20 Common Interview Questions, What They Really Mean, and How to Smartly Answer Them
BY: JESSICA PARKS
Reading time: 5 minutes
Got an interview coming up? Or just want to practice before you get a call back? Check out these 20 interview questions: what they really means and how to answer them.
1. Tell me about yourself. What it means: What are your career goals for the next 1-3 years/5-10 years?
This question might come in different forms, but it is the most often asked question in interviews, especially at the start. Have a short statement prepared that describes a little about your past, a lot about your present, and a little about your future that essentially answers the question, “Why are we sitting across from each other and talking today?” Be careful that it does not sound rehearsed and be sure you sound excited about the opportunity and fully engaged. Limit your answer to relevance with the interview. Talk about things you have done that relate to the position you are interviewing for and show strategy in your thinking that led you to this interview. Start with the item farthest back, work up to the present and touch on the future. Let the recruiter know how this position ties into the career map you have planned. Set the footing to shift from a mundane interview into impactful dialogue.
2. How did you choose this line of work?
They are looking for people who are strategic and apply critical thinking to decisions. Have a good answer ready, showing passion for the field.
3. Why did you leave your last job? or Why do you want to leave your job? or What did you enjoy/not enjoy about your last job?
Stay positive regardless of the circumstances. Don’t refer to a major problem with management and never speak ill of supervisors, co-workers or the company. If you do, you will be sullied. Keep smiling and talk about leaving for a hopeful, forward-looking reason (i.e. chance to make an impact, use skills, etc.).
4. What experience do you have in this field? or Why should we hire you? or Give me an example from your experience or education that shows your readiness for this role.
Speak about specifics that relate to the position for which you are applying. If you do not have specific experience, get as close as you can (aka make it up). It is critical that you prepare by unpacking your brain, and know how to tie your experiences/skills to the position description. Give them your best pitch and smile!
5. What do co-workers/former employers say about you?
Be prepared with a quote or two. Either a specific statement or a paraphrase will work. “Jamal Clark, a colleague at Smith Company, always said I was the hardest worker he’d ever known.” It is as powerful as Jamal saying it at the interview himself. Trouble answering this? Ask former colleagues and professional friends for their opinions!
6. What do you know about our firm? or Why do you want to work for us? Or Why do you want the job?
These questions are the primary reason to do research on the organization before the interview. Find out where they have been and where they are going. What are the current issues? Who are the major players? Can you get behind their mission? Crucial research includes reviewing their “About Us” webpages, googling current events where they were involved, and looking on Glassdoor.com to get the scoop on positive things their employees are saying. This takes thought and should be based on the research you have done on the organization as a whole plus a mention of the specific position. Know that job description very well! Sincerity is extremely important. Relate response to long-term career goals. A flat answer here may end the interview, so be prepared.
7. What kind of salary do you need?
It’s a loaded question and a thorny game that you will probably lose if you answer first. So, try not to answer it. Instead, consider discussing how the experience this opportunity offers is the main compensation you are seeking. Or, if you want the conversation to unfold, try, “What is the pay range someone with my skill set and degree could expect for this position?” In some cases, the interviewer will tell you. If not, say that it can depend on the details of the job and ask if you can discuss at a later stage in the interviewing process so you more fully understand the responsibilities of the position. If the interviewer presses, be sure you have done your research on appropriate salaries and give a $7k pay range that makes sense for your lifestyle, your experience, your location, and the position. Use salary.com, Glassdoor.com and Bureau of Labor Statistics to do your research.
8. Provide an example of your ability to think quickly and clearly on your feet.
Companies are looking for innovative thinkers who do not need to be coddled and who truly are up to the challenges of business, most of which require timely, analytical, and creative people. Have a robust STAR** story ready to address this question.
9. Tell me about a time when you helped get a team focused and led them to success.
You are, of course, a team player, right? Be sure to have examples ready: specific stories that show you often perform for the good of the team rather than for personal success are good evidence of your team attitude. Do not brag; just say it in a matter-of-fact tone. This is a key point. Use the STAR** method to stay focused and provide a thorough reply.
