How to answer almost any interview question
Interviews are high-stakes propositions, but they don’t have to be mysterious. The same questions crop up time and again, so give yourself an edge by reading the tips and examples below and formulating some great answers ahead of time.
Searching for the right job can be exciting and stressful. You did your due diligence by researching how to write a great resume and cover letter. It worked! The interview is scheduled. That’s great news. Now it’s time to learn how to answer the most common interview questions.
Interviews come in many forms, especially these days. You may have an initial phone screening, a video call, or an in-person meeting. Some companies schedule conferences where a handful of people lob interview questions at a candidate. Maintaining poise and answering all the questions without fumbling when your career is on the line is a daunting task, but you can do it.
You know you have what it takes to get the job done, but even the most common interview questions can trip you up when you’re nervous. Preparation will ensure that you put your best foot forward when you are face-to-face with the people who hold the key to your next career move.
Understanding the types of job interview questions you are likely to be asked and what your prospective employer is looking for by asking them will help you gain confidence heading into your interview. In this interview guide, you will find:
- Overall tips on preparing for your interview
- Different types of questions you might get depending on the type of interview
- How to answer the most common questions for the beginning, middle, or end of the interview
- Example answers for interview questions that examine your thinking
- Tips for answering logic questions
- Questions you should ask them
Let’s ease in with some general hints on how to get ready for your interview.
Overall tips on preparing for your interview
We can’t say it often enough: Do your research! Understand as much as you can about the company and the role you want. Reread the job description, and review your resume and your cover letter, to be sure that you remember what you’ve said and can add pertinent details.
It’s fine to have a few notes you can quickly refer to, but you don’t want to be scrolling through your phone or fumbling with note cards during your interview.
How long should your interview answers be?
This depends on the question, of course. Basic or introductory questions should be answered in anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds.
For open-ended and behavioral questions, you should hold the floor for at least two minutes, but no longer than four minutes.
Also, consider how long the interview is scheduled for. A 20-minute screening interview requires shorter answers than a one-hour follow-up interview. Use your judgment and gauge the responses you are getting from your interviewer. Read their body language. Are they looking at you or are their eyes wandering? Are they tilted forward eagerly awaiting your response or are they leaning back or away from you? Use these cues to decide whether or not your answers are too long.
Different types of questions you might get depending on the type of interview
Sometimes, human resources departments conduct screening interviews. These are typically done over the phone. The HR person is trying to determine whether you have the qualifications the job calls for or if the working situation suits your needs.
The HR person or recruiter will describe the job and the company and then ask a few basic questions about your skills. Finally, they may ask if you have any questions for them. At the end of this piece, you can find a list of good questions you can ask your interviewer. In the screening interview, process questions such as, “What is the next step” or “What is your timeline for making a decision?” show you’re interested in moving forward.
To prepare for your screening, We recommend getting out of your sweats even though no one will see you in a phone interview. Wearing decent clothes will give you confidence and that will come across – even over the phone. Fully charge your earbuds if you will be using them.
Some common interview questions in a screening, which typically takes 20-30 minutes, are:
- Why did you apply for this job?
- What are you looking for in a position?
- Tell me about your role at your most recent position.
- Why are you looking for a new job?
These questions are also common later in the interview process. We’ll offer example answers later in this guide.
Here’s one we’ll tackle now: Are you willing to travel/relocate? This may seem like a simple yes/no question, but take care that you answer thoughtfully and honestly. Consider beforehand not only whether you are willing to travel, but how much and how far. The same holds true for moving. Where are you willing to live? Would you move for job A, but not for job B? Let the HR person know.
One last tip: Make sure you have excellent phone service wherever you take the call. If you’re someone who paces while you talk, make sure that you’re not fading in and out as you do so.
Video interview guide
You may or may not have had a phone screening before this video interview. In either case, you have two key concerns aside from the interview questions and answers:
- Proper business attire
- A quiet spot with good lighting for the call (and make sure you test the sound, video, and connection with plenty of time to correct any problems before the interview time).
Turn off the notifications on your phone if you’re using it for the interview, or leave it in another room to avoid distraction.
Your research will help you decide whether you need formal or more casual business attire. Once again, put on a real pair of pants or skirt even if no one will see them. Dressing the part will help you feel the part.
Maintaining eye contact through the screen can be difficult, but do your best to keep your eyes level with the screen. If staring at yourself is too distracting, you can choose a view that doesn’t include you or minimize yourself so you can focus on your interviewer.
In-person interview guide
If you’re someone who prefers in-person interviews because you can better read the body language and other cues during the process, more power to you. But for many, in-person interviews are more stressful.
You have to arrive on time, then sit in an uncomfortable chair as a business hums around you, while you wait for your turn to sell yourself. Take this time to breathe deeply and remind yourself of the qualities that make you an excellent choice for the job.
Make sure you bring a few hard copies of your application documents just in case not everyone has them. Of course, you have done your homework and are appropriately dressed. Keep it conservative if you’re unsure of the company culture.
Now that you know how to prepare for the different types of interviews, let’s get to the interview questions and answers.
Top beginning interview questions and example answers
After the pleasantries and introductions, your interviewer will get down to asking questions. They may ease in with something simple such as, “How’s the weather where you are?” if you are in a video conference, or “Was the traffic bad?” if you are in an office together.
Keep the answers to these questions short. While they are designed to break the ice, you don’t want to ramble on about road construction when you could be selling your skills.
Most interview questions are open-ended – they can’t be answered with a quick yes or no. Many are designed to get more than just an answer. Your interviewer wants to get insight into how you think and learn more about your personality.
Open-ended questions have no right or wrong answer, but don’t let that get the stomach butterflies fluttering. It’s fine to take a few seconds to gather your thoughts before you answer. This also signals to your interviewer that you take your time to get things right before starting a task or project.
