Popular interview questions and answers

Surendra Singh Tomar sent in this excellent set of interview Q&A.

  1. Describe a challenging work issue you had to face, and how you dealt with it? Consider what would be the requirements of the ‘new’ job/organization and find something in your past that highlights a skill, experience or situation that might occur or be needed going forward. It is always a good idea to make lists in preparation for interviews: New job will need I can provide Proof/example For your proofs, list (for yourself) examples of when you used the skill, exhibited the characteristic or handled the problem. This will not only give you ’short stories’ to relate in an interview, it will also bolster your confidence and target your job search.
  2. If you were on a merry-go-round, what song would be playing? If you were going to be an animal on the merry-go-round, what would you be?” Congratulations! You have found the unusual interviewer asking a rare question. Don’t feel stupid just feel like you have run into a very unusual situation. If you are interviewing for a creative position, then the question is most appropriate because the interviewer may be attempting to evaluate your creativity and your ability to deal with an offbeat question. have fun with it. Give the question your focused attention and go with your instincts. Be ready to say why you chose the tune you did. Perhaps tell a brief story that reminds you of merry go rounds in your own experience. Or if you are really clueless give a song that you have always liked, has real meaning for you or is important for whatever reason and attach it to the merry go round but refocus the question to he importance of the song and make it brief but interesting “words tell but stories sell.” As for the animal, give the animal that you want to be (even if you think the question is ridiculous and you really need this job) your total attention and focus. On the other hand, the person you are dealing with may not have a clue and just asked because he/she felt like it. We know one person who asks the question and feels it is meaningful. She is into Yoga and looks for the person to be thoughtful in response. We have never heard her say anyone was rejected because of the animal selected.
  3. How do you handle conflict? On the job, there are many possible sources of conflict. Conflicts with: fellow employees management rules, procedures clients, customers demands of work vs. personal life, family The best way to approach a good answer is to look at if from the employers point of view—they want to be your first priority and they want you to solve problems (not bring them any). “I know everything cannot run smoothly at work all the time. When there is a conflict I usually try to determine the source of the problem and see if it can be solved. This might involve other members of the work team discussing the problem and offering possible solutions. I would then try to pick the solution which appears to have the best outcome and put it into action.” A natural follow-up to this would be: Tell me when you solved a conflict at work. So, have a brief example… a short story… to illustrate your approach. Even if not asked, you can offer your story! If it proves your point and accentuates a skill needed for the position, go with it.
  4. In what way do you think you can contribute to our company? Preparing to answer this question requires a 2-step preparation: assessing your skills and researching the needs of the company. An integral part of skill assessment (looking at your own experience, education and talents) is to ’skill-match’. Considering the job opening, what are the skills needed? Make a list of the requisite skills (in priority order) and then list concrete examples of your possession of the skill. For example: a sales representative would need good interpersonal skills, the ability to deal with difficult people. For ‘proof’ of this skill, you could list experiences and examples of how you were successful in a difficult situation. These matched skills are your key selling points. Next, what appears to be the current problems at the organization, based upon your research? What are their needs that you can meet? In other words, given the specifics of the company, what value can you add? After these two steps, you are in a great position to come up with concrete examples of what you can offer the company. This question, by the way, is just another version of “Why should we hire you?”. In the interview, when asked this question, you could respond with: “In my experience in sales, I know having the ability to deal effectively with all types of people is not merely a positive element — it is an essential one. With your plans to expand into ____ market, a sales representative with a proven ability to meet with all types of people and to be able to assess and meet their immediate needs would be a great asset. In the past __ years, I have increased sales __… ..”
  5. Tell me a story. Many interviewers like to hear ’stories’ or examples from your work life. So pick something that is more usual than not (not the day of a plant explosion and you saved 10 lives!) but a story that shows how you handle yourself, handle difficult people or situations. Can you think on your feet? Do you adhere to the rules? Consider the type of organization you are aiming at… each has its own culture. The World Wrestling Federation entertainment culture is different than the American Bible Society and also different from Amazon.com. Gear your stories to give the listener a feeling that you could fit in… you could do the job here.
  6. Tell me about a time when you tried and failed? Has this ever happened to you? No one expects perfection actually, employers are more interested in your ability to cope, to learn from mistakes, and to deal with others who are less than perfect. If you have an example, certainly pick one that happened a while back, was not earth shattering in the results, and one which you learned and applied this knowledge recently. This is a version of ‘damning with faint praise’ by picking an incident that was minor in scope but, since you are so wise and are always willing to learn, has taught you a valuable lesson.
