Common Interview Questions

The following is a list of questions frequently asked of job applicants during interviews. Click any question to view an analysis of the question and appropriate response suggestions.

Why have you had so many jobs?


Your interviewer fears you may leave this position quickly, as you have left other positions in the past. He’s concerned you may be unable to commit, or a “problem person” who can’t get along with others.


We are going to assume that you are not a problem person but have had a series of circumstances that have led to this job history. First, before you even get to the interview stage, you should try to minimize interviewer concerns by addressing shorter-term positions or interim positions in your cover letter. For example, “My university position did not begin until the Fall semester, so I helped my cousin run his car wash for the summer.”

If this question comes up in the interview, be honest but describe each position as part of an overall pattern that led you to where you are today. Be careful not to blame other people for your frequent changes. Example: Thanks to an upcoming merger, you wanted to avoid a planned downsizing, so you made a career move before your department was affected.

If possible, also show that your job changes were more frequent in your early work history, while you were establishing yourself, rounding out your skills and looking for the right career path. At this stage in your career, show that you are more interested in the best long-term opportunity.

You might also highlight the job(s) where you stayed the longest and describe why that job was such a good fit and a great match is what you’re looking for now.

You have been with your firm a long time. Won’t it be hard switching to a new company?


Your interviewer is worried that you might have difficulty adjusting to a new situation or in learning a new job quickly.


Point to the many ways you have grown and adapted to changing conditions at your present firm. Highlight the ways in which it has not been a static situation. Detail the different responsibilities you’ve held, the wide array of new situations you’ve faced and conquered.

As a result, you’ve learned to adapt quickly to whatever is thrown at you, and you thrive on the stimulation of new challenges.

To further assure the interviewer, describe the similarities between the new position and your prior one. Explain that you should be quite comfortable working there, since their needs and your skills are a good match.

How many hours a week do you normally work?


The interviewer wants to assess your expectations and orientation towards work and how seriously you take work. Or the position is one requiring long hours. This may or may not be a situation that requires a workaholic, so don’t make that assumption.


If you are in fact a workaholic and you sense this company would like that, say that you are a confirmed workaholic, that you often work nights and weekends.

If you are not a workaholic, emphasize that you have always worked hard and have good stamina to do what needs to be done and that you can be flexible. Ask what hours are traditionally expected in the position and company. One of the reasons for an interview is for the candidate to determine if the position is a good match for them.

What was the toughest challenge you have ever faced?


The interviewer wants to assess your ability to handle challenging situations by listening to how you have handled those in the past.


This is an easy question if you’re prepared. Have a recent example ready that demonstrates either. As with anything on your interview, make sure it can be verified if it was on one of your previous jobs. Be prepared to highlight the way you handled the situation and focus on:

  1. A quality most important to the job at hand; or,
  2. A quality that is always in demand, such as leadership, initiative, managerial skill, persuasiveness, courage, persistence, intelligence, etc.

What are your goals?


The interviewer wants to measure your degree of focus and steadfastness in meeting goals. They may also want to determine if your goals are a good match for the company and position.


Many executives in a position to hire you are strong believers in goal setting (it’s one of the reasons they’ve achieved so much). They like to hire in kind. If you’re vague about your career and personal goals, it could be a big turnoff to many people you will encounter in your job search.

Therefore, clarify your goals before you begin your search, and be ready to discuss your goals for each major area of your life: career, personal development and learning, family, physical, community and spiritual.

Be prepared to describe each goal in terms of specific milestones you wish to accomplish along the way; time periods you’re allotting for accomplishment; why the goal is important to you; and the specific steps you’re taking to bring it about. But do this concisely, as you never want to talk for more than two minutes straight before letting your interviewer back into the conversation.

Salary Questions


This is an important question that needs to be handled well. The interviewer wants to determine if you are within the parameters for the position the company has in mind or in some situations, is able to pay. They want to know if you are a good match for the position in terms of pay.


For maximum salary negotiating power, remember these five guidelines:

  1. Never bring up salary yourself, let the interviewer do it first. Good salespeople sell their products thoroughly before talking price. So should you. Make the interviewer want you first, and your bargaining position will be much stronger.
  2. If your interviewer raises the salary question too early, before you’ve had a chance to create desire for what you have to offer as a candidate, postpone the question, saying something like, “Money is important to me, but it is not my main concern. Opportunity and growth are far more important.” Or, “What I would rather do, if you don’t mind, is explore if I’m right for the position, and then talk about the money. Would that be okay?”
  3. The #1 rule of any negotiation is: the side with more information usually has more leverage. After you have done a thorough job of selling the interviewer and it’s time to talk salary, encourage the employer to talk about what he’s willing to pay before you reveal what you are willing to accept. When asked about the salary, respond by asking, “I’m sure the company has already established a salary range for this position. Could you tell me what that is?” Or, “I want an income commensurate with my ability and qualifications. I trust you will be fair with me. What does the position pay?” Or, more simply, “What does the position pay?”
  4. Know beforehand what you’d accept. Know also that to hold a line means that you may be refused that number. This tests a candidate’s self-esteem and ability to not settle for something he knows will not work in the long run. To know what is reasonable, research the job market and this position for any relevant salary information. Remember that most executives look for a 20% – 25% pay boost when they switch jobs. If you’re grossly underpaid, you may want more. This is not the time to become excessively egocentric, it is the time to be very realistic about both yourself and the market.
  5. Never lie about what you currently make, but feel free to include the estimated cost of all your fringes, which could well tack on 25% – 50% more to your present “cash-only” salary. Be sure you state that separately. Companies will sometimes verify previous income.

Why should I hire you from the outside when I could promote someone from within?


This question isn’t as aggressive as it sounds. It represents the interviewer’s own dilemma over this common problem. He’s probably leaning toward you already and, for reassurance, wants to hear what you have to say on the matter. Also, he will have to justify hiring an outside person to his superiors and employees who have applied for the job.


Help him to see the qualifications that only you offer; and give him good reasons to be an advocate for you if needed.

Example: “In general, I think it’s a good policy to hire from within when possible. But the very fact that you decided to look outside probably means that you are not completely comfortable choosing from the internal people available.”

