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How to answer 23 of the most

common interview questions


By Paul Michael

Let’s face it; no one likes the interview process. Well, certainly not the people being interviewed

anyway. You have to be on your best behavior, you only get one chance to get it right, and it’s like

taking your driving test all over again. Over the years I’ve been to countless interviews. To get my first

job out of college, I attended some 15-20 interviews a week. Whether it was in Britain or over here in

the States, the questions never really seemed to change from job to job. Not only that, but the answers

to them are usually the same, with your own personal interpretation of course. Here I present 23

questions you’re likely to be asked, and how I have learned to answer them. Why 23? Because I had

more than 20 and less than 25. Remember, being interviewed is a skill, and if you do the preparation

you should ace it every time.

1. So, tell me a little about yourself.

I’d be very surprised if you haven’t been asked this one at every interview. It’s probably the most asked

question because it sets the stage for the interview and it gets you talking. Be careful not to give the

interviewer your life story here. You don’t need to explain everything from birth to present day.

Relevant facts about education, your career and your current life situation are fine.

2. Why are you looking (or why did you leave you last job)?

This should be a straightforward question to answer, but it can trip you up. Presumably you are looking

for a new job (or any job) because you want to advance your career and get a position that allows you

to grow as a person and an employee. It’s not a good idea to mention money here, it can make you

sound mercenary. And if you are in the unfortunate situation of having been downsized, stay positive

and be as brief as possible about it. If you were fired, you’ll need a good explanation. But once again,

stay positive.

3. Tell me what you know about this company.

Do your homework before you go to any interview. Whether it’s being the VP of marketing or the

mailroom clerk, you should know about the company or business you’re going to work for. Has this

company been in the news lately? Who are the people in the company you should know about? Do the

background work, it will make you stand out as someone who comes prepared, and is genuinely

interested in the company and the job.


4. Why do you want to work at X Company?

This should be directly related to the last question. Any research you’ve done on the company should

have led you to the conclusion that you’d want to work there. After all, you’re at the interview, right?

Put some thought into this answer before you have your interview, mention your career goals and

highlight forward-thinking goals and career plans.

5. What relevant experience do you have?

Hopefully if you’re applying for this position you have bags of related experience, and if that’s the case

you should mention it all. But if you’re switching careers or trying something a little different, your

experience may initially not look like it’s matching up. That’s when you need a little honest creativity to

match the experiences required with the ones you have. People skills are people skills after all, you

just need to show how customer service skills can apply to internal management positions, and so on.

6. If your previous co-workers were here, what would they say about you?

Ok, this is not the time for full disclosure. If some people from your past are going to say you’re a

boring A-hole, you don’t need to bring that up. Stay positive, always, and maybe have a few specific

quotes in mind. “They’d say I was a hard worker” or even better “John Doe has always said I was the

most reliable, creative problem-solver he’d ever met.”

7. Have you done anything to further your experience?

This could include anything from night classes to hobbies and sports. If it’s related, it’s worth

mentioning. Obviously anything to do with further education is great, but maybe you’re spending time

on a home improvement project to work on skills such as self-sufficiency, time management and

motivation.

8. Where else have you applied?

This is a good way to hint that you’re in demand, without sounding like you’re whoring yourself all over

town. So, be honest and mention a few other companies but don’t go into detail. The fact that you’re

seriously looking and keeping your options open is what the interviewer is driving at.

9. How are you when you’re working under pressure?

Once again, there are a few ways to answer this but they should all be positive. You may work well

under pressure, you may thrive under pressure, and you may actually PREFER working under

pressure. If you say you crumble like aged blue cheese, this is not going to help you get your foot in

the door.
10. What motivates you to do a good job?

The answer to this one is not money, even if it is. You should be motivated by life’s noble pursuits. You

want recognition for a job well done. You want to become better at your job. You want to help others or

be a leader in your field.

11. What’s your greatest strength?

This is your chance to shine. You’re being asked to explain why you are a great employee, so don’t

hold back and stay do stay positive. You could be someone who thrives under pressure, a great

motivator, an amazing problem solver or someone with extraordinary attention to detail. If your

greatest strength, however, is to drink anyone under the table or get a top score on Mario Kart, keep it

to yourself. The interviewer is looking for work-related strengths.

