Interview Questions: 25 Top Questions & Answers

interviewI’ve mentioned a few times on The Simple Dollar that I have conducted a substantial number of job interviews in the past. Although the jobs I usually hire for are technical in nature, most of the truly telling (and thus truly valuable) interview questions were non-technical questions. A great interview question reveals the nature of the person you’re hiring – honesty, reliability, ability to communicate intelligently and quickly, and so on.

Over time, I’ve collected a pretty good pile of questions that I use in almost every interview. Here are twenty five of the most reliable ones, along with a tip or two for each one that illustrates what makes a good answer – and what makes a bad one. Hopefully, the discussion here will provide some insightful questions for interviewers, as well as some things for potential job applicants to think about. If you can easily answer all of these questions, you shouldn’t have much to worry about in the interview. At the end, I give a checklist of “homework” a potential interviewer should do before a big interview.

First, stupid answers to stupid questions.
A lot of questions that are asked at job interviews are really stupid and have obvious answers to them. “What’s your greatest weakness?” That’s not a question that’s ever going to get a truly honest answer, and mostly it’s just going to draw something bogus like “I’m a workaholic!” Interviewers ask these questions because they’re “supposed” to, but they usually don’t give any useful information. “Do you consider yourself successful?” The answer is always yes. “Are you a team player?” The answer is always yes. “How long do you plan on working here?” The answer is always long-term. “What’s more important, the work or the money?” The work is always more important.

It’s easy to identify a nonsense interview question – is it easy for you to give a very generic and canned answer that reveals nothing about you? If it is, then don’t sweat the question and worry about ones that actually matter.

1. Tell me about yourself.
This basically just serves to make the person comfortable and gives me a chance to figure out how they talk. This is a question that every interviewee should be prepared to answer, so you should be able to deliver a steady answer here. Have something clear in mind for this one before you even go in the door. The “best” answer highlights aspects of yourself that make you stand out from Joe Average in a positive fashion. Make a list of four or five of the biggest ones, then work that into a thirty second bit.

2. Tell me what you know about us.
This question simply tries to determine if the person being interviewed has done their homework. An exceptional candidate will be able to deliver a lot of information about the company, but mostly this eliminates people who didn’t even bother to do minimal checking – these are people we don’t want. In other words, before you go to an interview, know what the organization is.

3. What sets you apart from other people that might apply for this job?
The answer is usually already known to the interviewer based on the resume, but this is a chance for you to really sell yourself. Most interviewers will usually sit back and see how well you can sell. On occasion, surprises can be good here, but this can be tricky – if it’s something that should have been on your resume, why was it not on your resume? You’re better off knowing what the cream of the crop of your resume is and just listing it out.

4. Describe to me the position you’re applying for.
This is a “homework” question, too, but it also gives some clues as to the perspective the person brings to the table. The best preparation you can do is to read the job description and repeat it to yourself in your own words so that you can do this smoothly at the interview.

5. Why are you interested this position?
This is actually something of a trick question, because it’s just a way of re-asking the second question (what you know about the company) and the fourth (what you know about the position). It’s asked because it tells whether people give flippant answers to questions (things like “because I’m a people person”) or whether they think about things and give a genuine question. This is a good question to formulate an answer for in advance – basically, just come up with a few things that seem intriguing to you about the company and the position and reasons why they interest you.

6. What aspect of this position makes you the most uncomfortable?
Most people think this is some sort of filter, but it’s rarely used that way. This is actually an honesty question. No one on earth will like every aspect of every potential job – it’s just not in us. Location? Working hours? People? The company’s too big? The company’s too small? Honesty really works here – I’d prefer to hear a genuine reason for discomfort (particularly one that comes from real observation of the company) than a platitude that isn’t really a discomfort at all. A good way to answer is something like “I’ve never worked in a company this large before” or “I’ve heard some strange things about the corporate culture” or “The idea of working for a startup at such an early stage makes me nervous.”

7. What was the biggest success you had at your last job?
8. What was the biggest failure you had at your last job?
It’s usually good to pair these questions, but the important one is the biggest failure. The best applicant is usually someone who will admit that they made a disaster out of something (they’re fairly honest and willing to admit errors) and that they learned from it, an incredibly important trait.