“Naturally, you want this department to be as strong as it possibly can be, so you want the strongest candidate. I feel that I can fill that void because…(then recap your strongest qualifications that match up with his greatest needs).”

Tell me about yourself…


The interviewer may be inexperienced or just likes a free-form interview; but beware–about 80% of all interviews begin with this question. Many candidates, unprepared for the question, skewer themselves by rambling, recapping their life story, delving into ancient work history or personal matters.


Start with the present and tell why you are well qualified for the position.

Remember that the key to successful interviewing is to match your qualifications to what the interviewer is looking for. In other words, you must be selling what the buyer is buying. This is the single most important strategy in executive job hunting.

So, before you answer this or any question, it’s imperative that you try to uncover your interviewer’s greatest need, want, problem or goal. To do so, make sure you take these two steps:

  1. Do all the homework you can before the interview to uncover this person’s wants and needs (not the generalized needs of the industry or company).
  2. As early as you can in the interview, ask for a more complete description of what the position entails. You might say: “I have a number of accomplishments I’d like to tell you about, but I want to make the best use of our time together and talk directly to your needs. To help me do that, could you tell me more about the most important priorities of this position? All I know is what I (heard from the recruiter…read in the classified ad, etc.).”

Then, ALWAYS follow-up with a second and possibly third question, to draw out the interviewer’s needs even more. Surprisingly, it’s usually this second or third question that uncovers what the interviewer is most looking for.

You might ask simply, “And in addition to that….” or, “Is there anything else you see as essential to success in this position?”

This process will not feel easy or natural at first, because it is easier in an interview to simply answer questions. But only if you uncover the employer’s wants and needs will your answers make the most sense. If you practice asking these key questions before giving your answers, the process will feel more natural and you will be light years ahead of the other job candidates with whom you are competing.

After uncovering what the employer is looking for, describe why the needs of this job bear parallels to tasks you’ve succeeded at before. Be sure to illustrate with specific examples of your responsibilities and especially your achievements. They should all support filling the needs he has just described.

Why should I hire you?


Believe it or not, this is a killer question because so many candidates are unprepared for it. Prepare for this question; prepare for this question; prepare for this question!


By now you can see how critical it is to apply the overall method of uncovering the employer’s needs before you answer questions. If you know the employer’s greatest needs and desires, answering this question well will give you an advantage over other candidates, because you will give him better reasons for hiring you than anyone else is likely to –reasons tied directly to his own needs.

Whether your interviewer asks you this question explicitly or not, this is the most important question of your interview because he must answer this question favorably in his own mind before you will be hired. And, always remember, he will have to justify his decision or his advocacy of you to other people. So help him out! Walk through each of the position’s requirements as you understand them, and follow each with a reason why you meet that requirement so well.

Example: “As I understand your needs, you are first and foremost looking for someone who can manage the sales and marketing of your book publishing division. As you’ve said, you need someone with a strong background in trade book sales. This is where I’ve spent almost most of my career, so I’ve chalked up 18 years experience exactly in this area. I believe that I know the right methods, principles, and successful management techniques as well as any person can in our industry. Additionally, I have accumulated many contacts with whom I have relationships.”

“You also need someone who can expand your book distribution channels. In my prior post, my innovative promotional ideas doubled, and then tripled, the number of outlets selling our books. I am confident I can do the same for you.”

“You need someone to give a new shot in the arm to your mail order sales, someone who knows how to sell in space and direct mail media. Here, too, I believe I have exactly the experience you need. In the last five years, I’ve increased our mail order book sales from $600,000 to $2,800,000, and now we are the country’s second leading marketer of scientific and medical books by mail.”

Every one of these “matches” (his need matched by your qualifications) is a touchdown that runs up your score. It is your best opportunity to outsell your competition.

Why do you want to work at our company?


This question tests whether you’ve done any homework about the firm. If you haven’t, you lose. If you have, you win big.


This question is your opportunity to hit the ball out of the park, thanks to the in-depth research you should do before any interview.

Best sources for researching your target company: annual reports, the corporate newsletter, contacts you know at the company or its suppliers, advertisements, articles about the company in the trade press, web site.

Hiring managers, as well as executives and owners are human. Make them feel good about their decision to work for and build their company by showing them that you have an understanding about it that led to your appreciating its strengths and uniqueness. Find things to compliment about the company, the hiring process, and the people you will be working for. This goes a long, long way. It is hard not to like or to reject someone who likes and appreciates you!

What good books have you read lately?


An interviewer is looking for your dedication to investing in your own continuing education in matters particular to your industry. Some believe ongoing reading is an indicator of not only higher intelligence but also a higher willingness to grow.


As in all matters of your interview, never fake familiarity you don’t have. Yet, you don’t want to seem like a dullard who hasn’t read a book since Tom Sawyer. Unless you’re up for a position in academia or as a book critic for The New York Times, you’re not expected to be a literary lion. But it speaks well of your curiosity and ability to seek out your own growth and learning experiences if you have read a handful of the most recent and influential books in your profession and in business, motivation or management.

Consider it as part of the work of your job search to read up on a few of these leading books. But make sure they are quality books that reflect favorably upon you, nothing that could even remotely be considered superficial. Finally, add a recently published best-selling work of fiction by a world-class author and you’ll pass this question with flying colors.

How do you feel about reporting to a younger person (woman, minority, etc.)?


It’s a shame that some interviewers feel the need to ask this question that is illegal or close to it, but many feel that prejudices still exist among some job candidates, and it’s better to try to flush them out beforehand.

In today’s politically sensitized environment, even a well-intentioned answer can result in planting your foot neatly into your mouth. Avoid anything which smacks of a patronizing or an insensitive attitude, such as “I think they can make terrific bosses” or “Hey, some of my best friends are …”

Best Answer:

Of course, since almost anyone with an IQ above room temperature will at least try to steadfastly affirm the right answer here, your interviewer will be judging your sincerity most of all. “Do you really feel that way?” Is what he or she will be wondering.

