Job Interview Questions and AnswersBy HRNasty
How to answer Job Interview Questions
With the mindset that an interview will only last 30 to 60 minutes, you will probably only be asked 10-20 job interview questions after small talk. With this limited time, we can be confident that the job interview questions will be similar to those below. There is so much info on how to answer these questions, there is NO reason you should not be prepared for these. I debated even adding this section, but what interview resource would be complete without them?
Answer these job interview questions on paper and compare your responses to the next page. I really encourage you to practice your answer out loud with a script. You should be able to recite answers at 2:00 am after a long night of drinking.
Top Job Interview Questions
What is your weakness?
Have you ever had problems with a supervisor or a coworker? Describe the situation for me.
Describe some times when you were not very satisfied with your own performance. What did you do about it?
Give me an example of an important goal you had to set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal. What steps did you take?
What are your long-range career objectives, and what steps have you taken toward obtaining them?
How well do you work with people? Do you prefer working alone or in teams?
Describe a situation where you found yourself dealing with someone who didn’t like you. What did you do?
What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
How did you find out about this position?
Tell me about yourself in 5 minutes or less.
What is your current/most recent position and company? Why did you leave? Why do you want to leave?
In reverse chronological order share your positions for the last 10 years:
Below is a list of standard job interview questions with the answers. Some answers will end the interview; others will not only keep it going, but gain you points along the way. For each question that I ask, I am “hoping” for an example that demonstrates prior behavior (which is an indicator of future behavior) and something I can use to sell your skill set to the hiring manager. I will prompt candidates for an example on the first few questions asked, but if the candidate doesn’t catch on to what I am looking for, I will give up. I need to have confidence that examples will be able delivered to the rest of the interviewers that the candidate may meet with.
Some things to keep in mind during the interview:
Who, When, What, and How. The “Who” and the “When” are in the resume. Give them the “What” and the How”. You and what you did are listed on the resume. Tell them not only WHAT you did, but HOW you did it. Most resumes talk about was accomplished. The HOW you accomplished it will separate you from the rest of the pack.
Keep everything positive. At no point in the interview do I want to hear you negative about anybody or anything. This is a first date. I don’t want to hear a hater, someone who is bitter, holds resentment, or hasn’t moved on from past positions.
All job interview questions are opportunities to show you are someone I want to work with. All job interview questions are an opportunity to give another example of why you are the person I should hire. Try to avoid just confirming that you have the skill set, or that you can do the job. Giving an example of WHAT you did and HOW you did it is a lot easier for me to understand and convey to the hiring manager. You may have practiced these answers in your mind 20 times, and know what you mean, but remember this is the first time I have heard them.
Job Interview Answers
1. What is your weakness?
A crappy answer I hear on a regular basis: ”I don’t really know Word, Excel, Outlook, or “you fill in the blank here”. I don’t have much self-discipline, I procrastinate, I have a weakness for chocolate, I am not good at public speaking / “you fill in the blank here”. (PS, you might as well just excuse yourself from the interview as well)
This is a trick question. I don’t want to hear about your weakness. Consider this our first date. On a first date, would you just set all your dirty laundry out for everyone to see? No! You would get around it, hide it, ad in the least, you would “spin” it somehow. I just met you 5 minutes ago. I am not ready for this. I won’t ever be ready for this. This candidate probably just took themselves out of the running within the first 5 minutes and doesn’t even know about it. From a business perspective: If one of our customers asked you about our product, are you going to give the customer all the dirty laundry and weaknesses about the product?
Better answer, but won’t get you hired: “hhmm. That is a good question. I would have to think about that. Let me see. Well, I don’t know how to do pivot tables in Excel, and I am not very good at Joins.”
Not a bad answer, but not what I am looking for. (I am looking for something). You had to think about it, which I liked, but who knows how to run a pivot table in Excel? I don’t. Are you saying I have a weakness? You haven’t been thrown out of interview in my mind, but you blew an opportunity to prove to me why you are worth keeping.
Answer that I am looking for, and will keep this interview going: “hmmm, a weakness. I would like to say I don’t have any real weaknesses. I am working on a couple of things that I feel I could use some improvement on. A little while ago, I realized my Excel skills weren’t up to par. I took it upon myself to take a class at the community college. I took an evening class and started with the beginning course. I realized I knew a bit more than I thought so continued to take the classes and finished their entire series of 3 classes. I am not as good as i want to be, but i am working on it. I feel I am pretty good at Excel at this point. But more importantly, I know how to look up and research what I don’t know.” What you are doing is identifying a prior “weakness” and showing that you have DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
2. Have you ever had problems with a supervisor or a coworker? Describe the situation for me.
Crappy, unacceptable, interview ending answer: ”Yes, I actually left my last job because my last manager wouldn’t get me promoted / give me a raise/ give me an opportunity/you fill in the blank. I worked there for 7 years had the second most seniority, came in on time every day. . blah blah blah.”