12. What’s your biggest weakness?

If you’re completely honest, you may be kicking yourself in the butt. If you say you don’t
have one, you’re obviously lying. This is a horrible question and one that politicians have
become masters at answering. They say things like “I’m perhaps too committed to my
work and don’t spend enough time with my family.” Oh, there’s a fireable offense. I’ve
even heard “I think I’m too good at my job, it can often make people jealous.” Please,
let’s keep our feet on the ground. If you’re asked this question, give a small, work-related
flaw that you’re working hard to improve. Example: “I’ve been told I occasionally focus
on details and miss the bigger picture, so I’ve been spending time laying out the complete
project every day to see my overall progress.”

13. Let’s talk about salary. What are you looking for?

Run for cover! This is one tricky game to play in an interview. Even if you know the
salary range for the job, if you answer first you’re already showing all your cards. You
want as much as possible, the employer wants you for as little as you’re willing to take.
Before you apply, take a look at salary.com for a good idea of what someone with your
specific experience should be paid. You may want to say, “well, that’s something I’ve
thought long and hard about and I think someone with my experience should get between
X & Y.” Or, you could be sly and say, “right now, I’m more interested in talking more
about what the position can offer my career.” That could at least buy you a little time to
scope out the situation. But if you do have a specific figure in mind and you are confident
that you can get it, I’d say go for it. I have on many occasions, and every time I got very
close to that figure (both below and sometimes above).

14. Are you good at working in a team?

Unless you have the I.Q. of a houseplant, you’ll always answer YES to this one. It’s the only answer.
How can anyone function inside an organization if they are a loner? You may want to mention what

part you like to play in a team though; it’s a great chance to explain that you’re a natural leader.

15. Tell me a suggestion you have made that was implemented.

It’s important here to focus on the word “implemented.” There’s nothing wrong with having a thousand

great ideas, but if the only place they live is on your notepad what’s the point? Better still, you need a

good ending. If your previous company took your advice and ended up going bankrupt, that’s not such

a great example either. Be prepared with a story about an idea of yours that was taken from idea to

implementation, and considered successful.

16. Has anything ever irritated you about people you've worked with?

Of course, you have a list as long as your arm. But you can’t say that, it shows you as being negative

and difficult to work with. The best way to answer this one is to think for a while and then say

something like “I’ve always got on just fine with my co-workers actually.”

17. Is there anyone you just could not work with?

No. Well, unless you’re talking about murderers, racists, rapists, thieves or other dastardly characters,

you can work with anyone. Otherwise you could be flagged as someone who’s picky and difficult if you

say, “I can’t work with anyone who’s a Bronco’s fan. Sorry.”

18. Tell me about any issues you’ve had with a previous boss.

Arrgh! If you fall for this one you shouldn’t be hired anyway. The interviewer is testing you to see if

you’ll speak badly about your previous supervisor. Simply answer this question with exteme tact,

diplomacy and if necessary, a big fat loss of memory. In short, you've never had any issues.

19. Would you rather work for money or job satisfaction?

It’s not a very fair question is it? We’d all love to get paid a Trump-like salary doing a job we love but

that’s rare indeed. It’s fine to say money is important, but remember that NOTHING is more important

to you than the job. Otherwise, you’re just someone looking for a bigger paycheck.

20. Would you rather be liked or feared?

I have been asked this a lot, in various incarnations. The first time I just drew a blank and said, “I don’t

know.” That went over badly, but it was right at the start of my career when I had little to no experience.

Since then I’ve realized that my genuine answer is “Neither, I’d rather be respected.” You don’t want to

be feared because fear is no way to motivate a team. You may got the job done but at what cost?

Similarly, if you’re everyone’s best friend you’ll find it difficult to make tough decisions or hit deadlines.
But when you’re respected, you don’t have to be a complete bastard or a lame duck to get the job

done.

21. Are you willing to put the interests of X Company ahead of your own?

Again, another nasty question. If you say yes, you’re a corporate whore who doesn’t care about family.

If you say no, you’re disloyal to the company. I’m afraid that you’ll probably have to say yes to this one

though, because you’re trying to be the perfect employee at this point, and perfect employees don’t cut

out early for Jimmy’s baseball game.

22. So, explain why I should hire you.

As I’m sure you know, “because I’m great” or “I really need a job” are not good answers here. This is a

time to give the employer a laundry list of your greatest talents that just so happen to match the job

description. It’s also good to avoid taking potshots at other potential candidates here. Focus on

yourself and your talents, not other people’s flaws.

