A Google search for “common interview questions” yields more than 800 million results.
The web is oozing with information about what questions you’ll be asked in an interview, but few sites offer insights into best practices for answering these questions. And if they do, the advice tends to be bland.
That’s where we come in.
In this article, we’ll address 21 questions that are almost guaranteed to pop up in any interview. Then, one by one, we’ll consider how you can answer them without starting a snooze fest.
This simple yet stressful request is almost guaranteed to be the first question you’re asked. It’s intentionally open-ended, but that doesn’t give you free rein to rehash your resume or tell your life story right off the bat. Instead, think of your response as an inverted pyramid: start with broad background information and work your way down to a few important details.
Keep it concise (1-2 minutes) and, most importantly, keep it authentic. Remember, this is an interview, not an interrogation. Keep everyone engaged and most importantly, calm down. You’re just setting the tone here — no need to win the job in the first 90 seconds.
If you found the job through a site like Monster, Indeed, or LinkedIn, say that. If you were desperate to leave your last job so you researched new gigs during your lunch breaks, say that. The interviewer is more likely to respect a transparent answer than something like, “I’ve been looking around for a while and thought I’d give you a call.”
The less self-interested you can make this answer, the better. Instead of talking about how you want to build your skills or how you think this is “a great opportunity,” tailor your response to the specific job description.
When I landed my first advertising internship, I said something along the lines of, “There are so many compelling ideas and brands, but they aren’t always able to communicate their ideas in cool, effective ways. I want to work with you so I can bridge that gap.”
Condensing your strengths into a few sentences can seem more difficult than actually building those strengths to begin with. If you’re overwhelmed, you might rattle off verbal bullet points: “Excel, writing, customer relations…”
Instead, zero in on your two biggest strengths and build a narrative around them: “We were short on writers at my last job, so that became my main responsibility, and now I can crank out blog posts in my sleep.”
You might be tempted to disguise a neutral trait or even a strength as a weakness, such as “I’m self-critical” or “I’m too detail-oriented.” Employers see right through this trick. You’re not perfect (and neither are they).
So, be honest and then take it a step further: after you reveal your weakness, describe how you’ve taken action to improve. For example: “I’ve had trouble keeping my schedule straight, so I started using this organization app.”
It’s story time. But remember, the interviewer cares less about the details of the conflict and more about the steps you took to resolve it. Details rarely repeat themselves, but conflicts are inevitable.
Keep the narrative as objective as possible (no rants about the jerk that ruined the project) and, most importantly, describe a tangible result. Don’t end the story with, “…and we finally got the job done.” Instead, say something like, “We finished the project, and the client said it was the most seamless process they’ve ever gone through.”
If you’re interviewing at a place where employees wear suits and work in cubicles, you probably shouldn’t say you like working in a bean bag chair and wearing jeans. That being said, a work environment extends beyond the physical component.
Maybe you like to work alone, maybe you like a lot of noise, maybe you like exploring different lunch options every day. Whatever the case, mention a specific preference that won’t cost them money to implement. Then, follow up with, “Is that possible here?”
There’s no shortage of variables to consider here. If you’re interviewing for an internship, you won’t have much wiggle room regarding compensation, whereas full-time jobs may be open to negotiation.
Regardless, the last thing you’ll want to do is fire from the hip with your answer here. You’ll need to demonstrate that you’ve researched compensation in your industry on sites like Indeed. For example: “I found that the salary range for entry-level programmers in Nashville is between A and B. Based on my experience we’ve discussed, I think I fall in the upper half of that range. Could you match that?”
Here’s a hint: you’re not both. The employer is trying to determine where you’ll best fit within the system, so trying to portray yourself a jack of all trades could do more harm than good. If you’re an ideas person, own it. If you’re into the nitty-gritty, own that. A healthy balance of both types of people is what makes the world go ’round.
Be warned: do not rattle off a list of adjectives. Information overload sucks, especially without context. Instead, have one or two traits in mind and wrap them into a narrative.
For example: “One of my coworkers said, ‘Dominic, you’re the only person I know around here that can go beyond their job description without complaining.’ I think that sums me up pretty well.”
