6 Common Job Interview Questions and Answers
You never know exactly what you’ll be asked in a job interview, but hiring managers have a few favorite questions that come up frequently. Planning how you’ll answer them is a good way to prepare for your next interview. To get started, take a look at these common questions and think about how you’d respond.
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
Jeff Altman, head coach of JobSearchCoachingHQ.com, recommends that people “address specifically what they've done that relates to what it is the hotel [or restaurant] is looking for.” That means briefly mentioning previous jobs and drawing connections between the work you’ve done in the past and the description of the job you want. Tailoring your answer to the job confirms that you’re a good fit for the position.
2. “Why do you want this job?”
This question is another opportunity to emphasize that you’re compatible with an employer. Stephanie Hein, head of the department of hospitality leadership at Missouri State University, suggests that candidates ask themselves, “Do you feel like you're a good fit with the culture of the company? Do you see that there's a lot of opportunity for growth and advancement and development?” If the answer is yes, talk about the reasons why.
3. “What’s your greatest weakness?”
Interviewers often ask about your greatest strength and then pivot to asking about your greatest weakness. Altman advises people to answer this question slightly differently depending on whether they’re applying for a staff position or a managerial role. For staff positions, Altman recommends identifying an area of the business that you don’t have experience with yet. “My response is to say, ‘Look, I'm not perfect at everything. I'm still learning. So where I can improve is my knowledge of such and such[…] It doesn't mean I can't learn it, but this isn't where I've had the experience yet. So if that's a part of the role, I'm happy to learn.’” It doesn’t reflect badly on you to admit that you have a gap in your knowledge because employers don’t expect you to be an expert on every aspect of the business.
For managers, Altman recommends identifying a weakness and talking about how you compensate for it by delegating to another member of your team. “What I really try to play to is my strengths and put myself in the position where I'm not dealing with my weaknesses all that often, where what I can do is have a person on staff to work with me who is strong in those areas,” he says.
Altman illustrates the concept with an example of delegating to an accountant. “It's not about the idea that I'm a colossal failure. It's the realization that my strengths are good [but] I'm never going to be good at this. So for example, ‘I'm really good at big picture stuff. I'm less good at the details. I can do it, but it takes a lot of energy from me. So what I try to do is always have resources around, strong people who can handle those kind of things. So I'm not the accounting personnel type. But I had a very good accountant and a very good bookkeeper who work with me to ensure that they get the details for me.’”
Whatever your weakness is, make sure you give an honest answer rather than a clichéd response. “Your greatest weakness is not that you work too hard!” Altman says.
4. “Tell me about a challenge you’ve faced at work.”
For applicants at the staff level, Altman uses the acronym STAR to outline the answer to this question. STAR stands for:
Describe the situation you faced or the task you needed to complete. Then, talk about the action you took and the result you achieved.
For managers, the acronym is SOAR:
Here, it’s important to discuss the objective to give context and to show how the action led to achieving the desired outcome. Altman gives an example: “‘I was brought into a restaurant that was going to be involved with a move. It was a very famous restaurant, and we were going to have to build out a new space, having lost the previous lease.’” This introduces the situation and the objective for the new space.
He continues with the action and result. “‘What we did is, we project-managed the construction of a new site, which involved going through a lengthy evaluation of architects and builders who could work well within the space, with the building management, with the different unions, and then the result was, we had a gala opening.’”
The story can touch on some setbacks and put them into perspective. For example, “‘It ran long because of different issues with unions and with city officials, but fundamentally we were able to move into the space and have a gala opening almost on time. There were events out of our control. There were some overruns, but not as bad as it could have been. We figured out ways to raise additional money for it in order to ensure that we could deliver a facility as magnificent as the previous one.’”
Hein advises candidates to frame a difficult situation as a catalyst for growth and “to explain the situation, what perhaps didn't go right, what you would do differently now, and how you learned and grew from the situation. Because everyone has some failures at some point in time. The key is explaining how you can learn from those failures and then come back as a stronger individual.”
5. “How would your coworkers describe you?”
Hein says that candidates should think about positive aspects of their personality and background that help them collaborate with others. “When I work with students and job seekers, I always encourage them to do some self-reflection. So think about your current or past experiences, where perhaps you felt like you were a significant part of the team, and what you did to be a part of that team.”
Hein notes that hospitality professionals should know how to take a leadership role and also how to follow a manager’s guidance, depending on what the situation requires. She tells candidates to “explain what you do to adapt to those new situations, or to adapt to those team circumstances. Explain how you can be beneficial to the team, how you can be an asset to the team.”
6. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Hein calls this a “tricky” question because it’s hard to predict what your life will be like five years in the future—or which jobs will be in demand then. If you don’t have a specific career path planned out, you can give a general answer. For example, “‘I know I want to be with a company where I can continue to grow year after year and advance in the position, advance in my leadership abilities, and advance in my leadership responsibilities.’”
“You just don't know exactly what's going to be out there in five years, but you can know that you want to work for a company that is going to continue to invest in your growth and your development,” she says.
7. “Do you have any questions for us?”
Altman says that candidates should ask questions clarifying details of the work and the company’s culture. Then, he suggests asking, “‘So, what will success look like for me? If you hire me and I come on board and it's time to review my work, and I haven't just done a good job, I've done a spectacular job, what will I have done during this period of time that would make you think I was a great hire?’”
This question lets you see what working conditions are like at the company. Watch out for answers that describe unusually long shifts, unpaid labor, or impossibly demanding work. “People know what's reasonable and what isn't reasonable,” Altman says. If an employer’s expectations are unrealistic, “isn't it better to know that before you start working and now you're trapped?”
Altman advises candidates to be proactive and ask questions themselves rather than waiting passively for the interviewer to lead the whole conversation. In particular, he recommends asking the interviewer to tell you more about the job at the beginning of the interview. For example, say, “‘I have an idea of what the job is, but I'd like to get your take on the role. Could you tell me about the role as you see it and what I can do to help?’” Then you can refer back to the main points of the reviewer’s description of the job throughout the interview.
Hein agrees. “Make sure that you're asking questions to the recruiter or to the interviewer, just like they are asking questions to you,” she says.