For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to hiring — or worse, employees had to be let go. In fact, an April study by Pew Research Center found that 28% of the 4,917 U.S. adults surveyed said they or someone in their household was let go as a direct result of the pandemic. That percentage is likely higher now, as we near the end of the year.
While the job market looked bleak, at best, over the first half of 2020, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As more and more businesses reopen and employees return to the office, hiring will inevitably pick up and layoffs have eased. Job seekers need to be prepared.
It’s time to dust off your resume and polish your interview skills. To help you pick up your job search with confidence, here are 10 questions recruiters told us they love to ask during job interviews and why. Understanding why these interview questions are common is the first step in creating a response that’s unique to you and impressive to recruiters. So, let’s get started:
1. Why do you want to intern/work here?
The keyword in this commonly-asked interview question is “here.” The recruiter isn’t asking why you want to work as a marketing coordinator or why you want to work in the marketing industry, they’re asking why, out of all of the other companies out there, you want to work for this particular company.
According to Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com, “Specific internship interview questions, like this one, provide insight into the intern’s career goals and plans.”
How to respond: Whether you’re interviewing for an internship or a full-time position, the key here is to be specific. And to be specific, you need to do your homework. Check out the company’s website and social media accounts before you apply. What is it about their mission, vision, values, and company culture that makes you want to join the team?
Highlighting these aspects during the interview not only shows you did your due diligence but also you have a genuine interest in joining their team and adopting their mission as your own. In other words, you’re not looking for just any job; you’re looking for a company and team you can get behind.
2. What do you know about the needs, goals, and challenges of our organization?
Like the last question, this one is designed to find out how much you really know about the company you’re interviewing with. But rather than focusing on why you want to work there, it’s aimed at finding out how knowledgeable you are about the industry and where the company stands. What’s more, it gives you an opportunity to present possible solutions.
As Rafe Gomez, co-owner of VC Inc. Marketing, said, “This response will demonstrate whether the Gen Z applicant has done their homework about the company where they’d like to be employed, and also if they are eager and passionate about being a part of the organization.”
How to respond: When researching a company, it’s also important to research the industry as a whole. What challenges is the industry currently facing and does the company offer any potential solutions? If not, this is your chance to really make an impression. Discuss what you learned about the company’s goals and/or challenges and how you can help achieve them if hired for the role.
3. Why did you leave your previous job?
Understandably, recruiters want to know the reason your previous role didn’t work out. Erik Bowitz, senior resume expert at Copy My Resume, had this to say about this commonly-asked interview question:
“If they were fired, this gives us direct insight into potential liabilities with the applicant. If they chose to leave, we can find out what their primary motivators are, such as career advancement, compensation, work-life balance, etc. and then play to that as a company.”
How to respond: This can be a tricky question to answer, depending on your reason for leaving. But regardless of the reason, it’s important to be open and honest. If you were fired or laid off, explain why. Even more importantly, if you were fired, explain what you’ve learned in the meantime and how you plan to avoid similar situations in the future.
If you left your previous company by choice, share what you’re looking for in a new role. While money may be a motivating factor, keep the focus on things like personal growth. This way, recruiters get a better feel for who you are. In the end, sharing your motivation(s) for leaving can help ensure the new position is the right fit for everyone.
4. Describe your ideal work environment.
Having job candidates describe their ideal work environment helps recruiters better determine culture fit. And as more companies embrace the idea of remote work on a permanent or long-term basis, this request will become even more commonplace.
“I like the idea of giving a candidate a blank slate to articulate what he or she desires in an organization,” said Amber Hunter, director of employee performance at A Plus Benefits, Inc. In my experience, their responses immediately highlight whether or not their ideals align with the company culture.”
How to respond: When asked to describe your ideal work environment, recruiters aren’t just trying to determine if their office space is one you can succeed in; they’re trying to find out how well you’ll fit in with the team. So, don’t just focus on office design. Describe how you work best, whether or not you do well in a collaborative setting, what you liked about previous work environments, etc.
5. Tell me about a time when you were faced with a major obstacle? How did you overcome it?
If there’s anything a recruiter distrusts, it’s a seemingly perfect candidate. Because — let’s face it — there’s no such thing. It’s more telling to discuss something you struggled with or a mistake you made and how you overcame it than to only talk about your successes.
