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5 questions you’ll be asked on your first job interview
Wouldn’t it be great to know what answers the hiring manager is looking for? We asked, and they delivered.
Being a mind reader would come in handy during the interview and make the whole getting-a-job thing a lot easier, right? It would take away all the pressure of saying the right thing and allow you to fix any verbal blunders. One can only wish…
While it may not feel like it, the ball can still be in your court in the interview process.
We polled hiring managers on the most common interview questions—and the best answers for each—to better prepare you for your first interview. Be mindful of this expert advice come time for your audition.
How can you relate your academic experience to this particular role?
Scott Gordon, partner and national director of recruiting at Vaco, a consulting and specialized recruiting firm based in Nashville, Tennessee, says interviewers ask this question to test how well you apply yourself. Companies want to understand how you apply previous skills to new tasks versus how much they’ll need to train you.
How you should answer: Use specific examples of something you learned and how you will directly apply it to the job task. Prepare ahead of time by reading through the bullet points on the job page’s description. This way you can give a direct answer. If the job requires you to be bilingual, mention how many years you’ve studied or practiced a foreign language.
What are you looking for in the next company you join?
Gordon says hiring managers are looking for authenticity. They want to know why you’re interested in them and if you’re a good fit. They also want to get a feel for your understanding of the company and if they can offer what you’re looking for.
How you should answer: Be honest and genuine. Read through their website and social media posts to understand their culture. If the company has a social mission, say that you want to work for an employer who shares your passion for giving back.
What’s your biggest regret or failure?
Kristi Jones, manager of talent acquisition at H&R Block in Kansas City, Missouri, says hiring managers are looking to understand how you react to failure and how you deal when things don’t go as planned. They’re also testing if you take personal accountability when needed and if you have high goals or ambitions.
How you should answer: Jones says the best answer to this question is one with a specific example that shows what you learned. Prepare ahead of time with an example of something that happened in school, on a project or during your last job. If you failed an important test, you’d answer by explaining how you changed your study habits to get a better grade on the next one.
What are your salary requirements?
Gordon says you should always be prepared to answer this, noting that it’s better to be prepared than to improvise an answer.
“Not being ready or refusing to discuss what you want in detail can lead to disaster,” he says. “ Never leave it in the hands of the company to determine your worth. Say what you want and then be prepared to negotiate.”
How you should answer: Conduct research on the average salary for this role in location. Tell them what you expect to make and why. If you have years of experience in the field, mention that. If they ask a follow-up question, such as, “How did you come up with that salary?” you will then be prepared to reference the research you conducted.
Tell me about a time you had to work on a project where one team member wasn’t pulling their weight. What role did you play?
According to Jones, hiring managers use this question to understand your past behavior in order to determine your future work performance. They’re testing how you perform on a team and simulating how you would perform in a real-life situation.
“We’re looking to learn if you are a team player, if you take initiative and how you follow through,” explains Jones.
How you should answer: Give a specific example. You should have one prepared ahead of time to clearly explain what happened, how you handled the confrontation and what the end result was. Always end with a positive, successful solution, or provide what you learned from that specific situation.
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MORE FROM MONSTER:
- These are 3 of the worst things you could say in an interview
- How to avoid clichés that put interviewers to sleep
- 4 toughest questions you’ll face at an entry-level interview
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How to Answer the 31 Most Common Interview Questions
The Muse Editor
Wouldn’t it be great if you knew exactly what questions a hiring manager would be asking you in your next job interview ?
While we unfortunately can’t read minds, we’ll give you the next best thing: a list of the 31 most commonly asked interview questions and answers.
While we don’t recommend having a canned response for every interview question (in fact, please don’t), we do recommend spending some time getting comfortable with what you might be asked, what hiring managers are really looking for in your responses, and what it takes to show that you’re the right man or woman for the job.
Consider this list your interview question study guide.
1. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
This question seems simple, so many people fail to prepare for it, but it’s crucial. Here’s the deal: Don’t give your complete employment (or personal) history. Instead give a pitch—one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Start off with the 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences that you most want the interviewer to know about, then wrap up talking about how that prior experience has positioned you for this specific role.