9. Tell me about the best supervisor you’ve ever had.
10. Tell me about the worst supervisor you’ve ever had.
These two questions simply seek to figure out what kind of management style will work best for this person and also how that person is likely to manage people. Let’s say I work in an organization with a very loose-knit management structure that requires a lot of self-starting. If that’s the case, I want to either hear that the “best” boss was very hands-off or that the “worst” boss was a micromanager. On the other hand, if I came from a strict hierarchical organization, I might want to see the exact opposite – a “best” boss that provided strong guidance and a good relationship or a “worst” boss that basically left the applicant to blow in the wind. Your best approach is to answer this as honestly as possible – the interviewer will have a good idea of the corporate culture and, frankly, if you try to slip into a company where you don’t match the culture, you’ll have a very hard time fitting in and succeeding. These questions might be worded as “what kind of management style works for you.”

Another tip: highlight positives in all of the bosses you discuss. Never turn the interview into a bash-fest of anyone. Your worst boss should have a very small number of specific flaws and they should mostly relate to diverging expectations from you, not in bad character traits. Bashing someone during an interview just reflects poorly on you, so don’t jump for the bait.

11. Tell me about the most difficult project you ever faced.
The interviewer could usually care less what the exact project is. The question is mostly looking to see if you have faced serious difficulty and how you overcame it. For most people, this isn’t their biggest success or biggest failure, but something that they turned from a likely failure into some sort of success.

12. What do you see as the important future trends in this area?
This works well for some positions – technical ones and leadership ones – and not well for others. It should be pretty obvious from the type of job you’re applying for whether this question might be asked. If it is, it’s easy to prepare for – just spend a half an hour reading some blogs on the specific areas you’re applying for and you’ll have some food.

13. Have you done anything in the last year to learn new things/improve yourself in relation to the requirements of this job?
This is a great “deer in the headlights look” question, as most people simply don’t have an answer. The best way to handle this question is simply to always spend some time working on your skills in whatever way you can. Write open source code. Participate in Toastmasters. Take a class. If you put effort into improving yourself every year, you’ll not only have a strong resume, but this question will be a non-issue.

14. Tell me about your dream job.
Never say this job. Never say another specific job. Both answers are very bad – the first one sends the warning flags flying and the second one says that the person’s not really interested in sticking around. Instead, stick to specific traits – name aspects of what would be your dream job. Some of them should match what the company has available, but it’s actually best if they don’t all perfectly match.

15. Have you ever had a serious conflict in a previous employment? How was it resolved?
This question mostly looks for honesty and for the realization that most conflicts have two sides to a story. It also opens the door for people with poor character to start bashing their previous employer, something which leaves a bad taste in most interviewers’ mouths. The best way to answer usually involves telling the story, but showing within it that there are two sides to that story and that you’ve learned from the experience to try to see the other person’s perspective.

16. What did you learn from your last position?
Although it’s fine to list a technical skill or two here, particularly if your job is very technical, it’s very important to mention some non-technical things. “I learned how to work in a team environment after mostly working in solo environments” is a good one, for example. There should be no job where you learned nothing, and the interviewer is expecting that you learned at least a few things at your previous employment that will help at your current one.

17. Why did you leave your last position?
Mostly, this is looking for conviction of character. A strong, concrete answer of any reasonable sort is good here. “I wanted to move on” is not a strong answer. Downsizing is a good answer, as is a desire to seek specific new challenges (but be specific on what challenges you want to face). Minimize your actual discussion of your previous position here, as you’ll be very close to a big opportunity to start bashing your previous position.

18. Tell me about a suggestion that you made that was implemented at a previous job.
Since these answers usually are heavily involved with the specifics of the previous position, the specifics aren’t really important. What’s most important is that you actually have been involved in making a suggestion and helping it come to fruition, ideally with some success story behind it. Having done so indicates that you’re willing to do the same at this position, which can do nothing but improve an organization. Not having an answer of some sort here is generally a sizeable negative, but not a “do or die” negative.

19. Have you ever been asked to leave a position? Tell me about the experience.
Obviously, it’s great if you can answer “no,” but it’s usually not a deal breaker if the answer is “yes.” In fact, a “yes” answer can be turned into a positive – it’s a great way to show that you’ve made mistakes and learned valuable lessons from them. Be honest here, no matter what, but don’t spend time bashing the people that let you go. Only discuss them with respect, even if you’re angry about what happened.

20. Have you ever had to fire anyone? Tell me about the experience.
This is a question that is mostly looking to see if you have empathy for others. Take it dead seriously when answering – it should not have been an easy choice or an easy experience, but one that you handled and survived. Do not bash the person you fired, either – be as clinical as possible with the reasons.

