10 Ways to Make Your Interview Responses Sound Fresh and Spontaneous

When answering questions during a job interview, it’s important to keep your answers brief so you can appear prepared and convey confidence in your abilities. It’s also vital to have your answers stand out so you don’t hurt your chances of landing the job. Here are some common interview questions and fresh ways to answer them.

Tell me about yourself:

This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it’s a critical question. Don’t give your complete history, employment, or otherwise. Instead, give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job.

How did you hear about this job:

This is a perfect opportunity to stand out and show your passion for and connection to the company. If, let’s say, you found out about the gig through a friend or professional contact, name-drop that person, then share why you were so excited about the job. If you discovered the company through a networking event or a blog post, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what, specifically, caught your eye about the role.

Why do you want to work here:

This question can make or break you, so answer wisely. Do your research and point to something that makes the company unique that really appeals to you; talk about how you’ve watched the company grow and change since you first heard of it or focus on the organization’s opportunities for future growth and how you can contribute to it. Share what’s gotten you excited about the possibility of working for the company.

Why should we hire you:

You are in luck if you get this question because it’s the perfect opportunity to sell yourself. Your responsibility here is to craft an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, but also deliver great results; that you’ll really fit in with the team and culture, and that you’d be a better hire than any of the other candidates.

What are some of your strengths:

This is another opportunity to talk about why you are a great fit for the role. When you’re answering this question, think quality, not quantity. Don’t just spout off a list of adjectives. Instead, pick a few specific qualities that are relevant to the position and illustrate them with examples. And if there’s something you were hoping to mention because it makes you a great candidate, but you haven’t had a chance yet, this is the best time.

What are your weaknesses:

If an interviewer is asking you this question, it’s because they are trying to gauge your honesty and self-awareness. Strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve upon.

What is a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work and how did you handle it:

Be honest about a difficult situation you’ve faced—but without giving so much detail that it sounds like you are venting to a friend. Interviewers ask this to see what kind of character you have in the face of these kinds of issues; have you faced them head-on? Have you made a sincere attempt at coming to a resolution? If asked, stay calm and professional as you tell the story, and spend more time talking about the resolution than the conflict.

How did you handle a decision that was made at work that you disagreed with:

When you start, keep your opening response short to frame the rest of your answer. Focus on the ultimate takeaway or the reason you’re telling the story. For example: Then close strong, you can either give a one-sentence summary of your answer or talk briefly about how what you learned or gained from this experience would help you in the role you’re interviewing for. Always bring it back to how it applies to the job you are interviewing for.

Tell me about a time you failed:

You need to tread lightly with this question. Make sure you pick a real, actual failure you can speak honestly about. Start by making it clear to the interviewer how you define failure. For example, maybe a previous role you’ve had was as a leader or manager; maybe you consider failure as being caught off guard with an employee problem because you strive to know what’s going on with your team and their work. Then take that example and connect it to a time you feel you failed and explain what happened. Share what you learned, because it’s ok to fail as long as you show that you took something from the experience. Self-awareness is crucial, and pride can be dangerous.

Why has there been a gap in employment:

This is one of those questions you should practice answering ahead of time. Be honest, but don’t overshare. You are not giving them a memoir of your life. If there are skills or qualities you honed or gained in your time away from the workforce—whether through volunteer work, running a home, or responding to a personal crisis—you can talk about how you focused on these things during a gap period those would help you excel in this role. If you were trying to prep for a CPA exam or certification, be honest about needing that time to do so. If there was a family situation, you don’t have to go into detail, but you can explain what drove the gap in employment (but also show how you continued to hone your skills during that gap).

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