How to Answer 23 of the Most Common Interview Questions

By Paul Michael on 4 October 2007 (Updated 19 November 2013) 270 comments

[Editor's note: If you recently lost your job, take a look at Wise Bread's collection of tips and resources for the recently laid off.]

Let's face it; no one likes the interview process. Well, certainly not the people being interviewed anyway. You have to be on your best behavior, you only get one chance to get it right, and it's like taking your driving test all over again. Over the years I've been to countless interviews. To get my first job out of college I attended some 15-20 interviews a week. Whether it was in Britain or over here in the States, the questions never really seemed to change from job to job. Not only that, but the answers to them are usually the same, with your own personal interpretation of course. Here I present 23 questions you're likely to be asked, and how I have learned to answer them. Why 23? Because I had more than 20 and less than 25. Remember, being interviewed is a skill, and if you do the preparation you should ace it every time. (See also: 12 Unique Ways to Score a Job Interview)

1. So, tell me a little about yourself.

I'd be very surprised if you haven't been asked this one at every interview. It's probably the most asked question because it sets the stage for the interview and it gets you talking. Be careful not to give the interviewer your life story here. You don't need to explain everything from birth to present day. Relevant facts about education, your career and your current life situation are fine.

2. Why are you looking (or why did you leave you last job)?

This should be a straightforward question to answer, but it can trip you up. Presumably you are looking for a new job (or any job) because you want to advance your career and get a position that allows you to grow as a person and an employee. It's not a good idea to mention money here, it can make you sound mercenary. And if you are in the unfortunate situation of having been downsized, stay positive and be as brief as possible about it. If you were fired, you'll need a good explanation. But once again, stay positive.

3. Tell me what you know about this company.

Do your homework before you go to any interview. Whether it's being the VP of marketing or the mailroom clerk, you should know about the company or business you're going to work for. Has this company been in the news lately? Who are the people in the company you should know about? Do the background work, it will make you stand out as someone who comes prepared, and is genuinely interested in the company and the job.

4. Why do you want to work at X Company?

This should be directly related to the last question. Any research you've done on the company should have led you to the conclusion that you'd want to work there. After all, you're at the interview, right? Put some thought into this answer before you have your interview, mention your career goals and highlight forward-thinking goals and career plans.

5. What relevant experience do you have?

Hopefully if you're applying for this position you have bags of related experience, and if that's the case you should mention it all. But if you're switching careers or trying something a little different, your experience may initially not look like it's matching up. That's when you need a little honest creativity to match the experiences required with the ones you have. People skills are people skills after all, you just need to show how customer service skills can apply to internal management positions, and so on.

6. If your previous co-workers were here, what would they say about you?

Ok, this is not the time for full disclosure. If some people from your past are going to say you're a boring A-hole, you don't need to bring that up. Stay positive, always, and maybe have a few specific quotes in mind. "They'd say I was a hard worker" or even better "John Doe has always said I was the most reliable, creative problem-solver he'd ever met."

7. Have you done anything to further your experience?

This could include anything from night classes to hobbies and sports. If it's related, it's worth mentioning. Obviously anything to do with further education is great, but maybe you're spending time on a home improvement project to work on skills such as self-sufficiency, time management and motivation.

8. Where else have you applied?

This is a good way to hint that you're in demand, without sounding like you're whoring yourself all over town. So, be honest and mention a few other companies but don't go into detail. The fact that you're seriously looking and keeping your options open is what the interviewer is driving at.

9. How are you when you're working under pressure?

Once again, there are a few ways to answer this but they should all be positive. You may work well under pressure, you may thrive under pressure, and you may actually PREFER working under pressure. If you say you crumble like aged blue cheese, this is not going to help you get your foot in the door.

10. What motivates you to do a good job?

The answer to this one is not money, even if it is. You should be motivated by life's noble pursuits. You want recognition for a job well done. You want to become better at your job. You want to help others or be a leader in your field.