21. Are you applying for other jobs?
This is an honesty question. I’m looking for “yes,” but people who are trying too hard to feed me a line of nonsense answer “no.” The best way to answer is to say “Yes, in much the same way that you’re interviewing other people. We’re both trying to find the best fit for what we need and what we want.” If your answer is truly no, then say so – “No, I’m actually happy with my current position, but there were a few compelling aspects of this job that made me want to follow up on it” and list those aspects.

22. What do you feel this position should pay?
Surprising to many, this is often not salary negotiation. In most cases, the person you’re interviewing with has little control over the final salary you’ll get. It’s usually used as a reality check – if you’re hiring a janitor and they expect $80K, you can probably toss the resume right then and there. At the same time, a highly-skilled programmer selling themselves at $30K is also setting off some warning bells. A good answer is usually on target or a bit on the high side, but not really low or insanely high. I’d get an idea of the asking rate for the position before I ever go to the interview, then request about 30% more.

23. Where do you see yourself in your career in five years?
This is something of a “junk” question, but it is useful in some regards as it filters for people with initiative. A person who answers something along the lines of “I’m going to be successful in this position that I’m interviewing for!” is either not incredibly motivated to improve themselves or isn’t being totally honest. I’d rather have an answer that involves either promotion or some level of enterpreneurship – strong organizations thrive on self-starters. The only problem for potential interviewees is that some companies – weak ones, usually – don’t want self-starters and are particularly afraid of people who dream of becoming entrepreneurs. Talking about promotion is thus usually the safest bet if you’re not familiar with the culture, but I personally love it when people interviewing talk about entrepreneurship – that means they’re the type that will be intense about succeeding.

24. What are your long-term goals – say, fifteen years down the road?
This is a great late question because it tells you whether the person is a long-term thinker or not. People that plan for the long term are usually in a good, mature mental state and will often wind up being stronger workers than people without long-term plans.

25. Do you have any questions about this job?
Yes, you do have questions about this job. Not having questions is a sign that you aren’t really that interested in the position. Thus, your job as an interviewee is to have a few questions already in mind when you walk in the door. Most interviewers are happy to answer most anything you ask them – just make sure your questions are intelligent ones, though.

Do Your Homework!

Here are the things you should do in advance of any interview that will help you handle almost all of the questions above.

Work on a very brief description of yourself that you can bust out at any interview. The big trick is to mention things that are unusual or even unique to you, but stick to the things that are either positive or (at worst) neutral – keep the negatives to yourself unless they’re tied to a big positive. A thirty second spiel will do.

Research the company by visiting their web site and finding out exactly what they do. Good things to read include the company’s most recent annual report and their Wikipedia entry (if they’re big) or just by Googling the company’s name and location (if they’re small). If it’s a startup, just try to absorb as much as you can from whatever sources you can get, but if it’s truly a tiny startup, don’t sweat it if you can’t find much information.

Research the position by reading the job posting very carefully and looking up any pieces that you don’t know. You might also want to refresh yourself on what’s cutting edge in the areas covered by the job posting by reading up a bit if you’re not already familiar – blogs and news sites are a good place to start. You should also get a good grip on the regular starting salary for this type of job by searching around for similar jobs near your location.

Know how you match the position by taking the pieces of the company information you found and the job posting and matching them to your skills. Do about five of these, as these are going to be silver bullets during the interview. Also, identify at least one thing that makes you uncomfortable about the company and position and think about why it makes you uncomfortable.

Always work to improve your skills by participating in activities that sharpen the key skills you need for the field you’re in. Are you in public relations? Join a Toastmasters group. Are you an administrative assistant? Do volunteer work for an organization that could use your skills but does things in a different way (the same goes for many tradespeople). Are you a programmer? Contribute to an open source project.

Have a few questions about the position in mind when you walk in the door. This creates a strong impression during the interview that you are actually interested in that specific position, which is a big positive for you. Questions of all kinds are good here, but the best ones usually address corporate culture and technical specifics of the job.

Do not bash your previous job. If there are specific things about your last job that really, really irritate you, spend some time trying to think of positives about it. Know when you go in that your previous job will likely be discussed at least to a degree, and be prepared to discuss it without being negative. Look for positives, and also be able to state the reasons for leaving as clinically as possible.

