A couple years back, we surveyed Canadians about their most dreaded job interview questions, and over 15,000 people answered the call. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest group of respondents said that answering “What is your greatest weakness” was the one they worried about the most. Here’s what they said:

Which is the hardest interview question to answer?

  • What is your greatest weakness? – 40%
  • What are your salary expectations? – 19%
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? – 16%
  • Why did you leave your last job? – 10%

Other common questions such as “Why do you want this job?” or “Why should I hire you?” received far fewer votes for being most fearful. But here’s the thing: those are the questions that are asked at almost every job interview, and most candidates still stumble over them.

Four most common job interview questions most candidates get wrong

Tell me about yourself?

The exact wording may differ, but in nearly every job interview, you will be asked some variation of, “So, tell me a little about yourself.”

Too many people waste the opportunity by talking about where they grew up, their family, or their pets. This conversational-sounding, friendly question is actually your chance to kick off the interview by showing how you are the right person for the job. Use your elevator pitch. Explain how your professional development has led you to this role, and why you are excited about it.

Why do you want this job?

It is tempting to answer this question by talking about how you’re looking to grow your career and this opportunity would be a great chance to get your foot in the door of a new organization or industry. Employers like candidates with ambition and a career plan. The “foot in the door” aspect can trip you up, however.

Remember that the employer is spending valuable time and money to fill a specific role right now. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re just looking for a stepping stone to make a quick job hop and leave them back where they started. Talk about how the job at hand is a good fit for you and how you’d be great at it.

Why should I hire you?

This is an open invitation for candidates to explain their key qualifications, demonstrate how passionate they are about the job, and to showcase what sets them apart from other potential job seekers. Many people don’t take that invitation.

All too frequently, many people, especially younger or entry-level candidates answer with some variation of, “because I need the job.” (Or a similar answer that is about the candidate’s needs and wants rather than what they can do for the employer.)

The thing is, need is not a qualification. If you’ve applied for the job, and gone in for the interview, the employer already knows that you need – or at least want – the job. The point of the interview is to determine if you are the right person to have it.

Explain what you bring to the role that others might not. What makes you stand out? Be enthusiastic, not needy.

Do you have any questions for me?

Almost every job interview will end with the employer asking if you have any questions for them. Don’t say, “No.” You can convey your competence and confidence, your job-readiness to an employer more impressively with the questions you ask than with the ones you answer.

Smart questions can demonstrate that you have some knowledge of the industry, and that you’re already thinking about how you can contribute to it. They can lead to off-the-beaten path conversations that take your interview to the next level in the employer’s mind and cause you to be more memorable than your competition.

Ask about the challenges of the role, trends in the industry, questions about the company that show you’ve done your research, and what the next steps are in the hiring process.

Just don’t ask about pay, vacation time, or benefits. Of course you want to know these things, but they can all be discussed when you receive an offer. The initial interview is all about the job itself, and how you can be an asset to the company.

There is no idle conversation or small talk going on in the job interview. It’s all interview. Too often we tend to focus on practicing answers for the tough discussions about salary history, on-the-job weaknesses, and five year plans, so that we forget that it’s the more conversational queries that can matter the most.


See also:

Interview tips from the Toronto Academy of Acting

The 5 most common interview questions (and how to answer them like a boss)


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