11. What's your greatest strength?

This is your chance to shine. You're being asked to explain why you are a great employee, so don't hold back and stay do stay positive. You could be someone who thrives under pressure, a great motivator, an amazing problem solver or someone with extraordinary attention to detail. If your greatest strength, however, is to drink anyone under the table or get a top score on Mario Kart, keep it to yourself. The interviewer is looking for work-related strengths.

12. What's your biggest weakness?

If you're completely honest, you may be kicking yourself in the butt. If you say you don't have one, you're obviously lying. This is a horrible question and one that politicians have become masters at answering. They say things like "I'm perhaps too committed to my work and don't spend enough time with my family." Oh, there's a fireable offense. I've even heard "I think I'm too good at my job, it can often make people jealous." Please, let's keep our feet on the ground. If you're asked this question, give a small, work-related flaw that you're working hard to improve. Example: "I've been told I occasionally focus on details and miss the bigger picture, so I've been spending time laying out the complete project every day to see my overall progress."

13. Let's talk about salary. What are you looking for?

Run for cover! This is one tricky game to play in an interview. Even if you know the salary range for the job, if you answer first you're already showing all your cards. You want as much as possible, the employer wants you for as little as you're willing to take. Before you apply, take a look at salary.com for a good idea of what someone with your specific experience should be paid. You may want to say, "well, that's something I've thought long and hard about and I think someone with my experience should get between X & Y." Or, you could be sly and say, "right now, I'm more interested in talking more about what the position can offer my career." That could at least buy you a little time to scope out the situation. But if you do have a specific figure in mind and you are confident that you can get it, I'd say go for it. I have on many occasions, and every time I got very close to that figure (both below and sometimes above).

14. Are you good at working in a team?

Unless you have the I.Q. of a houseplant, you'll always answer YES to this one. It's the only answer. How can anyone function inside an organization if they are a loner? You may want to mention what part you like to play in a team though; it's a great chance to explain that you're a natural leader.

15. Tell me a suggestion you have made that was implemented.

It's important here to focus on the word "implemented." There's nothing wrong with having a thousand great ideas, but if the only place they live is on your notepad what's the point? Better still, you need a good ending. If your previous company took your advice and ended up going bankrupt, that's not such a great example either. Be prepared with a story about an idea of yours that was taken from idea to implementation, and considered successful.

16. Has anything ever irritated you about people you've worked with?

Of course, you have a list as long as your arm. But you can't say that, it shows you as being negative and difficult to work with. The best way to answer this one is to think for a while and then say something like "I've always got on just fine with my co-workers actually."

17. Is there anyone you just could not work with?

No. Well, unless you're talking about murderers, racists, rapists, thieves or other dastardly characters, you can work with anyone. Otherwise you could be flagged as someone who's picky and difficult if you say, "I can't work with anyone who's a Bronco's fan. Sorry."

18. Tell me about any issues you've had with a previous boss.

Arrgh! If you fall for this one you shouldn't be hired anyway. The interviewer is testing you to see if you'll speak badly about your previous supervisor. Simply answer this question with extreme tact, diplomacy and if necessary, a big fat loss of memory. In short, you've never had any issues.

19. Would you rather work for money or job satisfaction?

It's not a very fair question is it? We'd all love to get paid a Trump-like salary doing a job we love but that's rare indeed. It's fine to say money is important, but remember that NOTHING is more important to you than the job. Otherwise, you're just someone looking for a bigger paycheck.

20. Would you rather be liked or feared?

I have been asked this a lot, in various incarnations. The first time I just drew a blank and said, "I don't know." That went over badly, but it was right at the start of my career when I had little to no experience. Since then I've realized that my genuine answer is "Neither, I'd rather be respected." You don't want to be feared because fear is no way to motivate a team. You may got the job done but at what cost? Similarly, if you're everyone's best friend you'll find it difficult to make tough decisions or hit deadlines. But when you're respected, you don't have to be a complete bastard or a lame duck to get the job done.

