How to Answer the 10 Most Asked Interview Questions

Article written by Rana Al-Badran

Hired Talent Advocates Michaela Osofsky and Wes Neece also contributed to this article.

Never be daunted by interview questions again! Interviewing can be a daunting, painful endeavor; in fact, 7 out of 10 working adults would rather get a root canal than look for a job. But it doesn’t have to be so painful; the more familiar you become with the most common types of interview questions, the easier it becomes to shape responses that will allow your best self to come through. To provide the most well rounded interview guide, we surveyed dozens of active Hired candidates who were in the midst of their interview process to find out what they thought were the most challenging questions. We realize that the interview process is dynamic and so we wanted to drill down on not only what the most common questions are but the reasoning behind why you were being asked the question in the first place. Ultimately, the best way to utilize this resource is to put it into action. Meet up with a friend and have a mock interview or go through the questions yourself; regardless of what you choose the important thing is to jump in and practice.

“Tell me about yourself.”

Sounds simple enough — who doesn’t want to talk about themselves? Well, this interview question is a window of opportunity if approached strategically. To deftly and quickly answer this question in your favor, you’ll have to know what they are looking to learn about you by asking this question. Candidates will often begin rambling about anything and everything that comes to mind without first thinking about the true intention of the question.

A simple response that will reflect professionalism to the initial question is “Where would you like for me to start?” By allowing the interviewer to provide some guidance as to what specifically they’d like to know, it prevents you from rambling and gives you the direction you’ll need to deliver an impressive answer. The response you may hear is “Let’s start with your relevant experience.” Since the interviewer has narrowed down the scope of the question, you’re then able to provide a useful, compelling answer relevant to your audience.

The key to answering successfully is to provide specific details about what you have done in your past that may relate to what you know they are doing as well. For example, if they ask you to start with your career from the beginning and you know that they are looking to hire you for a ruby development role it would be wise to begin speaking about how you learned ruby and where and how you have grown since.

Pro tip: If possible, always keep your answers as relevant to the position you are interviewing. It’ll help provide additional context around how you will add value to the role.

“Why are you interested in this opportunity?”

This interview question can be a challenging one, despite sounding seemingly straightforward. The interviewer is looking to see if you’ve done one thing: research. Have you taken the time to really dive deep into what they are all about and how your role would be contributing to their larger mission. Your genuine passion for the company, mission, industry and product are all essential components of a hiring manager’s assessment of your overall candidacy. Without passion for the company, most hiring managers will pass on a candidate. Some great places to start your research are Crunchbase, Mattermark, or Hired’s own Company Directory, to get informed and feel comfortable addressing the company.

Pro tip: In addition to researching the overall company, it’s valuable to know who is interviewing you. Become familiar with their career path and current role may as it may be useful while  you’re answering questions and aiming to build rapport.

“What are your salary expectations?”

Brace yourself! Regardless of when you want to address your salary expectations, they will come up sooner rather than later, so be prepared. In some cases it’s asked during your initial phone screen by the recruiting manager and other times addressed during an onsite (further along in the interview process). To make sure you set yourself up for success, it is critical to phrase your response in a particular way in order to set expectation if/when you get to the offer stage.   To come up with a suitable number, a few things to consider are: salary on your Hired profile, your current salary, cost of living (or the city you’ll be moving to), relocation and commute. The best approach is to be honest about your expectation while providing a range you’re comfortable with (leaving a nice buffer).

Pro tip: If possible, avoid providing a concrete number. It’s always best to not allow them to be scared away with a number. Also, if you are unsure about the roles’ responsibilities or scope, you don’t want to regret suggesting a number that you feel is too low.

“Why are you looking to leave your current company?”

Even though you’re probably leaving your current job because you’re unhappy at some capacity with how things are going, the last thing employers want to hear is negativity. They figure if you so easily complain about your current employer, it’s just a matter of time until you do so about them as well. With that in mind, stay away from venting about your terrible boss, lack of compensation or how you simply don’t enjoy the work you do. Instead, focus on three topics:
— What drew you to your current role.
—What’s changed since you began your role (remember to put a positive spin on it).
— Your ambitions moving forward.

“What is your biggest strength and area of growth?

