Your Cheat Sheet: 3 Common Interview Questions + How to Respond

D. Sharon Pruitt

Saying I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates is an understatement. Think thousands. Each interview is a little different, depending on the person, the job they’re applying for, their years of experience and numerous other factors. However, there are a handful of common interview questions that typically appear in one form or another.

I could talk for hours about the best way to answer them, but for now, here’s a bit of a “cheat sheet” on why the question is being asked and the overall gist of how you may want to answer it.

1 / Tell me about yourself.

Why they’re asking: They’ve read your resume, but want additional “color” on it. Basically, they want you to talk through the story behind your career path and talk through the things they just can’t read on paper. Mostly, this is your reasoning behind why you’ve made the different job moves you’ve made and what you’re working toward.

How you should answer: The best way to answer this is to start at the beginning of your education or work experience and work your way to the present moment. The key here is to make sure all the experiences you’re talking about somehow connect to one another and lead you toward a deliberate goal. Interviewers are looking for you to be thoughtful about your career choices. An example would be, “I chose to study psychology in college because I’m interested in people and the way they think. And after really loving a class I took in organizational psychology, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in human resources,” and so on. You want to connect the dots.

2 / Why do you want to work here?

Why they’re asking: They want to make sure you’re passionate about their company and their mission. Employees who are really excited about these two things are better performers and more invested in their work (something every employer is looking for!).

How you should answer: In this answer, you want to prove that you didn’t just apply to the role randomly but rather that you thought about it very carefully and did a ton of research. Go on the company’s website ahead of time and find out what really does excite you about working there (whether it be the leadership, culture, mission, etc.) and make sure you can speak to that during the interview.

3 / Why did you leave your last job/why are you looking to leave your current job?

Why they’re asking: They basically want to figure out what isn’t working where you are (and there’s always something). Whatever the reason is totally okay, but they want to make sure your former company and their company don’t have that reason in common. For example, if you’re leaving your current company because you’re looking for growth opportunities, but the company you’re interviewing with doesn’t have those kinds of opportunities either, that may be something they consider. But then again, why would you want to work for that kind of company anyway?

How you should answer: Be honest, but don’t give too much information. Always stay diplomatic. Throwing your current employer under the bus is never okay. Another good tip is to refocus on the current company, instead of dwelling on why you’re leaving your current one. In the example above you might say, “Opportunities for growth are very important to me and I know that [this company] cares a lot about them, too, based on what I’ve read. That’s why I think this is the perfect fit for me.”

Again, this is the “cheat sheet” version. There are always other questions to tackle, but it’s a great start. In my mind, candidates who can ace these three questions already have a leg up on the competition. Good luck in your upcoming interviews! To learn more about answering common interview questions, check out the “Ace the Interview” section of my site.