  7. Tell us about your analytical skills. This should be easy if you have done a realistic skill inventory for yourself, listing what skills you do have and how you can offer proof of this skill (where you learned it, last used it). Working off your inventory, focus on various analytical skills and match them to the skills you feel are most important for the job you are considering. You can now give specific examples of skills you can offer. (Do not neglect skills obtained in extracurricular activities, such as volunteer work.)
  8. What are some of the things you find difficult to do? The interviewer is looking to determine how well you know yourself, how you react to difficult situations/tasks and credibility. Look back over your work experience for examples of challenges… speaking in public at a meeting, disagreeing with a manager over an important issue, being asked to use a software program you have not had an opportunity to learn… These ’stories’ should illustrate a lesson learned, a problem overcome or a weakness being dealt with. “I always seem to need a day or two to prepare myself to give a presentation to department heads. When I know I have to give a report on my projects, I plan out all the details in advance and rehearse. One time, there was a problem with a supplier and I was asked to update senior management… immediately. The supply chain was crucial to the completion of an important project we had been working on for 5 months and decisions had to be made based on the information I had to prepare and present on a moment’s notice. I gathered the information and presented it simply and in detail. It was much easier than I thought without the hours of concern and practice. The facts spoke for themselves. Since I understood the situation, I was able to make it clear to management and get a rapid decision. I still prefer advance notice but I know I can deliver when asked to.”
  9. What are your short and long term goals? No one can make goals for you. It comes down to where you are in your professional life and what you want to do. Most people have 5-6 careers in their working lifetime—some with 2 careers going at the same time (like us). The best advice is to be certain to relate your answers to the organization that interviews you. Do not make a point of having goals that cannot be realized there (”I want to work in Paris.” Organization is strictly domestic.) If you do your research into the organization, and into what you truly want to do in the future, you will be able to come up with reasonable responses. No one is going to come back to you in five years and chastise you for not meeting these goals! You will not be held to them… it is only an interview and they are interested in how you see yourself (and they want to see you in the job.)
  10. Where do you see yourself in five years? This is the interviewer trying to see how you are in making long range plans and if you have goals that mesh with the organization’s. One way to answer this question is to look back on your accomplishments to date: “I started out in my profession as a junior clerk while I completed my college studies during the evenings. Once I had my degree, I applied for a transfer to a more advanced position, citing my on-the-job training. This has been my pattern for my career with my past 2 employers. I learn quickly on the job and am willing to take classes and workshops to augment my experience. I have been able to assume greater responsibilities and add more value to the organization. I do not think in terms of titles… I think more in terms of “How can I solve this problem? Since this has been my career style to date, I do not imagine it to change. In five years, I feel I will have continued to learn, to grow into a position of more responsibility and will have made a significant contribution to the organization.”
  11. What can you add to what we have already asked you that should make us want to hire you? Think grocery shopping… all those brands in the soap aisle begging for your attention. Each one comes with its own key selling points. Remember the comics, Superman? On TV, he sold himself… stronger than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. What are your key selling points? Plan this out ahead of time for the next interview… or include in a thank you letter for this past interview. Think a 1 minute infomercial about yourself. What are your core strengths? Is it communicating with children, being a mentor to other teachers, being able to keep topics current and interesting… . Think of what is needed to be successful in the job and how you specifically meet those needs—provide examples. Increased reading scores by using… Math scores jumped __% due to my … Offer some proof from your past to support your claims. But it is your ability to assess the situation and analyze your potential contributions that will sell your candidacy. Do not think it too late — send a strong thank you and include in your request for the job the key reasons why you are the best candidate.
  12. What does “customer service” mean to you? Think of yourself as a customer — what do you expect from salespeople … regardless of the circumstances and/or the problem. An example may be “Customer service is a two-piece reaction. First—respect; second — problem solving.” See if that makes sense and if you sound convincing when you do practice it. If you can give a brief story or two of what you have witnessed as extraordinary examples of customer service behavior. By using yourself as a focal point you will be able to enunciate clearly your understanding of customer service.
  13. What do you know about our company? If you can relate your knowledge to the area that you would be involved in, it would show that already you have an active interest in the organization. For example, if you were interested in marketing, “I understand that you are one of the top 10 companies in sales to Europe but are currently interested in expanding your market into Asia. Competition is keen in that area but you have an advantage in that you product offers features that others do not, such as… ..” It is not only showing that you have done the research but also that you like/know what you have learned about the company and have applied it to how you can add value in the position.
  14. Why do you want to leave this job after only four months? Well, why did you? What is the closest to the truth:
    1. Job was not as it was described to me
    2. Organization changed its focus/goals
    3. Organization could not effectively use my talents/skills
    4. Change in management… wanted to bring in own staff
    5. Downsizing, reorganization