10. Are you applying for other jobs?
Be honest but do not spend a lot of time in this area. Keep the focus on this job and what you can do for this organization. Anything else is a distraction.
11. Have you ever been asked to leave a position? I
f you have not, say no. If you have, be honest, be brief and avoid saying negative things about yourself, the people or organization involved. Find the positive spin.
12. What is your greatest strength? Follow Up: Tell me about a time when this professional strength made the difference between success and failure.
Numerous answers are good, just stay optimistic and truthful. A few good examples: ability to prioritize, work under pressure, solve problems or focus on projects, perhaps professional expertise, leadership skills, positive attitude, reporting skills… but be able to prove your reply with a STAR** story.
13. What kind of person would you refuse to work with?
Do not be trivial. It should take disloyalty to the organization, violence, or criminal behavior to get you to refuse to work with a colleague. Minor objections may label you as a whiner. If the version of this question is, “What type of person do you prefer not to work with?”, again don’t be trivial, lengthy, or negative. Focus on discussing your ability to work well with just about anyone.
14. Tell me about a time when you had an idea to improve a process.
They are looking to see that you can (a) take enough ownership to even think about improvements, (b) think creatively and challenge norms, © present enhancements to others with emotionally intelligence, and (d) consider risks of change. Have a great STAR** story!
15. Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor.
This is a test - If you fall for it and start tearing up an old boss, you failed. Stay positive and either reply that you have not had any trouble with a supervisor if that’s the case, or provide a short STAR** story about how you constructively worked to solve the issue and how your relationship was strengthened as a result. Focus on the happy result!
16. What motivates you to do your best on the job? or What do you expect from your employer?
This is personal - be accurate and honest, yet relevant to the job - but examples for motivation are: Challenge, Achievement, Recognition, Positive Impact, Helping Others. For expectations, you can discuss motivation first and then add something like, “I expect that my employer will communicate her needs clearly so I can drive toward strong results.” Add anything you deem fitting here, but avoid coming off as entitled or high maintenance.
17. Do you have any blind spots or weaknesses?
Tricky question - Do not reveal personal areas of concern but focus on how you want to grow professionally. In discussing weakness, focus on the BUT, i.e. “In the past I have put a lot of pressure on myself, but I have been overcoming that as my skills sharpen and challenges lessen.”
18. Tell me about a time that you had to analyze several solutions to make a sound decision.
This question dives into the ability to create a framework for strategic thinking and proves you have a set process to make good decisions. Tell a STAR** story where the situation is not simple and you can give specifics on the pros and cons assessed, the sources of information tapped into, the info gathered, and insights made to come to a conclusion.
19. How do you stay organized?
Attending to details, planning, organizing, and prioritizing work takes skill. Talk about how you manage your life or work using specific methods, as well as tools you use. You can even provide a STAR** story that speaks to how these qualities led to a success at some point in your life, career, or education.
20. What questions do you have for me?
Interviews should go both ways. Have about 5 good questions ready to ask so you can gather the information you need to make a well-informed decision. These questions should be informational in nature and allow you to understand the position and company better while reinforcing your interest and enthusiasm. This is not a good time to talk about benefits, pay, etc. That info will come in time.
**The STAR Technique is a way to frame answers to behavioral questions in an organized manner that will give the interviewer the most information about your past experience. (This is the part where the paper says to have at least 10 of these ready but I think that’s insane. Have a couple and be prepared to tweak them based on the question. Don’t use the same few for the same interview. i’d say having about 3-5 ready is good enough.) As you prepare to answer each question, organize your response for clarity by answering each of the following components of the STAR technique:
What was the Situation in which you were involved?
What was the Task you needed to accomplish?
What Actions did you take?
What Results did you achieve?
IMPORTANT TIPS: Give a good amount of detail to paint a very clear picture at each step, focus on YOU versus the group, and if the Result wasn’t very positive or does not place you in a great light, that it is not interview material!
Jessica Parks is a young vibrant professional working in Silicon Valley.
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