So you must make your answer believable and not just an automatic. If the firm is wise enough to have promoted people on the basis of ability alone, they’re likely quite proud of it, and prefer to hire others who will wholeheartedly share their strong sense of fair play.

Why aren’t you earning more money at this stage of your career?


There is a genuine curiosity if you are making less money than the interviewer would expect for your qualifications and experience. You don’t want to give the impression that money is not important to you, yet you want to explain why your salary may be a little below industry standards.


You like to make money, but other factors are even more important.

Example: “Making money is very important to me, and one reason I’m here is because I’m looking to make more. Throughout my career, what’s been even more important to me is doing work I really like to do at the kind of company I like and respect.”

(Then be prepared to be specific about what your ideal position and company would be like, matching them as closely as possible to the opportunity at hand.)

What was the toughest decision you ever had to make?


Evaluating your decision-making ability.


Giving an unprepared or irrelevant answer would be a negative that displayed either that you did not understand the question or that you do not put thought into your decision-making.

Be prepared with a good example, explaining why the decision was difficult…the process you followed in reaching it…the courageous or effective way you carried it out…and the beneficial results.

I’m concerned that you don’t have as much experience as we’d like in…


The interviewer mostly likes what he sees, but has doubts over one key area. The concern is not that you are totally missing some qualification, such as a CPA certification, but rather that your experience is light in one area. Remember that he must justify his hiring decision or recommendation to others, along with your answer to this question.


Before going into any interview, try to identify the weakest aspects of your candidacy from this company’s point of view. Then prepare the best answer you possibly can to explain how you compensate for that lack. To get you past this question with flying colors, you are going to rely on your master plan of uncovering the employer’s greatest wants and needs and then matching them with your strengths.

More specifically when the interviewer poses an objection like this, you should…

  1. Agree on the importance of this qualification.
  2. Explain that your strength here may indeed be greater than your resume.
  3. When your strengths are looked at in total, you overcome this specific lack.

Then review the areas of your greatest strengths that match up most favorably with the company’s most urgently felt wants and needs.

This is a very powerful way to handle this question for two reasons. First, you’re giving your interviewer more support in the area of his concern. But more importantly, you’re shifting his focus away from this one isolated area and putting it on the unique combination of strengths you offer– strengths which tie in perfectly with his greatest wants.

Are you willing to relocate or travel?


This means that there might be travel or relocation.


First, find out where you may have to relocate and how much travel may be involved, then respond to the question.

If there’s no problem, say so enthusiastically. If there are qualifications or preferences, talk about those. Get real before you start your interview process about what your real parameters are and talk them over with anyone with whom you must coordinate travel or relocation.

Give me an example of your creativity (analytical skill… managing ability, etc.).


Certain skills may be make-or-break necessities for performing well in the position. The worst offense here is simply being unprepared. Your hesitation may seem as if you’re having a hard time remembering the last time you were creative, analytical, etc.


You should commit to memory a list of your greatest and most recent achievements, ever ready on the tip of your tongue.

If you have such a list, it’s easy to present any of your achievements in light of the quality the interviewer is asking about. For example, the success you orchestrated at last year’s trade show could be used as an example of creativity, or analytical ability, or your ability to manage.

Have you considered starting your own business?


There could be several reasons for this question, so a definitive yes or no is not a good idea. The interviewer may be measuring your entrepreneurial tendencies because starting things up may be a key part of this position but if there are trade secrets or a customer database to be taken, they may be wondering about your motives for being interested in their company and position.


Again it’s best to:

  1. Gauge this company’s corporate culture before answering, and…
  2. Be honest (which doesn’t mean you have to vividly share your fantasy of the franchise or bed-and-breakfast you someday want to open).

In general, if the corporate culture is that of a large, formal, military-style structure, minimize any indication that you’d love to have your own business. You might say, “Oh, I may have given it a thought once or twice, but my whole career has been larger organizations. That’s where I’ve excelled and where I want to be.”

If the corporate culture is closer to the free-wheeling, everybody’s-a-deal-maker variety, then emphasize that in a firm like this, you can virtually get the best of all worlds, the excitement of seeing your own ideas and plans take shape…combined with the resources and stability of a well-established organization. Sounds like the perfect environment to you.

In any case, no matter what the corporate culture, be sure to indicate that any desires about running your own show are not part of your present plans.

The last thing you want to project is an image of either the dreamer who failed and is now settling for the corporate cocoon…or the restless maverick who will fly out the door with key accounts, contacts and trade secrets under his arm just as soon as his bankroll has gotten rebuilt.

Always remember: Match what you want with what the position offers. The more information you’ve uncovered about the position, the more in line with the position you can make your answers.

How do you define success… and how do you measure up to your own definition?


Seems like an obvious enough question, yet many executives, unprepared for it, fumble the ball. Your drive for success is important for this position.


Give a well-accepted definition of success that leads right into your own collection of achievements.

Example: “The best definition I’ve come across is that success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal. “As to how I would measure up to that definition, I would consider myself both successful and fortunate…” (Then summarize your career goals and how your achievements have indeed represented a progressive path toward realization of your goals.)

Tell me something negative you’ve heard about our company…


This is a common fishing expedition to see what the industry grapevine may be saying about the company. But it’s also a trap because as an outsider, you never want to be the bearer of unflattering news or gossip about the firm. It can only hurt your chances and sidetrack the interviewer into a negative track.


Just remember the rule–never be negative–and you’ll handle this one just fine.

What are your greatest strengths?


This question seems like a softball lob, but be prepared. You don’t want to come across as egotistical or arrogant. Neither is this a time to be humble.


You know that your key strategy is to first uncover your interviewer’s greatest wants and needs before you answer questions.

Prior to any interview, you should have a list mentally prepared of your greatest strengths. You should also have a specific example or two that illustrates each strength, an example chosen from your most recent and most impressive achievements.

You should have this list of your greatest strengths and corresponding examples from your achievements so well committed to memory that you can recite them cold after being shaken awake at 2:30 a.m.

Then, once you uncover your interviewer’s greatest wants and needs, you can choose those achievements from your list that best match up.