Then, they will likely ask you a broad, open-ended question to get the big picture of your career and what you think is important.
Here are five interview questions often used to start:
- Tell me about yourself/tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.
- How would you describe yourself?
- Why do you want to work here?
- What makes you the best candidate for the job?
- Why are you looking for a new job?
Tell me about yourself/tell me something about yourself that isn’t on your resume.
Wow, it really can’t get more open-ended and that makes this one daunting. You want to hit the sweet spot between too short and offering up your entire autobiography. The interviewer’s goal is to find out more about you, but also to gauge what you think is important and learn about your communication style.
To get focused on this one, think about your cover letter. While you don’t want to repeat it, you do want to get across the same message: Here are my professional qualifications, and here’s why I want the job. Unless your personal life is relevant to the position or your passion for your work, leave it out.
Especially if they ask for something that is not on your resume, be prepared with a different success or skills – the interviewer has seen your resume and cover letter. It’s OK to summarize a bit of information as background, but be ready with an impressive new piece of information.
Since you’ve gotten this far in the process, you should also reveal a little more of yourself. This is a good opportunity to explain why you got into the field. You may, for example, relate an anecdote about your grandfather’s love of woodworking which led you to become a carpenter. The answer below starts with the reason for the candidate’s career choice, briefly reviews their qualifications, and tells why they want this particular job.
What not to do: Offer up your difficult current circumstances. If you get to the point of negotiating working conditions, you may ask for alternate hours because your sitter can’t work late on Tuesdays, but the HR person does not want to hear about your hardships in the interview – they just want to know if you’re the right person for the job.
Here is an example answer: I always loved the outdoors and the natural world. My grandparents had a cabin in the Rockies and I spent summers there exploring in the woods, hiking, camping, and kayaking. That love led me to a degree in environmental science. In my first job, I quickly realized that my passion was for tackling public policy issues and proposing solutions. I went back to the Rockies to earn a master’s in public policy and targeted this job because of the organization’s environmental preservation philosophy and record of successful action.
How would you describe yourself?
This question gets to the heart of your personality. Yes, you want to mention that you’re an experienced salesperson, but if that’s the only way you define yourself, you won’t be giving the recruiter an idea of how you relate to customers and coworkers or what differentiates you from other candidates.
Excellent employees are great not only at their assigned tasks but at interpersonal skills and work habits. This question is designed to draw out some of this information. Again, there’s no right answer. The recruiter wants to see how and where you might fit into the team. Choose 1-3 qualities – your interviewer is not looking for a total picture, but one that shows what you think best describes you and how those attributes relate to the job.
Prepare by brainstorming a few strong adjectives that describe your work and communication style. Asking friends and coworkers to give you three words each will help you find patterns. This exercise will help you round out your view of yourself.
What not to do: Veer from the requirements of the job. It’s great if you are a nimble dancer, but how does that make you the best person for the position? Relate all your responses to selling your interviewer on your candidacy.
Don’t try to anticipate what the interviewer is looking for in your answers. You will come off as insincere. HR personnel do this for a living, so they have a good sense of people and whether they are giving honest answers.
Remember, too, that you are interviewing the company and the job as well. Stay true to yourself and it will lead to a job opportunity that’s the right fit for you.
Interview question sample answer: I am a goal-focused person who breaks tasks down into steps and accomplishes what I set out to do. I work best when I have a defined role within the team but am always looking for opportunities to help out, especially if it allows me to stretch my abilities.
Sample answer for a creative field: I love a collaborative environment where I can bounce my ideas off others and end up with a better solution. I’m not afraid to throw out ideas to get the ball rolling. I believe true creativity comes from an accepting environment.
Why do you want to work here?
Expect to get the question: “Why do you want to work here?” It’s pretty much a given. You can break this question down into two – and you may instead get the separate questions: “Why do you want to work at this firm?” and “What about this position interests you?” You need an interview answer that responds to both.
Maybe the two answers are intertwined. That’s fine. Perhaps you just want your foot in the door of the company and are willing to take a position that’s not perfect, but will give you the opportunity to move into your dream job. Focus on the former.
The best answers to this interview question are enthusiastic without gushing. Focus on your qualifications and how they fit well with the job description, but allow you to stretch your talents. Explain why the company culture, philosophy, product, etc., make the position attractive to you and how you will enhance the company.
If you know someone who works there already, this is a great opportunity to mention that. “My friend so-and-so who works here says it’s a supportive, collaborative environment” is a great addition to your answer.
What not to do: Waft an air of desperation. Even if you applied for the job because you were applying to every job and you really need a job, you don’t want the interviewer to know that. Find something that makes the job enticing, and go with that.
Don’t go in the other direction and overplay it either. Avoid over-the-top phrases such as the best company ever! the job of my dreams (unless it’s really true)! the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had! Stay sincere and professional.
Interview question sample answer: In researching construction companies, your company came up again and again on lists of innovators in sustainable building, a passion of mine. In my current job as a project manager, I have developed processes that streamline the building process and I am eager to use my experience to increase your efficiency in worker hours and materials use.
What makes you the best candidate for the job? or Why should I hire you?
We recommend a little humility here. Again, don’t sing your own praises too highly or you will seem arrogant. Are you the best candidate for the job? You don’t know the other candidates, but you do know why you’re a great fit, so gear your interview answer toward that.
When you are asked this question, the interviewer wants to know whether you have read the job description and understand what the work entails. They also are trying to glean more information about how your skills and professional personality mesh with the opening they have. Your resume and cover letter have given them an idea, but now you have a perfect opportunity to expand.
Match up the job requirements with one of your skills and offer an example that illustrates what you bring to your current position. This is a chance to mention the top three attributes you decided to use to describe yourself as well. The elements that make you the best candidate include your philosophy, work experience, and interpersonal relationships.