This is a loaded interview question and your answer weighs heavily on their evaluation of you. (No pressure!) Having a strong understanding of what they want to know by asking this question helps frame the way you answer it.
Here’s what the interviewer is attempting to learn about you by asking this question:

  1. Are you reflective?
    Self-awareness matters. Being aware of your strengths (as well as weaknesses) and  areas of growth indicates you take time to reflect on the work that you do. In addition to identifying your skills in different areas, leveraging those core competencies will prove valuable as a professional.
  2. Have you invested time in your areas of growth?
    A key indicator of top candidates is whether they take initiative in addressing their career development. Employers want to make sure you’re not complacent about your skills ( or lack there of in certain areas) and you take a proactive approach towards growing as a professional in your line of work.
  3. Are you the right culture fit within the role and management structure?
    Assessing your match within their current organization will be important for your long term success if you join their team. Although this doesn’t necessarily affect your day to day responsibilities, it’s important to consider a candidate’s strengths in relation to their potential manager. For example, if you have a growth area in upward management or communicating effectively with peers and the prospective manager also struggles with certain communication skills a hiring manager might realize that you might struggle to work with your prospective manager. They might need to hire a strong communicator even if this is not a core part of your day to day work.)

Pro tip: When addressing your growth areas, make sure to articulate 2-3 ways you are working to improve your skills (shows you’re proactive). Be concrete and in-depth as you explain the action plan, it’ll feature your dedication to growth which is a competency companies often look for in candidates.

“Tell me about a time your work responsibilities got a little overwhelming. What did you do?”

This is a great time to showcase your ability to prioritize tasks and your time management skills. Go ahead and pick a specific example where you had a lot on your plate and you had to stack rank what was most important to get done, and how you went about making that list. Be specific on where you were, what your role was, and how you handled it.

Example answer: “While I was working for X company, I was a Senior Software Engineer. We had a lot of major projects going on and I was responsible for my day to day duties at the same time. In order for me to get all the work done that was needed, I had to take a step back to assess what tasks took priority over others and when I needed to get them done by. I considered project timelines, project priority level, and top daily priorities. I used this concept to start to build my list of tasks from top to bottom and work down from most important to not as important. If I needed help or a question answered I would be sure to ask.”

“Give me an example of a time where you had a difference of opinion with a team member. How did you handle that?”

In the first part of your answer to this interview question, showcase a project you have worked on. Be descriptive about the project’s scope, but no need to go into detail — because the second half of this question should really be your main focus. The way you handle a situation involving your colleagues, will be reflective of your approach in a work environment. In most cases, they want to be reassured that you have the right mindset in dealing with issues and can effectively problem solve. Within your answer, convey that hearing the different opinions among your colleagues is important to you before you state how the differences were resolved. Emphasizing that coming up with the best outcome was done in a collaborative way will be important to the employer.

“Tell me about a challenge you faced recently in your role. How did you tackle it? What was the outcome?”

To measure a candidate’s problem solving skills and how previous conflicts were successfully resolved in the past gives a great window into their overarching abilities to handle adversity. The most effective way to address the question, is to follow a three-part formula:

  1. What went wrong? Provide context around the problem.
  2. What did you do about it? How were you proactive about finding a solution.
  3. What was the resolution? What was the outcome

Since you’re highlighting your ability to handle challenges, spend the most time discussing the reasoning behind your actions.

It’s best to pick an example that highlights your problem-solving skills, or shows that you learned a valuable lesson so that you could save the day if it ever happens again.

Example answer: “In my last job, we were all set to begin a project (provide a specific project) when everything that could go wrong, did. While some team members panicked and suggested a delay was inevitable, I suggested we all collect ourselves and lay out alternatives for each challenge. We spent the morning taking action on alternatives and were able to start on schedule and set a realistic timeline. It turned into a very successful project (provide actual results).” This example reveals that you have poise under pressure, and a problem solving attitude in the face of challenges.”

“Where do you want to be in five years?”

Joining a new team is an investment for both parties and they want to make sure it’ll be worth it long term. It sets the tone for how you envision yourself growing within your team and company.

A few factors to consider while shaping your answer:

  1. Set a realistic goal based on your experience and have expectations that align with that.
  2. Be ambitious. You don’t necessarily need a concrete plan of where you want to be but show your thought process.
  3. Does the position align with your goals and the possibility of growth within the company?

Your answer should show that you’re driven but understand the importance of being a team player because you’re not just looking to move up. The hiring manager will look for whether you’re going to stick around based on your answer while making an assessment on how long you may stay in the role.

Pro tip: Simply stating that you’d like to be in your manager’s position in five years is not a great answer. Be thoughtful and show dedication to the role you’re interviewing for.

Example answer: “I’m really excited by this position at [company] because, in the next five years, I’d like to be seen as someone with deep expertise in the Tech event planning sector, and I know that’s something that I’ll have an opportunity to do here. I’m also really excited to take on more managerial responsibilities in the next few years and potentially even take the lead on some projects. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing managers, and so developing into a great manager myself is something I’m really excited about.”

