Top interview questions to prepare for when you apply for a job
Whether you hear it’s an “employer’s market” or “job seeker’s market,” looking for a job is tough. After you find one that works for you, the application seems daunting. And then, if you get called for an interview, you get asked a whole bunch of questions that you never thought people would ask. But it’s ok – most of the top interview questions are ones you can prepare for ahead of time. And studies show that a little bit of preparation helps you get “PEI” (positive, interested, and engaged) in the interview, which increases your chances of getting the job.
If you’ve got an interview coming up, or you want to apply for a new job, keep reading. We’ve tallied up the top interview questions you should prepare for when applying for a new job.
Why are you leaving your previous job?
When you’re applying for a job, you’re almost guaranteed doing it to leave a different job. There could be many reasons why you’re leaving, but that’s usually the case. Maybe you hated your old job and want to get out. Or maybe this new job is the perfect next step for you. Maybe it’s just about the money (which is totally fine). If you’re applying for your first job ever, this question may still come up in an interview.
What the question REALLY means: When a recruiter asks you this question, they are trying to find any red flags. If you have a job and are already making money, why would you want to leave? There are many legitimate reasons, but also a few that the recruiter might be concerned about. For example, if you were asked to leave your current job for breaking the company’s code of conduct, the recruiter would be concerned about hiring you. They may also be looking to weed out candidates who they don’t think match the company’s core values. For example, if you are leaving your current job because you hate your boss giving you feedback, you may not fit at a company that has a culture of giving feedback.
How to prepare for this question: Start by being very honest with yourself – why are you leaving? Whatever it is – money, friends, better work, better hours, better life, anything – be honest with yourself. It could be multiple reasons as well. Write them all down. The more honest you are with yourself in this step, the better. Don’t worry, though. You don’t have to show the real list to the recruiter.
Once you know the real reasons why you’re leaving, frame the problem in a productive way. For example, if you want to leave your current job because your boss is a horrible person, that can be framed as you not feeling like your boss could support your career. It’s true – if your boss is horrible then they likely won’t support you – but you don’t have to say that you hated your old boss. This way you can be honest with the recruiter without setting off any red flags.
Where does this job fit in your career path?
Gone are the days where everyone only worked at one company for their whole career. Studies show that people now have over ten jobs throughout their working life. That means whatever job you’re applying for will likely not be your last job. There are even people working part-time in retirement. Recruiters know these facts, and also know that you’re probably not going to stay with them forever. So they want to know more about your motivations for applying – namely, how it fits in your career path.
What the question REALLY means: When a recruiter asks this question, they are testing to see if you will quickly get bored and leave the company. They are trying to figure out if you will stay long enough for the company to get value from hiring you. If you want something the company can’t offer you, then chances are you won’t stay long. On the other hand, if you don’t have any goals then the company won’t have many ways to motivate you to work hard, which the recruiter will likely be concerned about.
With this question, the recruiter is asking to see if you have ambitions that they can help you with, but also that they can motivate you with. Since not every job will be fun all the time, knowing you have long-term goals (and the company fits in those goals) will help your future manager or boss keep you motivated.
How to prepare for this question: Think about where you want to end up in your career. Do you want a quiet small-town retirement? To travel the world? Something in between? If you think about what you want in the end, you can identify what you need in order to get there. For example, a quiet small town retirement probably needs an easy lifestyle later in your career, so that’s something to look for as you age.
Next, think about what experiences you want to have along the way. Do you want to learn languages, learn to code, or get really good at sales skills? Since you have some control over your own career path, you can look for jobs that help you learn skills you want to and have the experiences you want to. Then you can take an honest look at how the job you’re applying for fits your career path. Maybe it gives you the opportunity to travel. Or, if you can’t travel, it gives you the client facing skills that you can apply to a travelling job later on. Careers can last upwards of 50 years, so you’ve got time to build along the way.
What kind of boss do you work best with?
Everyone has a boss. It’s a fact of work. Even the CEO has a boss, usually consisting of investors or company’s board. And a good partnership with your boss can produce awesome results. When your boss supports you and helps you get work done, great things can happen. But the opposite is also true. A bad boss relationship could spell disaster for both your career and for the company. So when you’re interviewing for a job, the recruiter wants to know if you’ll get along with your potential future boss.
What the question REALLY means: When a recruiter asks this question, they mean it directly. As you answer, they will think of who your boss might be in the back of your minds. While they may not be able to tell you all of their opinions about that person’s leadership style, they will be thinking about whether you two would work well together. It’s a balance between your ability to do the job and your ability to mesh with your boss. If the recruiter is concerned you won’t get along with your boss, that could be a red flag on your application.
How to prepare for this question: This question is about total honesty. You need to know what kind of boss you work well under. The best way to figure this out is to think about the times you performed the best – what was your boss doing? Were they sitting in the background letting you do your thing? Were they right beside you, almost like a coworker more than a boss? Or maybe you liked having them reminding you of the process steps so you could focus on doing the work, not managing everything?
