Be sure to prepare for these three most commonly asked interview questions. Just in case. [TWEET]

Interview questions range from the ultra-conservative and vague (“Tell me about yourself”) to the very casual and downright sarcastic (“You seem like a nice person, why would you want to work here?”).  Why would a company ask you why you want to work there if you’re sitting in the candidate seat and you’re obviously interested in the job? According to former recruiter Barbara Saunders, now a small business teacher and coach, these are the three most commonly asked interview questions and the reason for each question.

What appealed to you about this job?

Recruiters use this question to test the candidate’s understanding of what the job entails. If the candidate answers something like, “It’s an easy commute for me” or “I want to make money so I can pay my bills,” that shows lack of passion and willingness to contribute.  The answer to this question sometimes demonstrates right away that the candidate is not right for the position because he or she has shown lack of understanding of the position and company needs.

Why do you want this job?

Sure, you probably want the job so you can earn a paycheck, especially if you’re currently unemployed. However, that’s not necessarily the answer you should go with when answering ‘why do you want this job?’. Instead, do research beforehand on the company, it’s products or services, and what it offers to it’s customers and community. Try to tie this newfound information to your own wants and desires for a workplace. Does the company often give back to the community, and are you passionate about volunteering? Tie these two pieces together in your response. This will show that you not only researched the company in advance, but that you have interests and passions outside of making a paycheck.

Where do you see yourself in X years?

This is one of the most dreaded questions in an interview. Some answers have ranged from the honest (“Hopefully pregnant.”) to the cocky (“Sitting in your seat!” or “In your position!”).

But hirers ask this common job interview question for a specific reason—not to see where a candidate wants to go, but to get a sense of where the candidate is relative to level of experience. A recent graduate might respond, “I just want to learn how the industry works. I’m willing to learn anything.” Which is fine. But, if a mid-senior level person is that vague, it’s a red flag. A candidate with a lot of experience should offer some specifics in terms of interest and direction. Being “open to anything” is not always good for upper level hiring.


Why are you looking for a job right now?

Hirers ask this to find out how serious and how available the candidate really is. Are you serious about this particular job or just generally shopping? Hirers will also ask this question to get a feeling about your career status in general. For example, was the candidate laid off  (“I worked for HP and they laid off 10% of the workforce including my entire team function”) or was the applicant let go or quit for personal reasons such as “grew out of the job” or “new boss cleaned house and brought in her own team”? A hirer might see the personal reason as something that could affect a candidate’s ability to do the job.

If you have been unemployed for a while, the hirer might ask about consulting work. Have you been consulting while looking for full-time employment or are you a consultant who was not successful in getting clients and thus decided to work full time? The “why are you looking for a job” question in general helps to read a candidate’s attitude. Are the candidate’s responses snarky? Desperate? Bitter?

Tell me about yourself.

The vague nature of the ‘tell me about yourself’ question leaves job seekers wondering what exactly to say about themselves – and if there are right and wrong tell me about yourself answers. The best way to answer this common job interview question is to tell a story that demonstrates your interests, passions and accomplishments in a way that your resume does not. Stick to 1-2 key topics in your answer and keep it short – there’s no need to ramble on about yourself for 10 minutes straight. Always remember your answer should provide value to the hiring manager by providing insights about yourself that would benefit the company if you are hired.

What would you do in your first 90 days in this position?

The reason hiring managers ask this question is to gauge how you set goals, come up with tactics to work towards accomplishing them, and solve problems. It’s also a helpful question to see how ambitious (or if too ambitious, unrealistic) you are. Think about your answer in advance and how it relates to the job description. What responsibilities does the description list with which you could hit the ground running? What could you do in those first few months to help the company accomplish its own goals, whatever they may be?

The bottom line for all common job interview questions is this: research the position and company before you go in for an interview. Hirers are looking for experienced hard workers who will benefit the company and be able to speak intelligently and politely about the available position. Make it clear why you should be the candidate the company hires.

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