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How to Prepare the Best Answers to Any Interview Questions

Read Time: 13 mins

Rehearsing answers to potential interview questions is an important step in any job application. You need to have an elevator pitch ready, as well as a few memorable stories about your career.

Prepare Best Answers to Interview QuestionsPrepare Best Answers to Interview QuestionsPrepare Best Answers to Interview Questions
Answering interview questions (graphic)

Here's a collection of common, behavioral, and tricky questions that might come up in an interview. I also asked a handful of recruiters and career experts for inside tips on how they want you to answer them. This way, you'll be prepared with the best answers to interview questions.

5 Common Interview Questions

You need to prepare first for the warm-up act, which includes the questions recruiters ask candidates in all levels in varying industries. Whether you’re a fresh graduate or a professional moving to a different industry, you should know how to answer these questions.

1. What Salary Are You Looking For?

Avoid mentioning any number as long as you can.

“Deflect the question and say salary isn’t your primary focus. Tell them you’re more concerned with securing a position with the right company,” suggests Laurie Berenson, Certified Master Resume Writer.

Expect the recruiter to push back. They want to know if you’re within their budget as early as possible. When that happens, give them a salary range. It’s the best way to avoid leaving money on the table; in case the offer is higher than the number you give, and at the same time avoid going over their salary cap.

2. What Are You Most Proud of on Your Resume and Why?

The answer depends on your current job and industry. “We ask this question because it helps us understand what’s important to you, so don’t miss this opportunity to shine”, says Sarah Dabby, Head of Talent at ClickTime.

The best answers to interview questions like this explain why the project or task was important, the challenges you overcame, and how it positively affected the company or your team.

3. What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

This question is so common that many applicants already know how to answer it. They give ‘fake’ weaknesses such as “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a workaholic,” not knowing recruiters can see through these lies.

Aim for authenticity instead of sounding impressive. Share a genuine weakness, by all means. Just make sure it’s not a deal breaker and it’s something you’re working to improve.

Career Coach Mashaal Ahmed provided this example answer:

“One area of improvement is my public speaking skills. I often feel nervous speaking in front of a large crowd. I joined a Toastmasters chapter to become better at focusing on my message instead of my nerves. So far, I’ve delivered five successful speeches and I’m even aiming to join a competition by the end of the year.”

4. What Do You Do for Fun Outside of Work?

There’s no right or wrong answer here. “Hiring managers at many companies believe the candidate’s ability to get excited outside of work is a good indicator of enthusiasm and satisfaction”, says Sam McIntire, Founder of Deskbright. 

In short, it’s a good way to tell if a candidate has an outlet for coping with work-related stressors.

5. Why Do You Want to Work for Us?

Your answer reveals three things, according to Weiting Liu, Founder and CEO of Codementor:

  1. What the candidate knows about your company.
  2. How well the candidate researched your company and industry.
  3. The candidate’s diligence and work ethics. Diligent and proactive candidates research their target companies because they know the information they get will aid in their application.

Learn how to conduct background research on the company you're interviewing for and additional pro tips to ace an interview:  

4 Behavioral Interview Questions 

Behavioral questions reveal how you empathize and connect with people around you.

“The recruiter’s goal is to evaluate your strengths and emotional intelligence as a candidate—not have you elaborate those virtues straight-up. So yes, a lot of inference is involved when asking these questions,” says Attorney James Goodnow at Fennemore Craig Law Firm.

Below are several examples of behavioral interview questions.

1. If You Could Tell Your Last Supervisor Anything Right Now With No Consequences, What Would You Say?

This question reveals the candidate’s emotional intelligence in two ways, explains Goodnow:

  • Your ability to develop strong bonds with coworkers and your boss. It also shows if you’re resentful of the past relationship, or grateful for the mentoring received.
  • How well you communicate and manage your emotions. Does your answer include still undisclosed misgivings about a former supervisor’s decisions? That suggests fear of expressing a contradicting opinion, or fear of upsetting the status quo, which could lead to more trouble in the long run.

Show the recruiter you had a good relationship with your former boss. A relationship not marred with fear, outright defiance, or resentment.