As a general guideline, the 10 most desirable traits that all employers love to see in their executives and managers are:

  1. A proven track record as an achiever…especially if your achievements match up with the employer’s greatest wants and needs.
  2. Intelligence…management “savvy.”
  3. Honesty…integrity…a decent human being.
  4. Good fit with corporate culture…someone to feel comfortable with…a team player that meshes well with interviewer’s team.
  5. Likeability…positive attitude…sense of humor.
  6. Good communication skills.
  7. Dedication…willingness to walk the extra mile to achieve excellence.
  8. Definiteness of purpose…clear goals.
  9. Enthusiasm…high level of motivation.
  10. Confident…healthy…a leader.

What are your greatest weaknesses?


This may be an eliminator question designed to shorten the candidate list. Pointing to a specific weakness or fault will earn you an “A” for honesty, but may hit a negative hot button for the interviewer.


This is another reason it’s so important to get a thorough description of your interviewer’s needs before you answer questions. Assure the interviewer that you can think of nothing that would stand in the way of your performing in this position with excellence. Then, quickly review your strongest qualifications.

Example: “Nobody’s perfect, but based on what you’ve told me about this position, I believe I’d make an outstanding match. I know that when I hire people, I look for two things most of all: Do they have the qualifications and the motivation to do the job well. Everything in my background shows I have both the qualifications and a strong desire to achieve excellence in whatever I take on. So I can say in all honesty that I see nothing that would cause you even a small concern about my ability or my strong desire to perform this job with excellence.”

Alternate approach: (if you don’t yet know enough about the position to talk about such a perfect fit):

Instead of confessing a weakness, describe what you like most and like least, making sure that what you like most matches up with the most important qualification for success in the position, and what you like least is not essential.

Example: Let’s say you’re applying for a sales position: “If given a choice, I like to spend as much time as possible in front of prospects selling, as opposed to shuffling paperwork back at the office. Of course, I learned long ago the importance of filing paperwork properly and I do it conscientiously. But what I really love to do is sell.” (If your interviewer were a sales manager, this would be music to his ears.)

Why are you leaving (or did you leave) this position?


Never badmouth your previous industry, company, Board, boss, staff, employees or customers. Do not violate this rule and never be negative.

Especially avoid words like “personality clash,” “didn’t get along,” or any other statements or words that cast a shadow on your competence, integrity or temperament.


(If you have a job presently:)
If you’re not yet 100% committed to leaving your present post, don’t be afraid to say so. Since you have a job, you are in a stronger position than someone who does not. But don’t be coy, either. State honestly what you’d be hoping to find in a new spot. Of course, as stated often before, your answer will be all the stronger if you have already uncovered what this position is all about and you match your desires to it.

(If you do not presently have a job:)
Never lie about having been fired. It’s unethical — and too easily checked. But do try to deflect the reason from you personally. If your being fired was the result of a takeover, merger, division-wide layoff, so much the better and explain that.

But you should also do something totally unnatural that will demonstrate consummate professionalism. Even if it hurts, describe your own firing — candidly, succinctly and without a trace of bitterness — from the company’s point-of-view, indicating that you could understand why it happened and you might have made the same decision yourself.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?


One-reason interviewers ask this question is to see if you’re settling for this position, using it merely as a stopover until something better comes along. Or they could be trying to gauge your level of ambition.

If you’re too specific, i.e., naming the promotions you someday hope to win, you’ll sound presumptuous. If you’re too vague, you’ll seem rudderless.


Reassure your interviewer that you’re looking to make a long-term commitment…that this position entails exactly what you’re looking to do and what you do extremely well. As for your future, you believe that if you perform each job at hand with excellence, future opportunities will take care of themselves.

Example: “I am definitely interested in making a long-term commitment to my next position. Judging by what you’ve told me about this position, it’s exactly what I’m looking for and what I am very well qualified to do. In terms of my future career path, I’m confident that if I do my work with excellence, opportunities will inevitably open up for me. It’s always been that way in my career, and I’m confident I’ll have similar opportunities here.”

Aren’t you overqualified for this position?


The employer may be concerned that you’ll grow dissatisfied and leave.


As with any objection, don’t view this as a sign of imminent defeat. It’s an invitation to teach the interviewer a new way to think about this situation, seeing advantages instead of drawbacks.

Example: “I recognize the job market for what it is — a marketplace. Like any marketplace, it’s subject to the laws of supply and demand. So “overqualified” can be a relative term, depending on how tight the job market is. And right now, it’s very tight. I understand and accept that.”

“I also believe that there could be very positive benefits for both of us in this match.”

“Because of my unusually strong experience in (________), I could start to contribute right away, perhaps much faster than someone who’d have to be brought along more slowly.”

“There’s also the value of all the training and years of experience that other companies have invested tens of thousands of dollars to give me. You’d be getting all the value of that without having to pay an extra dime for it. With someone who has yet to acquire that experience, he’d have to gain it at your expense.”

“I could also help you in many things they don’t teach at the Harvard Business School. For example..(how to hire, train, motivate, etc.) When it comes to knowing how to work well with people and getting the most out of them, there’s just no substitute for what you learn over many years of front-line experience. Your company would gain all this, too.”

“From my side, there are strong benefits, as well. Right now, I’m unemployed. I want to work, very much, and the position you have here is exactly what I love to do and am best at. I’ll be happy doing this work and that’s what matters most to me, a lot more than money or title.”

“Most important, I’m looking to make a long-term commitment in my career now. I’ve had enough of job hunting and want a permanent spot at this point in my career. I also know that if I perform this job with excellence, other opportunities cannot help but open up for me right here. In time, I’ll find many other ways to help this company and in so doing, help myself. I really am looking to make a long-term commitment.”

NOTE: The main concern behind the “overqualified” question is that you will leave your new employer as soon as something better comes your way. Anything you can say to demonstrate the sincerity of your commitment to the employer and reassure him that you’re looking to stay for the long-term will help you overcome this objection.

Tell me about something you did-or failed to do-that you now feel a little ashamed of.


There are some questions your interviewer has no business asking, and this is one. But while you may feel like answering, “none of your business,” naturally you can’t. Some interviewers ask this question on the chance you may admit to something, but if not, at least they’ll see how you think on your feet.