2. How did you hear about the position?
Another seemingly innocuous interview question, this is actually a perfect opportunity to stand out and show your passion for and connection to the company. For example, if you found out about the gig through a friend or professional contact, name drop that person, then share why you were so excited about it. If you discovered the company through an event or article, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what, specifically, caught your eye about the role.
3. What do you know about the company?
Any candidate can read and regurgitate the company’s “About” page. So, when interviewers ask this, they aren’t necessarily trying to gauge whether you understand the mission—they want to know whether you care about it. Start with one line that shows you understand the company’s goals, using a couple key words and phrases from the website, but then go on to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.
4. Why do you want this job?
Again, companies want to hire people who are passionate about the job, so you should have a great answer about why you want the position. (And if you don’t? You probably should apply elsewhere.) First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you guys are doing great things, so I want to be a part of it”).
5. Why should we hire you?
This interview question seems forward (not to mention intimidating!), but if you’re asked it, you’re in luck: There’s no better setup for you to sell yourself and your skills to the hiring manager. Your job here is to craft an answer that covers three things: that you can not only do the work, you can 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.
6. What are your greatest professional strengths?
When answering this question, interview coach Pamela Skillings recommends being accurate (share your true strengths, not those you think the interviewer wants to hear); relevant (choose your strengths that are most targeted to this particular position); and specific (for example, instead of “people skills,” choose “persuasive communication” or “relationship building”). Then, follow up with an example of how you’ve demonstrated these traits in a professional setting.
7. What do you consider to be your weaknesses?
What your interviewer is really trying to do with this question—beyond identifying any major red flags—is to gauge your self-awareness and honesty. So, “I can’t meet a deadline to save my life” is not an option—but neither is “Nothing! I’m perfect!” Strike a balance by thinking of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, maybe you’ve never been strong at public speaking, but you’ve recently volunteered to run meetings to help you be more comfortable when addressing a crowd.
8. What is your greatest professional achievement?
Nothing says “hire me” better than a track record of achieving amazing results in past jobs, so don’t be shy when answering this interview question! A great way to do so is by using the S-T-A-R method: Set up the situation and the task that you were required to complete to provide the interviewer with background context (e.g., “In my last job as a junior analyst, it was my role to manage the invoicing process”), but spend the bulk of your time describing what you actually did (the action) and what you achieved (the result). For example, “In one month, I streamlined the process, which saved my group 10 man-hours each month and reduced errors on invoices by 25%.”
9. Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how you dealt with it.
In asking this behavioral interview question , “your interviewer wants to get a sense of how you will respond to conflict. Anyone can seem nice and pleasant in a job interview, but what will happen if you’re hired and Gladys in Compliance starts getting in your face?” says Skillings. Again, you’ll want to use the S-T-A-R method, being sure to focus on how you handled the situation professionally and productively, and ideally closing with a happy ending, like how you came to a resolution or compromise.
10. Where do you see yourself in five years?
If asked this question, be honest and specific about your future goals, but consider this: A hiring manager wants to know a) if you’ve set realistic expectations for your career, b) if you have ambition (a.k.a., this interview isn’t the first time you’re considering the question), and c) if the position aligns with your goals and growth. Your best bet is to think realistically about where this position could take you and answer along those lines. And if the position isn’t necessarily a one-way ticket to your aspirations? It’s OK to say that you’re not quite sure what the future holds, but that you see this experience playing an important role in helping you make that decision.
11. What’s your dream job?
Along similar lines, the interviewer wants to uncover whether this position is really in line with your ultimate career goals. While “an NBA star” might get you a few laughs, a better bet is to talk about your goals and ambitions—and why this job will get you closer to them.
12. What other companies are you interviewing with?
Companies ask this for a number of reasons, from wanting to see what the competition is for you to sniffing out whether you’re serious about the industry. “Often the best approach is to mention that you are exploring a number of other similar options in the company’s industry,” says job search expert Alison Doyle. “It can be helpful to mention that a common characteristic of all the jobs you are applying to is the opportunity to apply some critical abilities and skills that you possess. For example, you might say ‘I am applying for several positions with IT consulting firms where I can analyze client needs and translate them to development teams in order to find solutions to technology problems.’”
