Planning out answers for a job interview might seem like an impossible task, or worse, a calculated way to crush your ability to be witty and spontaneous. But there are some common interview questions that are almost guaranteed to come up, and it’s best to have your basic answers mapped out in advance.
A good response makes you look polished, prepared, and professional. Floundering a routine question will ruin your chances faster than barbecue stains on the front of your shirt!
Here are some common interview questions you can expect, along with tips for crafting astute answers.
“Tell me a little about yourself.”
Don’t ramble on about your hopes and dreams or the cool film script you’ve been working on. Briskly summarize your professional and educational history, and keep it to a minute or so.
Experience and competency
“What did you do at your previous job?”
There’s no bluffing on this one. If you’re applying for a job as a lion tamer, you should have spent some time in a cage with cats before now. By this point, being able to recount the top five duties (and how well your performed them) from your current or previous job should be automatic.
“Are you proficient in Excel/Photoshop/SalesForce/etcetera?”
Another way a manager tests an applicant’s skill set is to find out how much they know about the equipment, software, and content management system that comes with the job. This requires homework. Ask another employee, if you have access. Better yet, bring up the subject of software and equipment ahead of time, and have a good idea about the leading options for that type of business.
“Do you work well with others or in team environment?”
You’ll likely be working in close company with coworkers, so the interviewer wants to see how you handle typical workplace conflicts. Employers, like basketball coaches, try to establish a “culture” at their business. Make sure you can effortlessly be a part of that culture and not come off as difficult. Emphasizing your excellent communications skills is the key to any conflict
“You have a coworker who eats lunch at their desk and makes a lot of noise chewing food. How do you handle the situation?”
It’s important that applicants present themselves as affable and good humored. Maybe try something like, “That’s what headphones are for.” It’s short, to the point, and provides a nice, stress-relieving laugh.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
Address weakness as something you’ve learned from, and that you’ve taken sensible steps to overcome. Needless to say, weakness should be something acceptable, like time management or public speaking, and not sudden violent rages.
(Pro tip: Don’t answer the weakness question with “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I push myself too hard.” These are well-worn, moldy clichés.)
As far as strengths go, sell your brand, but don’t be arrogant. Diligence, meeting deadlines, and creative problem solving are among the most frequent go-to responses.
“Tell me about a time when…”
Employers love asking questions like this to see if your past behaviors align with the skills required for the position. The easiest way to answer any variation on this question is to briefly explain the context of the situation, explain how you handled it, and summarize what you learned from the experience.
“What would you do in the first 90 days at this position?”
Don’t panic over this one. The answer is less important than your method. The interviewer wants to know how you approach and process a problem. There’s no shame in saying that you would need time on the job to perform due diligence in order to get a handle on the situation.
Ethics and character
“Everyone takes office supplies, right?”
“Should you leave early if the boss isn’t around?”
Ethical questions appear more frequently in entry-level jobs, where supervisors are primarily concerned with the applicant’s overall trustworthiness. Just a reminder, you would never, ever cheat the company, even if all your coworkers were doing it.
“What kind of salary are you looking for?”
This is not the time to be evasive. Read up on the market rate for your position, and make that part of your answer. If you come in too low with your estimation, you may well get stuck with it, or worse, convince the interviewer that you’re out of your league.
“What mythological creature would you be?”
Okay… it’s nearly impossible to plan ahead for these off-the-wall questions. But don’t worry… the goal here isn’t to to have a polished answer; instead, it’s all about thinking on your feed. Coming up with an answer to an ridiculous question like this shows how you respond to surprises and how you deal with abstract concepts.
Take a moment to process the question, and wow your interviewer with an equally creative (or oddball) response. Just keep it short; the employer isn’t looking for a prolonged discourse about how your belief in Sasquatch.
“How many basketballs would fit in this room?”
Don’t fear the brainteaser. Employers aren’t necessarily looking for a concrete answer. Be creative and demonstrate problem-solving abilities by saying something like: “I don’t think any would fit in here. Orange would really clash with the wall color, don’t you think?”
However you answer, don’t stress out about it. Remember, an interview is like playing tennis, but the object is not to win, but to show your future boss that you’re a worthy player with promising skills.