How to Nail the 5 Most Common Interview Questions

As a job seeker, you’re all too familiar with the interview process. You’ve sat around your share of conference room tables and talked through your job history and unique qualifications. You’ve prepared for targeted questions about the role, the company, and the culture. And you’ve sent a personal note afterward to thank the interviewer for their time.

Though you’ve heard some of the common interview questions time and time again, how do you know that you’re giving the interviewer the answers they’re looking for? Often times, when hiring managers ask certain questions, they’re looking for specific responses to give them the right insight into the way you think and work. Next time you’re faced with these five common interview questions, here are our tips and prep methods to make sure you put your best foot forward during each interview.

 1.   “What happened in your last job and why did it end?”

Hiring managers want to understand your work history and are looking for the facts if you’re no longer employed. Why did you leave your last position? Were you let go from your last job due to budget cuts? Or, were you terminated because of a performance issue or poor attendance? If your circumstances weren’t ideal and don’t reflect positively on your character, don’t be afraid to be honest with your interviewer. Just be sure to reflect on and be clear about what you’ve learned through the process and how you’ve improved since the experience.

How to prep: Practice answering this question with a friend, family member, or former coworker you trust. Participate in a mock interview to rehearse your answers. You don’t need to memorize responses verbatim, but make sure you are comfortable and have an answer if the question comes up. Keep your responses honest, authentic, and thoughtful, while being careful not to overwhelm the hiring team with too many details or a lengthy rant.

 2.   “Tell me about your experience and comfort level with…?”

Hiring managers are looking for candidates that can perform certain tasks to fill the requirements of a specific role. If your past experiences are similar but don’t line up 100% to what they’re looking for, be sure you connect the dots for them as to how you can get the job done. If you don’t have experience with the specific technologies, programs, or platforms the hiring manager is looking for, but you’ve used something that’s comparable that has allowed you to develop like skills, make sure you tell them that! Often times similar software languages/frameworks are based on the same fundamentals. Since you’re already familiar with the type of technology, it’s likely that you can pick up similar functions in the new role.

How to prep: Review the job description to get a good understanding of the responsibilities of the role. Compare those requirements to your resume—are there any role responsibilities or past experience with technologies that don’t perfectly align with your background? Let them know how you learn new technologies on the job, as this is the norm in the tech industry. Take some time to consider what questions they might ask that are related to your skills gap. Mentally connect the dots between your background and the skills that they’re looking for. If you haven’t used the program they’re looking for, don’t be afraid to try some web tutorials to learn more! Ready to land a great new job? Whether you're a seasoned pro or fresh in your career, we have several openings around the Pacific NW and beyond waiting for you.

 3.   “Tell me about a time you were on a big project and you learned something…”

Hypothetical, soft-skill questions like this are very common in interviews. Most of the time, the interviewer is looking to learn more about how you’ll fit into their team’s dynamic and work culture. Success stories are a great window into how you work, what you’ve found valuable in past roles, and how you interact with teammates on a tough project. Give them an all-encompassing view so they can see an exact scenario that shows what working with you will be like.

How to prep: Open-ended, hypothetical questions can sometimes lead candidates to talk in circles or get off topic. Stay focused by leveraging the SOAR methodology for framing your answers: explain the situation, the obstacles, your actions, and the final results. By using this framework for your answers, your response will be more succinct, on target, and to the point. (This method of framing my situational answers even helped me land my first job out of college, and I’ve used it in every interview since!)

 4.   “How do you deal with ambiguity?”

Can you roll with the punches? Can you adapt to whatever this role throws at you? In many careers, there is constant change—from specific projects to big initiatives to the overall role you were hired for. The hiring manager wants to know how you manage the unknowns that may pop up in your work day, whether it’s making sense of an unclear business requirement or adapting to a big change in your job function. When it comes to questions like these, there’s really not a right or wrong answer—the interviewer is trying to see if you can think on your feet, ask the right questions, or push back without being overly assertive. Give them stories and highlight your experiences that exemplify that.

How to prep: The SOAR method (above) is a great way to prep for questions like these to shape a strong answer. Before the interview, pinpoint specific examples of prior work experiences where you overcame “fuzzy” business requirements, or where your manager asked you to shift gears mid-stream. Big changes like that happen all the time in the IT and business worlds—craft the right story, in a succinct framework, to show that you know how to handle the uncertainty with ease.

 5.   “Tell me about your least favorite job you’ve had.”

Questions like this give the hiring team a look into the type of company you want to work at and the types of working environments you struggle in. When you explain your experiences about past employers, don’t be afraid to be candid, but be sure you stay professional. (Badmouthing former employers is not a good look!) Be thoughtful in the way you word your response and keep it positive, regardless of what the work situation was.

How to prep: Think about your past work experiences, both the good and the bad. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of the experience (‘I couldn’t stand my boss,’ ‘my co-workers didn’t work hard enough,’ etc.) think about what you learned from the experience and how it impacted the way you work today. Even if you truly didn’t like the job, keep your answers positive! Being able to see the upside in a negative situation is an admirable quality to have. Responses like “it was great experience to have as I grew in my career,” “I added a lot of new skills to my resume,” or “I learned a lot from the people and the organization” with the caveat that “it ultimately wasn’t a long-term fit for me” sounds great in the ears of a hiring manager.

When it comes to setting up and nailing the interview process, a recruiting organization like VanderHouwen is a great resource for company-specific advice. Skilled recruiters know everything from the company’s hiring history to the technical requirements of the job to the appropriate interview attire.

In addition to providing candidates with coaching and a list of common interview questions to prepare for, recruiters can also answer questions like:
  • Where do I park?
  • What should I wear?
  • Are there any quirks about the team or manager that I should be aware of?
  • Who am I meeting with in my interview? What are their backgrounds?
  • How long will they meet with me? How many rounds of interviews should I expect?
  • Are there any common mistakes that other candidates have made? Is there any general feedback about the interview experience that you can share?
  • Will there be a hands-on technical assessment or is it more conversational/work history discussions?

Start prepping for your interview with the help of a recruiter. Contact VanderHouwen today!