are different ways in which you can answer the queries posed by the interviewer and still manage to bowl them over. To teach you how to do that, we have created this short guide which would give you the various approaches towards some of the most common interview questions. So, go ahead and give it a read.

“Tell me about yourself.”

Though it sounds like an open-ended, vague question, it's certainly not meant to be answered as such. Your answer should provide just enough details for the interviewer to get an insight into why you’re there. Be prepared to pare down your answer, but do bring up details if they tie in with your employer's requirements.

Don’t: Go into flashback and bombard the interviewer with details of your schooling or your passion. Don't pad your answer with unnecessary details, and bore them to death.

Do: Focus on your most recent experience and tie it with the requirements of the job description. A good example would be, "I am a project manager at my current firm, and in my time there I have reduced the costs by 30 per cent while meeting all my deadlines. I was drawn to this job because I thought it would be a challenge to work for big clients, which is something I have had only a taste of in my current job. I am an engineer by training and have a knack for problem-solving."

“Why did you leave your previous company?” or “Why are you looking for a change now?”

By asking this question, most employers are looking to weed out potential red flags. Certainly, no employer wants a prospective employee who’s just there for the hike. It’s also a tough one to answer, particularly if you left because things weren’t so great. The key here is to reframe the answer so that you can remain objective and honest. 

Don’t: Badmouth your previous employer. Even if you weren’t treated unfairly, you're not going to make a great impression by mentioning this. It would only make it seem like the job you're interviewing for is your last resort.

Do: Discuss what drew you to this role, and how you were drawn by what was on offer. Try to convey your passion for the job, and you’re likely to put the interviewer’s mind at ease. Also, if you were laid off for reasons such as cost-cutting, you can say that too. There’s nothing there that portrays you in a bad light. Though have a reason as to why you were let go of all among the other employees.

“Could you explain why there’s a gap in your employment history?”

This can be an uncomfortable question for many people. Maybe you took time off to take care of your family or you didn't land your next job immediately, whatever the reason is, be honest about it. It would also help if you practised your answer out loud before the interview. 

Don’t: Use phrases like “needed a break” or “ wanted to recharge”. It will make the hiring manager wonder what if you decide you need a break from this job!

Do: Answer it honestly, though don't feel pressured to share details that you don't want to, especially if it is something personal. Also, do tell the interviewer about any skills you picked up at that time.

“Tell me about a challenge you overcame at work.”

This question is sure to be on the interviewer’s agenda. Though, while answering this question, you should see what aspect of the job you can relate to. Are you going to be managing people in the new role? Then try bringing up how you are great at conflict resolution. Are you going to be in a client servicing role? You could talk about any experience you had with a difficult client.

Don’t: Focus a lot on the conflict or the challenge.

Do: Bring up how you handled it objectively and productively. You could also share what you would differently this time around, this would show that you're willing to learn from your experience.

“What would you say are your strengths?”

This question gives you the perfect opening to talk about your soft skills. Try bringing in those when you answer. This should be something you truly believe yourself to be capable of, no fibbing!

Don’t: Use abstract adjectives, and give your interviewer platitudes. 

Do: Flesh out your answer with memorable details. Better still, talk about an instance when those skills helped you out at work. If you say you're great at problem-solving, illustrate it with an example. You are better to stand out in the hiring manager's mind if you flesh out your answer with details.

“What according to you are your weaknesses?”

First things first, you must be familiar with the trick where you answer this question to convey you don't have any real weakness. Well, don't do that. Everyone has a weakness, you would show great insight if you could recognise your weakness and have a game plan to work in it.

Don’t: Obviously, there are certain areas you need to steer clear off. Don't say you can’t meet deadlines or that you can’t deal with people, when the job you’re interviewing for demands it.

Do: Identify the weakness, and then talk about the steps you’ve taken to address it. Something like, “I realized I was having trouble with my team due to communication issues, and decided to take up communication seminars to learn how to deal with them.” 

“How do you deal with pressure?”

Relax, this is not a trick question. Though, while answering this question, do remember to consider the job you're interviewing for and the kind of culture it might have.

Don’t: Push it aside, by saying something along the lines of, "I don't let it bother me" or "I thrive in a high-pressure workplace." Statements like these can land you in hot water or portray you as a candidate with a very low level of self-awareness.

Do: Talk about concrete strategies you use to counter pressure. Bring in real examples to flesh out your answer.

“What is your greatest professional achievement?”

You can very well use this opportunity to humblebrag, but try not to sound boastful. Again, the devil is in the details. So while discussing this, bring up a recent professional achievement and give concrete details. By concrete details we mean, talk about quantifiable results.

Don’t: Talk about your achievements in a vacuum. Don’t be tempted to pad your answer with embellishments.

Do: Bring up achievements that tie in with the job you're interviewing for. For example, if you're a customer service provider, who is interviewing for a team lead role, a great answer would be, "I came up with a process that fast-tracked our grievance redressal system, and we were able to reduce our processing time by 20 per cent." This ties in with your last job but also displays qualities like leadership and innovation, that are needed in the new role.

“How would this job tie in with your career plan?”

This question could also be reframed, and you can be asked about your career plan for the next 3–5 years. In doing so, the interviewer wants to check two things, one, your ambition, and second, how your goals and objectives fit in with the requirements of the job.

Don’t: Talk about a particular position or designation that you would want to hold.

Do: Focus on the skills you would like to build and the expertise you would like to gain. Also, talk about how you're planning to use those skills. If the job you're interviewing for is a door to a new unexplored area in your field, say so. You can talk about how you want to be at a certain level, having gained knowledge and insight by working in it.

What are your expectations regarding your reimbursement?

This question is as much to gauge your awareness about the market standards as it's about aligning your expectations with their budget. Try to have a well-reasoned answer, backed by data. Do your research about the pay scale of the job beforehand. 

Don’t: Give an arbitrary number without providing any reasoning or logic behind it.

Do: Do your research about the salary range and quote a number on the higher side after taking your experience and skills into account. Also, convey that you're open to negotiations to let the interviewer know that you do value the job as well.

“Do you have any questions?”

Use this as an opportunity to get your doubts and queries clarified. Any doubts you may have about the job, this is the perfect opportunity to address it. 

Don’t: Say “Nothing”. Every interviewer expects a serious candidate to have certain questions, it shows their motivation and enthusiasm for the job. 

Do: Use this question to get your most pressing doubts answered, such as what would your role entail, how dynamic it is, etc. If you’re not sure what you can ask, you can have a look here.

The key to acing an interview is to portray yourself as a committed, self-aware candidate, who is interested in the job. You can do that by coming up with answers which are fleshed out with details and examples. This will help you stand out from the crowd. Now that you have this study guide, all you need to do is come up with an answer along suitable lines, and you’re sure to crack that interview!

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