Sounds like an excuse to me. Do I need to sit through 30 minutes of excuses?
“There was a co worker at my last job who was an ass to everyone. Not just me. He was always negative, came in smelling like smoke, and I am sure he drank during lunch. He was always telling what to do and how to do it. Nothing was good enough for him.”
This is a trick question: Who wants to work with someone who is argumentative? What we are looking for are people who know how to get along. I don’t need to hear about this even if it did happen.
Crappy: ”I have always gotten along with my managers.”
I will probably follow this type of answer up with “Really? Everyone has had a crappy manager. Tell me about your last manager, surely there was a time”. . . I will actually put you into a negative hole when given this type of short answer. I asked a specific question and you basically just gave me the finger. You said “I am good enough, I get along with everyone”. Well, I am the prison guard that will put you in the hole with this answer.
Answer with Example: “You know, over all, I have been very fortunate, and gotten along with all of my managers. Of course, I believe it takes effort on both sides, and ultimately it is my career. At my last job, I miss understood an assignment and for the next week after that event, my manager treated me differently. I made it a point to send a post mortem email that explained what happened, took the responsibility, and then explained how I was going to fix the problem. Moving forward, I started to give weekly update emails on what projects I was working on and where I was against the deadlines. After those emails started, things returned to normal.”
This is the person I want on my team. I don’t have to manage them; they will manage themselves and our relationship. This person doesn’t come up with excuses, but shows initiative and takes responsibility. There will ALWAYS be an ass of a co-worker or a jerk of a boss. If you can’t figure out how to get along at your last job, you won’t figure it out at your next job.
3. Describe some times when you were not very satisfied with your own performance. What did you do about it?
Crappy and unacceptable: ”I have always been very happy with my performance. I work hard, prepare, and it pays off. This is why I had the highest sales last quarter.”
This sounds great in theory, and I know the candidate feels like they nailed the question, but unfortunately this fails. It doesn’t answer the question and doesn’t give me the example of when someone worked hard to improve.
Answer with Example: ”it is actually rare when I am really happy with my performance. I feel like I am always trying to improve. In my personal life I really like to golf / bowl / fish /knit/ you fill in the blank. When I first started 4 years ago, I shot a 100. I knew that this wasn’t going to be acceptable so initially I just made it a point to practice at the golf range 3 times a week. As I progressed and watched others, I got videos, read magazines and asked my friends for help. About a year in, I signed up for some lessons. They were expensive but they were the best investment I could make. I now have a much better score and am really proud of what I have accomplished. At my last job, I wasn’t very good at running the forklift. I cleared it with the manager if I could get my good friend to work with me after work and just practice lifting pallets. For about a week, we worked on different things. Backing around a corner, stacking pallets so they are straight. Moving one pile to another spot backwards for an hour a day after work. It paid off. I am now one of the most efficient operators of the forklift and my shift supervisor has me train everyone. I am proud of this.”
4. Give me an example of an important goal you had to set and tell me about your progress in reaching that goal. What steps did you take?
I would go back to number 3, re iterate and give more detail on what you described. The recruiter didn’t hear what they were looking for, so more detail. OR: use yet another example in a totally different context. Both of the prior examples were physical. Use an example where another skill set is involved like public speaking, learning how to use Outlook.
Answer with Example: “You know, 3 years ago, I didn’t know how to use Outlook. The job I was working wasn’t technology dependent, but I knew I needed to learn this skill if I wanted to get ahead. I literally laid out a plan. I was going to learn how to use AOL mail because it was free. I created two accounts and just practiced back and forth. Then I signed up for a course at the community center, which was only 25.00 for Outlook. They had 3 classes and my ultimate goal was to get through all three. Turns out that the AOL mail pretty much got me through the first class and I wasn’t until the 2nd class that I was introduced to new topics. By the third class, I was thinking about Excel. I am proud of what I accomplished. It might not be much to some, but for me, I view it as an investment.”
Companies are going to train any new hire. Even if they don’t have a training program, they feel like they are going to train you and want to make sure you will succeed. Proving that you have succeeded training in the past is an indicator of future success.