13. Why are you leaving your current job?
This is a toughie, but one you can be sure you’ll be asked. Definitely keep things positive—you have nothing to gain by being negative about your past employers. Instead, frame things in a way that shows that you’re eager to take on new opportunities and that the role you’re interviewing for is a better fit for you than your current or last position. For example, “I’d really love to be part of product development from beginning to end, and I know I’d have that opportunity here.” And if you were let go? Keep it simple: “Unfortunately, I was let go,” is a totally OK answer.
14. Why were you fired?
OK, if you get the admittedly much tougher follow-up question as to why you were let go (and the truth isn’t exactly pretty), your best bet is to be honest (the job-seeking world is small, after all). But it doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Share how you’ve grown and how you approach your job and life now as a result. If you can position the learning experience as an advantage for this next job, even better.
15. What are you looking for in a new position?
Hint: Ideally the same things that this position has to offer. Be specific.
16. What type of work environment do you prefer?
Hint: Ideally one that’s similar to the environment of the company you’re applying to. Be specific.
17. What’s your management style?
The best managers are strong but flexible, and that’s exactly what you want to show off in your answer. (Think something like, “While every situation and every team member requires a bit of a different strategy, I tend to approach my employee relationships as a coach…”) Then, share a couple of your best managerial moments, like when you grew your team from five to 15 or coached an underperforming employee to become the company’s top salesperson.
18. What’s a time you exercised leadership?
Depending on what’s more important for the the role, you’ll want to choose an example that showcases your project management skills (spearheading a project from end to end, juggling multiple moving parts) or one that shows your ability to confidently and effectively rally a team. And remember: “The best stories include enough detail to be believable and memorable,” says Skillings. “Show how you were a leader in this situation and how it represents your overall leadership experience and potential.”
19. What’s a time you disagreed with a decision that was made at work?
Everyone disagrees with the boss from time to time, but in asking this interview question, hiring managers want to know that you can do so in a productive, professional way. “You don’t want to tell the story about the time when you disagreed but your boss was being a jerk and you just gave in to keep the peace. And you don’t want to tell the one where you realized you were wrong,” says Peggy McKee of Career Confidential. “Tell the one where your actions made a positive difference on the outcome of the situation, whether it was a work-related outcome or a more effective and productive working relationship.”
20. How would your boss and co-workers describe you?
First of all, be honest (remember, if you get this job, the hiring manager will be calling your former bosses and co-workers!). Then, try to pull out strengths and traits you haven’t discussed in other aspects of the interview, such as your strong work ethic or your willingness to pitch in on other projects when needed.
21. Why was there a gap in your employment?
If you were unemployed for a period of time, be direct and to the point about what you’ve been up to (and hopefully, that’s a litany of impressive volunteer and other mind-enriching activities, like blogging or taking classes). Then, steer the conversation toward how you will do the job and contribute to the organization: “I decided to take a break at the time, but today I’m ready to contribute to this organization in the following ways.”
22. Can you explain why you changed career paths?
Don’t be thrown off by this question—just take a deep breath and explain to the hiring manager why you’ve made the career decisions you have. More importantly, give a few examples of how your past experience is transferrable to the new role. This doesn’t have to be a direct connection; in fact, it’s often more impressive when a candidate can make seemingly irrelevant experience seem very relevant to the role.
23. How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
“Choose an answer that shows that you can meet a stressful situation head-on in a productive, positive manner and let nothing stop you from accomplishing your goals,” says McKee. A great approach is to talk through your go-to stress-reduction tactics (making the world’s greatest to-do list, stopping to take 10 deep breaths), and then share an example of a stressful situation you navigated with ease.
24. What would your first 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this role?
Start by explaining what you’d need to do to get ramped up. What information would you need? What parts of the company would you need to familiarize yourself with? What other employees would you want to sit down with? Next, choose a couple of areas where you think you can make meaningful contributions right away. (e.g., “I think a great starter project would be diving into your email marketing campaigns and setting up a tracking system for them.”) Sure, if you get the job, you (or your new employer) might decide there’s a better starting place, but having an answer prepared will show the interviewer where you can add immediate impact—and that you’re excited to get started.
25. What are your salary requirements?
The #1 rule of answering this question is doing your research on what you should be paid by using sites like Payscale and Glassdoor. You’ll likely come up with a range, and we recommend stating the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills. Then, make sure the hiring manager knows that you’re flexible. You’re communicating that you know your skills are valuable, but that you want the job and are willing to negotiate.