Be honest, above all else. If you make up things at your interview and you slip at all, the interviewer will toss your application in the trash. Instead, just try to focus on the positives of what you already have. If you’ve made it to the interview, there’s something the organization likes about you. Don’t waste time inventing stuff to say.

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  1. Good set of questions!

    Interviewing and hiring are such difficult processes, and sometimes it feels like a good result is more a matter of luck than skill. It depends a lot on the pool of people who apply for a job.

    Some jobs are so poorly paid that they attract–let’s face it–a poor pool of candidates. So what you end up with, in the end, is a choice between the least dreadful of two or three finalists. This was true every time we advertised for the 50% FTE admin secretary at the state office I direct. Last time I hired, I had a choice between Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum: two eccentric older women, both desperate for any job that would give them health-care insurance, whose backgrounds and personalities were so similar they could have been sisters.

    It’s almost impossible to fire a nonexempt state employee. Thank goodness, after four long, HORRIBLE years, the one I hired finally quit! We waved goodbye to her on Friday. I persuaded my boss to eliminate our office’s secretarial position, since the incumbent had been so incompetent all the jobs we needed to have done were taken over by people in a different office. With the funds budgeted for an admin secretary, we will get another research assistant or associate — since candidates for those positions are career-oriented graduate students, they’re generally competent (or get that way fast) and rarely nut cases.

    If I’m ever in a position where none of the candidates attracted by a job search is ideal, where there’s even so much as the vaguest whiff of incompetence, stupidity, weirdness, or wackiness, I am going to refuse to hire. Period. Affirmative Action will just have to have its little collective fit. Let them can me: never again will I go through what I’ve been through over the past four years!

  2. Minimum Wage says:

    Have you done anything in the last year to learn new things/improve yourself in relation to the requirements of this job?

    What kind of ridiculous question is this? What would a hamburger flipper do to improve themself in relatiuon to the requirements of the job?

  3. Matt says:

    Great list of questions Trent – I found that every since I was the interviewer I ended up being a far better interviewee. It gives you a good perspective to to see both sides of the picture and when you’ve been in the hiring position before I find that you tend to interview the interviewer.

  4. This is an excellent post, Trent. I recently graduated college and had worked in the career office. Your advice is exactly what the career mentors recommend.

    After being on both sides of the interview table, I believe the most important task for the interviewee is to determine the interviewer’s interests.

    For instance, I interviewed students for an internship which required strong knowledge of Microsoft Excel and an interest in streamlining processes. A couple interviewees learned this right away, and they targeted every single response to let me know that they were problem solvers.

    Were they better candidates than the others? Hard to say, but I would have hired them since they were able to illustrate their ‘fit’ for the position.

  5. Eric says:

    I’ve served on search committees for college professor positions. I teach in a very ethnically diverse area. We’ll often ask a few questions about that, partially to see how well they’ve researched us, and partially to see if this position is for them.

    You would be shocked how many people with advanced degrees walk in to an interview and get surprised by those questions.

    When you find someone who doesn’t even realize they are applying to one of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the region, it says to us that they are looking for “a job”, not “this job”.

  6. John Lanzi says:

    Thank you very much for explaining the sense of a lot of strange questions interviewers have done me during the last interviews I have done. Fortunately they were successful

  7. Sean says:

    Great list of information. I know this would have been handy when I changed jobs after 4 years at a pharmacy. I bombed the first interview because I was not prepared for these type questions.

  8. Julie says:

    Thanks for this list, Trent. I’m actually going through a few interviews this week, so it’s very helpful.

    @Minimum Wage: I think it’s still possible. If you’re a hamburger flipper and you’re applying for a job as, say, a secretary, you might say that you’ve:
    – made an effort to learn to handle constructive criticism from superiors and customers
    – increased your skill at handling rush times, which in turn allows you to be a better multi-tasker and work well under pressure
    – read blogs or trade journals about your intended industry (this can be done in off-work hours)
    – taken a course at a community college (if you have, of course)
    – made an effort to work well with *all* members of your team, even the ones you might not have liked on a personal level (shows a commitment to teamwork)

    I could probably come up with more, but the point is that you can relate just about anything if you think hard enough. While, like Trent said, the *best* way to answer is to actually have taken some effort to improve yourself in relation to the job you’re applying for, you can take aspects of your current job (soft skills, for example) and apply them to your new one, as well. It just takes a little thought and creativity.