Interview question sample answer: I’m an excellent candidate for the social work position because I bring a blend of compassion and experience, but I am also a stickler for getting that paperwork in. Although I have been working with a broad clientele, my heart lies with adolescents and their struggles to find themselves. My passion for teens and my experience working with their guardians will give your organization a fresh perspective on the needs not just of the teens, but of their families.
What not to do: Mention other candidates. For example, “I am sure your other candidates do not have the broad range of experience that I do.” Focus on you and your abilities only. You have no idea who the other candidates are and trying to put them down won’t help you get the job.
Why are you looking for a new job?
Why are you looking for a new job? If you’re ready for a promotion, but there are no openings at your current job, this one is easy to answer. You may state that you have learned all you can in your current role and are ready to take on more.
Then, back it up with an example of how you filled in for the boss, took on higher-level tasks, or earned an additional degree or certification that qualifies you for a new title.
But what if your reasons are negative? Say you want more money, are in conflict with your supervisor, or are unsatisfied with your job or the company. In these cases, you need to find a positive spin on the reasons for your job search.
Focus on the new company and what it offers instead of what your old job lacks. Consider whether your prospective employer offers more opportunities for growth, has a reputation for being a superior workplace, or is a larger player in your industry. Then, explain why those qualities attract you and how you will fit in.
Interview question sample answer: I’m looking for a new challenge. I recently filled in for my supervisor when he was on paternity leave and loved that role, but the company is small and there isn’t much room for advancement. I decided that although I love working there, I am ready to move ahead in my career.
What not to do: Get negative! Putting down your boss or the company won’t serve you well. You may be working at the worst-run facility on the planet, but HR wants enthusiastic, positive workers, not complainers. Also, avoid using money or benefits as your sole reason for seeking the job. Find something great about your prospective employer to talk about.
Top middle interview questions and example answers
You’ve gotten past the initial interview question or two and are settling in. Now, the recruiter wants to dig a little deeper into your career and motivations.
Here are ten questions often asked in the middle 30 minutes of your interview:
- What interests you most about this position?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What great skill or attribute will you bring to the position?
- What do you consider your greatest professional success?
- How do you handle difficult situations or coworkers?
- Tell me about a problem you solved and the results you achieved.
- What do you consider your biggest failure and how did you handle it?
- What are your three biggest weaknesses?
- Describe your leadership or teamwork style.
- Have you ever made an unpopular decision and how did you handle the response to it?
The first four questions above focus on how you see yourself as a professional and your ambitions. Here are explanations and example answers for them:
What interests you most about this position?
This one is straightforward. Here, the recruiter does not want a laundry list of everything the position offers. Instead, pinpoint the key aspect of the job that caused you to apply. Show enthusiasm for the entire job, but make it clear where your passion and expertise lie.
The goal of this question is to find out whether you really want the job because it excites you and whether your focus meshes with what the company seeks. They may be looking for a person who leans in one direction or the other as a complement to the department. Remember, however, that you don’t want a job in which you are relegated to tasks you don’t enjoy anyway.
Interview question sample answer: I love helping people make their house a home. That’s why, when I saw your opening for a personal shopper in the furnishings department, I jumped at it. In my current position, I assist real estate agents in staging homes for sale. That has given me an eye for what people like. But to be able to work with customers directly would be very rewarding.
What not to do: Use the scattershot approach. By that, we mean, list every aspect of the job and hope you hit on the answer the recruiter is looking for. Don’t denigrate some parts of the job either. While you may love one aspect more than others, you don’t want to seem as though you will be miserable when you have to do another task.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
You can read several separate questions into this one: How ambitious are you? How likely are you to stick around? Can we see you grow into a bigger role here or will you be happy staying in this position for an extended period?
There’s no one right answer to this. Our best advice here is to be honest. If you have insight into the company and know for certain they always promote from within or have extremely loyal staff, you can tilt your answer in that direction.
If you imagine yourself in a higher position or are interested in a lateral move, that’s OK. If you love what you do and just want to keep getting better at it, that’s OK too.
Interview question sample answer when you want to advance: A lot can happen in five years, but right now it’s my goal to be contributing my own design ideas for major advertising clients including logos, packaging, and ad campaigns. I know I have a lot to learn, so working in the graphics department will be a great stepping stone for me.
Interview question sample answer when you’re happy where you are: I love being the point person in a busy office, so managing a medical practice is the perfect role for me. That’s where I want to stay. I get great satisfaction from creating efficiencies, developing camaraderie, and maintaining calm in the face of difficult situations.
What not to do: Don’t show a lack of forethought. “Gee, I don’t know” is not a good answer. Also, don’t say that your dream is to go work for another employer — unless maybe you’re working as a high school coach who wants to make it to the big leagues or another career along those lines.
What great skill or attribute will you bring to the position?
This is a perfect opportunity to highlight a great achievement. The interviewer has read your resume and cover letter, so don’t repeat yourself completely, but you can use one of your bullet items as a jumping-off point to sell your skills.
While this may seem like a one-word answer, it is far from it. You need to not only mention that you are the top salesperson in customer satisfaction rankings, but offer an anecdote that shows how you have dealt with a tough client or how you go the extra mile to get that ranking.
This may also be the perfect question to insert a more intangible quality that you haven’t had a chance to bring up yet. If you know how to get everyone on board for a new project or keep people smiling even during tedious tasks, bring that up! Employee morale is a key concern of many HR departments.
Interview question sample answer for a hard skill: My great skill is in analyzing big data. Of course, I begin with statistical techniques such as clustering and regression, but it's my knowledge of the industry and ability to understand what’s most important for different aspects of the business that really make a difference. They help me pinpoint exactly what each department needs to improve performance.
Interview question sample answer for a soft skill: I have heightened insight into people. That makes me a great team leader because I understand the tasks my coworkers enjoy and which ones they excel at. Being able to keep people satisfied with their work makes the team run more smoothly and usually results in a better product or service.