5. What are your long-range career objectives, and what steps have you taken toward obtaining them?
Crappy and Unacceptable unless you are interviewing for the COO position: I want to be the CEO of this company. I know that by starting in the entry level and working hard, I can someday be the CEO.
As great as this sounds, it just isn’t realistic or believable for any company. It may be believable in your reality, but at the end of the day we are working with the recruiter’s and the hiring manager’s reality. If they don’t see them becoming the CEO (and they don’t) why should they think you have a shot?
Answer with Example: My long-term goal is to be an expert in my discipline. I would like to be the “go to” person for what I do. When there is a problem, people think of me when it comes to solving that. I don’t worry about the title so much as having a rounded skill set. I want to be effective not only internally within the company but also externally with clients both large and small. I know it will take a lot of work, but if it was easy, everyone would do it.
6. How well do you work with people? Do you prefer working alone or in teams?
Crappy and Unacceptable. “I am a team player. I have always worked on teams. Played basketball in high school. I have never understood people who played golf. That is such an individual effort. I really like to be on a team.”
Pretty much a trick question: given a choice, most people will pick one or the other. If the job hasn’t specified a choice, and even if it has, I as the recruiter, am hoping you mention you can work in both. There may be times where I need to ask you to work individually. Even if the job says looking for a team player, you may work alone at times.
Crappy: “I work well on both. At my last job, we had to do some things as a team, and then there would be other days where I would be asked to do something on my own.
Sounds good, but I don’t have much to take back to my hiring manager. No story to tell. I have heard this same answer twice this past week. It doesn’ separate you from the rest of the pack.
Answer with Example: “I enjoy both. At my last job, the schedule was dependent on the customer requests. At Christmas we always are very busy and have a lot of orders to ship out. I really enjoyed that time because everyone is in a good mood, things are festive, we make it a point to take turns bringing in treats, and after Christmas we usually celebrate. At other times, I have been asked by my manager to go clean the back room. The backroom is filled with inventory that hasn’t been put away and it really is a one person job. I can look forward to this time as well. I just bring my iPod, put in my headphones and get into a zone.”
We haven’t shown we favor one or the other, we are trying to remain positive about both. We may not know if this is an individual contributor position or a team position, but in this economy, we need to not only be adaptable to both, we need to be able to prove we thrive in both.
7. Describe a situation where you found yourself dealing with someone who didn’t like you. What did you do?
Crappy and Unacceptable Answer: “I haven’t run into this problem. I get along with everyone and everyone gets along with me.”
As great as this sounds, the recruiter isn’t going to believe it or going to think you aren’t paying attention to your co-workers enough. No emotional intelligence. You haven’t answered the question.
A zero impact answer: “I usually get along with everyone. When I haven’t gotten along with people I make an effort to be straightforward with them and talk the problem through.”
Sounds good, but this is just theory. I hear this 10 times a day. Give me a specific example so I have a better chance of believing you.
Answer with Example: “I am pretty easy going, and I usually get along with everyone. That being said, at my last job, there was a co-worker that I didn’t care for. They were pretty negative towards my new ideas in meetings and publicly put my ideas down on a pretty regular basis. I was the new guy and didn’t have much credibility.” His name was Jake and everyone knew that Jake was a huge sports fan. I am pretty into baseball, so when everyone went to lunch, I made it a point to pick his brain on what he thought about different players and different teams. I never contradicted his opinions, just got him talking to me, and getting to know me. It was just a matter of us finding something in common. I believe that when people get to know you, they tend be nicer to you. I have found that when I am not getting along with someone, we don’t know each other enough and we need to find common ground.”
The is a specific example that shows initiative.
8. What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
Crappy answer: “I usually avoid it. I don’t like conflict so I can find a way to stay away from it.”
I don’t want to hire someone that walks away from problems; I am looking for a problem solver. Better yet, I am looking for someone who will not only take care of their conflicts but others as well.
Answer with example: “First I usually try to figure out what is causing the conflict. There is usually a reason. Most people don’t want to argue or disagree so there is usually something else that is going on. I am on a soccer team and there is someone on the team that recently has been very difficult to deal with. He wasn’t always like this. It wasn’t just me that was getting this treatment it was the entire team. One day after practice, I asked him out for a beer and got him into a setting that was neutral for both of us and just asked him “what’s going on with you? You aren’t your normal self, is everything OK?” It turned out that his company was going through some tough times and he was worried about having to let some folks go. We talked for a while, and things got better at practices. I always made it a point to greet him personally when I saw him and let him know he had an ally and was watching out for him. I usually try to find out what is behind the conflict.”
