The Top 10 Most Likely Interview Questions — and How to Ace Them

It sure would help ease the interview jitters if hiring managers made it a habit to send out a list of questions beforehand. While you’re unlikely to come across one who’ll do that – seeing how candidates answer on the spot is a pretty big part of the interview – there are some old standards you can count on seeing again and again.

Along with doing as much research as you can on the company, brushing up on your answers to these ten questions will help you ace your next interview.

1. Tell me about yourself

This seemingly innocuous question is the one that always leaves me tongue-tied. It’s typically one of the first questions you’ll get asked, and if you want to make a good first impression it’s smart to practice your answer.

Assuming the hiring manager has already read through your resume and cover letter, brush lightly over your work experience and highlight the parts of your journey, interests, education, and volunteer experience that make you a good fit for the position and the company. This is a good time to show how you’re aligned with the company’s values, too.

2. Why did you leave your last job?

It could be easy to take this as an opportunity to complain about your old job, but avoid that temptation. Be honest about why you’re looking for work – whether it’s because you got caught in the last round of budget cuts, or because you feel there’s no room to grow your skill set in your old position. Try to frame your reply in such a way that you highlight what you learned in your previous position, and how you hope to grow in a new one.

Be careful with this question! You don’t want to not to give the impression that you’re a mercenary who’s just in it for the job advancement or salary. Otherwise you may leave your potential new employers with the impression you’ll just move on when the next opportunity comes up.

3. Why do you want this job?

This question is a great opportunity for you to outline what you’re looking for, and throw in a dash of flattery. If you’ve done your research you’ll know the organization’s strengths and values, and be able to link those to your own personal goals and career path.

With this question, the hiring manager will be checking to see if your expectations meet the job – and you can check to make sure this job is going to be a good fit for you.

4. What are your strengths?

You should already know what the job requires, so choose professional strengths that are tailored to the position. It’s important to be truthful here, and not just say something you think the interviewer wants to hear. Be prepared to back up your claims with examples of how you demonstrated those strengths in past jobs.

5. What are your weaknesses?

This question is tricky, since you don’t want to disqualify yourself by pointing out flaws, but you also need to be honest. One common response is to give a humblebrag answer, like “I’m too detail oriented, and so sometime end up putting in hours on my own time.” The interviewer will see right through this, and it can come off as arrogant.

Instead, focus on a weakness that you’ve overcome, or choose a professional trait that you’ve been working on improving, like that you’re not always confident presenting your ideas in public, but you’ve taken a pitching workshop to improve it.

6. How do you handle stressful work situations?

This question is designed to gauge how well you’ll perform when the first big curveball comes your way. When answering, think back to specific situations in past jobs, and try to give examples. Did you ask for assistance when the job got too big? Do you use tools like to-do lists to get a handle on projects? Maybe you’re great at pivoting mid-project when problems arise, or you naturally enjoy situations that others find stressful. Come up with a great story to demonstrate just how you work under stress.

7. Tell me about a time when….

It’s important to prepare ahead of time with specific examples of what you’ve done in your past jobs. Brainstorm examples specific to your position and skill set and, of course, come up with some good stories that highlight how you work. You can’t know ahead of time what the interviewer might ask, but common questions are either behavioral (like how you deal with criticism and negative feedback from a supervisor), or work-style related (like how you’ve brought suggestions to the table, and where you’ve improved processes).

8. What would you like to be doing five years from now?

With this question, the interviewer is trying to determine how committed you’ll be to the job, and whether or not your career goals are in line with what the position offers. This is another great opportunity for you to test the waters with this position before jumping in. Be as honest as possible about your goals, since if you’re looking to advance to management you don’t want to take a position that doesn’t have an advancement track.

On the other hand, beware of answers that would remove you from consideration, like “I plan to start my own business,” or “I want to work in a different field.” Your reply should assure the interviewer that your goals are in line with actual advancement opportunities.

9. Why should we hire you?

This question is your chance to really pitch yourself, and to highlight any skills that haven’t been brought up yet. Keep your answer in line with the strengths and skills that are required for the job, and explain exactly why you’re a good fit both with the company, and for the specific position.

10. Do you have any questions for us?

Many people – me included – struggle with this part of the interview process. It can help to jot a list of questions down ahead of time, or keep a notepad handy to jot things during your conversation. For ideas, check out this post: 4 Types of Interview Questions You Should be Asking Potential Employers.

What’s the oddest thing you’ve ever been asked in an interview? Let us know in the comments!

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Thanks for the interview tips. I will be having two interview within the next 2 weeks. I actually was asked in my last interview my age. Since I knew this was a question that should not be asked in an interview I only replied that some people just don’t look their age. The worst interview was when the hiring supervisor and the manager got into an disagreement during the interview about how the supervisor was not listening and not paying attention. That was awkward.

Dennis Martin

I experienced a “good guy/bad guy” interview where one interviewer was friendly and polite while a second interviewer was openly disapproving of everything I said, almost to the point of hostility. Fortunately these are rare and pretty easy to recognize and neutralize. The goals of the ‘aggressor’ are to increase your stress by getting you out of your comfort zone, challenging your answers to see how firmly you hold to your position and/or convictions, and to determine how you deal with difficult or hostile people. I didn’t loose my cool but I was certainly challenged.


As an HR professional I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews but understand that they are stressful. Making that more so seems rude to me. Would you have accepted the position if it were offered?