23. Finally, do you have any questions to ask me?

I’ll finish the way I started, with one of the most common questions asked in interviews.
This directly relates to the research you’ve done on the company and also gives you a
chance to show how eager and prepared you are. You’ll probably want to ask about
benefits if they haven’t been covered already. A good generic one is “how soon could I
start, if I were offered the job of course.” You may also ask what you’d be working on.
Specifically, in the role you’re applying for and how that affects the rest of the company.
Always have questions ready, greeting this one with a blank stare is a rotten way to finish
your interview. Good luck and happy job hunting.
Behavioral Interview Questions.
One of the keys to success in interviewing is practice, so we encourage you to take the time to

work out answers to these questions using one of the suggested methods, such as the STAR

approach. Be sure not to memorize answers; the key to interviewing success is simply being

prepared for the questions and having a mental outline to follow in responding to each question.

Here is one list of sample behavioral-based interview questions:

 Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince
someone to see things your way.
 Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your
coping skills.
 Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving
a problem.
 Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
 Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's
opinion.
 Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you
did not agree.
 Please discuss an important written document you were required to complete.
 Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to
get a job done.
 Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to
prioritize your tasks.
 Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.
 What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
 Tell me about a time you were able to successfully deal with another person even when
that individual may not have personally liked you (or vice versa).
 Tell me about a difficult decision you've made in the last year.
 Give me an example of a time when something you tried to accomplish and failed.
 Give me an example of when you showed initiative and took the lead.
 Tell me about a recent situation in which you had to deal with a very upset customer or
co-worker.
 Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
 Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.
 Give me an example of a time when you used your fact-finding skills to solve a problem.
 Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem.
 Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive
measures.
 Tell me about a time when you were forced to make an unpopular decision.
 Please tell me about a time you had to fire a friend.
 Describe a time when you set your sights too high (or too low).
Sample Behavioral Interview Questions and Behavioral
Interview Answers
There are only a few behavioral based interview questions that stand the risk of being
over-answered.
Here are some tough interview questions and the suggested answers for the same:

1. Working with your colleagues: Questions about working with your colleagues are
some other behavioral interview questions which may be difficult to answer. Remember,
the interviewer is not looking for loyalty and camaraderie as much as he or she is looking
for a person who is responsible for getting a particular assignment done in a good and
amicable way. Therefore, you should give them the idea that you are a responsible
colleague who can become a natural leader given the reason and the managerial support.

2. Situations of pressure: Another important question would be the how you handle
pressure situations. It is well known that the best people are always found during a
pressure situation and that every company wants someone who can handle any pressure
situation. Therefore, your answer to the question should give them the idea that you are
willing and able to handle any pressure situation that might occur in the workplace.

3. Use of judgment, logic or interaction: In essence, you can also be asked to give an
example of a specific time when you used your judgment, logic or interaction to solve a
problem in your professional life.

4. Personal goal: You would also be asked to give an example where you set a personal
goal in your professional life and whether you were able to achieve it.

5. Your skills: Another question would be giving an example of when your presentation
skills have changed the minds of your colleagues or your superiors. You would have to
give a brief description of how you have introduced and implemented your ideas after
supporting them with facts and practical reasoning.

6. Working out of your job profile: You may also be asked to give an example of when
you have worked out of your job profile and above and beyond your normal job profile to
make something happen for the company.
7. Your hobbies and likes and dislikes: Another question that may be over-answered is
your hobbies and likes and dislikes. You should be careful while talking about your likes
and dislikes. You should ensure that you are not actually being judgmental about what
others do and others do not. Instead, try to use the opportunity to tell what you actually
like doing. Also, make sure that you do not give completely superficial hobbies, likes and
dislikes. Superficial hobbies, likes and dislikes are instantly recognized and come across
as hackneyed.

For additional samples of behavioral interview questions and answers, please refer to
examples of competency based interview questions article.

It is very important that all the information that one gives to the interviewer is simple,
crisp and not out of the question range that he has or she has asked
Behavioral Interview
Questions and Answers
by John Gates

What Are "Behavioral Interview Questions?"

When you hear the term "Behavioral Interview," you might


imagine me arriving in a lab coat and counting the beads of sweat on
your forehead. Rest assured: behavioral interview questions aren’t
suspicious psychological clap-trap. Instead, they give the prepared
interviewee (that's you) a great chance to showcase your skills and
accomplishments. If you are prepared, you will have a major
opportunity to outshine your competitors.
Read and study this entire article carefully.