26. What do you like to do outside of work?
Interviewers ask personal questions in an interview to “see if candidates will fit in with the culture [and] give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality, too,” says longtime hiring manager Mitch Fortner. “In other words, if someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)”
27. If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Seemingly random personality-test type questions like these come up in interviews generally because hiring managers want to see how you can think on your feet. There’s no wrong answer here, but you’ll immediately gain bonus points if your answer helps you share your strengths or personality or connect with the hiring manager. Pro tip: Come up with a stalling tactic to buy yourself some thinking time, such as saying, “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say… ”
28. How many tennis balls can you fit into a limousine?
1,000? 10,000? 100,000? Seriously?
Well, seriously, you might get asked brainteaser questions like these, especially in quantitative jobs. But remember that the interviewer doesn’t necessarily want an exact number—he wants to make sure that you understand what’s being asked of you, and that you can set into motion a systematic and logical way to respond. So, just take a deep breath, and start thinking through the math. (Yes, it’s OK to ask for a pen and paper!)
29. Are you planning on having children?
Questions about your family status, gender (“How would you handle managing a team of all men?”), nationality (“Where were you born?”), religion, or age, are illegal—but they still get asked (and frequently). Of course, not always with ill intent—the interviewer might just be trying to make conversation—but you should definitely tie any questions about your personal life (or anything else you think might be inappropriate) back to the job at hand. For this question, think: “You know, I’m not quite there yet. But I am very interested in the career paths at your company. Can you tell me more about that?”
30. What do you think we could do better or differently?
This is a common one at startups (and one of our personal favorites here at The Muse). Hiring managers want to know that you not only have some background on the company, but that you’re able to think critically about it and come to the table with new ideas. So, come with new ideas! What new features would you love to see? How could the company increase conversions? How could customer service be improved? You don’t need to have the company’s four-year strategy figured out, but do share your thoughts, and more importantly, show how your interests and expertise would lend themselves to the job.
31. Do you have any questions for us?
You probably already know that an interview isn’t just a chance for a hiring manager to grill you—it’s your opportunity to sniff out whether a job is the right fit for you. What do you want to know about the position? The company? The department? The team?
You’ll cover a lot of this in the actual interview, so have a few less-common questions ready to go. We especially like questions targeted to the interviewer (“What’s your favorite part about working here?”) or the company’s growth (“What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?”)
The Ultimate Job Search Guide
Best of Interview Questions
Interviewing for a Job
interview courtesy of Thomas Barwick/Getty Images.
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While some job interviewers take a fairly unusual approach to interview questions , most job interviews involve an exchange of common interview questions and answers. (Including some of the most often-asked behavioral interview questions .) Here are some of the most common interview questions , along with the best way to answer them:
1. “Tell me a little about yourself.”
If you’re the interviewer, there’s a lot you should already know: The candidate’s resume and cover letter should tell you plenty, and LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook and Google can tell you more.
The goal of an interview is to determine whether the candidate will be outstanding in the job, and that means evaluating the skills and attitude required for that job. Does she need to be an empathetic leader? Ask about that. Does she need to take your company public? Ask about that.
If you’re the candidate, talk about why you took certain jobs. Explain why you left. Explain why you chose a certain school. Share why you decided to go to grad school. Discuss why you took a year off to backpack through Europe, and what you got out of the experience.
When you answer this question, connect the dots on your resume so the interviewer understands not just what you’ve done, but also why.
2. “What are your biggest weaknesses?”
Every candidate knows how to answer this question: Just pick a theoretical weakness and magically transform that flaw into a strength in disguise!
For example: “My biggest weakness is getting so absorbed in my work that I lose all track of time. Every day I look up and realize everyone has gone home! I know I should be more aware of the clock, but when I love what I’m doing I just can’t think of anything else.”
So your “biggest weakness” is that you’ll put in more hours than everyone else? Great…
A better approach is to choose an actual weakness, but one you’re working to improve. Share what you’re doing to overcome that weakness. No one is perfect, but showing you’re willing to honestly self-assess and then seek ways to improve comes pretty darned close.
3. “What are your biggest strengths?”
I’m not sure why interviewers ask this question; your resume and experience should make your strengths readily apparent.
