The Perfect Answers to 10 Common Job Interview Questions

The 10 Common Interview Questions You Might Not Have Answers For
by Abby Roskind
February 09, 2016
Regardless of your industry, a job interview follows some particular patterns. Trust us, some of the same, time-worn interview questions will show up.
We’re going to skip over the obvious job interview questions, such as “Why do you want this job?” or “What do you know about Company X?” Most likely, those will make the cut, and you should come prepared with succinct, descriptive answers that don’t over-embellish.

But those simple openers are the “warm up” questions that get you into interview mode—and you should use them as such (think succinct answers to succint questions). It's the trickier job interview questions you might encounter that we're covering today, and they'll require thinking about the whole interview a little differently.
As you prepare, we want you to shift your perspective: you're going to prepare answers for certain categories rather than to actual questions.
As you prepare, we recommend you shift your perspective: you're going to prepare answers for certain categories rather than actual questions. 

Because the sequence, wording, and content will vary from interview to interview, you should focus on general topics. Doing so ensures you’re ready for whatever comes your way. Plus, by thinking in big picture terms for each category, your answers will ultimately come across as more conversational, and believable, which will make the interview better for everyone. Here are the ten biggies you should consider:  

1. "TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF." (aka the job interview question that's totally not a question)

Uhh, what do you want to know? 

Definitely not everything. At first glance, this question can seem easy to answer (and it can be), but you need to have your compass pointed true North to pull it off. 

The interviewer doesn’t want to know that you love flea markets or that you named your Cocker Spaniel “Chickpea” because you lead a locally-sourced, plant-based life. They want to get to know you specifically in terms of how your personality and experience relates to the job. 

To prepare, start by thinking of 3-5 strong and relevant adjectives that describe you and your values. Tell the interviewer what they are, then give real examples of how you embody the adjectives. Certainly, you can mention hobbies or interests in your explanation, but keep them relatable to the job. 
To prepare, start by thinking of 3-5 strong and relevant adjectives that describe you and your values.

2. "DESCRIBE A CHALLENGE OR CONFLICT YOU’VE FACED AND HOW YOU DEALT WITH IT." 

Your potential employer needs to know how you respond under pressure and how you resolve conflicts. 

Most everyone has a story where they reacted less than ideally to a workplace issue. You can mention one of these experiences if you feel it’s appropriate—it could ultimately make your case stronger. But you can also use an example that didn’t happen in the office. The important part is how you describe the resolution, not that there was an issue. 

Choose an incident in which you were frustrated but overcame the emotional turmoil or one where you had to make a sacrifice that didn’t jeopardize the quality of your output. Your interviewer’s asking this question to determine if you’re candid, coolheaded, and willing to compromise. 

3. "WHAT’S YOUR GREATEST PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENT?" 

Choose one or two max. You do not want to come off as boastful, even if you have accomplished a lot. Your discretion in the choices you make will speak far more positively of you than offering an endless laundry list. 

The example you choose should be something that’s not widely applicable, meaning don’t mention graduating college. While that’s a major accomplishment, it’s one that most other applicants can claim, too. Choose something that sets you apart, such as organizing a charity drive for local animal shelters where you raised $10,000. 

BTW, quantifying an achievement (re: $10,000 to a good cause) is a great trick. Just don’t exaggerate. It’s about adding as much detail as you can (about the people you collaborated with, the deadlines, the budgets, etc.) without creating an epic.

4. "WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST STRENGTH/WEAKNESS?" (aka the job interview question we love to hate)

Many of us tend to dislike this question, but we actually think it's one of the more fun questions you can be asked. It’s an opportunity to showcase how well you really know yourself, which is more critical to employers than many applicants realize.

If you know yourself well, you know when you’re at your most productive, what sets you off, what motivates you, what you really need to function at your highest capacity...so get talking. No one can possibly know all that better than yourself. 

People often get stuck on how to spin a weakness into a positive asset because, admittedly, you shouldn’t be telling a potential employer that you have bad habits. Let's say you have a tendency to get distracted. You can tell your interviewer that, but clarify the actions you've taken to remedy it. Mention that you’ve now implemented a schedule where you wake up early, work out, and set aside the hours from 7-9 to respond to emails, then don’t check again until right before lunch. Demonstrating your drive to better yourself is key. 

Speak from the heart. Everyone has their flaws, it’s just a matter of how you adjust. 

5. "WHY DO YOU WANT A CHANGE FROM YOUR CURRENT CAREER PATH?"

You committed to one professional direction, but you’re not feeling it anymore. That’s fine, but make sure you explain it in a less cavalier way than that. After all, your next employer wants to make sure your next step is the right direction if you’re taking it with them. 

You’ll need more than just, “It wasn’t the right fit.” Why wasn’t it? 