“Tell me about a time you needed information from someone who wasn’t responsive. What did you do?”

When you hear this type of question, reflect on the company’s primary reason for asking it before you jump the gun. Your answer should address your communication skills and ability to overcome a challenging situation with a colleague. Think of an example where you can speak to the importance of why you needed certain information and outline what you did to receive it. The hiring manager is looking to make sure you understand your colleagues perspective (i.e., you can empathize with the fact that they might have a lot on their plate, etc.) — but you have figured out a way to strongly communicate in order to still solicit the information.

Pro tip: While you discuss the scenario, make sure to outline 2-3 steps you took in order to meet your goal.

Example answer: “I can think back to a time when I was working closely with an external partner on planning an event. I was trying to set the schedule for my team, however, it would sometimes take two weeks before the external partner would email me back. I could definitely empathize with this as I know they mentioned they were managing multiple events, however, I also had to recognize that it was slowing down the planning for my team. What I did was first I would set a reminder for myself to follow up to my initial emails two days after I sent my first email. Next I determined setting up phone meetings might help the external partner communicate more information at once. This really helped in our ability to meet the deadlines we each needed.”

Prepare yourself… For your next interview!

STAR Interview

STAR Interviewing Response Technique for Success in Behavioral Job Interviews

One strategy for preparing for behavioral interviews is to use the STAR Technique, as outlined below. (This technique is often referred to as the SAR and PAR techniques as well.)

Situation or

Task

Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You must describe a specific event or situation, not a generalized description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event.
Action you took Describe the action you took and be sure to keep the focus on you. Even if you are discussing a group project or effort, describe what you did — not the efforts of the team. Don’t tell what you might do, tell what you did.
Results you achieved What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn?

QUINTESSENTIAL PARTNER INTERVIEWING RESOURCE:

Types of Interviews

All job interviews have the same objective, but employers reach that objective in a variety of ways. You might enter the room expecting to tell stories about your professional successes and instead find yourself selling the interviewer a bridge or editing code at a computer. One strategy for performing your best during an interview is to know the rules of the particular game you are playing when you walk through the door.

  1. Screening
  2. Informational
  3. Directive
  4. Meandering
  5. Stress
  6. Behavioral
  7. Audition
  8. Group
  9. Tag-Team
  10. Mealtime
  11. Follow-up

The Screening Interview

Companies use screening tools to ensure that candidates meet minimum qualification requirements. Computer programs are among the tools used to weed out unqualified candidates. (This is why you need a digital resume that is screening-friendly. See our resume center for help.) Sometimes human professionals are the gatekeepers. Screening interviewers often have honed skills to determine whether there is anything that might disqualify you for the position. Remember-they do not need to know whether you are the best fit for the position, only whether you are not a match. For this reason, screeners tend to dig for dirt. Screeners will hone in on gaps in your employment history or pieces of information that look inconsistent. They also will want to know from the outset whether you will be too expensive for the company.

Some tips for maintaining confidence during screening interviews:

� Highlight your accomplishments and qualifications.

� Get into the straightforward groove. Personality is not as important to the screener as verifying your qualifications. Answer questions directly and succinctly. Save your winning personality for the person making hiring decisions!

� Be tactful about addressing income requirements. Give a range, and try to avoid giving specifics by replying, “I would be willing to consider your best offer.”

� If the interview is conducted by phone, it is helpful to have note cards with your vital information sitting next to the phone. That way, whether the interviewer catches you sleeping or vacuuming the floor, you will be able to switch gears quickly.

The Informational Interview

On the opposite end of the stress spectrum from screening interviews is the informational interview. A meeting that you initiate, the informational interview is underutilized by job-seekers who might otherwise consider themselves savvy to the merits of networking. Job seekers ostensibly secure informational meetings in order to seek the advice of someone in their current or desired field as well as to gain further references to people who can lend insight. Employers that like to stay apprised of available talent even when they do not have current job openings, are often open to informational interviews, especially if they like to share their knowledge, feel flattered by your interest, or esteem the mutual friend that connected you to them. During an informational interview, the jobseeker and employer exchange information and get to know one another better without reference to a specific job opening.

This takes off some of the performance pressure, but be intentional nonetheless:

� Come prepared with thoughtful questions about the field and the company.

� Gain references to other people and make sure that the interviewer would be comfortable if you contact other people and use his or her name.

� Give the interviewer your card, contact information and resume.

� Write a thank you note to the interviewer.