2. On a Scale of 1 to 10, 10 Being the Highest, How Competitive Are You?

Notice that this question isn’t asking you to tell a story outright. That’s the kicker.

“The recruiter allows you to answer, then asks you to share one or two stories that prove your competitive nature”, explains Mike Smith, Sales Recruiter and Founder of SalesCoaching1.

It’s a great way to weed out people who can’t walk the talk.

3. Tell Me About a Time You Failed

Mistakes are an integral part of any career and recruiters know this all too well. They want to know how well you handle mistakes, and how likely you are to run screaming should a problem arise.

Jonathan Burston of Interview Expert Academy suggests the best answers to interview questions of this nature consist of five parts:

  1. The Failure: List projects, tasks, or goals that didn’t go according to plan.
  2. What Happened: Choose one failure then explain what you were trying to achieve and what happened instead.
  3. Why: List the possible reasons you failed.
  4. Review: Read the reasons you listed. Did you explain what happened or did you end up blaming someone else? If someone else is to blame, say it nicely. For example, “I was working as part of a team” works better than “It’s Bob’s fault.” Avoid placing blame as much as possible. It makes you look like a sorry whiner with an excuse for everything.  
  5. Lessons: Explain what you learned and what you’ll do better next time.

Here’s a good answer from Ahmed:

“Earlier in my career, I was abruptly moved to a role that involved frequently writing SQL queries because of a corporate restructuring. But I haven’t worked with SQL since college!

I had to put together an analysis using a lot of SQL queries. I tried to relearn it on my own using Google but I was still moving slower than expected. I didn’t ask my team for help though, I was too nervous.

Eventually, my supervisor asked me what’s happening so I told him my concerns. He recommended I work with my team members, so I could catch up and learn quickly at the same time. In the end, I worked with the team to repurpose old queries and completed the project in a few days.

This taught me the importance of asking questions, and made me realize I can’t do everything on my own. Next time, I’ll ask for help before a project gets delayed.”

4. Tell Me About a Time You Had to Make a Difficult Choice

Recruiters want to see if you work well under pressure. It's a common claim in many cover letters and resumes after all. Show them you’re capable of making an informed decision even with limited time and resources.

Choose a story from your career that paints you as a good fit in their corporate culture. But if that’s not possible, pick something from your personal life—nothing too personal though.  

Avoid portraying yourself as a victim of some great tragedy. This question is a good opportunity to show your leadership skills, so don’t waste it. Pick a story that proves your point.

Answer Format:

  1. The Plot: What made the decision difficult? Were there conflicting parties, different priorities, or risks involved?
  2. The Resolution: Explain how you came to a decision. List the factors you considered, the data gathered, and who or what else was involved in making that decision.
  3. The Finale: How was your decision rolled out. What were the outcomes for you and the others involved? Don’t forget to mention tangible and quantifiable benefits for the company.

6 Tricky Interview Questions

“Oddball questions are designed to artificially stress the candidates to gauge their reaction", says Dirk Spencer, Recruitment Adviser and Author of Resume Psychology. It tests your reasoning and communication skills in impromptu and surprising scenarios.

Below are several tricky or unusual interview questions recruiters ask:

1. Tell Me About Your Family. Do You Like Them?

This is often the last question we ask in interviews, as it reveals more about a candidate’s character than any other question”, says Jean H. Paldan, Managing Director at Rare Form New Media.

“Someone might have a family from hell but if they speak about them with respect and kindness, it shows a sense of loyalty. If they’re disparaging about their family, or down right mean, it shows they may not be loyal employees, too. In recruitment, you need a candidate who can do their job well but also fits in with the team’s family”, continues Paldan.

This comes from experience, as Paldan notes that a former employee who wasn’t asked this question turned out to be a difficult co-worker. “His brother came to visit, and he berated him in the office for two hours”, he explains.

2. Are You a Kobe or a Lebron Fan? 

Tori Vaz, Account Executive Recruiter at Betts Recruiting, says one tech startup asked a candidate the above question.

Your choice reveals whether you’re a team player or a self-focused, one man team. “If a candidate answered Kobe, they were viewed as loyal to one company, someone who built their brand in conjunction with their work,” says Vaz. 