As Kenny Trinh, editor-in-chief of NetBookNews, put it, “Be it personal or work-related, this is an opportunity for candidates to share a challenge that they’ve overcome and what the experience taught them. Being able to answer this question means the candidate has experienced testing and has grown from it.”
How to respond: The last thing you want to say in response to this question is that you can’t recall a specific obstacle or mistake. Whether it’s a specific workplace scenario or an area of work you struggled with (e.g., managing others without micromanaging), the key is to be honest and to highlight how you’ve grown. This question isn’t about your mistakes but rather your willingness to take accountability and improve.
6. Do you work well on a team?
As cliché as it is, teamwork makes the dream work — and recruiters know this. Regardless of whether you’ll be working remotely or in person, teamwork is an essential skill in today’s workplace.
Steve Pritchard, HR consultant for Ben Sherman, said, “This is a great question to ask Generation Z candidates to see if they would rather get their head down and work to further themselves individually or work well with the rest of your staff to succeed.”
How to respond: Rather than responding with a simple “yes” or “no,” give recruiters a specific example of a team project you worked on in school or in the workplace and what your role was in the group. This way, you’re able to show — not just tell — recruiters that you’re a team player. While it’s important to be able to work well with others, it’s perfectly OK to let recruiters know you also like to work independently on certain kinds of tasks.
7. What are you hoping to get out of this experience?
This question is often asked in different ways, such as, “What do you hope to accomplish if hired?” The idea is to gain a better understanding of what the job seeker’s goals are and whether or not they align with that of the organization’s. Here’s Steve Pritchard’s take on this question:
“From baby boomers to millennials and even Gen Z, people in every generation will have similar priorities, which is why this question helps you get to the heart of why the candidate is interested in working for you.”
How to respond: In addition to answering this question with your personal goals and how you see yourself growing within the role, it’s also helpful to discuss what you’d like to accomplish on the company’s behalf. Not only does this show you’re passionate about your work, but also that you’re thinking about how to support the company’s mission.
8. Please perform this task during the interview.
This isn’t a question per se, but it’s a very common request during job interviews, especially for jobs that require certain technical skills.
“If someone is applying for a customer service role, I will ask them to write and send a reply to a real customer email,” said Team Building CEO Michael Alexis. “Job application materials may show experience, but this activity proves the candidate can really do the work (and under pressure).”
How to respond: To avoid being thrown off guard, prepare for this possibility in advance. Review the skills and qualifications listed on the initial job post and make sure you feel confident in each of those areas. If you know someone who works in a similar position or for the company you’re interviewing with, ask what a typical day looks like in terms of tasks.
Like any test, the key to success is preparation.
9. Where do you want to be in five years?
This question can reveal a lot about a job candidate, which is why it’s become so common almost cliché to ask. As Tom McGee, vice president and general manager of the sales and marketing division at Lucas Group, pointed out, “By asking this question, a hiring manager is determining whether the individual is goal-oriented but realistic in the goals they want to achieve.”
How to respond: Keep in mind this isn’t a trick question. Recruiters aren’t necessarily trying to find out if you envision yourself with their company long term but, as Tom said, whether you’re motivated and passionate about your career. The answer to this question can also help recruiters better determine if you’re the right fit for their company and vice versa.
10. What is your go-to karaoke song?
OK, so you probably won’t get this exact question during a job interview, but the idea behind the question is becoming increasingly common: Surprise candidates with a seemingly random question that gets them comfortable but also reveals something about their personality. What’s more, questions like these can’t be prepared for in advance, so it tests a candidate’s ability to think on their feet.
Lauren Pope, employee engagement journalist at G2, would actually ask this question during interviews. Here’s why:
“First, it breaks the monotony of interviewing and allows the candidate to relax and you get an insight into the candidate’s personality, their hobbies, and whether or not they seem enjoyable to be around. Second, this is the most important, is the applicant thrown off by this question or too flustered to answer?”
How to respond: It’s completely normal to be thrown off by a question like this. Take a moment to think about it (it’s perfectly fine to say something along the lines of, “Hm, let me think about that for a second.”), and go with your first instinct. As Lauren said, the actual answer is much less important than how you handle being thrown a curveball.
Just because these interview questions are common with recruiters doesn’t mean your answer has to be. Knowing the “why” behind these questions can help you craft a response that’s unique to you, impressive to recruiters, and most importantly, telling of the kind of employee you’ll be. Good luck!