The Directive Style

In this style of interview, the interviewer has a clear agenda that he or she follows unflinchingly. Sometimes companies use this rigid format to ensure parity between interviews; when interviewers ask each candidate the same series of questions, they can more readily compare the results. Directive interviewers rely upon their own questions and methods to tease from you what they wish to know. You might feel like you are being steam-rolled, or you might find the conversation develops naturally. Their style does not necessarily mean that they have dominance issues, although you should keep an eye open for these if the interviewer would be your supervisor.

Either way, remember:

� Flex with the interviewer, following his or her lead.

� Do not relinquish complete control of the interview. If the interviewer does not ask you for information that you think is important to proving your superiority as a candidate, politely interject it.

The Meandering Style

This interview type, usually used by inexperienced interviewers, relies on you to lead the discussion. It might begin with a statement like “tell me about yourself,” which you can use to your advantage. The interviewer might ask you another broad, open-ended question before falling into silence. This interview style allows you tactfully to guide the discussion in a way that best serves you.

The following strategies, which are helpful for any interview, are particularly important when interviewers use a non-directive approach:

� Come to the interview prepared with highlights and anecdotes of your skills, qualities and experiences. Do not rely on the interviewer to spark your memory-jot down some notes that you can reference throughout the interview.

� Remain alert to the interviewer. Even if you feel like you can take the driver’s seat and go in any direction you wish, remain respectful of the interviewer’s role. If he or she becomes more directive during the interview, adjust.

� Ask well-placed questions. Although the open format allows you significantly to shape the interview, running with your own agenda and dominating the conversation means that you run the risk of missing important information about the company and its needs.

The Stress Interview

Astounding as this is, the Greek hazing system has made its way into professional interviews. Either employers view the stress interview as a legitimate way of determining candidates’ aptness for a position or someone has latent maniacal tendencies. You might be held in the waiting room for an hour before the interviewer greets you. You might face long silences or cold stares. The interviewer might openly challenge your believes or judgment. You might be called upon to perform an impossible task on the fly-like convincing the interviewer to exchange shoes with you. Insults and miscommunication are common. All this is designed to see whether you have the mettle to withstand the company culture, the clients or other potential stress.

Besides wearing a strong anti-perspirant, you will do well to:

� Remember that this is a game. It is not personal. View it as the surreal interaction that it is.

� Prepare and memorize your main message before walking through the door. If you are flustered, you will better maintain clarity of mind if you do not have to wing your responses.

� Even if the interviewer is rude, remain calm and tactful.

� Go into the interview relaxed and rested. If you go into it feeling stressed, you will have a more difficult time keeping a cool perspective.

The Behavioral Interview

Many companies increasingly rely on behavior interviews since they use your previous behavior to indicate your future performance. In these interviews, employers use standardized methods to mine information relevant to your competency in a particular area or position. Depending upon the responsibilities of the job and the working environment, you might be asked to describe a time that required problem-solving skills, adaptability, leadership, conflict resolution, multi-tasking, initiative or stress management. You will be asked how you dealt with the situations.

Your responses require not only reflection, but also organization. To maximize your responses in the behavioral format:

� Anticipate the transferable skills and personal qualities that are required for the job.

� Review your resume. Any of the qualities and skills you have included in your resume are fair game for an interviewer to press.

� Reflect on your own professional, volunteer, educational and personal experience to develop brief stories that highlight these skills and qualities in you. You should have a story for each of the competencies on your resume as well as those you anticipate the job requires.

� Prepare stories by identifying the context, logically highlighting your actions in the situation, and identifying the results of your actions. Keep your responses concise and present them in less than two minutes.

The Audition

For some positions, such as computer programmers or trainers, companies want to see you in action before they make their decision. For this reason, they might take you through a simulation or brief exercise in order to evaluate your skills. An audition can be enormously useful to you as well, since it allows you to demonstrate your abilities in interactive ways that are likely familiar to you. The simulations and exercises should also give you a simplified sense of what the job would be like. If you sense that other candidates have an edge on you in terms of experience or other qualifications, requesting an audition can help level the playing field.

To maximize on auditions, remember to:

� Clearly understand the instructions and expectations for the exercise. Communication is half the battle in real life, and you should demonstrate to the prospective employer that you make the effort to do things right the first time by minimizing confusion.

� Treat the situation as if you are a professional with responsibility for the task laid before you. Take ownership of your work.

� Brush up on your skills before an interview if you think they might be tested.

The Group Interview

Interviewing simultaneously with other candidates can be disconcerting, but it provides the company with a sense of your leadership potential and style. The group interview helps the company get a glimpse of how you interact with peers-are you timid or bossy, are you attentive or do you seek attention, do others turn to you instinctively, or do you compete for authority? The interviewer also wants to view what your tools of persuasion are: do you use argumentation and careful reasoning to gain support or do you divide and conquer? The interviewer might call on you to discuss an issue with the other candidates, solve a problem collectively, or discuss your peculiar qualifications in front of the other candidates.

