By understanding the principles of these 101 questions, you’ll be able to develop effective responses to any question thrown at you, including the ones provided below. You’ll be better prepared to think quickly and assess what the employer is after. It is impossible to predict all of the questions that might be asked in an interview. By being prepared for the 101 most common questions, and by having experiences in mind for behaviorally-based questions, you’ll be ready for just about anything.
Reviewing the questions below can also help you get ready. As with the 101 most commonly asked questions, write out each question and then list the points you would want to make, almost in an outline form.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
The following are additional questions that are worth preparing for:
1. Can you establish long-term relations with customers [vendors]?
2. Can you quickly establish rapport with people?
3. Can you handle working with people with big egos?
4. We need people who are detail-oriented. Are you a detail person?
5. What personal areas are you working on? (similar to, What is your greatest weakness?)
6. How do you resolve conflicts?
7. What project that you worked on has been most helpful in your personal growth?
8. Describe a time you had a leadership role. How did you gain it and why did you take it on?
9. Describe a stressful time when you performed well.
10. Describe the type of stress that hurts your efforts and the type that helps. Give me examples.
11. Walk me through a project when you demonstrated [human relations] skills.
12. In hindsight most of us can think of some things we wished we had done differently. What are some things you would have done differently, and what did you learn from them?
13. Describe a time when you were rejected or an idea was rejected. How did you handle it?
14. What is your feeling about job quotas [or any controversial subject such as abortion or gay rights]?
15. Are you tolerant of people with opinions and values different from yours?
16. As a manager, what have you done in the last couple of years to promote diversity in the workplace?
Sometimes you’ll get questions which are really hard to prepare for, such as “If you were an animal, which animal would you like to be?” Don’t panic with this type of question. Clearly, there is no right or wrong answer. The interviewer is observing you to see how you handle unusual things. Don’t overanalyze it. In this case, you would simply think of an animal and explain why you would like to be that animal.
A client of mine was once asked to take the recruiter through a typical day at work. He was asked how he knew what to do, how he knew it was time to go home, how he felt when people doubted him, and what types of people intimidated him. Because these are unusual questions, it is impossible to prepare for them. You need to be so well-prepared and knowledgeable about yourself that you will always be able to come up with a good response, even to questions you didn’t anticipate.
Brain teasers have been around for a long time, but Microsoft has made famous the practice of using them in interviews. Perhaps the company’s two best-known questions are “Why are manhole covers round?” and “How many gas stations are there in the United States?” These puzzles serve at least two purposes. First, they provide a sense of how well you handle pressure. Some interviewees fall apart with such difficult and unusual questions. Stay calm, realizing that the interviewer is observing your reaction. The second purpose is to give the interviewer a sense of your thought process. Even if you don’t get the right answer, the interviewer is interested in your ideas. These questions often require a combination of logic and intuition. With brain teasers, you can score points by coming up with several plausible answers. The key is to not give up. Keep thinking of possibilities until the interviewer either asks you to stop or gives the answer(s).
Manhole covers are round mainly because it is the one shape that can’t fall through the hole, an essential quality. A square or rectangular shape could be turned to an angle that would allow it to fall through.
The question about the number of gas stations requires you to use basic knowledge (about population, for instance) and make some educated guesses. My thought process was this: With about 300 million people in the U.S., and a high percentage of people over 20 owning a car, I figured there were about 150 million vehicles. It seemed reasonable to me that 1,000 cars gassing up once or twice a week could support a gas station. Therefore my guess was roughly 150,000 gas stations.
It turns out that there are actually 187,000 gas stations in the U.S. (and 198 million cars and trucks). This means there are 1,058 vehicles per gas station. Each step of the way my knowledge and guesses were close. So, even though my guess of 150,000 stations was low by 20 percent, I would have scored well on that question.
Sometimes the interviewer will give you clues to see what you do with them. It’s important to keep guessing and not get discouraged. Also, with each clue, you’re expected to get closer to the answer.