You can afford to make a bold statement here, but don’t go overboard. I know of a guy who said his goal was to take over the CEO’s job. As you can imagine, he didn’t get the job.
When you discuss long-term goals, don’t confine yourself to titles or a salary. Take a look at the company’s mission statement, consider your personal agenda, and craft a 1-2 sentence statement that combines them.
There’s an important distinction to be made here: they want to know about your leadership experience, not your leadership roles. They already have your resume, so listing your leadership positions is redundant.
Think instead of a specific instance in which something good happened when you were a leader, even if the results weren’t measurable: “As the project lead on X, my coworker told me she always felt comfortable coming to me with questions.” Or, “As the project lead on X, we saw our social media engagement rates rise by 10%.”
This is another vague request. You’ll want to make sure you avoid simply reading off a list of previous jobs. What I’ve found to be an effective strategy is finding an overarching theme and weaving in anecdotes from your experience into that theme.
For example, “The overarching theme of my experience has been taking the initiative. As an intern at X company, I was the first to [blank]. Then as a volunteer at Y I implemented [blank], and I’d like to continue that trend here.”
No matter how much of a high achiever you are, you’ll need to go a step further in the interview by detailing how you’ve created value for someone other than yourself. Remember, you’re interviewing to be a team member.
Avoid mentioning classroom-related accomplishments like making the honor roll and instead focus on achievements that pertain to the specific job: “As a volunteer at X hospital, the patients I worked with reported high levels of patient satisfaction, which was incredibly rewarding.”
Assuming you’ve discussed work-related matters for most of the interview, this is a window to include an anecdote about a personal struggle that you’re comfortable sharing.
Maybe you overcame an illness or juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet, but you made it through. Either way, make it clear that if you were able to handle this situation, you can handle anything your job throws at you.
All of these questions warrant authentic, transparent answers, but this one is especially important. This is your chance to prove your humanity. Hard work is important, but the ability to relax and transition smoothly into life outside the office is more valuable than you might think.
If you like to have a couple beers and watch football or go off the grid and watch birds, lay it all out there. To make it more conversational, tell a brief story that starts with, “Last weekend I…”
This is tricky because you likely have no idea who these “other candidates” really are. You’ll need to be bold. In my experience, I’ve found that employers are most impressed when you make a guarantee.
A few years ago, I answered this question by saying, “I guarantee you won’t find another 20-year-old who reads about the history of advertising during their free time. And if they do, they don’t have as many pages of notes.” Imagine if I had just said, “I have a willingness to learn about the industry.” I’ll repeat: be bold.
There isn’t much explaining to do here. Study up.
A friend of mine was asked this in an interview with an investment bank on Wall Street. When he told me about it, I couldn’t help but think how pointless it was. But then he pointed out that it wasn’t about tennis balls or airplanes at all. It wasn’t even about the right answer.
Your interviewer just wants to see how you use logic under pressure. This type of question may vary in details, but the important thing to remember is to calm down. The interviewer doesn’t know the answer either. Nor does he or she care.
You’ve reached the end of the interview and now you’re in the driver’s seat. Keep these questions direct and demonstrate that you’ve familiarized yourself with their organization. Here are some ideas (unless you already have some of your own):
- I noticed [insert something specific about their work], could you explain that in more detail?
- How will this role apply to your goal of [insert organization’s primary goal]?
- What are the biggest mistakes new hires make here?
- Have you ever had to work on an assignment that conflicted with your personal values?
21. If our company’s website was hacked and redirected all visitors to a scandalous foreign website, how would you handle the public relations crisis?
Ok, you probably won’t be asked that question, but I had the pleasure of answering that in an interview for an internship at a PR agency. I must have proposed a decent solution, because I got the job.
Hint: Actions speak louder than words, and furious customers don’t care about apologies on social media.
Let’s be clear: these responses are guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Every interview, career, and human being is unique.
There is no substitute for preparation, but I hope that what you’ve read points you in the right direction. If you’re overwhelmed, just remember two things: tell stories and ask questions.
You got this.
Photo credits: featured