But if you chose Lebron, you were viewed as someone who’s always chasing the next big goal, a risk taker willing to make a gamble just to score. This may only applies to basketball fans though, or at least those who know enough to give an informed answer.

3. How Would You Convince Someone to Try Your Favorite Dish, if They Hated One of Its Ingredients?

The interviewer is testing your ability to create a convincing argument given the information available. Avoid sleazy and nonsense pitches like, “just try it” or “aren’t you curious?” or worse, “c’mon, it tastes good.” That’s not a good way to prove your sales skills.

A creative question merits a creative answer, so think about it before going on a spiel about how good it tastes. Describe the texture. Compare it to other foods with similar flavor. Tell the story of how that dish became your favorite.

4. At What Point in Your Life Would You Not Consider a Dish Washer Job?

“We ask this question to see if you’re a hustler, or if you think you’re too good to do that kind of work”, says Kristen Zierau, Director of Executive Recruiting at Clark Caniff.

Believe it or not, many candidates say they’d only take the job when they’re 16 or 17 years old. But Zierau says, “A good answer explains how you’d be willing to do the job in your teens, if you needed extra money while in college, or at any point in your life until you find a good job.”

Grit is a major indicator of good work ethic and future success, that’s why employers look for candidates who don’t mind getting their hands dirty.

5. What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Another question testing your ability to handle minor frustrations:

“Some candidates will go on a rant about what irritates them, while their body language changes. It’s a good indicator of culture fit as well”, explains Amy Medeiros Digital Analyst at Broadband Search.

6. On a Scale of 1-10, 10 Being the Highest, How Would You Rate Me as an Interviewer?

How comfortable are you in starting a professional conversation with a superior? This question shows just that, including how you’d provide feedback or frame an argument.

Several strategies exist for providing feedback, but the safest to use in this situation is the sandwich approach. Give a compliment, describe an area for improvement, and then compliment them again. For example,

“I like how you put me at ease before starting the interview. I noticed though, that in some parts of the interview you were just taking notes, so I wasn’t sure if you heard my answers at all. Overall, I’m happy with how this interview ended and I look forward to hearing from you.” 

Remember, you want the interviewer to like you. Don’t criticize them too hard, in case they take it personally.

Bonus: Set-Up Questions

Set-up questions are called as such because one or more follow-up questions are asked, depending on your initial answer. It tests your creativity, quantitative skills, and business acumen all from one main question.

What Would You Do if I Gave You Half a Million Dollars Today?

If a candidate asks for more details, they won’t receive any. They have to answer it based only on the information provided.

Most candidates will launch off on an exciting story about how they’d use the money to buy a new house, retire early or travel the world. You won't get a job or promotion answering like this. 

“The last thing you want to tell a prospective employer is that you want to check out and live the easy life,” says Zierau.

There’s no definite ‘good answer,’ but the point is employers are looking for candidates who’d make a good decision that shows long-term planning, when faced with an unexpected windfall.

Answers like “I’d like to start my own business” or “I’d pay down my bills and invest some of it” lead to part two of the set-up question. If you said you’d start a business, the next possible question would be, “What business would you start and why?”

In this example, the interviewer wants to know “how much thought you’ve put into your idea, and why that particular business is on your mind. It also uncovers other skills you have that the interviewer wasn’t aware of,” says Zierau.

One set-up question can take up to 10 minutes or more, uncovering layer after layer of information. Set-up questions could be dangerous in that one answer can lead to another question you’re not expecting. But there’s no way to rewind and back-pedaling will make you sound uncertain of your last answer.

The Best Answers to Interview Questions Make You Stand Out, in a Good Way

Like a good resume, the key to a good answer is customizing it to the job and company you’re applying for. Try not to sound like a corporate drone rattling off one well-rehearsed answer at a time. Laugh. Pause. Breathe. Don’t be afraid to inject some personality in your answers to interview questions.

Also, if you need to update your resume, browse through our collection of resume templates on Envato Market. There are hundreds of professional designs to choose from.

Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2016. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.

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