Guide to Answering Common Interview Questions

It's fun to share war stories about the most off-the-wall interview questions you've ever been asked (think, "If you were an animal, what animal would you be?" or "where you do keep your flashlight at home?"). But the fact is, most job interviews follow a set pattern, which makes it possible to prepare and practice for answering the most common interview questions.

Guide to common interview questions

Questions a hiring manager is almost guaranteed to ask you

It's smart to have ready, company-specific answers to the following questions prepared before any type of interview, whether it's phone, video, or in-person. These standard questions typically elicit revealing responses from candidates, so they're generally favored by hiring managers.

1. Why are you interested in working here? (Or, why do you want to leave your current company?)

When hiring managers ask this question, they're hoping to read between the lines. Why are you on the job market? Are you really looking for a new opportunity—or is something wrong in your current position? Even if something is wrong, you don't want to convey that. Your interest in the position is strictly about forward progress in your career and a deep passion for the potential employer's mission. Got that?

2. Why does your resume have a gap between X dates?

This is another question hiring managers use to suss out potentially negative information about your employment background. Be prepared with the most positive spin on any employment gaps, but don't lie. The truth about any gaps will be uncovered during a pre-employment background check, should you reach that stage of recruiting.

3. What is your ideal manager like?

This question is nerve-wracking to answer. After all, what if you describe someone who is the exact opposite of the hiring manager? Relax. It's OK if you do. If you say your ideal manager is someone who provides employees with a lot of autonomy, and the hiring manager has the self-awareness to recognize they're a bit of a micromanager, your candor might save both of you a lot of trouble. After all, no matter how amazing a company or its benefits are, if you can't develop a successful working relationship with your manager, you're not going to be happy. So, tell the truth, in the most positive, forward-looking way possible.

4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

This is generally not the most productive question to ask, but it's a perennial, so be prepared to answer it. We're not always comfortable tooting our own horns, so you might feel awkward listing your strengths. Remember you're expected to share your best qualities in an interview. After all, no one else is going to! Be prepared with concrete examples of your best qualities in action. If you have examples, particularly with statistics, it will be easier to talk about your successes.

Talking about your weaknesses is just as awkward. You don't want to create an argument against your being hired, but you also don't want to be the person who tries to say their biggest weakness is actually a strength. Think about an area in which you have acceptable performance now but could enhance your skills (perhaps conversational Spanish, or your use of Excel).

5. Tell us about a time you handled a difficult situation/had a conflict with a colleague/missed a deadline.

Hiring managers love to ask this type of situational question for several reasons. One, it's interesting to see what type of scenario you've dealt with or identify as a problem. Two, this type of question gets you talking, giving them a chance to see how you present yourself and how you reference your current or past employer and coworkers. This is your chance to shine and showcase your professionalism. Keep your answer solution focused. Conclude by sharing important lessons you have learned.

You'll always come across hiring managers who like to ask memorable questions, but in general, you can expect them to dip into the same question well time and again. Prepare answers to common questions ahead of time so you feel more confident.

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