    All of these will probably prompt a follow-up question. Do not fabricate… but most interviewers have heard these stories before and really are not interested in all the gory details. (Note that this job need not be included on your resume since it was of such a short duration but may have to be included in a application form if it looks to account for all your time.) Circumstances also come to play… did you leave your other job to take this 4 month job? or did you ‘try’ it while already unemployed… hoping for the best? If you were recruited to change jobs, there is a lot of room for exaggeration in a sales pitch, and many employees have been misled. If you have held other jobs for substantial periods and you took the other job in good faith, stress your past performance. You are not a capricious person—job hopping. You have skills to offer and want to put them into good use.

  15. What do you wish to gain from our company? Excellent question! Research is the answer (know everyone is tired of hearing this but we feel this is one great way for applicants to make a difference in their candidacy). Determine some of the key elements in the corporate structure, product base, employees/management team or recent history. What appeals to you about working at this company? Go with what you know. “In the past, I have had opportunities to work on new products being launched. I am very excited about your plans to start an entire new line of products. With my prior experience I know I can provide insights and make contributions immediately and I will also learn so much from the excellent team you have in place. Having done single products, I would love to be in on the give-and-take meetings planning the new line… there is much I can offer but also much for me to learn.” Finding something specific… the opportunity to use a new technology, a new skill, to work with ‘experts on their team”… are ways for you to find job satisfaction, which is another way of asking this question
  16. What do you think the employee’s responsibilities are to the company? As an employee you have several responsibilities to your employer. They are as follows: to perform a good day’s work to be loyal to act as part of the team to value the relationship to earn the employer’s trust to grow with a passion for the product/service.
  17. Why do you want to change jobs? When asked on an application, “If presently employed, why do you wish to change positions”, what do you put down. The reason I am changing positions because the company I am applying at is known nationwide I want to work for a company with their background and one that I can retire from. This same question is sometimes asked on interviews as well so it is important to have a good answer. Additionally, if you decide to leave your current employer, it is also wise to have consensus as to the reasons that you are leaving. It already sounds like you have positive reasons for wanting to work for the national company—go with that. Use your research to put forth several points about the company that you feel will be a great match (for the company) and suit your particular skills and experiences. Emphasize the fact that this opportunity to work for them is ‘just what you have been looking for’ because… .and then go into several ways you can add value to the organization. Remember, when asked why you left, do not downgrade in any way your prior/current employer… leave the interviewer with the feeling that you have only been associated with winners! Do not go into the ‘I can retire from this job’ aspect; it can have negative connotations. Present yourself as a vital, enthusiastic employee that can offer experience to their organization… for many years to come. Note: If appropriate, point out that you are not just ‘looking around’ but are sincerely interested in working for this particular company and that you are not a ‘job-hopper’ but are interested in a long-term career move.
  18. What motivates you? Other than looking into your past experiences… .times when you were motivated and times when you were not… no one but you has this answer. Find concrete examples when you had to pull it all together and get motivated to get the job done; what does it for you?
  19. What things make a good team member? Consider first the situational context of the question. What is the team environment of the organization that you are interviewing—do they have a strong, organized team-based work environment or is it based on informal authority and fluctuating teams? Ideally, you should have had an opportunity to research and ask some questions about the organization to determine how they operate (and if indeed you want to work in that environment.) Model your responses to the organization. Obviously, you are describing yourself = good team member. My ideas of what makes a good team member may be very different from yours—and from the organization. Also depends on where you are in the team—new member, leader, support. How do you see yourself? How do you make yourself fit into a new team? How do you elicit cooperation from other team members? What do you think the organization’s biggest problem is relative to teams and team-building? And, what solution could you provide?
  20. Why do you feel we should hire you for this position? Before you submit a resume or draft a cover letter and certainly before you go to an interview you should do 2 things: Research the job and the organization. What do they need? What are the requirements for the position? What role does this job play in the overall goals of the organization? Research yourself. What skills and experiences and interests can you offer? How will you add value to the organization? How can you prove that you have the required skills and experience needed for the job? Do a skill matching exercise: The organization/job needs ..(skill/experience) and I have it because I did … .. The organization needs… .. and i can provide… .. Be certain to have specific examples of how you have added value in the past and be enthusiastic on how you can add value to this organization. Do not forget… the organization is looking to solve a problem and you are selling yourself as a solution.