When you are asked to solve a brain teaser, decide to have fun with it and do your best. Don’t let yourself get rattled; concentrate on using your logic, knowledge, and intuition. There are dozens of such questions, and people are coming up with new ones all the time. For that reason, it doesn’t do any good to prepare for the old questions, even if you could find them. It can help, however, to practice solving brain teasers in order to get used to the thought process. You’ll become more confident that you can put yourself in the right frame of mind to answer such questions, and with confidence you will do better. For brain teasers to practice on, read William Poundstone’s How Would You Move Mount Fuji? Microsoft’s Cult of the Puzzle—How The World’s Smartest Company Selects the Most Creative Thinkers.
While I don’t object to such problem-solving or strange questions, it is my belief that your response to such questions should never be a major determiner of whether you’re brought back for a second interview. Some interviewers unfortunately place far more importance on these questions than they deserve. If you don’t do well on such questions, it is especially important that you demonstrate your abilities by describing past accomplishments.
WHEN YOU DON’T SUCCEED
Regardless of how well one prepares and how effective one is in the interview, no one gets every job he or she interviews for. Clients often ask me, “Why didn’t I get the job? I would have been perfect.” Other than failure to fully sell your potential, there are four primary reasons why a person might not get hired.
More Experience/Right Experience. Job seekers are often told that someone else with more experience or just the perfect combination of experience was hired. Effectively selling potential will not always get you the job, and you cannot always have the ideal background. Sometimes the job responsibilities are so technical, or require such specialization, that even a social misfit—with the right background—would still get the offer. This might be the case, for instance, if the employer is in such a bind that there is no time for training.
Biases. Every interviewer has biases—some are conscious, others are unconscious. By being perceptive you can detect some of those biases, but you cannot detect all of them. Most of us are not proud of our biases and will go to great lengths to hide them. Interviewers are no different. Some biases are plain old-fashioned discrimination, others are more minor, but just as insidious. The 26-year-old manager who does not feel comfortable managing someone three or four years older may tend to hire people the same age or younger. A 50-year-old manager prefers secretaries who are “more mature” and will not hire anyone under 40. A conservative businessman still cannot tolerate someone with long hair. You can predict some biases and take actions to overcome them. For example, a man can trim the shaggy beard, shorten the hair, and dress up for the occasion.
Unfortunately some biases cannot be detected and some simply cannot be overcome. If a person has a bias against taller people, or those with college degrees, there’s little you can do. Fortunately, most biases will not completely knock you out of the running.
Inside Track. Sometimes you won’t be offered the position because the hiring decision was virtually made before the interviewing even began. There can be a number of reasons for this. The person offered the position may already work for the company and have a good reputation. The person offered the job may be a friend or former colleague of someone who’s with the company. Or, the person who got the job may simply be a person who, four months ago, managed to get in for a 15-minute get-acquainted appointment.
Feeling Threatened. Sometimes because the interviewer feels threatened by a highly talented, knowledgeable applicant, he or she will not hire that person. A good manager welcomes talent and is never afraid of it. The insecure manager, however, is fearful and often hires lower-caliber people.
What Do You Do Now?
It is helpful to realize that one of these four reasons, or any one of a dozen other reasons, could explain why you did not get the job. The worst thing you can do is wallow in self-pity and complain of prejudice and discrimination. From a psychological standpoint, it is best to simply assume that someone with the perfect background came along and that no matter what you could have done or said, that person was going to get the job. If the job that got away was the one you really wanted, it’s okay to feel down—for an hour, or even half a day. Then let go of it and move on. Cry, get angry, be sad, then let go. There is something better out there for you.
DISTINGUISH YOURSELF FROM THE COMPETITION
Ultimately there are eleven key things you can do to get more job offers. All of the tips and all of the techniques covered on interviewing are incorporated in these eleven points. Tell yourself that you will do everything necessary to fulfill each of these points at every interview.
1. Demonstrate enthusiasm and potential.
2. Tell vivid stories.
3. Exude confidence.
4. Be prepared.
5. Sell yourself.
6. Come across as a real and genuine person.
7. Listen intently.
8. Show you can solve problems.
9. Be interesting.
10. Know things about the organization.
11. Know yourself.