Even so, if you’re asked, provide a sharp, on-point answer. Be clear and precise. If you’re a great problem solver, don’t just say that: Provide a few examples, pertinent to the opening, that prove you’re a great problem solver. If you’re an emotionally intelligent leader, don’t just say that: Provide a few examples that prove you know how to answer the unasked question .
In short, don’t just claim to have certain attributes — prove you have those attributes.
4. “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Answers to this question go one of two basic ways. Candidates try to show their incredible ambition (because that’s what they think you want) by providing an extremely optimistic answer: “I want your job!” Or they try to show their humility (because that’s what they think you want) by providing a meek, self-deprecating answer: “There are so many talented people here. I just want to do a great job and see where my talents take me.”
In either case you learn nothing, other than possibly how well candidates can sell themselves.
For interviewers, here’s a better question: “What business would you love to start?”
That question applies to any organization, because every employee at every company should have an entrepreneurial mind-set.
The business a candidate would love to start tells you about her hopes and dreams , her interests and passions, the work she likes to do, the people she likes to work with … so just sit back and listen.
5. “Out of all the other candidates, why should we hire you?”
Since a candidate cannot compare himself with people he doesn’t know, all he can do is describe his incredible passion and desire and commitment and … well, basically beg for the job. (Way too many interviewers ask the question and then sit back, arms folded, as if to say, “Go ahead. I’m listening. Try to convince me.”)
And you learn nothing of substance.
Here’s a better question: “What do you feel I need to know that we haven’t discussed?” Or even “If you could get a do-over on one of my questions, how would you answer it now?”
Rarely do candidates come to the end of an interview feeling they’ve done their best. Maybe the conversation went in an unexpected direction. Maybe the interviewer focused on one aspect of their skills and totally ignored other key attributes. Or maybe candidates started the interview nervous and hesitant, and now wish they could go back and better describe their qualifications and experience.
Plus, think of it this way: Your goal as an interviewer is to learn as much as you possibly can about every candidate, so don’t you want to give them the chance to ensure you do?
Just make sure to turn this part of the interview into a conversation, not a soliloquy. Don’t just passively listen and then say, “Thanks. We’ll be in touch.” Ask follow-up questions. Ask for examples.
And of course if you’re asked this question … use it as a chance to highlight things you haven’t been able to touch on.
6. “How did you learn about the opening?”
Job boards, general postings, online listings, job fairs … most people find their first few jobs that way, so that’s certainly not a red flag.
But a candidate who continues to find each successive job from general postings probably hasn’t figured out what he or she wants to do — and where he or she would like to do it.
He or she is just looking for a job; often, any job.
So don’t just explain how you heard about the opening. Show that you heard about the job through a colleague, a current employer, by following the company … show that you know about the job because you want to work there.
Employers don’t want to hire people who just want a job; they want to hire people who want a job with their company.
7. “Why do you want this job?”
Now go deeper. Don’t just talk about why the company would be great to work for; talk about how the position is a perfect fit for what you hope to accomplish, both short-term and long-term.
And if you don’t know why the position is a perfect fit … look somewhere else. Life is too short.
8. “What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievement?”
Here’s an interview question that definitely requires an answer relevant to the job. If you say your biggest achievement was improving throughput by 18 percent in six months but you’re interviewing for a leadership role in human resources … that answer is interesting but ultimately irrelevant.
Instead, talk about an underperforming employee you “rescued,” or how you overcame infighting between departments, or how so many of your direct reports have been promoted….
The goal is to share achievements that let the interviewer imagine you in the position — and see you succeeding.
9. “Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”
Conflict is inevitable when a company works hard to get things done. Mistakes happen. Sure, strengths come to the fore, but weaknesses also rear their heads. And that’s OK. No one is perfect.
But a person who tends to push the blame — and the responsibility for rectifying the situation — onto someone else is a candidate to avoid. Hiring managers would much rather choose candidates who focus not on blame but on addressing and fixing the problem.
Every business needs employees who willingly admit when they are wrong, step up to take ownership for fixing the problem, and, most important, learn from the experience.
10. “Describe your dream job.”
Three words describe how you should answer this question: relevance, relevance, relevance.
But that doesn’t mean you have to make up an answer. You can learn something from every job. You can develop skills in every job. Work backward: Identify things about the job you’re interviewing for that will help you if you do land your dream job someday, and then describe how those things apply to what you hope to someday do.