  9. Very perceptive list – and surprisingly similar to the sort of thing we have in the UK. Check out “Get a job working in the countryside industry” http://www.naturenet.net/people/getajob.html where the distilled experience of many (slightly cynical) years behind the interview desk is presented.

  10. Lisa B says:

    @Minimum Wage:
    How about the flipper learning some management skills so he/she can be considered for a promotion to the next level in the Hamburger Flipping organization…Just because you flip burgers now doesn’t mean you have to do it forever…no excuses!

  11. Sam says:

    Long-time reader, first-time poster here. I just wanted to say that in the interviews I have conducted, we ask “what is your greatest weakness” and it is NOT a filler question for us. In fact, a candidate who gives a canned answer may have just lost any chance at the job. We are looking for self-awareness. If someone is very nervous and not speaking clearly, then they better say that talking to people in pressure situations is a weakness. If they say “I care too much” or something like that, it shows that they are going to be difficult to train on any behavioral issues. If the person has told stories about going it alone, then they get huge points for saying that their weakness is that they aren’t good at working with others – and they have taken steps to improve. You get the idea. Anyway, Trent gave some great advice overall, and the honesty that he mentioned a number of times will serve you well on this question, too.

  12. Wylie says:

    Nice list. One thing I think you give too little credit to though is that the interview is your best opportunity to find out if you really do want the job. A job that is great on paper may be a nightmare if you’re working in a terrible environment.

    You say:

    “Have a few questions about the position in mind when you walk in the door. This creates a strong impression during the interview that you are actually interested in that specific position, which is a big positive for you.”

    More important than creating the impression- you should actually be interested and should really try and get a sense of the culture, of how well supported this role and department are in the organization. What the group is like if it will work in a team, etc. You may like departments that are left alone to do their own thing, you may like roles that are highly structured. Job descriptions don’t communicate these things, but current employees can paint a good picture for you.

    If an interview candidate does not actively ask me and others in an interview probing questions about what it is like to work where I work, what are pros and cons, what is the culture like, etc. I will actively try and prompt them to do so. If they don’t bite, I never recommend them. Even if they have strong skills for the work, the risk is too great that they will not fit in- are not mindful of what goes no around them and what role their personality plays in shaping that environment.

    I’m not looking for the candidate to nail anything specific, but choosing a job impacts most of your daylight hours- if you are not ACTUALLY interested in what the living through that time will be like, I’m not going to take a risk that you’ll give it a test run and leave or worse, show up and not engage in helping the area function or even… grow!

    Best,

    Wylie

    http://wyliemoney.blogspot.com/

  13. Mrs. Micah says:

    I HATE #3. I can tell people excellent things about myself, but I hate the phrasing. How the heck am I supposed to know what the other candidates have that I don’t? It’d differ from person to person. Augh.

    I do my best to do what you’ve said here on it, but I don’t like it.

    Thanks for the list of tips. It’s always good to hear it from the interviewers’ perspective.

  14. Minimum Wage says:

    How about the flipper learning some management skills so he/she can be considered for a promotion to the next level in the Hamburger Flipping organization…Just because you flip burgers now doesn’t mean you have to do it forever…no excuses!

    That assumes the hamburger flipper wants to manage other hamburger flippers. I flipped hamburgers one summer and decided I never wanted to work in that kind of environment again – nope, not even in management.

  15. AnKa says:

    Good list- but I have seen most of this before. Now if someone wanted to write a list to determine if I actually wanted the job, I would be excited. It seems hard to figure out what the job really is, what the people/company culture are really like, etc. And I am sure we can all agree that being stuck in a position you hate is a wasted investement of all sorts!

  16. Howard Rabb says:

    I am in the process of opening a store right now here in Burlington, Ontario. I need to hire 15 people and am looking forward to using many of these questions on my next interviews.

  17. Tommy says:

    @Minimum Wage

    Training does not have to come one the job – if you flip burgers, you are doing what some call “unskilled labor”. But if you at the same time take care to ensure that you improve yourself – say by joining toastmasters, taking classes at a community collage, doing part time work, etc then I would be much more willing to hire you even if what you did learn was not directly relevant to the job as it shows a can do attitude.

    On the other hand, a comment like that would be a strong push over to the “not hire” side as it implies an attitude of learned helplessness* – the last thing you want in an employee.

    *it is a psychological phenomenon whereby you convince yourself there is something you cannot do. This will prevent you from even trying later on (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness)

  18. Dee says:

    Fantastic post, Trent.