Some unprepared candidates, flustered by this question, unburden themselves of guilt from their personal life or career, perhaps expressing regrets regarding a parent, spouse, child, etc. All such answers can be disastrous.


As with faults and weaknesses, never confess a regret. But don’t seem as if you’re stonewalling either. Say you harbor no regrets and add a principle or habit you practice regularly for healthy human relations.

Example: Pause for reflection, as if the question never occurred to you. Then say, “You know, I really can’t think of anything.” (Pause again, then add): “I would add that as a general management principle, I’ve found that the best way to avoid regrets is to avoid causing them in the first place. I practice one habit that helps me a great deal in this regard. At the end of each day, I mentally review the day’s events and conversations to take a second look at the people and developments I’m involved with and do a double-check of what they’re likely to be feeling. Sometimes I’ll see things that do need more follow-up, whether a pat on the back, or maybe a five-minute chat in someone’s office to make sure we’re clear on things…whatever.”

“I also like to make each person feel like a member of an elite team, like the Boston Celtics or LA Lakers in their prime. I’ve found that if you let each team member know you expect excellence in their performance…if you work hard to set an example yourself…and if you let people know you appreciate and respect their feelings, you wind up with a highly motivated group, a team that’s actually having fun at work because they’re striving for excellence rather than brooding over slights or regrets.”

The “Silent Treatment.”


Thank goodness most interviewers don’t employ it. It’s normally used by those determined to see how you respond under stress. Here’s how it works:

You answer an interviewer’s question and then, instead of asking another, he just stares at you in a deafening silence.

You wait, growing a bit uneasy, and there he sits, silent as Mt. Rushmore, as if he doesn’t believe what you’ve just said, or perhaps making you feel that you’ve unwittingly violated some cardinal rule of interview etiquette.

When you get this silent treatment after answering a particularly difficult question, such as “tell me about your weaknesses,” its intimidating effect can be most disquieting, even to polished job hunters.

Most unprepared candidates rush in to fill the void of silence, viewing prolonged, uncomfortable silence as an invitation to clear up the previous answer which has obviously caused some problem–and that’s what they do — ramble on, sputtering more and more information, sometimes irrelevant and often damaging, because they are suddenly playing the role of someone who’s goofed and is now trying to recoup. But since the candidate doesn’t know where or how he goofed, he just keeps talking, showing how flustered and confused he is by the interviewer’s unmovable silence.


Like a primitive tribal mask, the Silent Treatment loses all its power to frighten you once you refuse to be intimidated. If your interviewer pulls it, keep quiet for a while and then ask, with sincere politeness and not a trace of sarcasm, “Is there anything else I can fill in on that point?” That’s all there is to it.

Whatever you do, don’t let the Silent Treatment intimidate you into talking a blue streak, because you could easily talk yourself out of the position.

Describe your ideal company, location and job.


The interviewer is looking for a good match with what he knows his company can offer. However, this is often asked by an experienced interviewer who thinks you may be overqualified, but knows better than to show his hand by posing his objection directly. So he’ll use this question instead, which often gets a candidate to reveal that, indeed, he or she is looking for something other than the position at hand.


The only right answer is to describe what this company is offering, being sure to make your answer believable with specific reasons, stated with sincerity, why each quality represented by this opportunity is attractive to you.

Remember that if you’re coming from a company that’s the leader in its field or from a glamorous or much admired company, industry, city or position, your interviewer and his company may well have an “Avis” complex. That is, they may feel a bit defensive about being “second best” to the place you’re coming from, worried that you may consider them second rate.

This anxiety could well be there even though you’ve done nothing to inspire it. You must go out of your way to assuage such anxiety, even if it’s not expressed, by putting their virtues high on the list of exactly what you’re looking for, providing credible reasons for wanting these qualities.

If you do not express genuine enthusiasm for the firm, its culture, location, industry, etc., you may fail to answer this “Avis” complex objection and, as a result leave the interviewer suspecting that a hot shot like you, coming from a Fortune 500 company in New York, just wouldn’t be happy at an unknown manufacturer based in Topeka, Kansas.

Why have you been out of work so long?


Real curiosity as to what has prevented you from securing employment. This is a tough question if you’ve been on the beach a long time. You don’t want to seem like damaged goods.


You want to emphasize factors that have prolonged your job search by your own choice.

Example: “After my job was terminated, I made a conscious decision not to jump on the first opportunities to come along. In my life, I’ve found that you can always turn a negative into a positive if you try hard enough. This is what I am determined to do. I decided to take whatever time I needed to think through what I do best, what I most want to do, where I’d like to do it…and then identify those companies that could offer such an opportunity.”

“Also, in all honesty, you have to factor in the (recession, consolidation, stabilization, etc.) in the (banking, financial services, manufacturing, advertising, etc.) industry.”

“So between my being selective and the companies in our industry downsizing, the process has taken time. But in the end, I’m convinced that when I do find the right match, all that careful evaluation from both sides of the desk will have been well worthwhile for both the company that hires me and myself.”

What are your outside interests?


This is an effort to have more personal insight into you and your lifestyle for the purposes of fit with culture and position. You want to be well-rounded–not a drone. But your potential employer would be even more turned off if he suspects that your heavy extra-curricular load will interfere with your commitment to your work duties, or reveals a recreation oriented rather than work oriented personality.


Try to gauge how this company’s culture would look upon your favorite outside activities and be guided accordingly.

You can also use this question to shatter any stereotypes that could limit your chances. If you’re over 50, for example, describe your activities that demonstrate physical stamina. If you’re young, mention an activity that connotes wisdom and institutional trust, such as serving on the board of a popular local charity.

But above all, remember that your employer is hiring you for what you can do for him, not your family, yourself or outside organizations, no matter how admirable those activities may be.

Would you lie for the company?


They want to measure both your integrity and your judgment in handling a dilemma such as this. The question pits two values against one another, in this case loyalty against integrity.


Try to avoid choosing between two values, giving a positive statement that covers all bases instead.

Example: “I would never do anything to hurt the company. I would try to find a way to work through this with the people involved so that no one had to violate their integrity.”