What not to do: Pat yourself on the back too hard. You want to come off as confident and self-aware, not arrogant.
What do you consider your greatest professional success?
Choose one success that illuminates what you will bring to the company you’re interviewing with. If you don’t have direct experience in the field or industry, explain how your success will translate into a win in your new position.
You may find that a soft skill success is easier to transfer into a new role than a hard skill, but if you can, find an example that incorporates both types of abilities. The more skills you can highlight in each answer, the better.
After describing the success, add a sentence that tells why you chose this success or how it informs your day-to-day work.
Interview question sample answer: My greatest success occurred recently. In my current position as a flight attendant, I recognized a brewing argument between passengers who were sitting next to each other, one who had a barking lapdog. I approached them, said that I loved dogs, and asked if the passenger would mind if I walked the dog up and down the aisle for a minute. She gratefully accepted. I took the dog to the crew rest area for a few minutes. When I returned the dog, he was quiet and so were both passengers. I often find that anticipating problems and finding a solution avoids bigger issues.
What not to do: Get too personal. Note the word “professional.” This is not the time to bring up your wonderful children (unless you are interviewing for a childcare job) or that 1969 Corvette that you lovingly restored (or a mechanic’s position).
The next set of questions is designed to tease out your behaviors, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal relationships. Here are explanations and example answers for them:
How do you handle difficult situations or coworkers?
When the human resources staff asks this question, they are trying to get at your style in dealing with different personalities and your approach to work problems. You don’t know the dynamics of the department or company, so you won’t be able to give the “right” answer, but that also gives you the freedom to highlight your personality.
Start by describing the difficult situation or coworker. Explain your relationship or role and then detail your actions. Keep in mind that unless you are an internal candidate, you need to offer all the relevant details since your interviewer does not know how your current company operates.
You may tell how you felt about the situation as well as explain your actions, but don’t get too detailed about your feelings unless your description of how you coped with them is relevant to your anecdote.
Interview question sample answer: In my role as an administrative assistant, I have to juggle many different personalities. The clinic has been extremely busy, as I’m sure you understand in these times. Stress was high and two of the nurses had a falling out and were not speaking to each other. The atmosphere was tense and the argument was affecting the entire clinic staff. I decided to ask if we could institute a 10-minute enforced break with snacks to ease the tension. It took a few weeks and a little grumbling, but one day I saw the two nurses linger for a minute in the break room. They were laughing together.
What not to do: Speak negatively about a coworker. It’s fine to say that you disagreed on the solution to a problem or that your coworker had a negative quality, but don’t characterize the person negatively. See the table below for examples:
- My pod mate enjoyed listening to loud music and I find a quiet environment more conducive to work.
- One of my teammates was juggling multiple projects and had a difficult home life, so he sometimes got projects finished a bit late.
- My boss sometimes forgot to relate the details of a project to me.
- My pod mate was rude and did not care that her music disturbed all her coworkers.
- One of my teammates could not seem to make a deadline no matter how important it was.
- My boss throws projects at me, but he lacks communication skills and I often didn’t know what he wanted.
Tell me about a problem you solved and the results you achieved.
This prompt is similar to the one above, but notice the focus on problem-solving. You may be asked both this and the one above if the interviewer is trying to elicit more information about your thought processes and strategic thinking or if you focused more on personality when you answered the last question.
While the question focuses on problems, you should answer it based on your goals. You may even begin answering this question by stating what you want the outcome of your problem-solving to be. You may use a format such as “I needed to (or wanted to or was tasked with) …, but I faced … obstacle.”
Alternatively, if you work with clients, you may consider discussing how you approached and solved one of their problems.
Interview question sample answer: A client wanted to add a bathroom in their basement. When I examined the plumbing, I found that they would have to tear down a supporting wall in order to place the bathroom exactly where they wanted it. I drew up a schematic for an alternate plan that would allow me to install the plumbing without a big demolition job. I explained the situation and gave them estimates for time and money based on their plan and my alternative. They accepted my proposal and were very happy with the results.
What not to do: Lay blame for a problem at someone else’s feet. This is not about you cleaning up a mess created by a coworker or your boss. Instead, it is about how you approach thorny problems and what results you are able to achieve when faced with difficult circumstances or obstacles.
What do you consider your biggest failure and how did you handle it?
Let’s face it, we’ve all failed at some point. In fact, failure shows a willingness to take a leap and sometimes even fall short of the landing pad. Hiring managers here want to know how you dealt with your failure, and what you learned from it.
Your answer reveals how you cope with risk and adversity, but also how quickly you can pivot to make lemonades out of lemons – a clear problem-solving skill.
So how do you approach your answer to that difficult question? Look to a work situation in which you could have done better if only one or two things went differently. Stay away from situations where everything went wrong and instead focus on one in which an adjustment, increased information, or a third check would have made all the difference. A group failure allows you to share the responsibility.
Take a sentence or two to explain the project and what went wrong, but put the emphasis on your solution and the results you achieved. Explain what you learned and how you have incorporated that learning since. Your answer should also include the skills you used to correct your errors.
Interview question sample answer (when you needed clarification and didn’t ask for it): While managing a team project for a big client, I misunderstood the client’s goal, and, therefore, my plan for the team’s roles and responsibilities was off. At our launch meeting, a pointed question from a team member led me to go back to the drawing board to reset the project. We lost a week but were able to make it up with a little extra efficiency and some late nights on my part. Now, I always restate the goal back to the client to be sure I completely understand.
Interview question sample answer (when you get a little too independent): I thought I was doing a great service to the company when I found a caterer who would provide a wider range of meals at a lower cost for our board meetings. I proudly told my boss, who quite gently let me know that the caterer we used was chosen specifically because they contribute to the community food bank. I apologized for overstepping and now make sure I get all the facts before embarking on a solution to a problem independently.