21. Are you willing to put the interests of X Company ahead of your own?

Again, another nasty question. If you say yes, you're a corporate whore who doesn't care about family. If you say no, you're disloyal to the company. I'm afraid that you'll probably have to say yes to this one though, because you're trying to be the perfect employee at this point, and perfect employees don't cut out early for Jimmy's baseball game.

22. So, explain why I should hire you.

As I'm sure you know, "because I'm great" or "I really need a job" are not good answers here. This is a time to give the employer a laundry list of your greatest talents that just so happen to match the job description. It's also good to avoid taking potshots at other potential candidates here. Focus on yourself and your talents, not other people's flaws.

23. Finally, do you have any questions to ask me?

I'll finish the way I started, with one of the most common questions asked in interviews. This directly relates to the research you've done on the company and also gives you a chance to show how eager and prepared you are. You'll probably want to ask about benefits if they haven't been covered already. A good generic one is "how soon could I start, if I were offered the job of course." You may also ask what you'd be working on. Specifically, in the role you're applying for and how that affects the rest of the company. Always have questions ready, greeting this one with a blank stare is a rotten way to finish your interview. Good luck and happy job hunting.

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Guest's picture
Snapple

Thank you for a very helpful article. For new college graduates (like myself), the interview process can seem like you've just been shoved onstage to perform a play with a script you barely know. The interviewer clearly wants to hear certain responses, and you can only hope that what you're saying is right on the money - especially when you're trying to make a list of internships (no matter how long or impressive) ring with the confidence of a seasoned work history.

In recent interviews, my age (22) has been brought up on multiple occasions: always in a complimentary way ("You've done so much - and you just graduated?"), but it makes me uncomfortable. I'm afraid that the age factor (my status as a new grad) can potentially disqualify me from positions regardless of my qualifications. Any advice for how new grads can best prove that it's capability, not date of birth, which makes you perfect for a position?

Guest's picture

Great questions! I'm usually at a loss for what to ask when talking to the interviewer. I'm terrible at it and I totally blank. Then 5 seconds after I leave I think of a million questions I should have asked! Doh!

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Guest Saigon

The question about putting the interest of the company ahead of your own is unfair. Now a days, interviewers are careful of questions to ask during the interview, but if asked, I would answer "my family comes first because if there is problem at home tendency is that I cannot do my job properly." If you answer, you put the interest of the company first, the interviewer knows you are lying.

Saigon

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Ben

This is a great article. I'm headed off to an interview today, and what I learned here has been helpful and has made me calmer about what will happen. Thanks!

Guest's picture

There's this great iPhone app for 600 interview questions in a flash card my friends and I have used to prep. I actually created it because I started getting frustrated with paper flash cards... It's pretty easy to use and it's the most comprehensive set of Questions and Answers I've seen to date...

Thought I would let you guys know about it - check it out:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/interview-questions-pro/id467952153?mt=8

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Guest

Thanks a lot. Helps a long way.

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Aleena

Thank you for all these tips! I have an interview tomorrow and your article really helped me prepare!

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Yuckaroo

These questions make me want to barf. Be self employed, or be a drone.

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Sandra

My step daughter is new to the job market, and when I read these to her she found it incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this information!

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Guest

Stay at home mom getting back to work. Went on 2 great interviews and had the experience they wanted...but got jammed up by the money question...how much are you looking to make for this position ? I mean how much are you offering for this position? Than I commented on my past wage ranges doing same or similar position. I know what i said wasn't right...because of the look I got..hell I think the wage range was more than the person interviewing me made. so now i dont really know how to answer that damn question ! any advice ?

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Rick

The best answer for "how much are you looking to make for this position?" is really quite simple: "What ever the job pays".

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Drew Custer

I say it's better to make a firm choice. However, if you're going to go with an "it depends" answer then make sure you cut straight to the reason of why "it depends." Employers don't appreciate rabbit trails, but if you can give them a feasible answer for why your family is more important than your job, but that your job sustains your family and gives you satisfaction, then the employer should appreciate your priorities.

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Guest

Why is there so much nastiness on this comment thread? There are a lot of really great questions and some excellent nuggets of advice, both in the original column and the comment thread, but the biting jabs on grammar or ripping into people is unproductive and more suitable to a sports article.