    On my first post-grad interview, I completely bombed the “tell me about yourself” question because I naively thought they wanted to know about my hobbies and what I did in my spare time. Eeek! I mentioned shopping and hanging out with my friends (!) A few career site articles later and I realized what a big mistake I made.

  19. Ben says:

    Great post. As someone who does a ton of interviews, I like to make sure that the person wants the job – so I go out of my way to make sure they understand what will be expected of them completely.

    And I actually use a lot of these questions! Maybe I’m doing something right.

  20. i40 says:

    This was a great post.

    I did an interview where I got what I thought was a great question, though it probably applies mainly to technical people. He asked me, “If we hired you, and told you to just go and work on whatever you want, create your own project with no input from us at all, what would it be?”

    It’s like your #12 on steroids. I nailed it, too.

  21. Minimum Wage says:

    *it is a psychological phenomenon whereby you convince yourself there is something you cannot do. This will prevent you from even trying later on (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learned_helplessness)

    When I apply for a job, I am confident I can do an excellent job. My grades and test scores were in the top 5 percent, so I know I have above-average intelligence for most jobs. (Rocket scientist is out.)

    But I have no confidence that I couldf actually get hired, so my skills and abilities are irrelevant.

  22. Todd D says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with the common sentiment that these are good questions. They aren’t terrible questions, but they are incredibly overused and more than a little dull. Almost all of them show up in every behavioral interviewing guide/book out there. When I’m interviewing somebody (or being interviewed) it’s nice to see a little creativity in the questioning. Use 1 or 2 from this list, but be original – it shows the candidate that you (and the company) are a little different and a little special.

    I disagree vehemently with #24. If you asked this question in 1993 (15 years ago) how many people would have said *anything* having to do with the Internet? Point being – aside from some high level platitude like ‘own my own company’ or ‘get a phd’ – any serious attempt at answering this question is a little naive towards the reality of how rapidly things evolve in this day and age.

  23. no longer min wage says:

    minimum wage, if u know u won’t get hired, then why r u reading this post at all. Beforre u can put these suggestions to use, u need to work on your attitude first. Believe it or not ur attitude would come across in the application process very early on…u won’t even get an interview, so these questions won’t even help you.

  24. Rose says:

    Good set of questions. Having done a lot of interviews at my old job I have a couple things to add:

    – Don’t freak if you can’t answer all the questions, especially in technical interviews. It does not mean the interview was a bust. I had to interview people for a very intense team so needed a way to filter out those who can’t handle a little stress. One or two questions wasn’t about the perfect answer it was about how they handled not having a perfect answer.

    – Give all questions equal respect, even if they seem dumb or simple. I’ve heard of people interviewing as a software architect not get a job because they were asked a basic 1st year computer science question, stumbled on it and instead of correcting replied, “That question is beneath me!”

    – Stop and think when asked a questions like “Are you sure of your answer?” This is also mainly for technical. This is either the interviewers way of letting you catch a simple mistake or a way of them checking to see how you are checking your work. Never just immediately say yes. Go over what you did and say the self checks you are doing out loud. Even if you still miss the mistake the interviewer may right it off to nerves if you show good self check skills.

  25. GCM says:

    Trent:

    I am a regular reader of your blog, and a regular cross-poster at my place too.

    First of all, a brilliant collection. I do use quite a few of these. These are really good for personality analysis of the candidate. A person may be the greatest coder on the earth, but if he does not have a vision, or if he is not honest, I would not want to hire him. Kudos !

    OT: brilliant image – where do you get your images from?

    GCM

  26. Pete says:

    I have to very strongly agree with Todd D – there’s nothing particularly impressive about this list of questions. A handful *could* be quite worthwhile, depending somewhat on how they’re asked. Some are bland time-fillers, probably useful just to start off or to move past awkward moments. 1, 2 and 4 are okay time-fillers. 3 might be okay but is poorly worded (technically impossible to answer unless the candidate has seen all the CVs of the opposition).

    However, quite a few are just plain intrusive and with no justification other than the baseless and self-deluding “how they answer gives the interviewer important information, really it does!” Sadly enough, Trent actually points out this sort of question, but doesn’t seem to realise how many of his questions still fall into this category (or worse).

    The intrusive (most of which are also useless) list includes 5 to 11, 13, 14, 15, definitely 17, 19, 20, 21, very definitely 19, 20 and 21.