Whatever your answer is, be up front with the recruiter. There is a chance it may cost you that job opportunity, but it could be worth it in the end. You spend most of your waking hours at work, and being around a boss that you hate (or that hates you) will make that time miserable. Even if you don’t hate each other, trying to work with a boss that has a very different working style from you is sure to cause problems quickly. On the bright side, it’s possible that the company may be able to assign you to a different boss based on working styles, so honesty could lead to a much better position.
What skill(s) do you want to learn?
Since the average person will hold more than ten jobs in their lifetime, the conversation switched from testing for lifelong loyalty to looking for short and medium term value. That means where recruiters used to look for hints that you’d stick around forever, they now want to know how quickly you’ll provide value to the company, since chances are you’ll leave in a few years. On the bright side, though, companies also want to take part in developing their employees – it means you deliver results faster and you’re more likely to feel loyalty to an organization that helps you learn.
What this question REALLY means: In a world where people leave jobs fairly frequently, supporting professional development is one way companies try to keep employees longer. If they help you reach your professional goals, then you’re more likely to stay. Further, if you want to learn specific skills that could help the company, then they are more likely to want you because you’ll be helpful in many ways.
How to prepare for this question: Identifying the skills you want to learn is based on two things: your career goals and your personal ambitions. Think about the types of jobs you want to have in your career. If you don’t know, think about the people you admire and see what jobs they do. Then think back to the necessary skills of the job. For example, if you think that you want to become a project manager in the future, you’ll likely need to study project management and team leadership. You may also have to study specific project styles like agile.
On the other hand, your life goals and personal ambitions can also drive your professional development. If you love volunteering and want to spend your free time volunteering with animals, for example, you may benefit from administration courses or other skills that many charities desperately need. That way you can bring a lot of value to the organization and spend your time doing what you love.
What are your salary expectations?
At the end of the day, people work jobs to make money. They may love the work and feel connected to the mission of the organization, but you’re also there for the money. And that’s totally natural – it’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s also how our society functions. If you don’t have money, you are likely going to have a very low quality of life. It’s also normal to apply for jobs specifically because it pays more than your current one. After all, who doesn’t want to make more money when they can? Because this is a well-known part of the job search, many recruiters are now asking for salary expectations in the interview process. This is a shift from the previous world, where many salaries were set and negotiated after the offer was given. Now, companies want to know what you expect.
What this question REALLY means: When a recruiter asks for your salary expectations, they are balancing two things in their minds. First, they likely were given a salary range for the position and they want to see if your expectations align with what they can offer you. If you want more money than they are willing to offer, the job may not be a fit. Second, they are looking to see if what you’re asking for makes sense based on your experience and the type of work. It’s a bit of a test to see how reasonable and logical you are, especially since money is one of those things people don’t often talk about.
How to prepare for this question: Preparing for the salary question is a combination of your lifestyle expectations, your skills, and the market. Lifestyle expectations can be calculated by looking at your current monthly expenses and adding whatever you want to save per month. That way you know the minimum salary that will allow you to live your life and save for the future. If you have any additional lifestyle wants – for example, a bigger house – factor in the increased costs into your minimum. Call this your “floor.”
Then look towards your skills and the market. Websites like Glassdoor often publish salaries for job titles and may even have salary information reported for the company you are applying to. If not, a Google search of “Average salary for [job title] in [city]” will give you some basic information. See if this aligns with your salary “floor” based on your lifestyle. If it doesn’t, you may need to look for different jobs or focus on getting more skills.
When you provide an answer to your salary expectations, give a range. For example, if your floor is $50,000 per year, the market says that’s normal for the role, and you want to make $55,000 per year, say that your salary expectation is “$55,000 to $65,000.” Giving a range helps the recruiter because then they can fight to be within your range, instead of simply saying yes or no to a number. Giving a range that starts slightly above your floor also helps because if they come back with a lower offer, it could still be above your minimum. That way you can choose to still accept it knowing you won’t be hurting your lifestyle.
Why do you want this job?
When you apply for a new job, it’s exciting. There’s a chance at a new challenge, new coworkers, and potentially more money. But companies are also excited – they have the chance of gaining a great new employee who will do great work. This excitement, though, needs to align. The company wants to know you’re applying for more than just the money, since wanting to earn money is a given. They want to know that you care about what the company does.
What this question REALLY means: The recruiter is looking to see if what you want and what the company can offer you align. For example, if you have a lot of career ambitions but hate the industry the company operates in, it may not be a fit. A recruiter may also be looking to see if you know about the company and did your research. They want to know if you actually care about the company or if you just applied to every job you could without thinking.
How to prepare for this question: The best way to prepare is to do your research on the company. Look at their website. Talk to people who work there if you can. Look specifically at the industry they are in, what they actually do, who their customers are, and what their values are. This information will give you a good foundation of what the company is all about.
When you’re giving your answer, you can be honest about your motivations for the job. Just present it in a productive way. If you want to make more money, phrase it as you wanting an opportunity to grow in your career, including in salary. You will work hard for it, and felt like your current company didn’t give you that opportunity. You can then connect it to the vision or mission of the company – or even talk about the industry and how it’s growing or moving in an interesting way. The more you know about what the company does, the more prepared you will be for this question.