Interview question sample answer (when you just have to fess up): I made the mistake of setting a go-live time in Greenwich Mean Time instead of Eastern Standard Time. The website went public before it was ready. I immediately realized what I had done and went to my boss to take responsibility. She wasn’t happy and we had some quick clean-up to do, but she did appreciate my honesty. I am a bit obsessed with checking times now, but I also learned that it’s always better to step forward and deal with a mistake.
What not to do: Say that you’ve never failed or, worse, blame a co-worker for your project’s failure. Also, unless you've just graduated, your best answer here is not that test you didn’t study for and how you learned that hard work and preparation pay off. Not only is that answer expected, but it also doesn’t address how you handle situations in your workplace.
What are your three biggest weaknesses?
While not exactly the same as the preceding question, “What are your three biggest weaknesses?” aims to discover what you know about yourself and what you are doing to balance what you consider your own deficits.
This question also may bring up parts of your professional personality that have not yet been explored in the interview. While your resume and cover letter shined a bright enough light on your strengths that you have been asked to interview, it’s more likely that your weaknesses (and how you cope with them) will differentiate you from the other interviewees. How can you convert a question about your weaknesses into a discussion about your unique traits?
Given that holding up your weaknesses to the light during a job interview for a position you really want is uncomfortable at best, you need to approach this question with confidence and integrity. Be honest about where you need to improve.
Getting to the heart of the matter: Choose weaknesses that you can work on such as presentation skills, advanced technical abilities, or expanding your digital marketing knowledge. The caveat here, of course, is that you should never choose a weakness that will interfere with your ability to do the job for which you are applying.
Ensure that you mention your weaknesses, but quickly move on to the steps you are taking to lessen their impact.
Create an all-inclusive list
This may hurt a bit, but just as you should have a “Master List” of all your job skills and professional attributes, you should also have the same for your weaknesses. Taking an honest look at yourself will not only make it easier to answer this question, but it will give you some food for thought when it’s time to choose a professional development or self-improvement focus.
If you’re struggling with this, look at your performance reviews or ask a colleague you trust to suggest areas you could work on.
Interview question sample answer: First, I only speak English and enough Spanish to get by at a restaurant, but I would like to take conversational Spanish since our area has a large Latin American population. Second, I use Excel frequently and am aware that the program offers much more than my intermediate skills can take advantage of. Finally, I need a refresher on the latest industry rules and regulations. I do my best to keep up, but during busy seasons, a change may get past me.
What not to do: If you are applying to be a software engineer, do not say that you are impulsive or are not detail-oriented – those are key components of your job. That would be like a teacher saying he didn’t like young people, a clear deal-breaker. Another deal-breaker is saying that you don’t have any weaknesses. That answer makes you sound both egotistical and oblivious.
Describe your leadership or teamwork style.
Your interviewer has an open slot and an idea of who they are looking for to fill it. You should not try to guess who they are looking for. For one, HR people are aware when a candidate is trying too hard to fit the role. For another, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. If you misrepresent yourself, you will find yourself in a role that requires you to be someone you’re not.
You may have used “leadership” or “teamwork” in the skills section of your resume. Now it’s time to explain what you mean by that. Describing your leadership or teamwork style encompasses three parts: methods, characteristics, and behaviors. In other words: What skills do you use? What personality traits are evident in your style? And how do you behave in leadership roles or as a team member?
Leaders can be broken into five main categories. The International Institute for Management Development defines them as:
You may shift from one to another depending on your role and the situation or you may combine two or more to create the right fit for you and your organization. Use these as a basis for talking about your management style. Make sure you have done your research and know the organization’s culture, philosophy, and current situation. You don’t just want a leadership position, you want the right leadership position.
In describing your teamwork style, use the same premises as you would if you are seeking a leadership role.
Teamwork requires different personality types that mesh to create a group that gets the job done effectively and efficiently. Consider the role you usually play. Are you the leader, planner, researcher, creative, team player, expert, or communicator? Use these personality types to help you define and describe your style.
Also, consider the types of teams you work on. The six main types are informal, traditional, problem-solving, leadership, self-directed, and virtual. Enhance your answer by explaining what type/s of teams you have worked on, or are working on now.
Whether you are describing your leadership or teamwork style, offer one or two concrete examples from your work experience that illustrate these qualities.
Interview question sample answer for a leadership role: In my current job, I have acted as a participative leader. The firm is small and I knew that I needed to roll up my sleeves and get to know the staff and how they worked. I kept my door open and held weekly brainstorming meetings. This method paid off with a 20% increase in sales calls and a 65% increase in salesperson retention.
Secondarily, I would say I use a transformational style. Even in my current position, because I created rapport with the staff, I was able to push for change, including the use of a new sales tracking application that was much more robust and allowed us to better target our marketing efforts. That change alone gave us a 50% bump in good leads.
Interview question sample answer for a teamwork role: I’m usually the person who throws out ideas. Sometimes they are a bit out there, but it gets the team moving in more creative ways. When you work on a high-pressure software project, it often helps to let go of linear thinking and throw a curve. Once we have a solution, I jump right in even if none of my ideas caught on.
What not to do: Try to guess the “right” answer. Even if there is one, insincerity comes across in an interview. Also, don’t list your qualities without backing them up with an example. Simply stating, “I am a change leader,” doesn’t tell your interviewer anything about you.
Top questions and example answers for ending a job interview
Congratulations! You’ve made it through the bulk of your job interview. Now you have to finish strong. Here are the most likely questions you will have to answer in the home stretch:
- What did you like most and least about your last job?
- Why are you looking for a new position?
- Are you interviewing elsewhere?
- What salary do you have in mind?
- Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you would like to tell me?