    I would make some allowances for 5, 7, 8 and 11 (yes they’re intrusive, but justifiable in most cases) – though I’d recommend rephrasing the last three to be less extreme. By which I mean – it doesn’t need to be the *biggest* success, the *biggest* failure, the *most* difficult project – just *a* success/failure, *a* difficult project. They’re really just ways to open up lines of discussion, there’s no need to be overly dramatic. I actually quite enjoy answering 7, 8 and 11 in interviews.

    22, however, is in a different category. It’s just abusive and bordering on sadistic (as well as unprofessional). There’s no way such a question should ever be asked if it’s not salary negotiation. And if the interviewer doesn’t have any control over the final salary, there’s just no situation where it’s appropriate to discuss the topic. Even if the interviewee brings it up, all the interviewer should do is say something like “I don’t have any control over that, you can discuss it with $PERSON later on.”

    23 and 24 are the same type of question – both are intrusive and probably shouldn’t be asked as a general rule, though I wouldn’t put them in quite the same category as the offensively invasive ones like 17, 19, 20 and 21. Much as with 5, 7, 8 and 11; there *may* be some value in them, but don’t expect any.

    25 is fine, but you really shouldn’t put too much weight on it (depending again very much on the type of job it is) – but I find it amusing when people pontificate stuff like “not having questions is a sign that you aren’t really interested.” Yeah, that sounds like it’s based on a *really* reliable kind of anecdotal evidence. :-)

    But seriously, what interviewee (who actually *wants* the job in question) will outright refuse to answer one of the questions an interviewer might ask? (aside from stubborn bastards like me, I mean :))

    Some of the most popular intrusive questions of yesteryear may now be illegal, but none of these questions are (well, number 20 could be somewhat dicey). But even when asked an illegal question, there’s little practical chance of recourse – if you protest, you *may* be able to get the interviewer/employer punished – but the only thing you can be absolutely sure of is that you won’t get the job. Much the same applies for the legal-but-inappropriate questions – well, at least the no-chance-of-getting-the-job part.

    Interviewers, don’t abuse your position. Ask what really needs to be asked. Don’t ask questions that won’t give you *real* information in making a decision. And don’t ask uselessly invasive questions just because you can.

  27. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Pete, based on your comment, you’re pretty obviously a programmer and aren’t looking at hiring people who aren’t programmers. This list is looking at a wide variety of traits in people – you’re probably not looking at some of these traits if you’re just hiring a code monkey.

  28. Praveen says:

    nice list, thanks. i think there is a lack of site the helps in last minute preparation of interviews. I am going to start one after oracletube.com

    cheers,
    Praveen.

  29. guinness416 says:

    It’s certainly worth having an answer for all of these, although there are several I’ve never asked or been asked. They’re definitely preferable to stupid “catch you out” puzzles etc too.

    As another interviewer, for the job seekers reading I would echo Rose – don’t freak out if you can’t answer something, and would also add that no question is really a dealbreaker, it’s the responses as a whole.

    Number 25 is certainly the most important; interviewers sometimes forget that they are being interviewed by the job seeker too – I have used that opportunity to the fullest, including such things as asking to see the office floor and location I’d be working at.

  30. Minimum Wage says:

    minimum wage, if u know u won’t get hired, then why r u reading this post at all. Beforre u can put these suggestions to use, u need to work on your attitude first. Believe it or not ur attitude would come across in the application process very early on…u won’t even get an interview, so these questions won’t even help you.

    When I apply for a job, I believe I am an excellent candidate for the position. What’s wrong with that attitude?

  31. Kelly says:

    Minimum Wage, that’s a silly thing to say. Earlier you said that you have no belief that you will be hired – that was the attitude in question. If you believe that you are an excellent candidate, you should believe that you can be hired. If you are projecting an attitude that says “you’ll never hire me”, the interviewer will doubtlessly pick up on it and agree. No one wants to hire an employee that has a negative attitude.

    By the way, quite a while back I suggested that you try applying as a front desk clerk/night auditor for a hotel, and you didn’t respond to the thread. I’d like to know if you ever considered it. The pay isn’t bad, and due to a lot of turnover (it is a tough job) you can usually find a position. There are also lots of promotion opportunities available in the hospitality industry, once you have experience.

  32. Minimum Wage says:

    Being able to do a specific job well is one thing, being able to GET the job is something else entirely.

