At 18, I interviewed for a job at a local produce store. I was interviewed by three people, including the owner, and, for the most part, I felt confident. That was, until I got a question out of left field:
“If you were a character from Winnie the Pooh, who would you be?”
This question completely threw me off, but I managed to pull it together in order to quickly answer something about Rabbit and being extremely organized – I would be stocking produce after all.
That question was obviously quite peculiar, sticking out in my memory of the situation. During the interview process, you may also find yourself on the end of an unexpected question. Familiarize yourself with these common interview questions and use them to prepare for your next interview.
You can thank me when you get a job offer.
40 Common Job Interview Questions
These common interview questions should be used to develop your answers for an upcoming interview. Don’t overthink it though, most interviewers just want you to answer authentically. Avoid scripting your responses too much to allow yourself freedom in the moment. You want your answers to be thought out, but not rigid.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Likely to be one of the first items of business during a job interview, this question provides the interviewer with context into who you are while validating what you’ve stated in your application and resume. Answering this question naturally and confidently can set a relaxed tone to the interview and start things off on a positive note.
|TIP: Find a way to tie in your past experiences with the role you’re applying for, and you’ll be golden.|
How did you hear about the position?
A straightforward question that should be easy to answer. Explain simply what sourced you to the position, whether it be a recruiter, an employee referral, a job board, a public listing, or some other origin.
|TIP: This can be an opportunity to share what about the position or the company drew you in.|
What do you know about the company?
If you’ve made it to the interview stage, it’s time to do a deep dive into researching the company. The interviewer is trying to ensure you are aware of what the company does and how you can help its overall mission.
|TIP: Mention the company’s values or something about its culture and why you can connect with it.|
Who are our competitors?
Another question that requires a little research. A clear answer to this shows that you understand the industry landscape and have a good idea of where the company ranks in comparison.
|TIP: Never be afraid to say you don’t know. It’s better than lying and getting it wrong.|
Why do you want this job?
An interviewer wants to hire someone who is passionate about the work they do. Express your enthusiasm for the job and use a few keywords from the job description to highlight what excites you.
|TIP: Keep it positive and focused on the position. Now is not the time to complain about the job you’re at currently or circumstances in your life that are driving a career change.|
Why should we hire you?
Brag about yourself. No really, it’s fine. Even though it may seem unnatural, paint yourself in the best light and share why you’re the best candidate for the role. Develop an answer that covers three things: (1) that you can deliver great work; (2) that you'll fit in with the team and culture; and (3) that you'd be the best hire.
|TIP: Specific examples make all the difference.|
What is your greatest professional achievement?
There’s almost nothing more valuable than a candidate that can produce measurable results. Answer with a fairly detailed account of the achievement and what got you to that point.
|TIP: An award may technically be considered an achievement, but instead focus on a professional outcome that your efforts directly influenced.|
What can you offer us that someone else can not?
Every candidate is going to relate their skills and experience to the job. What makes you unique? Do some introspection beforehand to determine what separates you from the pack.
|TIP: Don’t go negative about other candidates. Highlight what makes YOU different. Not what makes everyone else the same.|
What are your strengths?
When answering this question, most people will say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Instead, provide an honest assessment of yourself and find a way to make that relevant to the job.
|TIP: Provide an example of how your strength manifested itself in the workplace.|
What are your weaknesses?
Aside from looking for red flags, interviewers want to know if you can be honest and self-aware. Again, look for an authentic and work-related flaw that you’re working to improve upon.
|TIP: Discuss how you’re working to improve this weakness or steps you take to avoid it affecting your work on a day-to-day basis.|
Tell me about a challenge or conflict you've faced at work, and how you dealt with it.
A behavioral interview question like this gets at the heart of what your conflict resolution style is. An anecdote about a challenge you overcame can set you apart from other candidates for the role.
|TIP: Rather than just explaining how you dealt with a conflict, go a step further and explain why you took the steps you did.|
Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
Really hitting on the honesty and self-awareness traits, a good answer to this prompt shows that you can own up to your mistakes while also analyzing and reflecting on how to avoid similar mistakes in the future.
|TIP: Discuss what you could have done better to prevent the mistake or what you’ve learned from it.|
What is your favorite website/brand/social media account?