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Jader's

These tips are very helpful. I passed my interview last week. THANK'S TO YOU.
I also recommend this to my cousin who will have her interview this february 16.

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jim

You should add another one that I see popping up all the time:
"How do you handle conflict with co-workers?"

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Guest

this was very helpful thank you so much .

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Caitlin

thanks for the advise....now this will give me some perspective on what to look forward to in this interview i have comin up.

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Alice

Very well written, thanks for the tips!

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Guest

I am an HR Manager for a marketing firm. When we are hiring I review the resumes and call the candidates that I feel are qualified and the other manager conducts the interviews as they come in. Most recently we were interviewing for a managers position. When I asked what they were looking for in a new position, about half of the candidates answered, "Well I am will not do any sort of sales". If we've just talked for the past 10 minutes about Managing, motivating a team, and goal setting why would your answer be what you're NOT going to do? I know 'sales' isn't for anyone, and if I was looking for a sales person, that would make sense. But sales generates profit for businesses and without generating profit, there would be no money or need for a manager. BIGGEST TURN OFF. I will never hire someone who answers the question like this.

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Guest

Thank you for writing and publishing this article. I studied the tips just yesterday before an interview with a huge firm in town and got a call not two hours later saying that they loved me!! After over three months of searching I finally start working again on Monday.

Thanks for the advice, it was truly helpful.

YL from Rochester, NY

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Pete - Spokane

All of these questions are familiar and I've seen most/all of them at some time or another. I just this minute came out of an interview with many of these questions. Here's what really paid off: cut and past the questions and fill in each with your 1-3 sentence max answer for each. Depending upon the setting, it will be perfectly fitting to refer to your answers. I think my interviewers appreciated that I had these questions ready, that I had taken the time to consider them, and that they were at the ready when I needed them.

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GuestPAKO

i am having an interview at 9am,i am in Botswana..its an interview on a certain exchange program between my university and a certain college in michigan.What should i expect,its my first tym having gone thru an interview and m so nervous.pliz i nid help

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Anna

Wish I'd found this earlier. Had an impromptu interview earlier today, and did well enough that I'm going back tomorrow for a second interview, this time with the regional manager of the company. Apparently, I did well enough to score a second interview, and I'm really hoping this article helps me bag this position for good. (: Great advice, all of it.

Guest's picture

Agreed - lesson learned, but this interviewer seems like he was probably just nasty. Like some faceless folk on the internet. It was probably better that you didn't get the job.

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Guest

The importance of asking questions as the end of the interview is often overlooked. Asking the right questions at the end will show your dedication, but also leave your interviewer with a strong last impression.

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Guest

You dodged a major bullet with that company..I agree with one of the other comments, if the interviewer got upset over a small issue imaging working for him..Good Luck to you

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Guest

I have an interview in the morning, and I am hoping it goes much better than my last interview. I have been lucky in the past and didn't have these typical questions. Most of my interviews have basically been them telling I'm hired. I have always stunk at the questions. I can admit that I never prepared for interviews either. When HR called me Friday, she told me I was going to be asked about the company, so read their website.

My last interview was started with " tell me about yourself " and for some reason I drew a blank. Aside from that it well until he asked me about conflict resolution. I gave my answer and he kept asking, and finally told me what he was trying to get me to say. Told me it was a trick question and that my answer would have gotten me fired for insubordination. Said I would have given my supervisor too many chances. Then he told me that he would have said no to the supervisor from jumpstreet. I don't see how my answer was insubordinate, but saying no when told to do something wasn't. I was confused, and didn't get the job.

Guest's picture

This site is awesome, I actually learned a lot from looking at what you had to say and reading the comments from some of the other users. I am looking at getting a job with a new company and I have been kicking around the idea of a video resume. I have heard great things about a site called iresumed.. www.iresumed.com.. they too have great interview questions along with answers that seemed to fall right in line with what is on this post. What are your thoughts on this?