What did you like most and least about your last job?
Your interviewer may combine these superlatives or only ask one of the two. It’s much easier to find good things to say, and it makes you look a lot better to be able to reflect positively on a situation that is no longer working for you.
No one wants to hear you go on and on about all the problems at your job and why you can’t wait to get out of that dysfunctional workplace! Instead, find one thing that could have been better and follow it up with all the aspects of your job that you do like.
Two easy routes to follow here are that there wasn’t room for advancement or that the company was growing rapidly and it led to a bit more chaos than you felt comfortable with.
Interview question sample answer: I was lucky to get in on the first round of hiring at XXX startup. I loved the innovation and loose rules that allowed me to learn so many new skills. As we began to grow, the company put into place strict structures that dramatically changed the culture. I decided it was time to move on to another startup where I thrive.
What not to do: Badmouth your boss, coworkers, or the company. That shows a lack of interpersonal skills on your part.
Why are you looking for a new position?
The emphasis here should remain on you and your goals for the future. This question also gives you a great opening for extolling the virtues of your prospective new employer. Why are you looking for a new position? Well, you don’t want to work just anywhere, but you couldn’t pass up the chance to apply at A-Tops-No.-1 company!
Focus on the goals you want to reach or new skills you are ready to apply. Turn the negatives at your current position into future positives; for example, “I’m looking for a supportive workplace in which I will be encouraged to make suggestions and stretch my abilities.”
If you choose to mention salary, make sure you don’t get into specific dollar amounts and place the emphasis on feeling like a valued employee.
The top 5 reasons employees gave for leaving their jobs*
- Low pay
- No opportunity for advancement
- Felt disrespected
- Child care issues
- Not enough flexibility to choose hours
*Source: Pew Research Center
Any of the grounds listed above is valid as long as you give your interviewer the reasons that the job you are interviewing for will be the right one for the long term.
Interview question sample answer: I have been at my current job for three years. I have had the opportunity to attend a craftsperson class and hone my carpentry skills. It’s a small shop and the owner likes to take on the most challenging projects himself. I know the work this shop does and that you are big enough to offer more opportunities to use my design and building skills on creative projects.
What not to do: Blame your job search on someone or something else. If the No. 1 reason you’re looking for a new position is that your boss expects too much of you or your closest colleague is getting on your last nerve, table those responses.
Are you interviewing elsewhere?
Why does the interviewer care? It’s likely you’re acing the interview and they don’t want to lose you! They are at the very least signaling interest, so you need to craft the right answer to this one. Another reason for asking this question is to see whether you truly want this type of position or to work in this specific industry.
In the best situation, you are interviewing elsewhere and you may simply say, “Yes, I have interviews with two other firms in this industry.” Don’t get into detail by telling what the role is or which organizations you’re interviewing with. You may also say that you are interviewing for jobs in a different industry but which require the same skills.
Interview question sample answer if you have other interviews scheduled: I am in the middle of the process with another social services agency and have another that has expressed interest in hiring me, although I do not have a firm offer letter.
Interview question sample answer if you don’t have other interviews scheduled: This was among the first jobs I applied for and I was lucky enough to receive an immediate response from you. I am continuing to hunt for the right position.
What not to do: If you don’t have any other interviews scheduled, you don’t have to give a flat no. Instead, tell the interviewer that you are still in the process of searching and have a few irons in the fire.
What salary do you have in mind?
This question requires research. You don’t want to leave money on the table, but you don’t necessarily price yourself out of the job either. Some of your research should be done before you even apply. Why waste everyone’s time interviewing for a job that falls below your minimum salary requirements?
Remember that compensation includes more than just your annual salary. Some companies offer performance bonuses and salespeople often work on commission. Health insurance, paid time off, and other fringe benefits may make a lower salary more attractive.
When you answer this question, offer a range that is acceptable to you, making sure it is realistic. Know your target number and offer a tight range around it. For example, if you want to earn $60,000 a year, respond with a range of $58,000-$65,000 or so.
Feel free to ask about benefits or mention that health insurance is very important to you so you will consider that when you receive an offer. You may also explain that it’s difficult for you to put a number to the position before you truly understand what the role entails. This may prompt the interviewer to offer more details or to back off the question.
Interview question sample answer: While I can’t give you an exact figure until I have a greater understanding of the scope of the position and the benefits package, the compensation I am looking for falls in the $80,000-$85,000 range.
What not to do: Talk about how underpaid you are now or that you need to learn a lot because you have a huge mortgage. Your employer is not concerned with your financial overreach.
Is there anything we haven’t touched on that you would like to tell me?
For this one, you have to think quickly. Is there something you’d like to add? Did you get a chance to say everything you prepared as evidence for your employment?
There are two points you absolutely should make:
- You are grateful for the interview opportunity
- Having heard more about the position and meeting the interviewer, your enthusiasm for the job has only grown (unless you have realized it’s not the job for you, and then it is only fair to be honest about that).
Take a moment to think about it, but don’t feel compelled to come up with something if nothing jumps out at you. On the other hand, if you feel you need to clarify a point from earlier in the interview or expand upon a point that you strayed from, this is the time.
Also consider that if there is an appropriate moment before this question comes up, feel free to interject any of the points above.
Interview question sample answer if you have something else: I appreciate the question! I did want to clarify that I have worked on Bill.com, but it was not my primary responsibility. I know it would not take me much time to get up to speed and I am happy to complete some training before this job begins. Again, thank you for meeting with me. The job sounds like a great next step for me.
Interview question sample answer if you don’t have something else: Thank you for asking. I think you have done a great job of covering my experience and goals for a new position. I truly appreciate your time and I hope to hear from you soon!
What not to do: Summarize the entire interview or go off topic. When the interviewer asks if there’s something you’d like to add, they don’t want to know that your favorite baseball team is the Mets (unless, of course, you see Mets memorabilia in the office).