Behavioral interviewing questions ask you for specific


examples of what you have actually done (i.e. how you have
behaved in the past).

The fundamental theory of Behavioral Interview Questions: Your past


behavior is an excellent predictor of future behavior. If the job requires
excellent time management skills, the interviewer will therefore ask
you for examples of where you had to use this skill in the past.

Examples of Behavioral Interview Questions


Behavioral interviewing questions usually contain the following
phrases:
"Tell me about a time when you…."

"Give me an example of when you had to…"

Here are a few sample behavioral interview questions for you


to practice on:
"Tell me about a time when your time management skills came to your
rescue."

"Tell me about a tough customer you had to win over."

"Sometimes co-workers are just annoying. Tell me about the worst co-
worker you’ve had to try to work with?" Follow-up question: "What did
you do about the annoyances?"

"Tell me about the most complicated project you’ve had to manage."

I have listed a few behavioral interview questions and answers here on


the Sample Interview Questions page.

There Is No "Right" Answer


Answers to behavioral interview questions are not right or wrong. They
are graded on a scale of strong to weak. You earn a strong grade by
showing in your answer strong evidence that the desired skill is
present in you. You earn a weak grade by showing evidence that the
desired skill is NOT present in you.

Example Behavioral Interview Question


and answer:
Let’s say you are interviewing candidates for a management job within
your company. Spoken Communications is a key skill, and the person
will need to communicate and persuade other managers to get
resources if he’s going to be successful.
Skill Definition: Spoken Communications Able to clearly present
information through the spoken word; influence or persuade others
through oral presentation in positive or negative circumstances.

Behavioral Interview Question


"Tell me about a time when you had to use your communication skills
to persuade someone. Maybe you could think of a really tough case
and tell me about it."

Sample Answer
"When I was a teenager, I wanted to buy a car. My father wasn’t too
receptive. I talked and talked, cried and begged. Now I can’t believe
how obnoxious it was, but you know how a nineteen-year-old can be.
Finally he gave in and let me buy an old Ford. I really learned a lot
about the value of verbal persistence… I never quit asking."

Rating the Answer


How do you rate the answer above, based on the Skill Definition?

Based on this answer, I would say that there is very strong evidence
the skill is NOT present in this candidate. Persistence and whining is
not the same as persuasiveness. If the candidate tried this immature
tactic in most corporate environments, it just wouldn’t work.

Preparing to ACE Behavioral Interviews


While it’s tough to teach you everything I know about how to answer
Behavioral Interviewing questions in one sitting, I do have a few tips
that will help.

Be familiar with your accomplishments. Behavioral interviewing is


all about showcasing your skills and bragging about what you have
accomplished. It’s urgent that you re-familiarize yourself with your
accomplishments. Try these basic steps:

1. Pull out your old performance reviews and read them.


Remember your major accomplishments and defeats.
2. Read your old resumes
3. Review old projects and memos you wrote and sweated over.
Get the major successes and roadblocks in mind.
4. Recall the major customers you served. Who were your bosses?
Who were the most challenging customers or clients? Remember
the best and worst of the people you worked with.

Practice, practice, practice!


I can’t emphasize this one enough. If you go into an interview and
decide to just "wing it," you and I will both come away disappointed. I
recommend that you enlist a friend to help you practice or hire a
professional interview coach.

If you don’t have any friends who are experienced interviewers and
can’t afford a personal trainer for interviews, you can download a list
of sample questions quickly and cheaply from the Interview
Questions and Answers Database . This is an affordable resource
that includes sample interview questions, sample interview answers,
mock interviews, assessments, and tests. At less than $20, this tool is
a no-brainer.

Don’t try to lie It’s too easy to paint yourself into a corner with this
kind of interview if you lie or embellish. The interviewer will probe you
for details. What, where, when, why, how many. Sometimes,
interviewers will repeat the story to your former boss during a
reference check.

Conclusion
Behavioral interviewing is not easy on candidates, but it is potentially
rewarding... a chance to distance yourself from the pack. Don't waste
the opportunity!
If you invest in practice and get thoroughly familiar with your
accomplishments and failures, you will be prepared for interview
success. If you invest time in practice, you will deliver higher quality
examples that will impress your interviewer, proving you have the core
skills for the success on the job.