And don’t be afraid to admit that you might someday move on, whether to join another company or — better — to start your own business . Employers no longer expect “forever” employees.
11. “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
Let’s start with what you shouldn’t say (or, if you’re the interviewer, what are definite red flags).
Don’t talk about how your boss is difficult. Don’t talk about how you can’t get along with other employees. Don’t bad-mouth your company.
Instead, focus on the positives a move will bring. Talk about what you want to achieve. Talk about what you want to learn. Talk about ways you want to grow, about things you want to accomplish; explain how a move will be great for you and for your new company.
Complaining about your current employer is a little like people who gossip: If you’re willing to speak badly of someone else, you’ll probably do the same to me.
12. “What kind of work environment do you like best?”
Maybe you love working alone … but if the job you’re interviewing for is in a call center, that answer will do you no good.
So take a step back and think about the job you’re applying for and the company’s culture ( because every company has one, whether intentional or unintentional ). If a flexible schedule is important to you, but the company doesn’t offer one, focus on something else. If you like constant direction and support and the company expects employees to self-manage, focus on something else.
Find ways to highlight how the company’s environment will work well for you — and if you can’t find ways, don’t take the job, because you’ll be miserable.
13. “Tell me about the toughest decision you had to make in the last six months.”
The goal of this question is to evaluate the candidate’s reasoning ability, problem-solving skills, judgment, and possibly even willingness to take intelligent risks.
Having no answer is a definite warning sign. Everyone makes tough decisions, regardless of their position. My daughter worked part-time as a server at a local restaurant and made difficult decisions all the time — like the best way to deal with a regular customer whose behavior constituted borderline harassment.
A good answer proves you can make a difficult analytical or reasoning-based decision — for example, wading through reams of data to determine the best solution to a problem.
A great answer proves you can make a difficult interpersonal decision, or better yet a difficult data-driven decision that includes interpersonal considerations and ramifications.
Making decisions based on data is important, but almost every decision has an impact on people as well. The best candidates naturally weigh all sides of an issue, not just the business or human side exclusively.
14. “What is your leadership style?”
This is a tough question to answer without dipping into platitudes. Try sharing leadership examples instead. Say, “The best way for me to answer that is to give you a few examples of leadership challenges I’ve faced,” and then share situations where you dealt with a problem, motivated a team, worked through a crisis. Explain what you did and that will give the interviewer a great sense of how you lead.
And, of course, it lets you highlight a few of your successes.
15. “Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision. What did you do?”
No one agrees with every decision. Disagreements are fine; it’s what you do when you disagree that matters. (We all know people who love to have the “meeting after the meeting,” where they’ve supported a decision in the meeting but they then go out and undermine it.)
Show that you were professional. Show that you raised your concerns in a productive way. If you have an example that proves you can effect change, great — and if you don’t, show that you can support a decision even though you think it’s wrong (as long as it’s not unethical, immoral, etc.).
Every company wants employees willing to be honest and forthright, to share concerns and issues … but to also get behind a decision and support it as if they agreed, even if they didn’t.
16. “Tell me how you think other people would describe you.”
I hate this question. It’s a total throwaway. But I did ask it once, and got an answer I really liked.
“I think people would say that what you see is what you get,” the candidate said. “If I say I will do something, I do it. If I say I will help, I help. I’m not sure that everyone likes me, but they all know they can count on what I say and how hard I work.”
Can’t beat that.
17. “What can we expect from you in your first three months?”
Ideally the answer to this should come from the employer: They should have plans and expectations for you.
But if you’re asked, use this general framework:
- You’ll work hard to determine how your job creates value — you won’t just stay busy, you’ll stay busy doing the right things.
- You’ll learn how to serve all your constituents — your boss, your employees, your peers, your customers, and your suppliers and vendors.
- You’ll focus on doing what you do best — you’ll be hired because you bring certain skills, and you’ll apply those skills to make things happen.
- You’ll make a difference — with customers, with other employees, to bring enthusiasm and focus and a sense of commitment and teamwork.
Then just layer in specifics that are applicable to you and the job.
18. “What do you like to do outside of work?”
Many companies feel cultural fit is extremely important, and they use outside interests as a way to determine how you will fit into a team.