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Guest

this is a great way to practice and prepare before an interview and has helped me alot !!

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Guest

I disagree with several of your answers to questions but I've got a few years on you so may be you will also change your mind on these. I think the goal is to always come across genuine. I would always answer truthfully, of course some people you work with irritate you so I'd say yes to this. What you say afterwards is the important part, yeah they annoy me but I have stratgies for dealing with that... blah blah blah. Also if you didn't like your boss say so, my previous boss was the reason I was looking for a new job. I just told recruiters/potential empoyers I couldn't work for a boss that was un-inspiring, worked in silo and I didn't learn from. They all respected this comment. The style of your manager is very important thats the question you get to ask of them in the interview so it ties in with why you didn't like your last boss (if that's the case) or why you did like your last boss.

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Priya ghosh

If u see someone's wallet lying on a road with full of money in it,what would u do?

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Jojo

These tips helped me a lot. Thanks.

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Pamela Grimm

Thanks for the awesome tips on interview questions. I am currently searching for a job and this has really helped.

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Wow, what a great article. As a recent college grad I always get incredibly nervous about interviews, even though in our senior year we were prepared well for them, however that was in a classroom setting. I know to do my homework and research the company before going to be able to answer some of the generic questions, but I like that you included some that I didn't realize may be asked. The answer you proposed for the "feared or liked" question is perfect and I'm definitely going to remember that in case I'm ever faced with that question. I think that answer alone could land someone a job!

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Guest

none of these are actual answers lol

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Guest.

During what time period could you get 15-20 interviews per week!? My God, build me a Time Machine! I can't even get one.

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Guest

"If your greatest strength, however, is to drink anyone under the table or get a top score on Mario Kart, keep it to yourself." That one cracked the hell out of me:)
U Have a nice sense of humour!

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Andrea

Another question I just got asked - What are the top three things you are looking for in a new job or in this job?

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anath kumar

it is very helpfull to collect interview quastions....

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Guest

i find question 21 very funny and by reading this article, i had a better understanding. Thanks

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Armetra

It really good tips to handle the questions that relate with previous boss. But, I think, with a lot of tips from a lot of books or website, maybe the HR or User during interview have already known about answer that came from website tips.. IMHO

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Guest1

i can say my positives when interviwer ask why i should hire u

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What Motivates You To do A Good Job ?

Answer :

Sir, My Motivation Is My Parents. They Have WOrked Hard To Make me Stand here. They Always Wanted to see me at better position in my life. I want to work to see satisfaction in their eyes and provide them a luxurious life by aiding them financially. www.edututorials.com

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Raven

I believe you need to just go to different interviews, and you'll improve.(:
I will not be rude, and say you cannot spell, or that you're 'stupid'. I will give you actual advice that can benefit you, and your goals in life. Keep up the good work, and do well in search for a job, Alya!

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Guest

Thank you for this post, it gave me ideas for my first ever interview. I hope you can also write some tips for fresh graduates :))

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Jone one

The 23 most frequently asked questions for interview was very helpful, (extremely helpful). Thank you for posting it. We'll be having our interview later wish us good luck. Thank you.

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Bronson

"Let's talk about salary. What are you looking for?"

This has always been a super tricky question to answer so I appreciate the good advice you've offered about not laying it all out right upfront & taking a slightly different approach.

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Sy

I was laughing all the way while going thru this interview tips,it is really a stress reliever.and thnx it's worth it ;)

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Jone one

Got the job that I desire because of your help. Thank you for posting this.

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Margie

Ok this is got to be the most helpful and interesting answers on Interview questions I have ever heard. I love the humor behind each answer, I laugh so hard I was crying..Thanks Margie

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Sol

Is it ok to ask the interviewer if the applicant has a chance to be hire by the company?

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Kay Kay

This site really helped me to prepare for a interview!!!!!

THANKS!!!!!!

Paul Michael's picture

I just have to say, I'm so pleased so many people have found this article so useful. I am, in fact, preparing another 23 questions, based on emails I have been getting since this article first went live. Look for it soon.