You can start by explaining the parts you got right (no one wants to hear you hated everything about your last job), then explain what you didn’t. Lack of career advancement? Wanted more responsibility or challenging projects? 

Know your reasons, stick to them, don’t apologize. You wanted something better, and that’s why you’re interviewing now. Make it clear you’re going after this role because it fills current voids.

6. "WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN [X] YEARS?" (um, besides on a beach somewhere?)

This can be a tricky question, particularly for millennials. In 2015, “the median job tenure for workers aged 20 to 24 was shorter than 16 months. For those aged 25 to 34, it was three years.” (source)

Even if you are 100% positive at the time of interview that the job is right for you, it doesn't mean you're ready to commit the next 10 years of your professional life to it. Don’t play lip-service if you genuinely can't see it. Instead, talk about the things you would want to do long-term: expanding your knowledge on market analytics, managing profit & loss, setting visions and executing strategy, etc.

Talk about your passion for the actual work you’d be doing: “As a product manager, I would be able to fulfill my dream of executing a business strategy from conceptualization to market; these types of business plans are what I plan to be designing for the rest of my career.” 

You can also talk about personal goals of yours: owning a house, starting a diverse investment portfolio, supporting a family, managing/starting your own business. You can connect how the job description would allow you to better attain those personal goals. 

Note: Use discretion when discussing the new job as a potential means to an end. No one wants to hire someone because they cite the job as an ideal way to start their 401(k). Talk about personal goals in addition to succeeding in something your passionate about in the industry. 

7. "WHY ARE YOU INTERESTED IN OUR INDUSTRY?"

Again, your preparation and research will come in handy here. If you have a story about what first sparked your curiosity about your industry, that's a great thing to describe now (if you can keep it brief). 

Pick a moment in time when you felt particularly connected to the work that was going on in your field (positive or negative) and explain those feelings. If possible, reference something that just broke in the news having to do with your industry. 

8. "HOW DO YOU EVALUATE SUCCESS?" 

WHAT A QUESTION. Why don’t they just ask how my existential crisis is going, amiright?

In reality, there is no wrong answer to this question (incidentally, most of these questions don’t have wrong answers). 

Be cognizant of the type of job you are applying for. If you’re aiming for a big corporation, your emphasis should be on the bottom line. If you’re applying for a non-profit, you should place more importance on social impact. If you’re applying for a start-up or maybe a fashion house, you should talk about influence and media presence. 

You’ll also want to make the answer personal to you, such as always improving performance, furthering the company’s mission, making a positive overall impact, maintaining the best quality of your work, up-keeping team morale, successfully and reliably completing projects, etc. 

9. "WHAT GETS YOU OUT OF BED EVERY DAY?" (is coffee an acceptable answer?)

Your answer for this question is much less important than any of the others we've listed. What’s important is what’s implied—employers don’t care if you’re into fly fishing or Baroque painting, they care about your personal values, well-roundedness, and dedication. What propels you into action? 

Although you can answer this question with a work-related passion, we suggest picking a hobby or “extracurricular,” so to speak. Perhaps your passion is music, and you love David Bowie and went to every Bowie concert in your region of the US. Why does it make you tick? Also, be prepared for follow-up questions like, what’s your favorite Bowie song? What do you find most moving about his type of art? 

You should try to ask at least three questions at the end of your interviews, but don’t just ask to ask. If you can easily Google it, don’t ask it. 

10. "DO YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR ME?"  (hint: you should. you really should.)

This may seem like a throw-away, but it’s important. It’s not a rhetorical question, and it’s definitely not the time to let your guard down and just shrug. 

They want something specific from you: to see if you’ve been paying attention and whether you can multitask. There’s a lot of new information thrown at you in an interview, and the interviewer wants to see how well you’ve processed it all.

You should try to ask at least three questions at the end of your interviews, but don’t just ask to ask. If you can easily Google it, don’t ask it. 

We actually recommend you prepare some questions specific to the company in advance and memorize them. If you're head is spinning at the end of your interview, you can refer back to them. At the very least, they will know you did your research. 

It also doesn’t hurt to ask questions about what you can expect from the role. Remember, an interview is about deducing if you are a good fit for the listed position. That means you should know whether you actually want the job when all is said and done. Frankly, even if you get the sense you could land it, sometimes you won't. Asking what to expect is a great way forward. Think of questions like: “What’s the biggest challenge you think I’ll face coming into this position?” “Why did the last person leave the role?” “Who would I be working with on a daily basis, and what might an average day in the position look like?” 

* * *

Without forcing it, try to relate all answers to how you are a good choice for the desired role. With few exceptions, you should not be memorizing and regurgitating canned answers. You already know how well that comes across based on the presidential debates. 

What are some other common interview questions you've encountered?