Even so, don’t be tempted to fib and claim to enjoy hobbies you don’t. Focus on activities that indicate some sort of growth: skills you’re trying to learn, goals you’re trying to accomplish. Weave those in with personal details. For example, “I’m raising a family, so a lot of my time is focused on that, but I’m using my commute time to learn Spanish.”
19. “What was your salary in your last job?”
This is a tough one. You want to be open and honest, but frankly, some companies ask the question as the opening move in salary negotiations.
Try an approach recommended by Liz Ryan. When asked, say, “I’m focusing on jobs in the $50K range. Is this position in that range?” (Frankly, you should already know — but this is a good way to deflect.)
Maybe the interviewer will answer; maybe she won’t. If she presses you for an answer, you’ll have to decide whether you want to share or demur. Ultimately your answer won’t matter too much, because you’ll either accept the salary offered or you won’t, depending on what you think is fair.
20. “A snail is at the bottom of a 30-foot well. Each day he climbs up three feet, but at night he slips back two feet. How many days will it take him to climb out of the well?”
Questions like these have become a lot more popular (thanks, Google) in recent years. The interviewer isn’t necessarily looking for the right answer but instead a little insight into your reasoning abilities.
All you can do is talk through your logic as you try to solve the problem. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself if you get it wrong — sometimes the interviewer is merely trying to assess how you deal with failure.
21. “What questions do you have for me?”
Don’t waste this opportunity. Ask smart questions, not just as a way to show you’re a great candidate but also to see if the company is a good fit for you — after all, you’re being interviewed, but you’re also interviewing the company.
22. “What do you expect me to accomplish in the first 90 days?”
If you weren’t asked this question, ask it yourself. Why? Great candidates want to hit the ground running. They don’t want to spend weeks or months “getting to know the organization.” They don’t want to spend huge chunks of time in orientation, in training, or in the futile pursuit of getting their feet wet.
They want to make a difference — and they want to make that difference right now.
23. “If you were to rank them, what are the three traits your top performers have in common?”
Great candidates also want to be great employees. They know every organization is different — and so are the key qualities of top performers in those organizations. Maybe your top performers work longer hours. Maybe creativity is more important than methodology. Maybe constantly landing new customers in new markets is more important than building long-term customer relationships. Maybe the key is a willingness to spend the same amount of time educating an entry-level customer as helping an enthusiast who wants high-end equipment.
Great candidates want to know, because (1) they want to know if they will fit in, and (2) if they do fit in, they want to know how they can be a top performer.
24. “What really drives results in this job?”
Employees are investments, and you expect every employee to generate a positive return on his or her salary. (Otherwise why do you have them on the payroll?)
In every job some activities make a bigger difference than others. You need your HR team to fill job openings, but what you really want is for them to find the right candidates, because that results in higher retention rates, lower training costs, and better overall productivity.
You need your service techs to perform effective repairs, but what you really want is for those techs to identify ways to solve problems and provide other benefits — in short, to build customer relationships and even generate additional sales.
Great candidates want to know what truly makes a difference and drives results, because they know helping the company succeed means they will succeed as well.
25. “What are the company’s highest-priority goals this year, and how would my role contribute?”
Is the job the candidate will fill important? Does that job matter?
Great candidates want a job with meaning, with a larger purpose — and they want to work with people who approach their jobs the same way.
Otherwise a job is just a job.
26. “What percentage of employees was brought in by current employees?”
Employees who love their jobs naturally recommend their company to their friends and peers. The same is true for people in leadership positions — people naturally try to bring on board talented people they previously worked with. They’ve built relationships, developed trust, and shown a level of competence that made someone go out of their way to follow them to a new organization.
And all of that speaks incredibly well to the quality of the workplace and the culture.
27. “What do you plan to do if…?”
Every business faces a major challenge: technological changes, competitors entering the market, shifting economic trends. There’s rarely one of Warren Buffett’s moats protecting a small business.
So while some candidates may see your company as a stepping-stone, they still hope for growth and advancement. If they do eventually leave, they want it to be on their terms, not because you were forced out of business.
Say I’m interviewing for a position at your ski shop. Another store is opening less than a mile away: How do you plan to deal with the competition? Or you run a poultry farm (a huge industry in my area): What will you do to deal with rising feed costs?
Great candidates don’t just want to know what you think; they want to know what you plan to do — and how they will fit into those plans.