  21. Why do you want to change jobs? When asked on an application, “If presently employed, why do you wish to change positions”, what do you put down. The reason I am changing positions because the company I am applying at is known nationwide I want to work for a company with their background and one that I can retire from. This same question is sometimes asked on interviews as well so it is important to have a good answer. Additionally, if you decide to leave your current employer, it is also wise to have consensus as to the reasons that you are leaving. It already sounds like you have positive reasons for wanting to work for the national company—go with that. Use your research to put forth several points about the company that you feel will be a great match (for the company) and suit your particular skills and experiences. Emphasize the fact that this opportunity to work for them is ‘just what you have been looking for’ because… .and then go into several ways you can add value to the organization. Remember, when asked why you left, do not downgrade in any way your prior/current employer… leave the interviewer with the feeling that you have only been associated with winners! Do not go into the ‘I can retire from this job’ aspect; it can have negative connotations. Present yourself as a vital, enthusiastic employee that can offer experience to their organization… for many years to come. Note: If appropriate, point out that you are not just ‘looking around’ but are sincerely interested in working for this particular company and that you are not a ‘job-hopper’ but are interested in a long-term career move.
  22. I will need to take a step back in salary. I don’t know how to handle the question ” What is your current salary”? If you have proceeded along interviews to the point when an offer is going to be made, that is the proper time to discuss salary. Otherwise, if pressed to disclose salary, talk in term of ranges… and a compensation package. “Present compensation package is high five figures” gives a lot of leeway yet is not in error. It is rare but some employers ask for W-2 forms or last salary stub to verify salary. You do not want to get caught in a lie (credibility is very important) so being up-front about willing to take a step back in order to invest in a new career can be impressive to an employer. Sharpen your sales skills… point out all the reasons why you are suited for the job, why you are making the move to a new career and why you want to work there. Compensation is a necessity but not your prime motivator.
  23. What do you expect your starting salary to be? Discussions of salaries and compensation should not be held until an offer is made. With that said, let’s look into the real world when this is not the case most of the time. Employers are shopping, trying to guess your price tag. This is one of those screening questions used to either screen in or screen out… so a response is important. Have you done your homework? What is the price for this job in the marketplace? Have you checked out classified ads or online ads for similar positions? Are you within the range, given your level of experience? Pegging yourself mentally to the right price is the first step. Second step is sharing this information correctly. Do you have enough information about this new job to determine your salary? If not… state it and ask for the information that is needed. “Before I can discuss salary, I would like to know the reporting requirements and how many people I would be supervising. In addition, what are the skill levels and experience of my staff?” You can also ask “What are others in similar positions being paid?” When you can no longer stall or seek additional information… “Based on what you have told me and exclusive of other compensation elements I feel that the position would warrant a salary range of $_______ to $___________” Name a range such as $40,000 to $45,000 to give both sides some wiggle room and allow for some give-and-take when benefits and other compensation is considered. If you know what you are willing to accept as salary and what the market pays, using a salary range should permit you to be negotiable.
  24. What can you add to what we have already asked you that should make us want to hire you? Think grocery shopping… all those brands in the soap aisle begging for your attention. Each one comes with its own key selling points. Remember the comics, Superman? On TV, he sold himself… stronger than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. What are your key selling points? Plan this out ahead of time for the next interview… or include in a thank you letter for this past interview. Think a 1 minute infomercial about yourself. What are your core strengths? Is it communicating with children, being a mentor to other teachers, being able to keep topics current and interesting… . Think of what is needed to be successful in the job and how you specifically meet those needs—provide examples. Increased reading scores by using… Math scores jumped __% due to my … Offer some proof from your past to support your claims. But it is your ability to assess the situation and analyze your potential contributions that will sell your candidacy. Do not think it too late — send a strong thank you and include in your request for the job the key reasons why you are the best candidate.
  25. 10 Steps to a Successful Interview
    1. Arrive on time.
    2. Introduce yourself in a courteous manner.
    3. Read company materials while you wait.
    4. Have a firm handshake.
    5. Listen.
    6. Use body language to show interest.
    7. Smile, nod, give nonverbal feedback to the interviewer.
    8. Ask about the next step in the process.
    9. Thank the interviewer.
    10. Write a thank-you letter to anyone you have spoken to.
  26. Key people in the organization Major products or services Size in terms of sales and employees Locations other than your community Organizational structure of the company Major competitors View of the company by clients, suppliers, and competition Latest news reports on the company or on local or national news that affects the company.
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3 Comments on Popular interview questions and answers

