10 Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

One of my amazingly ambitious clients has a job interview this week at a really groovy forward-thinking company. It’s in Australia, which is convenient because that’s where she lives.

Interviews can be scary. You’re putting yourself and your work out there to be judged and picked apart by someone you’re trying to impress. They’re doubly nerve-racking if you’re naturally an introvert or if you’re desperate to leave a job from hell.

I’m one of the few people I know who LOVES interviews. Back in the day when I was climbing the corporate ladder, I knew all I had to do was land an interview and I’d be all set.

Why? Because I was offered every job I ever interviewed for.

OK, just typing that makes me feel like those annoying people on Facebook who like to rub their successes in your face. “Look at my pile of money and my fancy yacht! I’m soooo fabulous, dahling!”

But it’s true. I’m very, very persuasive in a corporate setting. That’s why half of my clients are corporate professionals. The other half are startup entrepreneurs, and most of them also have corporate day jobs.

To me, interviews aren’t difficult…if you do a lot of practicing first.

I like to do some dress rehearsing before my clients have big interviews so they can be as prepared as possible to answer those tough questions.

And though it sounds weird, more than a few clients have sent me photos of themselves trying on different interview outfits. Thank goodness regularly I binge watch reruns of What Not to Wear.

If you’ve got an interview coming up, or simply want to prepare for your next dinner party or networking event, keep reading for my favorite tips including 2 bonus tactics to help you stand out.

Here are 10 common interview questions and how to answer them. (FYI, I’ve been asked all of these questions before on numerous occasions.)

Tell me about yourself.

Find the “through line” in all of your past jobs and give a 1-2 sentence summary while mentioning the benefit for the hiring organization (ie, what’s in it for them?). For example, “I’m a highly skilled marketing professional who helps companies best promote their products to their ideal customers in order to nurture relationships and get repeat sales.”

Why do you want to work here?

Obviously, don’t say things like “Because I hate my current job” or “Because you have a gym and cafeteria on campus” even if those are the real reasons. Talk about why you enjoy this line of work and why you’re a good fit for this company. Again, what’s in it for them?

What’s your greatest strength?

Refrain from mentioning your gum-chewing world record or how you can bend your fingers into a talking frog. Choose a characteristic that’s mentioned in the job description and back it up with a specific story about how this strength served you at a previous job.

What do you do in your spare time?

Even if your life isn’t a thrill a minute, try to find something worthwhile that could be seen as an asset to this company. Don’t say TV watching is all you do, even if it’s true! Volunteer work looks good if you’ll be helping customers. Mentoring kids looks good if you’re interviewing for a manager position.

But be careful—some hiring managers will use this question to get information about your personal life that they’re not legally allowed to ask about. Consider the pros and cons of mentioning things such as your spouse, kids, pregnancy, sick parents, religious affiliations, the neighborhood where you live, etc.

What are your 3 favorite books?

If you don’t read books often (why the heck not?), then choose titles that you read as a kid that inspired you or helped you become a better person. Think of at least one book that taught you something that would be important to this company (perhaps honesty, perseverance, or loyalty). Try to avoid controversial books unless it’s a type of company that wants its employees to push the envelope and be a bit outrageous.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

What superpower would be beneficial for this position? If this is a forward facing role with daily interaction with customers, don’t say you want to be able to turn invisible. Instead, try a superpower that would be more helpful like mind reading so that you could serve the customers even better.

What would your old (or current) boss say about you?

The hiring manager will probably call your previous bosses to ask about you, but for your current boss, choose a characteristic that’s desirable for this position. If this job requires a keen attention to detail, say that your current boss has remarked that you always look at the fine points of a project.

And if you and your boss don’t get along? Well, you can’t lie, but you can be more diplomatic. Try something like, “My boss would say I’m focused on my work and can handle different personalities within the company.”

Describe a time when you messed up or failed.

Eek! We’ve all made mistakes, but the only ones you should share are situations where you were proactive afterwards to correct the problem. Also, emphasize what you learned and how that has made you a better employee.

Sell me this pencil (or coffee mug or other random thing in the room).

This is a test to see how well you can think on the spot. After learning more about the company philosophy, what characteristics would most appeal to this organization?

A design company might want to hear about the bright, classic yellow color of the pencil. An advertising firm might want to hear about the eraser because you can always make changes to keep up with the changing consumer. A environmental company might want to hear about how there’s very little waste from a pencil (unlike disposable pens) and that the metal ring is recyclable.

Do you have any questions for me?

Of course you do! Always have a couple questions ready about the company, the culture, daily responsibilities, growth within the company, etc. I like to ask, “What’s the best thing about working here?” It surprises the interviewer and makes her think of a personal answer. This is a subtle way to become slightly more intimate and build a relationship.

BONUS TACTIC: Ask for the job.

You wouldn’t believe how many people finish an interview by simply shaking hands and walking out the door. This is your last change to leave an impression on the hiring manager—don’t waste it!

Smile, look her in the eye, and explain that after learning more about the company you know you could be very happy working there and you want the job. Asking for the job will make you stand out from 99% of the other interviewees.

BONUS TACTIC: Ask for their business cards.

Get a business card from everyone you meet during the interview process, including the receptionist. Send thank you emails to everyone on the same day as the interview and mention something that you had talked about with that person. Again, state that you want the job.

PS, I’m thinking positive thoughts for you, G! You’re going to do great! 🙂

This post focuses on Step 3 of the Life Editing Process, Add Good Habits and Routines. For more about life editing and what it can do for you, click here.

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  1. Rachel G on May 28, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Wow–there is so much that goes into an interview! Honestly, I find the “Tell me about yourself” question very intimidating, but it’s common, so it’s a really good one to prepare yourself for!

  2. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on May 27, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post Sage! As an introvert the idea of interviews really freaks me out on top of my ever present anxiety so now I feel like I have a little advantage when the time comes 🙂 All of your advice is amazing and the ten questions and how to answer is so helpful. I’m definitely bookmarking this post and will definitely be referring to it when the time comes 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on May 27, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      You’re so welcome, Sarah! Practicing a lot makes everything easier, even if you’re an introvert. 🙂