If aggressively pressed to choose between two competing values, always choose personal integrity. It is the most prized of all values.

Can you work under pressure?


This common question describes a situation that occurs in almost any position such as: stress due to deadlines, work overloads, etc. They want to hear how you handle such situations?


Absolutely…(then prove it with a vivid example of a goal or project accomplished under severe pressure).

Have you been absent from work more than a few days in any previous position?


Employers want employees who are there to fill the position every day. If you’ve had a problem, you can’t lie. You can easily be found out. Yet admitting an attendance problem could raise many red flags.


If you have had no problem, emphasize your excellent and consistent attendance record throughout your career.

Also describe how important you believe such consistent attendance is for a key executive or employee…why it’s up to you to set an example of dedication…and why there’s just no substitute for being there with your people to keep the operation running smoothly, answer questions and handle problems and crises as they arise.

If you do have a past attendance problem, you want to minimize it, making it clear that it was an exceptional circumstance and that it’s cause has been corrected.

To do this, give the same answer as above, but preface it with something like, “Other than being out last year (or whenever) because of (your reason, which is now in the past), I have never had a problem and have enjoyed an excellent attendance record throughout my career. Furthermore, I believe consistent attendance is important because…” (Pick up the rest of the answer as outlined above).

How do you feel about working nights and weekends?


The interviewer wants to check out your willingness to go the extra mile when necessary. Blurt out “no way, Jose” and you can kiss the job offer goodbye. But what if you have a family and want to work a reasonably normal schedule? Is there a way to get both the job and the schedule you want?


First, if you’re a confirmed workaholic, this question is a softball lob. Whack it out of the park on the first swing by saying this kind of schedule is just your style. Add that your family understands it. Indeed, they’re happy for you, as they know you get your greatest satisfaction from your work.

If however you prefer a more balanced lifestyle, answer this question with another: “What’s the norm for your best people here?”

If the hours still sound unrealistic for you, ask, “Do you have any top people who perform exceptionally for you, but who also have families and like to get home in time to see them at night?” Chances are the company does, and this associates you with this other, “top-performers-who-leave-no-later-than-six” group.

Be honest about how you would fit into the picture. If all those extra hours make you uncomfortable, say so, but phrase your response positively.

Example: “I love my work and do it exceptionally well. I think the results speak for themselves, especially in…(mention your two or three qualifications of greatest interest to the employer. Remember, this is what he wants most, not a workaholic with weak credentials.) Not only would I bring these qualities, but also I’ve built my whole career on working not just hard, but smart. I think you’ll find me one of the most productive people here.”

“I do have a family who likes to see me after work and on weekends. They add balance and richness to my life, which in turn helps to keep me happy and productive at work. If I could handle some of that extra work at home in the evenings or on weekends, that would be ideal. You’d be getting a person of exceptional productivity who meets your needs with very strong credentials. And I’d be able to handle some of the heavy workload at home where I can be under the same roof as my family. Everybody would win.”

What are your career options right now?


The interviewer is trying to find out about other opportunities that might be close for you and what the competition is for you as an employee.


Prepare for this question by thinking of how you can position yourself as a desired commodity. If you are still working, describe the possibilities at your present firm and why, though you’re greatly appreciated there, you’re looking for something more (challenge, money, responsibility, etc.). Also mention that you’re seriously exploring opportunities with one or two other firms.

If you’re no longer working, you can talk about other employment possibilities you’re actively exploring. But do this with a light touch, speaking only in general terms. You don’t want to seem manipulative or coy.

On confidential matters…


First, many companies use interviews to research the competition. Here, on their own turf, is an insider from the other camp who can reveal prized information on the competition’s plans, research, financial condition, etc.

Second, the company may be testing your integrity to see if you can be cajoled or bullied into revealing confidential data.

When an interviewer presses you to reveal confidential information about a present or former employer, you may feel it’s a no-win situation. If you cooperate, you could be judged untrustworthy. If you don’t offer anything, you may irritate the interviewer and seem obstinate, uncooperative or overly suspicious.


What to do? The answer here is easy. Never reveal anything truly confidential about a present or former employer. By all means, explain your reticence diplomatically. For example, “I certainly want to be as open as I can about that. But I also wish to respect the rights of those who have trusted me with their most sensitive information, just as you would hope to be able to trust any of your key people when talking with a competitor…”

And certainly you can allude to your finest achievements in specific ways that don’t reveal the combination to the company safe.

But be guided by the golden rule. If you were the owner of your present company, would you feel it ethically wrong for the information to be given to your competitors? If so, steadfastly refuse to reveal it.

Remember that this question pits your desire to be cooperative against your integrity. Faced with any such choice, always choose integrity. It is a far more valuable commodity than whatever information the company may pry from you. Moreover, once you surrender the information, your stock goes down. They will surely lose respect for you.

One President of a company always presses candidates unmercifully for confidential information. If he doesn’t get it, he grows visibly annoyed, relentlessly inquisitive. It’s all an act. He couldn’t care less about the information. This is his way of testing the candidate’s moral fiber. Only those who hold fast are hired.

Tell me about a situation when your work was criticized.


This is a tough question because it’s a more clever and subtle way to get you to admit a weakness. You can’t dodge it by pretending you’ve never been criticized. Everybody has been. Yet it can be quite damaging to start admitting potential faults and failures that you’d just as soon leave buried.

This question is also intended to probe how well you accept criticism and direction.


Begin by emphasizing the extremely positive feedback you’ve gotten throughout your career and (if it’s true) that your performance reviews have been uniformly excellent.

Of course, no one is perfect and you always welcome suggestions on how to improve your performance. Then, give an example of a not-too-damaging learning experience from early in your career and relate the ways this lesson has since helped you. This demonstrates that you learned from the experience and the lesson is now one of the strongest cornerstones of your good work.

If you are pressed for a criticism from a recent position, choose something fairly trivial that in no way is essential to your successful performance. Add that you’ve learned from this, too, and over the past several years/months, it’s no longer an area of concern because you now make it a regular practice to…etc.