Example answers for interview questions that examine your thinking
Logic interview questions
Your interview may include questions in which you are asked to solve a difficult situation, especially if you’re applying for management, software, or consulting positions. These may be called logic or puzzle questions or brain teasers. Google, Apple, LinkedIn, and Facebook are famous for their difficult interviews that include problem questions.
Employers who ask these questions want insight into your reasoning skills. These questions test your ability to think creatively, analyze and solve problems, and stay calm under pressure.
Solve the mystery questions
The setup: You are provided with twenty-five different horses and you must find out who are the fastest horses. You can conduct a race of five horses only at one time. There is no point in the race where you can find out the actual speed of a horse in a race.
The problem: How many races will it take to help you determine the fastest three horses?
Approach this problem by breaking it down into steps. Use a process of elimination to find the fastest horse. Then, race the top slower horses against each other to find the other fastest racers.
Let the interviewer know what you are thinking and why you are doing what you are doing.
How many times a day do a clock’s hands overlap?
Take your time here and simply think it through. Don’t rush to a conclusion. Draw pictures if it helps, or visualize it in your head.
The setup: There are eight batteries, but only four of them work. You have to use them for a flashlight, which needs two working batteries.
The problem: What is the minimum number of battery pairs you need to test to ensure that the flashlight is turned on?
Group the batteries and create different combinations of possibilities. Once again, draw this out, create a grid, and label each battery, whatever works best for you. Before you give a final answer, review your process and then explain it to your interviewer.
How would you …? questions
Examples: How would you test a calculator? How would you get past a snarling lion?
These questions, and all the others like it, have no right answer. The interviewer’s goal here is to see how deeply you think about problem scenarios. Do you get frustrated and think there’s no good solution? Do you come up with creative ideas? How does your personality show in your answer? These are the true questions here.
Explain a difficult concept to someone with no experience in it
Examples: How would you explain music to a deaf person? How would you describe a flower to someone who has never seen one?
Our best advice for these is to get creative or scientific or detailed or arty. Show off the way you think.
Strategic planning questions
Example: A city wants to build a new subway line. How do you determine where to put it?
This question can be broken down into many pieces. First, you need to look at the big picture. What do you already know? What do you need to know? What factors are important for making this decision? How will you determine which factors take precedence over others? What is the goal of building the subway line?
Take care to list all the factors you used to make your decision and how you derived them. List your process step by step. Include your calculations and the logic behind your estimations.
Example: What is the weight of the Empire State Building?
Before you tackle one of these problems, you need to understand which category it falls into. You may be asked some version of “What is the weight of the Empire State Building?” This question requires estimating how much material each floor holds, the weight of the materials used in a floor, and knowing (or guesstimating) how many floors the building has.
Example: How many grocery stores are there in Chicago?
This question, “How many grocery stores are there in Chicago?” also requires estimation. This is a version of the classic format: “How many of an item are there in a certain area?” You need to consider population, area, and number of cars per person.
Example: How many baseballs will fit in a standard size elevator?
Another often asked question format: “How many of an item can fit in another item?” Similar to the two questions above, use logic to make estimations.
General tips for answering logic questions
- Make sure you understand the question; ask clarifying questions
- Take your time to think it through
- State your assumptions
- Explain your thought process
- Round any numbers to make estimates easier
- Break it down into steps
- Mention anything you think may mean your answer is not 100% accurate.
You can find dozens of interview question examples of this type online. For some of them, there is a correct answer, but for others, there is not. The key is in delving deeply enough into the problem to come up with an answer you can defend.
Practice makes perfect
Practice answering these questions ahead of time. There are dozens of them online that you can use to hone your technique. Below are a few lists to get you started:
Example interview questions you should ask
Remember that you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. You’re looking for the right job, not just a job. To that end, you should have your own list of questions to ask.
Depending on the flow of your interview, you may have more than one opportunity to interject a question, or you may come to the close of your interview only to be asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”
Your main options are questions related to:
- The position itself
- Measures of success in the role
- The company
- The hiring process
The questions below signal to the interviewer that, at this point in the interview, you are interested in the job and want to get a better idea of what it entails and what you may face if you are offered the position.
Five interview questions related to the job
- Can you describe a typical day in this position
- What challenges will a person in this position face?
- Can you describe the working style of the team/department
- How long is the average tenure in this position?
- Is there a path for advancement from this role?
Can you describe a typical day in this position?
You can gather a lot of information through understanding what a day (or week) in the life of this job looks like. The job ad offers a laundry list of responsibilities and necessary skills, but what you really want to know is about how much time you will be spending on each.
If you have your heart set on designing graphics for financial reports, but 80 percent of your time will be spent coordinating meetings, maybe it’s not the job for you.
You can also get a much better sense of how much time you will spend working alone or as a member of a team.
What challenges will a person in this position face?
Ask this question in your interview if you’re wondering whether the challenges you may face are ones you want to tackle. This also gives you a glimpse into what the interviewer thinks are challenges (that maybe you won’t).
Expect to get a measured response here based on the skills you may need to grow if you’re interviewing with the HR department. If you are interviewing with a prospective colleague, who knows? You may get a little inside information about team dynamics – not everyone is as discreet as HR would like.
Can you describe the working style of the team/department?
The answer here may help you decide if the job is a good fit for you. Does everyone work late? Are they on Slack all day? Are there only two people who come into the office? If you were lukewarm to the job before, getting these answers may heat you up, or turn you really cold. Either way, it’s better to know up front.
How long is the average tenure in this position?
There’s a sweet spot in job longevity and if the average tenure of the job you’re applying for falls far outside that range, it may give you pause.
If the position experiences high turnover, you’ll want to ask why. Are workers moving into positions of more responsibility or leaving the company altogether. There’s a big difference. On the other hand, if the last person stayed in the job for 15 years, is that because they loved it or because there was nowhere to go from there?