    I am overweight and missing a front tooth; I know perfectly well that I won’t get hired for a front desk position no matter how qualified I might be.

    Also, since I have many years of menial job experience without anything that could be considered career-related, I also recognize that my resume is virtually worthless. There is a major disconnect between my skills and my job experience, and I don’t know how to make any advantage of that.

  33. Jamie says:

    Excellent tips Trent!

    About Nº 23, in my last interview the guy asked me that and I honestly told him about my plans of starting my own business…guess who got the job? ;) Sure it’s a risky bet to answer like that but maybe you’re better off not working for these kind of organizations.

    A killer question to ask your interviewer (that I use in the same interview) is: What were the defining traits of this organization that make you choose it?

    Prepare, be yourself (as cheesy as it sounds) and smile! Good luck!

  34. Kelly says:

    Minimum Wage,

    Perhaps you should consider a getting a small loan to pay for an implant or a bridge. Since your appearance is very important regarding your job prospects, it is a reasonable investment.

    In the meantime, you could still try to get a job as a night auditor. While you probably wouldn’t get hired in the better hotels, you could probably find a position in a budget hotel. As a night auditor, you have less to do with the general public than the regular front desk clerks, so the missing tooth would be less of a factor. I suspect that the weight problem would be a non-issue in most places, unless you are actually morbidly obese. This would allow you to work part time during the day, and you could save-up money for the implant, if you were unable to get the loan. You would also be getting valuable experience for your resume for when you’re ready to approach the better hotels.

  35. tabuxander says:

    Great article..thanks. This is the good tool for preparing an interview.

  36. Saeed says:

    Thank you

    Great questions. Great advice!

  37. g. says:

    @minimum wage and his opponents.

    I believe this is a bit of misunderstanding here.
    “Have you done anything in the last year to learn new things/improve yourself in relation to the requirements of this job?”

    It’s *this* job we’re talking about, the one you apply for. Not *that* job (i.e flipping burgers) that you had last year.
    And the purpose is imho to find out if your skills you think you have a match for the new job are not acquired many years ago and therefore rusty.
    My 2 cents…

  38. Nikki W says:

    Whether or not some folks might think these are dull – as some “mentioned” above… truth is, most are classic questions, and for a good reason. They are dependable. They delve into solid information that the interviewer needs to know, in a straightforward way. A solid, not tricky question set is useful as well, as you can focus on the interaction with the interviewee. Additionally, from the interviewee’s perspective, they can focus on selling themselves and making their point, not on figuring out if it is a trick question or what in the world a poorly worded question is “really” getting at. Further, as an interviewee, if you are prepared to answer the above, the chances are, you have been working on your interview skills and have thought through your reasons for interviewing and what you have to offer. As an interviewee, being asked semi-standard questions for at least the bulk of the “Set” part of the interview, means to me I’m being considered and treated as a legal, non-discriminated standard interviewee. (I was once rejected outright and knew in the first five minutes of an interview… because I was not asked any of their standard questions… in an off-campus interview when I was completely qualified for the job… I just “fell outside physical norms.”)
    So it is legally important, as an interviewer, to ask at least the bulk of your questions for a job consistently of all your candidates. And it is good, as an interviewee, to have solid questions asked of you – because you also want to feel they care enough to ask the right questions of you. (Why don’t they care what I accomplished? Why don’t they want to know why I want the job… are they so desperate they will take anyone? Is it all subjective?).
    I’ve been on both sides of the fence in the last month – for multiple levels as an interviewer (we interview in teams), and sitting in for my first interview in a couple years, for a promotion this week.

    VERY helpful. I recommend saying your answers out loud, and preferrably with a friend or sig other, until you feel comfortable articulating them verbally. (Have them watch for body language and “ums…”) Not to become a rote parrot, but to feel more fluid in your speech. Lastly, if you get a question you are not clear on – or if you want to gain more time for one – DO pause, think, and then repeat it back to them (paraphrase), asking if you have it correct. I respect someone who rephrases, queries, or delves further into what we are looking for, than pat answers spouted off quickly.

  39. Shasta says:

    Great set with one disagreement: I do not think ‘being honest’ should be recommended. Being honest, like the answer you give, should be spun so that the interviewer hears what they want – IMHO. Honesty does not pay off in corporate america and I’ve seen it literally backfire on both candidates and current employees. I’d say it’s better to rehearse a pollyanna version of the truth before laying out any version of real honesty during an interview.

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