Another way to answer this question would be to describe your intention to broaden your mastery of an area of growing importance in your field. For example, this might be a computer program you’ve been meaning to sit down and learn; a new management technique you’ve read about…or perhaps attending a seminar on some cutting-edge branch of your profession.

Again, the key is to focus on something not essential to your brilliant performance but which adds yet another dimension to your already impressive knowledge base.

Looking back, what would you do differently in your life?


This question is usually asked to uncover any life influencing mistakes; regrets, disappointments or problems that may continue to affect your personality and performance.

You do not want to give the interviewer anything negative to remember you by, such as some great personal or career disappointment–even from long ago. Nor do you wish to give any answer, which may hint that your whole heart and soul will not be in your work.


Indicate that you are a happy fulfilled, optimistic person and that, in general, you wouldn’t change a thing.

Example: “It’s been a good life, rich in learning and experience, and the best is yet to come. Every experience in life is a lesson in its own way. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

What changes would you make if you came on board?


This can be a way to test your initiative and creativity in a new situation, but be careful!

Reason: No matter how bright you are, you cannot know the right actions to take in a position before you settle in and get to know the operation’s strengths, weaknesses, key people, financial condition, methods of operation, etc. If you lunge at this temptingly baited question, you will probably be seen as someone who shoots from the hip.

Moreover, no matter how comfortable you may feel with your interviewer, you are still an outsider. No one, including your interviewer, likes to think that a know-it-all outsider is going to come in, turn the place upside down and with sweeping, grand gestures, promptly demonstrate what jerks everybody’s been for years.


You, of course, will want to take a good, hard look at everything the company is doing before making any recommendations.

Example: “Well, I wouldn’t be a very good doctor if I gave my diagnosis before the examination. Should you hire me, as I hope you will, I’d want to take a good hard look at everything you’re doing and understand why it’s being done that way. I’d like to have in-depth meetings with you and the other key people to get a deeper grasp of what you feel you’re doing right and what could be improved.”

First ask if these are in fact his major concerns. If so, then reaffirm how your experience in meeting similar needs elsewhere might prove very helpful.

“From what you’ve told me so far, the areas of greatest concern to you are…”

What makes you angry?


The interviewer wants to evaluate your level of reaction to things you don’t like and how you handle it. You don’t want to come across either as a hothead or a wimp.


Give an answer that’s suited to both your personality and the management style of the firm. Here, the homework you’ve done about the company and its style can help in your choice of words.


If you are a reserved person and/or the corporate culture is coolly professional:

“I’m an even-tempered and positive person by nature, and I believe this helps me a great deal in keeping my department running smoothly, harmoniously and with a genuine esprit de corps. I believe in communicating clearly what’s expected, getting people’s commitment to those goals, and then following up continuously to check progress.”

“If anyone or anything is going off track, I want to know about it early. If after that kind of open communication and follow up, someone isn’t getting the job done, I’ll want to know why. If there’s no good reason, then I’ll get impatient and angry…and take appropriate steps from there. But if you hire good people, motivate them to strive for excellence and then follow-up constantly, it almost never gets to that stage.”

If you are feisty by nature and/or the position calls for a tough commander:

“You know what makes me angry? People who (then fill in the blanks with the most objectionable traits for this type of position)…people who don’t pull their own weight, who are negative, people who lie…etc.”

Tell me about the most boring job you’ve ever had.


The interviewer wants to evaluate if you might be bored by the possible position or if you can self generate work and be useful even when management is not stimulating. If you give a very memorable description of a very boring job, you may become associated with this boring job in the interviewer’s mind.


You have never allowed yourself to grow bored with a job and you can’t understand it when others let themselves fall into the rut.

Example: “Perhaps I’ve been fortunate, but I’ve never found myself bored with any job I’ve ever held. I’ve always enjoyed hard work. As with actors who feel there are no small parts, I also believe that in every company or department there are exciting challenges and intriguing problems crying out for energetic and enthusiastic solutions. If you’re bored, it’s probably because you’re not challenging yourself to tackle those problems right under your nose.”

Sell me this stapler.. (This pencil…this clock…or some other object on interviewer’s desk).


Some interviewers, especially business owners and hard-charging executives in marketing-driven companies, feel that good salesmanship is essential for any key position and ask for an instant demonstration of your skill. Be ready.


Of course, you already know the most important secret of all great salesmanship–“find out what people want, then show them how to get it.”

If your interviewer picks up his stapler and asks, “Sell this to me,” you are going to demonstrate this proven master principle. Here’s how:

“Well, a good salesman must know both his product and his prospect before he sells anything. If I were selling this, I’d first get to know everything I could about it, all its features and benefits.”

“Then, if my goal were to sell it to you, I would do some research on how you might use a fine stapler like this. The best way to do that is by asking some questions. May I ask you a few questions?”

Then ask a few questions such as, “Just out of curiosity, if you didn’t already have a stapler like this, why would you want one? And, in addition to that? Any other reasons? Anything else?”

“And would you want such a stapler to be reliable?…Hold a good supply of staples? (Ask more questions that point to the features of this stapler.)

Once you’ve asked these questions, make your presentation, citing all the features and benefits of this stapler and why it’s exactly what the interviewer just told you he’s looking for.

Then close with, “Just out of curiosity, what would you consider a reasonable price for a quality stapler like this…a stapler you could have right now and would (then repeat all the problems the stapler would solve for him)?. Whatever he says, (unless it’s zero), say, “Okay, we’ve got a deal.”

Note: If your interviewer tests you by fighting every step of the way, denying that he even wants such an item, don’t fight him. Take the product away from him by saying, “Mr. Prospect, I’m delighted you’ve told me right up-front that there’s no way you’d ever want this stapler. As you well know, the first rule of the most productive salespeople in any field is to meet the needs of people who really need and want our products, and it just wastes everyone’s time if we try to force it on those who don’t. And I certainly wouldn’t want to waste your time. But we sell many items. Is there any product on this desk you would very much like to own…just one item?” When he points something out, repeat the process above. If he knows anything about selling, he may give you a standing ovation.

What would you say to your boss if he’s crazy about an idea, but you think it stinks?