For question 5, where you are asked to define your weaknesses — I recommend that you go anecdotal. The question is phrased like an ongoing issue. You want to answer with a single event. Explain something that you really blew and then how you recovered and possibly what you did to make sure you don’t do it again. Be careful what you pick. Don’t choose an event that got you fired or in serious trouble. I like to pick something that was professionally embarrassing like having been the hiring manager and hiring a person who turned out to have lied on their resume and then was a pain to get rid of.

Martha Austin

These are key interview questions that generally appear in all situations. At the same time, interviewing in the government world…especially interviewing for your next level position as opposed to a new hire slot…has some special nuances. For tips on how to handle those, check out It’s a complimentary training series designed specifically for government staff and contractors.

Karen Baker

At a time when a local pharmceutical manufacturer outsoruced and let go a large number of highly degreed and experienced scientific, technical and managerial employees, I entered the job market as a recent environmental studies graduate and found myself unsuccessfully competing against PhDs and CEOs for entry level jobs. I interviewed with a family run environmental research, testing and engineering firm for a minumum wage job as bottle washer in their lab. As he reviewed my resume, the interviewer said I was overqualified, would not find the position or salary suitable and would likely not stay very long.

I told him he was absolutely correct; I did not intend to work in the lab very long. I told him I would be the best bottle washer the lab has ever seen. I said if, as he described it, the work was boring and repetitive, I would focus my mind on learning everything there was to know about the lab and the workings of the organizational structure. I went on to say I had researched the company and was interested in the work being done in the x,y z units (I named them) where I believed I met some of the minimum qualifications for entry level work there. I said I pictured a situation where one day, someone would retire, or follow a spouse in a relocation, or one of the grants in the works would come through and a position would open. I would be there, in the lab. They would know by then my cababilities for learning, have observed my work ethic and would already know how well I fit the “personality” of the team. I would be primed for moving right into one of their entry level spots and they wold then hire an unskilled bottle washer like they were looking for right now to replace me.

I told him I grew up in the area, attended high school next door, would live with family and would ride a bike to work because I understood the salary would not support purchase of car, so could afford for a while, to work for the bottle washing wage while I gained the experience that would earn their trust.

By now several corporate managers were in the room pondering whether to hire a “flight risk” such as me who might simply using the job as a temporary stop to a “real job” or whether my the scenario I presented to them was viable – if they liked me, they could groom me while they waited for the grants to come through, which would cut down on their training time they usually needed for people hired off the street.

They whispered over my resume, then came the question… What did I know about yacht racing? My resume showed I had taken sailing in college for physical education and that I has been a disk jocky and music director at two college radio stations. They told me they had a company boat, they entered a particular race every year and management brought the whole company and their families for a big picnic. They had been looking for someone to “announce” the race over a portable microphone at their picnic area so the staff would know what was going on; but not one person was comfortable with a microphone. They told me that a skill like that would really add to their company personality. They often held events for employees and their families and expected staff to contribute to the overall well being of the place so that people wanted to come to work and wanted to stay. They offered to teach me about the racing and even would be willing to have someone sit next to me and tell me what to say until I could do it myself as long as I was the one doing the announcing.

They did hire me; but as a secretary for $2 more per hour than the bottle washing job. While I was in the inerview, one of the secretaries quit to go work for a friend. I was told that I would only be there temporarily as they did like the idea of moving me to the lab in the research division to work under direction of a chemist for, but as an entry level lab worker, not a bottle washer.

I worked there a few months before a civil service job at twice the salary was offered to me at the same time they lost the bid that would have put me into the lab. They were honest about the fact that it could be a long time before the next bid would be announced and that if awarded, would not pay as much as the government job, so we sadly parted ways.

I learned that one can never anticipate all interview questions, and that sometimes employers are looking for something that has nothing to do with the job description.


As an HR specialist I’ve interviewed hundreds. I would have hire d you because of your vision and creativity: especially in an awful job market.


I’ve interviewed on and off for more years than I care to admit. :-). Some were very enjoyable experiences and a few “not so good”. Worst telephone interview: “You have 20 minutes: TALK”. There was no verbal feedback at all even when I asked them questions (except “keep talking”)! The second worst telephone interview opened with a request to “Describe yourself in ONE word”. I played the “should have done game” with myself for a long time afterward. It totally threw me off: I was thinking of all the words I should NOT use and the interview that should have gone well, did not. In my experience, the questions in your guide ARE almost always asked.


I was interviewing an individual for a position when he became enraged and started to walk around the desk to physically confront me. Fortunately, a seven foot tall retired Army Sgt. Major walked by my office at the time, grabbed him, and threw him out of the building. I called the applicants family to let them know what had happened and they told me that he was mentally ill. We decided to go with another candidate.


In there a place on Govloop where I can list that I am looking for a developmental assignment in the leadership development or training field?


I was asked to sell my perspective empoyer one thing in the room. Well, come to find out, I was not chosen for the position because she was looking for me to sell myself. Ha! I learned that one fast


Oddest Question? “If your supervisor gave you a direct order to do something you felt was unethical, would you refuse the task?” My answer: “I would hope that my relationship with my supervisor was solid enough that we could discuss why the activity went against my personal code of ethics — and that we could work on an alternative action. Failing that, if it were a direct order — yes I would follow through. I must add, however, if my supervisor asked me to do something illegal, my answer would be completely different.” I got the job – a major promotion for me. But because of that question, I almost turned down the offer.

Jessie Kwak

Oh, wow – what a question. It sounds like your answer was spot on, but I think it would have given me second thoughts about the job, too.