This environment might seem overwhelming or hard to control, but there are a few tips that will help you navigate the group interview successfully:

� Observe to determine the dynamics the interviewer establishes and try to discern the rules of the game. If you are unsure of what is expected from you, ask for clarification from the interviewer.

� Treat others with respect while exerting influence over others.

� Avoid overt power conflicts, which will make you look uncooperative and immature.

� Keep an eye on the interviewer throughout the process so that you do not miss important cues.

The Tag-Team Interview

Expecting to meet with Ms. Glenn, you might find yourself in a room with four other people: Ms. Glenn, two of her staff, and the Sales Director. Companies often want to gain the insights of various people when interviewing candidates. This method of interviewing is often attractive for companies that rely heavily on team cooperation. Not only does the company want to know whether your skills balance that of the company, but also whether you can get along with the other workers. In some companies, multiple people will interview you simultaneously. In other companies, you will proceed through a series of one-on-one interviews.

Some helpful tips for maximizing on this interview format:

� Treat each person as an important individual. Gain each person’s business card at the beginning of the meeting, if possible, and refer to each person by name. If there are several people in the room at once, you might wish to scribble down their names on a sheet of paper according to where each is sitting. Make eye contact with each person and speak directly to the person asking each question.

� Use the opportunity to gain as much information about the company as you can. Just as each interviewer has a different function in the company, they each have a unique perspective. When asking questions, be sensitive not to place anyone in a position that invites him to compromise confidentiality or loyalty.

� Bring at least double the anecdotes and sound-bites to the interview as you would for a traditional one-on-one interview. Be ready to illustrate your main message in a variety of ways to a variety of people.

� Prepare psychologically to expend more energy and be more alert than you would in a one-on-one interview. Stay focused and adjustable.

The Mealtime Interview

For many, interviewing over a meal sounds like a professional and digestive catastrophe in the making. If you have difficulty chewing gum while walking, this could be a challenge. With some preparation and psychological readjustment, you can enjoy the process. Meals often have a cementing social effect-breaking bread together tends to facilitate deals, marriages, friendships, and religious communion. Mealtime interviews rely on this logic, and expand it.

Particularly when your job requires interpersonal acuity, companies want to know what you are like in a social setting. Are you relaxed and charming or awkward and evasive? Companies want to observe not only how you handle a fork, but also how you treat your host, any other guests, and the serving staff.

Some basic social tips help ease the complexity of mixing food with business:

� Take cues from your interviewer, remembering that you are the guest. Do not sit down until your host does. Order something slightly less extravagant than your interviewer. If he badly wants you to try a particular dish, oblige him. If he recommends an appetizer to you, he likely intends to order one himself. Do not begin eating until he does. If he orders coffee and dessert, do not leave him eating alone.

� If your interviewer wants to talk business, do so. If she and the other guests discuss their upcoming travel plans or their families, do not launch into business.

� Try to set aside dietary restrictions and preferences. Remember, the interviewer is your host. It is rude to be finicky unless you absolutely must. If you must, be as tactful as you can. Avoid phrases like: “I do not eat mammals,” or “Shrimp makes my eyes swell and water.”

� Choose manageable food items, if possible. Avoid barbeque ribs and spaghetti.

� Find a discrete way to check your teeth after eating. Excuse yourself from the table for a moment.

� Practice eating and discussing something important simultaneously.

� Thank your interviewer for the meal.

The Follow-up Interview

Companies bring candidates back for second and sometimes third or fourth interviews for a number of reasons. Sometimes they just want to confirm that you are the amazing worker they first thought you to be. Sometimes they are having difficulty deciding between a short-list of candidates. Other times, the interviewer’s supervisor or other decision makers in the company want to gain a sense of you before signing a hiring decision.

The second interview could go in a variety of directions, and you must prepare for each of them. When meeting with the same person again, you do not need to be as assertive in your communication of your skills. You can focus on cementing rapport, understanding where the company is going and how your skills mesh with the company vision and culture. Still, the interviewer should view you as the answer to their needs. You might find yourself negotiating a compensation package. Alternatively, you might find that you are starting from the beginning with a new person.

Some tips for managing second interviews:

� Be confident. Accentuate what you have to offer and your interest in the position.

� Probe tactfully to discover more information about the internal company dynamics and culture.

� Walk through the front door with a plan for negotiating a salary.

� Be prepared for anything: to relax with an employer or to address the company’s qualms about you.