Average job tenure*
- The median length of tenure in a job for workers 16 and up is 4.1 years.
- Millennials last only 4 years, with those 25-34 leaving after 2.8 years.
- Workers ages 55-64 stay in their jobs an average of 9.8 years.
- Management (6.2 years), educational, training, and library occupations (5.5 years), architecture and engineering occupations (5.2 years), and legal occupations (4.7 years) have the highest median tenures.
- Food service workers last only 1.6 years at their jobs.
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Is there a path for advancement from this role?
You can ask this as a followup to the previous question or as a standalone inquiry. This shows the interviewer that you have ambition and may lead to a deeper discussion about your career goals. It also shows that you’re looking to find a great company to work for and stay there for the foreseeable future.
Interview questions about success in the role
Everyone, at every job, is judged in one way or another. Asking questions about the company’s measures of success will give you an idea of the company culture when it comes to communicating feedback.
Carefully listening to this answer will also help you discover whether the emphasis in the role is where you are comfortable. If your performance will be judged on responsibilities you feel are minor parts of the job, perhaps the role is skewed in the wrong direction for you.
Finally, you may find out what metrics are used to determine your bonuses or raises and what the process for that is.
Here are two interview questions about how success in the role will be judged:
- What would you like the person in this role to achieve in the first three months, six months, etc?
- Can you describe the qualities of the people who were great in this role?
What would you like the person in this role to achieve in the first three months, six months, etc?
This question goes to the heart of how quickly you will be expected to get up to speed and start contributing. Every job has a learning curve. How steep will this one be?
If you are eager to get your hands dirty and the company has a three-month training process, you may get frustrated and bored before you truly start your job. However, if you like to ease in and there’s a huge backlog sitting at a desk that’s been empty for two months, it’s good to know you’ll be expected to jump right in.
Can you describe the qualities of the people who were great in this role?
There’s no better way in an interview to tell an HR person that you want to shine than to ask how others did it. Certainly, your interviewer has an ideal fit for the role in their mind and once you know what that ideal is, you can point out the traits you have that match.
You can also offer an example of parallel qualities and skills that you have exhibited in previous positions.
The answer may also clue you in to whether you’re getting in over your head.
Interview questions about the company
Showing interest in the company is always a good idea. You did your homework, so ask questions that help you expand on your understanding or get a better feel for the working environment.
You can ask concrete questions about the company’s expansion plans or how it managed through Covid or softer questions about the culture and people.
Here are four questions about the company with which you are interviewing that you can modify to suit your needs:
- Can you describe the company culture?
- I know you put plans on hold because of the pandemic, how is your ramping up process going now?
- Why do you like working here?
- What type of person thrives here?
Can you describe the company culture?
Start this out by explaining that you read the website and have a general idea of the company’s philosophy, but that you are wondering more about … Some ideas to fill in this blank are camaraderie, collaboration, lateral movement, the importance of hierarchy, flexibility of hours or tasks, tolerance for creativity, etc.
I know you put plans on hold because of the pandemic, is there a timeline for ramping up again?
Ask this or similar operational questions to highlight that you know about the company, but also to get an idea of what’s coming. You may also ask about any policy changes (such as ability to work remotely) that the company is planning to review or has changed recently.
Why do you like working here?
You’re unlikely to get a negative answer here, but you may get an uncomfortable silence or an awkward response such as, “Well, my colleagues are nice” or “The paycheck is good.” If your interviewer can’t think of other reasons they like their job, that’s an alarm bell.
Happy employees will have several reasons why the company is a great place to work.
What type of person thrives here?
Consider asking this if you still don’t have a firm grasp of how you’d feel about the work environment. The answer can really help you decide whether you’re a good fit. If everyone gets together after work to rehash the week, and you just want to (or have to) get home, you may find it difficult to gel with the group.
The hiring process
These are the nitty gritty questions. Hopefully, at this point, you’ll have a sense of whether it’s going well or not (here’s hoping it is!) and that you still want the job.
You may already know what the whole process is, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate to your interviewer and follow up by asking what the timeframe is for decision-making. If you have other interviews scheduled, you can mention that again here, too, just to nudge the process.
It’s not the job for me
Congratulations, you’ve made it through the gauntlet of tough questions, but you’ve also realized that you really don’t want this job. What now?
Be honest. Simply state that you have learned during the process that the job isn’t for you, but you appreciate the opportunity.
Need more advice? Read our blog on declining a job offer.
Key takeaways for answering job interview questions
- Be prepared. Go over your answers to typical questions, even practicing in the mirror or with friends and family. Review your research on the company. Remember that these example interview questions may be phrased differently, but don’t let that throw you off your game. “Tell about a time when you were assigned a task that was too difficult” is not very different from “Tell me about a time when you failed and how you dealt with it.”
- Take your time. Don’t rush your answers. Think about what you want to say and then say it. You want to present a thoughtful image. You also don’t want to say the wrong thing and have to back track.
- Use your active listen skills. Look the interviewer in the eye (or look at the screen if your interview is via video). Listen carefully. That will help you answer the question that is being asked, but also be ready with a follow-up question if the interviewer is explaining things to you.
- Keep your answers positive. You’re looking forward to a new opportunity and you're excited about it. Of course, you’re looking for a reason that you're looking for a new job. Your current position isn’t perfect, but this one won’t be either. No one wants to hire a complainer or someone who doesn’t get along with coworkers.
- Be yourself. Yes, you’ll be nervous, but take a deep breath and put your best foot forward. Answer questions honestly, even if it means saying something you think the interviewer won’t like. You don’t want a job that isn’t right for you.
A final word: Always send a thank you acknowledgement for the interview. If you feel like you’ve been waiting too long, here’s how to send a follow-up.