Guest's picture

I particularly like the recommended answer to the question - "tell me about your biggest weakness." This is a tough question, since you're being asked to speak negatively of yourself, and the "I'm a workaholic" answer is overplayed and disingenuous. That's why I like that the author of this post recommended that "If you're asked this question, give a small, work-related flaw that you're working hard to improve."

I like this answer because, well, this is exactly how weaknesses are resolved in the real world. You find a minor, specific flaw about yourself: you tend to send grammatically-challenged emails, perhaps, or you often forget attachments in your emails. And then you target that specific flaw in order to change it.

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Shane M.

If I can add to the "Why should I hire you?" tip- be specific! As an interviewer, I'm so tired of hearing "I'm a hard worker", "I'm organized" "I'm efficient". Please give me an example, rather than some general response. Instead of "I'm organized", tell me how you re-organized the supply cabinet so that you were able to fit 20% more product inside, or that you implemented a phone tree for company communications, or that you planned and executed the company picnic. Anyone can SAY they are organized (hard-working, efficient, etc.), but you need to SHOW me, and since you don't work for me yet, you need to do this using previous history.

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Gregg

This is a decent article...but some of the author's answers to those questions are very weak and cater to a pretty simplistic audience. On the whole, this is a great read for someone doing some interview prep work for an interview they have later in the day (some good useful reminders), but I wouldn't count on this as a end-all-be-all foundation for your own interview strategy.

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Duane

I find the following answer works best.......

"What's your greatest disappointment?"

"Alton Towers"

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Guest

The best article I have ever read! Straight to the point, making sense, giving a proper advice and funny at the same time.

P.S- and I love the "I.Q of a houseplant" expression haha!

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MANSH JYOTI BARHOI

nice i understand some of the mistake that i had done in the interviews .....thanks a lot

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Guest

much obliged to the person that posted this I am being interviewed for my first job soon and I am very excited.

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Guest

Is it ok to start the answer with "I dont know much about.... (the position applied) but as what I know is......"

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Guest

I absolutely HATE "Tell me about yourself." and "Do you have any questions for me"? What, about me? No, I don't have questions. You answered them all during the interview.
The other ones I can't stand are "Tell me about a time when..." and "Explain a situation when....". Or, "What would you do in X, Y, Z situation"? I have noticed my best interviews have been the ones where there are no pre-programmed questions. When the interviewer and I just take it as it comes, it allows me to be more comfortable. I can be my true self. Those are the jobs I have gotten. When I can communicate with the interviewer like I am talking to a friend and not feel like I am being questioned, things go very well.
I tend to flub with the pre-programmed questions. Even though I know I will give a well thought out and concise answer, they never come out that way. I have to learn to work with it.

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daridekas dimitris

the best attitude is to be cool and look happy.

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Guest

these answers are vague and ridiculous. If you have to tell someone not to say in an interview that one of their strengths is to drink someone under the table or beat them at Mario cart, then I don't know what to say. All of these answers are common sense and if people are reading this and saying wow, I shouldn't give potshots about others I've worked with because that might look bad? then they have no business even having an interview. sorry but this article was not helpful at all.

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Aniruddh

Lovely tips Paul. People get confused in certain questions where they can't decide what to say and what not, there you should be careful that you don't reveal anything that can go against you. Excellent post.

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saad

I apologised but I could see he lost his interest. This was way back after I graduated from college. Since then I became very cautious and I sit and practice in front of the mirror, sometimes I even use the PC to record my voice as I am practising my answers so as I can judge myself and be more careful. After that episode, I learnt to pass all my interviews .

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Guest

Great article, i think this gives new perspective for me on how to answer a few of these questions. Sure it will come in handy tomorrow for me, Thankyou

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John C

#22 - Make it about what they are looking for in a hire - "As the manager of whatever, you want an employee that does X, does Y, does Z"... then finish with "my creditials, experience and references prove that is what I can bring you in this position". Just a thought....

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Mayur

how to negotiate if a company asks to sign a bond for 3 or more years ?