- Data shows that most hiring managers prefer to stick with more traditional questions in job interviews.
- Off-the-wall questions may reveal a job candidate's candidness or some personality traits, but more common questions are better indicators of their suitability for the position.
- Candidates should practice their answers to common interview questions but be prepared to answer one or two unusual questions as well.
Some hiring managers like to ask off-the-wall job interview questions, such as "What color crayon would you be?" or "How would your archnemesis describe you?" to see how the job candidate reacts under pressure. However, new research finds that most interviewers would rather ask straightforward questions that apply to relevant work experience and skills than questions designed to throw unsuspecting candidates for a loop.
According to a 2019 study by LinkedIn, at least a couple of the questions asked in almost every interview are among the most common behavioral or accomplishment-based questions overall.
It makes sense: While some of those oddball interview questions serve to show a potential employee's willingness to be candid, more traditional questions paint a more complete picture of the candidate's suitability for the position. LinkedIn cited these traditional interview questions:
- "Tell me about yourself."
- "What is your greatest strength?"
- "What is your greatest weakness?"
- "Why should we hire you?"
- "Why do you want to work here?"
- "Tell me about a time you showed leadership."
- "Tell me about a time you were successful on a team."
- "What would your co-workers say about you?"
Although job candidates can't predict every question they'll be asked during an interview, they are best served by practicing their answers to the most common ones, according to Bill Driscoll, district president for staffing firm Accountemps.
"Knowing your audience is crucial," Driscoll said in a statement. "Learn as much as you can about the company and position by conducting research, reading relevant news and reaching out to your network for insights."
To appropriately prepare for interviews, job seekers can use the data from LinkedIn and Accountemps to categorize senior managers' favorite and most commonly asked interview questions – and to glean insight on what they are trying to learn by asking them.
Company or position
The interviewer has the candidate's resume and cover letter and has likely already scoped out their social media accounts. However, the goal of the interview is to determine how good a fit a person is for a position. In all likelihood, every applicant has relevant experience and could be a strong candidate on paper. These hiring manager interview questions give you an opportunity to connect the dots on your resume, explaining, for example, why you chose to attend a specific university or left a previous position.
- "Why do you want to work here?"
- "What do you know about this company?"
- "Why are you interested in this position?"
- "What makes you a good fit for this position?"
- "I want to work here because what your company does aligns with my values and interests in …" Explain these interests in a few short sentences.
Tip: Concise but meaningful answers are often best in job interviews.
- "I know that [founder's name] founded the company in [year] and that your biggest [products or services] are …" For an especially powerful answer to this common interview question, you could share what you know about how the company's products or services differ from competitors.
- "I'm interested in this position because …" Describe how the position's responsibilities match your interests. You should also mention how anything unique about the company ties into your interest in the position.
- The answer to this question could be roughly the same as the one above, but replace your interests with your skills, background or other qualifications.
Just about every resume the interviewer receives should explain the applicant's relevant career experience. The interviewer already has a list of your previous jobs and skills, so these questions about your job experience allow you to delve deeper and be specific. Rather than reiterate the information the interviewer already has, take this opportunity to state how your previous experience would directly transfer to this new company and how that could benefit the company.
- "What did you like or dislike about your last job?"
- "Tell me about your work experience."
- "Why did you leave your last job?"
- "I liked that I got to …" Name a few favorite tasks. Don't be afraid to go into detail, but do keep it brief. "I disliked …" Name one thing, and keep it short – you don't want to come off as ungrateful, snobby or difficult to work with.
- "I got into this field with [describe your first job a bit]. I moved on to [describe your next job a bit]." If your resume is long and includes many positions, you don't need to share extensive details about each one. Focus on the most meaningful, relevant jobs you've held.
- "I was ready for a change. I liked what I was doing, but I knew I was capable of more and needed to go elsewhere to achieve that growth." Of course, if your reason is different, state your actual reason – just do what this example does and stay general but meaningful without saying anything negative.
Personal attributes or characteristics
These are some of the most notoriously difficult questions for job candidates to answer in interviews, because no one is truly comfortable talking about themselves. Interviewers know that as well, but these questions can provide valuable insights. This part of an interview is an excellent time to demonstrate how you stand out from the rest of the candidates. Providing examples of a time you overcame an obstacle at work or came up with a new system or solution the company used will make a lasting impression on the interviewer.
- "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?"
- "How do you interact with a team?"
- "How do you handle stress at work?"
- "I'm [give about three descriptors]. My greatest weakness is that I'm [describe a minor weakness], and I make up for it by [describe how you address this issue and are continuing to work on it]." Never mention more than one weakness.
- "I'm a great team player who knows how to communicate with others, follow my supervisor's guidance, and lead if necessary."
- "I handle stress by …" Discuss how you prioritize certain tasks over others, communicate if you're feeling overworked, and remain calm through it all.
When asked some of the questions listed here, candidates often spin their answers into how they can benefit the company and help achieve its goals. However, these questions are some of the most valuable an interviewer can ask, because a good fit between the potential new hire and company is just as important – perhaps even more important – than skills. After all, job skills can be taught. Take special care to not only explain your immediate ambitions but also illustrate how the position aligns with your long-term goals.
- "Why did you choose this career?"
- "Where do you see yourself in the future?"
- "What are your hobbies outside of work?
- "Why should we hire you?"
Rather than providing example answers for all these questions, our advice is to just be honest. No, you don't want to say, "I'm in this for the money," but you do want to paint a clear vision of your career trajectory and how the employer might fit into those plans. In doing so for the first three questions, you subtly answer the fourth.
Key takeaway: Tactful honesty makes for a good job interview.
Whether you are currently seeking a new position or do not intend to go into interviews for quite some time, understanding the reasons these common questions are asked – and being prepared to answer them thoroughly and confidently – will benefit you.
Remember that an interview goes both ways: You need to find out if the position and company will be a good fit for you as well. As such, don't be afraid to ask questions of your own, to request clarifications, or to return to an earlier question if the relevant information didn't come to you in time. Interviewers are human too, and they understand that no one is perfect, especially in stressful situations. Good luck out there.