Great answer. Enough detail to explain what is going on, but also kept brief. I have an answer that is believable and I also found out that this candidate is pretty active outside of work.
9. How did you find out about this position?
Crappy Answer: “I saw your ad on craigslist, monster.com, the newspaper, or I walk past your building on the way home.”
This question seems perfectly straightforward. As if the recruiter wanted to see if their ads were working, but at the end of the day, I would love to hear that you have been watching the company and waiting for an opening to come up. As happy as I am I have a candidate, this is one of the worst answers I could hear. Basically, you told me you “stumbled” into this opportunity or it fill into your lap.
This is an opportunity to show real interest in the company, use it. Explain how your friend is always talking about how much he likes the company. You asked a friend that works for the company about the position because of your research, a recent article you read, or you really like their product. You really like the industry and looked at the major players. Explain how you have an interest in the company or what they stand for.
Great Answer: Well, I have been a fan of your company and your products for a long time now. My family has used your products. I have your X, Y, and Z. I use your Z, A, and B and love them. I saw your company at a charity event and the guys that were at the event really seemed energetic and were all volunteering. I went home and did some research.
This is a great answer because it lets the interviewer know that this job opportunity didn’t just fall in your lap, even if it did.
10. Tell me about yourself in 5 minutes or less.
See blog post on this specific question. http://www.hrnasty.com/?p=121
11. What is your current/most recent position and company? Why did you leave? Why do you want to leave?
Crappy answer: “I am currently a fork lift operator, developer, insurance adjuster, etc. I left because my manager wouldn’t give me a raise. I had the most seniority and I hadn’t had a raise in 2 years. I always showed up on time. The company didn’t treat it’s employees right. I saw lay off after lay off.”
Any variation of the above is off limits. I don’t want to hear you complain or make excuses. Under the premise of Behavioral Interviewing, examples of prior behavior are an indicator of future behavior. This isn’t a good sign.
Good answer: there are a couple of directions you can take here, any version of the below is cool with me as long as you don’t have any resentment in your answer.
I have been at this company for 3, 5, 15 years and am looking for a change. I like the company a lot, and I like my manager, but I have gotten to the top of my discipline there and the company / department is of the size that I am not learning any more. This is a company that specializes in “your discipline here” or is larger so there would be more opportunity to grow my skill set.
The company just had a lay off and I am still employed and am confident that they will have another lay off within 3 months, so I just want to see what other options are out there. I am talking with my manager to see if there is anything I can do to expand my skill set and make myself more valuable to the company, but even my manager is suggesting that we all look for new jobs.
I was just laid off from my company and took a break for the last few months. I figured I wouldn’t have a chance to take a long break till I retire so I made it a conscious decision to spend more time with my family, remodel the kitchen, learn a new skill set, do something you always wanted to do and have a passion for.
Being unemployed doesn’t sound good. Being unemployed by choice sounds much better. It gives the impression that you have options and won’t take the first thing that comes along.
12. In reverse chronological order share your positions for the last 10 years:
Crappy Answer: pulling out your resume and going through it bullet by bullet. The recruiter has already read your resume. (I didn’t just pick your resume from a bucket and call you without reading it) Avoid wasting 10 minutes that could be used putting more reasons to hire you into the bank. Tell the recruiter something new.
Better Answer: “as you can see from my resume, I have worked in this field for the last for the past 3, 5,10 years.” Break your last few years into just a couple of minutes each. Starting with your most recent position break down what you are most proud of that position. Tell me what you learned at another. Tell me what you did for the company’s bottom line for another. Mix it up, give me something different about yourself from each company.
“At my last job, I was a Sr. Finance Analyst. What I am most proud of there was that I submitted an idea to my manager to automate a particular product that had a lot of manual touch points. I submitted a written proposal with an outline. It answered questions Who, What, When and How. After a couple of iterations, I ended up presenting it to the VP. I worked with an implementation team and we ended up saving the company “x” in money and “y” in time. At the job prior to that, one thing that my resume doesn’t mention is that I was a mentor for new hires. I really enjoyed this position because of “a and b”. I had a real impact and the people I mentored are now doing very well within the company. I met with these folks once a week for their first month and was just their friend. After the first month, I met with them 1 time a month and our discussions were more goal oriented.”
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. E.G. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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