This is, generally speaking, a culture-based question. You can tell a lot about a person by their online preferences. Depending on your industry (and especially if you’re in tech), try to come up with an answer that’s relevant to the company, your role, or a hobby of yours.
|TIP: Be able to explain why it’s your favorite as well.|
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Interviewers want to hire someone with aspirations, albeit realistic ones. It’s okay to be a little broad in your answer. Explain some of your hopes for your career that you think are attainable throughout the next five years.
|TIP: Explain how the job you’re applying for can help you reach those long-term goals.|
What's your dream job?
Clearly explain your career aspirations and how the job you’re interviewing for can help you gain the skills to end up in that position. This can be an opportunity to even explain how you’d like to expand and grow the role beyond the job description.
|TIP: If your dream job is not in the field you’re going to be working in, somehow relate it back to the role.|
What other companies are you interviewing with?
The best approach to this question is to mention that you’re exploring a few other similar companies in the business’s field – even if you aren’t. This can make you a more competitive candidate and drive the hiring process forward if they’re worried about losing you.
|TIP: Avoid getting flustered and revealing all your cards. Focus on the roles you are applying to, not necessarily the companies themselves.|
How many other jobs are you applying for?
See the question directly above this.
|TIP: Any answer is better than avoiding the question.|
Why are you leaving your current job?
Keep things positive here. Even if you are fleeing a terrible experience, frame it as this being an opportunity to grow your skillset or that you find yourself a better fit at wherever you’re interviewing.
|TIP: Fired from your last job? Keep it simple and just state that you were let go.|
Why were you fired?
Talk about a doozy of a question. Don’t stress though, clearly and calmly explain the situation that got you canned.
|TIP: Share the lessons learned since being fired and how you’ve grown from it.|
How many people were on your team at your last job?
Scale is often a huge factor when it comes to any type of management role. Quantify your role because working with a team of 30 is very different than working on a team of six.
|TIP: If your team grew under your leadership, share why!|
What are you looking for in a new position?
If you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, then you know that your fulfillment in a new job should go beyond a simple pay increase. Really hit home on how this job helps you reach a higher purpose in your career.
|TIP: Find a way to relate it back to the job description and your needs as an employee.|
What type of work environment do you prefer?
Not really a make-or-break question, but it can help give the interviewer a perspective into how you prefer to work. You may know that you work better in a quiet cubicle compared to a more bustling common space. Keep in mind, they likely have little control over this factor.
|TIP: Share that you can adapt to many different environments.|
What's your preferred management style?
This is an important question whether you’ll be the one doing the managing or being managed. It shows further self awareness and recognition for workplace needs and priorities.
|TIP: Familiarize yourself with some of the various management styles.|
What's a time you exercised leadership?
You should be able to recall a time in your life at some point that you had to step up and be a leader. Think back to your previous job, an organizational involvement in college, or at the very least your sleep away camp experience. Explain how this leadership helped you develop into the strong capable leader you are today.
|TIP: Stay reflective in your answer and explain the lesson learned from this leadership exercise.|
What's a time you disagreed with a decision that was made at work?
A good leader will want their decisions questioned from time to time and a good employee won’t be afraid to raise concerns. If you’re leaving a job, then there was likely a decision or string of decisions that you disagreed with, explain what that was and why you disagreed.
|TIP: Stay respectful in your answer towards whoever made that decision. It can reflect poorly if you choose to badmouth a previous superior.|
How would your boss and co-workers describe you?
Recall the strengths you identified earlier and bring those back up in a way that makes sense for this context. As always, try to relate your answer back to the job description and role you’re applying for.
|TIP: Specific testimonies that you can recall or share can go extremely far.|
Why was there a gap in your employment?
Be direct and clear about any circumstance that had you out of work for a while as well as what you were doing in the meantime.
|TIP: Direct the conversation back towards the job and how you can contribute to the company.|
Can you explain why you changed career paths?