This is another question that pits two values, in this case loyalty and honesty, against one another. The interviewer is testing your persuasiveness and judgment.


Remember the rule stated earlier: in any conflict between values, always choose integrity.

Example: “I believe that when evaluating anything, it’s important to emphasize the positive. What do I like about this idea?”

“Then, if I have reservations, I certainly want to point them out, as specifically, objectively and factually as I can.”

“After all, the most important thing I owe my boss is honesty. If he can’t count on me for that, then everything else I may do or say could be questionable in his eyes.”

“But I also want to express my thoughts in a constructive way. So my goal in this case would be to see if my boss and I could make his idea even stronger and more appealing, so that it effectively overcomes any initial reservation that may come up about it.”

“Of course, if he overrules me and says, ‘no, let’s do it my way,’ then I owe him my full and enthusiastic support to make it work as best it can.”

What’s the most difficult part of being a (job title)?


Your interviewer may be evaluating how much you really understand about the potential position; however, unless you phrase your answer properly, your interviewer may conclude that whatever you identify as “difficult” is where you’re weak.



First, redefine “difficult” to be “challenging,” which is more positive. Then, identify an area everyone in your profession considers challenging and in which you excel. Describe the process you follow that enables you to get splendid results…and be specific about those results.

Example: “I think every sales manager finds it challenging to motivate the troops in a recession. But that’s probably the strongest test of a top sales manager. I feel this is one area where I excel.”

“When I see the first sign that sales may slip or that sales force motivation is flagging because of a downturn in the economy, here’s the plan I put into action immediately….(followed by a description of each step in the process… and most importantly, the exceptional results you’ve achieved).”

What would you do if a fellow executive on your own corporate level wasn’t pulling his or her weight…and this was hurting your department?


This question and other hypothetical ones test your sense of human relations and how you might handle office politics.


Try to gauge the political style of the firm and be guided accordingly. In general, fall back on universal principles of effective human relations — which embody the way you would like to be treated in similar circumstances.

Example: “Good human relations would call for me to go directly to the person and explain the situation, to try to enlist his help in a constructive, positive solution. If I sensed resistance, I would be as persuasive as I know how, to explain the benefits we can gain from working together, and the problems we, the company, and our customers will experience if we don’t.”

POSSIBLE FOLLOW-UP QUESTION: And what would you do if he still didn’t change his ways?

ANSWER: “One thing I wouldn’t do is let the problem slide, because it would only get worse and overlooking it would set a bad precedent. I would try again and again and again, in whatever way I could, to solve the problem involving wider and wider circles of people, both above and below the offending executive and including my own boss if necessary, so that everyone involved can see the rewards for teamwork and the drawbacks of non-cooperation.”

“I might add that I’ve never yet come across a situation that couldn’t be resolved by harnessing others in a determined, constructive effort.”

May I contact your present employer for a reference?


This is a legitimate question since your present employer is a key reference in your work history.


Express your concern that you’d like to keep your job search private, but that in time, it will be perfectly okay.

Example: “My present employer is not aware of my job search and, for obvious reasons, I’d prefer to keep it that way. I’d be most appreciative if we kept our discussions confidential right now. Of course, when we both agree the time is right, then by all means you should contact them. I’m very proud of my record there..

The “Hypothetical Problem”


Sometimes an interviewer will describe a difficult situation and ask, “How would you handle this?” It is designed to gain insight about how you solve problems. However, since it’s virtually impossible to have all the facts in front of you from such a short presentation, don’t fall into the trap of trying to solve this problem and giving your verdict on the spot. It will make your decision-making process seem woefully inadequate.


Instead, describe the rational, methodical process you would follow in analyzing this problem, whom you would consult with, generating possible solutions, choosing the best course of action, and monitoring the results.

Remember, in all such, “What would you do?” Questions, always describe your process or working methods, and you’ll never go wrong.

What was the toughest part of your last job?


This is slightly different from the question raised earlier, “What’s the most difficult part about being a (job title…)” because this asks what you personally have found most difficult in your last position. Your interviewer will be looking at how you handle difficult or less appealing aspects of a job.


You can describe the aspects of the position you enjoyed more than others, making sure that you express maximum enjoyment for those tasks most important to the open position, and you enjoyed least those tasks that are unimportant to the position at hand. However, you may also explain how you handle parts of a job that are difficult or less appealing, such as, “Since it is difficult to talk to employees about sensitive aspects of their performance or personalities that need to change, I address them right away, after deciding how best to approach that person.”

If you won a $10 million lottery, would you still work?


Your totally honest response might be, “Heck no, are you serious?” That might be so, but any answer, which shows you as anxious to flee work if given the chance, could make you seem lazy. On the other hand, if you answer, “Oh, I’d want to keep doing exactly what I am doing, only doing it for your firm,” you could easily inspire your interviewer to silently mutter to himself, “Yeah, sure. Gimme a break.”


This type of question is aimed at getting at your underlying attitude about work and how you feel about what you do. Your best answer will focus on your positive feelings.

Example: “After I floated down from cloud nine, I think I would still hold my basic belief that achievement and purposeful work are essential to a happy, productive life. After all, if money alone brought happiness, then all rich people would all be happy, and that’s not always true.”

“I love the work I do, and I think I’d always want to be involved in my career in some fashion. Winning the lottery would make it more fun because it would mean having more flexibility, more options…who knows?”

“Of course, since I can’t count on winning I’d just as soon create my own destiny by sticking with what’s worked for me, meaning good old reliable hard work and a desire to achieve. I think those qualities have built many more fortunes than all the lotteries put together.”

What do you look for when you hire people?


If you will be in a position to hire people, this is an important question and reasons are straightforward – the interviewer wants to measure your ability in this skill. If you will not be hiring people, they may want to measure your objectivity in the current hiring situation and your empathy to see the employer’s point of view.


Speak your own thoughts here, and if you have had hiring responsibilities, summarize your experience, including training you have received and used.

List the three most important qualifications for any position:

  1. Can the person do the work (qualifications)?
  2. Will the person do the work (motivation)?
  3. Will the person fit in (“our kind of team player”/chemistry)?