  1. Paul
    Posted 7/30/2006 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Great tips.

    A few tips for candidates.

    Handshakes - Whilst a firm handshake shows confidence and is welcome, a death grip sets a bad impression (for me anyways) and leaves me not being able to focus on the good qualities that a candidate might bring to my company. What I would suggest is practice on another person before the interview. The last thing you want to do is set a band impression from the outset.

    Know your CV - You should know your CV inside out and be preapred to elaborate on any point. When I interview I wont ask about all the points in your CV but I will ask you to elaborate on points that are relevant to the company and the role.

    Think your answers through - take a breath and think your answers through before answering. If you don’t know, say so and we can move on. I would rather you say something like “I am not sure what the answer is but if put in a position where I needed to know, I would look at …..” than sit there and guess. Guessing is a waste of my time and yours and looks unprofessional.

    Speak clearly and audibily - If you are naturally a soft spoken person, pretend that you are on the phone to someone with a bad line. Doesn’t mean you shout, but loud enough so that the panel can hear you. Practice altering your tone where required to emphasis particular points. If necessary, take a course in public speaking.

  2. Posted 8/21/2006 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    Once i stared searching related to my subject that entitled me to sit on net .I saw ur site and stared my search, i discovered being helpful. Its a generos request from my side is that i want to achieve thins which require high skills, but i dont stand focus on them..

    Now when the opportunity has come to my door step i am feeling week.

    Its a humble request if you could help me by providing tips for the post of:-
    1) QA.
    2) Process Trainer.

    These openings comes once in our process related to Airlines. I would request again to tip me related to that

    Waiting for Reply

    With regards,
    Naveen Rana
    (naveenrana22@rediffmail.com)(E-mailalond with name in case of mishandling)

  3. RAJ KUMAR
    Posted 10/24/2006 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi,

    The above popular questions were very good. I am presently working in a Software Development Company as a H R Manager. Basically whenever I take interviews, first I will see how the candidate is talking or presenting himself. I mean the communication skills are most important when you attend any interview. Communication skills and convincing skills are most important in any interview. As everyone agrees that, it is not possible for us to judge the candidate is right or wrong for the position he had applied for by taking a 30 minutes face to face interview. As the first impression is the best impression, I sincerely suggest the candidates to make a very good impression on the interviewer by talking in a polite and polished way and try to give good and valuable answers to the questions asked.

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