Likely to come up if you had a major shift in your experience, be willing to talk through the items in your resume. You may see the connection between everything, but it’s not always as obvious to the interviewer.
|TIP: Focus on high-level skills and less of the day-to-day tasks.|
How many street lights are there in New York City?
More and more companies are including brain teaser questions. With something like this, the interviewer isn’t looking for an accurate answer as much as your reasoning at arriving to an answer. Logic puzzles like this are all the rage after it was revealed Google used to incorporate them into its hiring process.
|TIP: Be able to walk through a basic explanation of your logic.|
How many tennis balls can you fit into a limousine?
See above question. Logic questions can show what type of problem solver you are when prompted to think on your feet.
|TIP: Having a pen and some sort of paper on you when going into an interview can come in handy for all sorts of reasons.|
If you started a company today, what would its top values be?
Values are the backbone of any professional organization. They are the high level concepts that are important to the functions of a company and its employees. I encourage you to identify a few of your own personal values and, in doing so, consider what values you would enforce as the founder of a company.
|TIP: Research the company’s values and use those in coordination with your answer. Don’t simply copy them – be original!|
How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
Are you ready for some more self reflection – because here it is. We all get stressed from time to time. Explain what you do to alleviate the situation as well as how you deal with the stress following the event.
|TIP: Talk through a specific example of a situation where you were under pressure and still made things turn out alright in the end.|
What would your first 30, 60, or 90 days look like in this role?
For managers and VP’s especially, you’ll likely be asked to provide a game plan for how things will change with you in the role. Explain the initial changes you’d make upon starting and the overall goals you have for the position.
|TIP: Be adaptable but firm. It should never be your way or the highway.|
What are your salary requirements?
The early stages of negotiating a salary can be awkward during an interview. You should have certain expectations of your compensation in line with industry standards and your experience level. Interviewers want to know early on if they can even afford you as an employee.
|TIP: Remember that this is just a baseline, you should be comfortable with it, but you can negotiate further later on.|
What do you like to do outside of work?
Hooray! Finally a fun question to take away some stress. Like to knit? Maybe mountain bike? Talk up that hobby of yours.
|TIP: Relate any skills from these hobbies back to your job if you can.|
If you were an animal, which one would you want to be?
Not quite Winnie the Pooh characters, but a similar type of question. The interviewer is not so concerned with what animal you’d want to be, but why you chose it.
|TIP: Have some fun with it and use this as a chance to stick out in the interviewer’s mind with an unconventional animal.|
Are you planning on having children?
Questions about your family status, gender, nationality, religion, or age, are illegal — but they still get asked frequently. Don’t feel as if you have to answer. Something like, “I’m not too sure right now,” should suffice.
|TIP: Most interviewers may ask this benevolently or during small talk, but keep in mind they are personal factors that could promote conscious and unconscious bias.|
What do you think we could do better or differently?
Be honest with the interviewer about some things their branch of the company could improve upon. Paint yourself as the candidate who can drive these improvements and help the company get better by hiring you. It shows you come to the table with new ideas and understand the company well.
|TIP: Have some new ideas ready to go before even stepping into the office.|
What’s your availability?
This is a good question to hear. It could also be phrased as “When can you start?” An employer is typically looking to fill a role quickly, so if it’s going to be some time until you’re actually available, they may move on to another candidate.
|TIP: A two week buffer is standard in order to give your previous company time to fill the opening you’re going to be leaving.|
Do you have any questions for us?
After answering questions, it’s your turn to bring up a few of your own. Develop these beforehand in your research. Come up with a few in case they become answered earlier during the interview.
Example questions to ask:
- What does a typical day look like for a person in this position?
- Why do you enjoy working for the company?
- I’ve really enjoyed our conversation today. What are the next steps in the hiring process?
Don’t forget the firm handshake
It’s no secret that job interviews are stressful. A job interview is almost like a blind date when you really think about it. Take away a lot of the anxiety by preparing as much as you can using these common questions. There’s almost no better feeling than walking out of an interview and feeling like you crushed it.
Not so sure you want to continue on with the process? Check out this article on how to decline an interview.