Employment interview questions 101

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Ah, the interview question.


worried face


Interviews are always a tense experience, just with handling the basics, and then some dirty rat of an interviewer goes and hits you with a question you have no idea how to respond to. Your brain locks up tight, you can’t think of an answer to save your soul, and you wind up hemming and hawing, stumbling over your tongue, and generally feeling like a fool. Well, it happens to all of us; for most of us it happens over and over. But there are some steps you can take to prepare yourself ahead of time, in order to minimize your chances of getting caught short.


Let’s take a look at some of the general categories of interview questions that are frequently asked.



The Work Experience Question

For most of us, these are the easiest ones to answer. Just be sure your answer casts you in the best light. I’d never suggest that you lie about anything in an interview; a lie is too likely to come back and bite you. But there’s nothing wrong with replying in “interview speak”. It’s perfectly legitimate to exaggerate your responsibilities at your last job by a little, it’s perfectly OK to emphasize the more difficult parts of your last job, and gloss over the menial things, like having to clean the bathrooms at the end of your shift.


Still, it’s a good idea to practice in front of a mirror answering the following two questions, so you have your answers down pat –


  • “Describe your duties at your previous job”
  • “Why did you leave your last job?”


The Weird Question

Many interviewers will hit you with one of these, sometimes to see how you react to the unexpected, and sometimes just because they enjoy messing with the applicants. The big thing is not to let yourself be shaken by the question; the answers don’t matter nearly as much as your ability to answer. Smile at the interviewer, as though you were sharing a clever joke, and toss off some casual reply. While there are far too many possibilities to prepare for them all, here are three of the most commonly asked Weird Interview Questions, and some possible answers.



  • “If you could be any animal, what would you be?”

My favorite answer to this one is, “I would be a beaver, because they’re known for always being busy and working hard”.


  • “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

One good reply here is, “I would be a pine tree, because they grow fast, they always look nice, and their wood is the kind most useful for building new things”.


  • “If you could be any color, what color would you be?”

With this one, it doesn’t really matter how you reply, it’s just important that you not let it fluster you. One possible response might be, “I would be the color green, because it’s calm and relaxing, and it doesn’t distract you from your work”.



chimpanzee in a suit
Waiting for the interview…

What Do You Know About XXX?

You’re interviewing at Widgets-R-Us, and the interviewer asks you, “So, what do you know about Widgets-R-Us?”. You had better have an answer ready ahead of time, or you’re going to lose points on this one. You don’t need to say that much, nobody expects a detailed answer from you, but you must have some answer prepared. The easiest way to get the information you need is from the company website. Almost any business site is going to have an “About Us” section. If it’s a larger company, a quick look at Wikipedia may be worthwhile. If all else fails, just Google the company name and see what pops up. Something short is all you need, “Widgets-R-Us imports quality hand-made widgets from East Widgetistan and retails them through its chain of designer widget shops”.


Tell Me About A Time When…

These can be a real bear, and again there are too many possible variations on the question to prepare for them all ahead of time. The biggest thing to remember is, be careful not to make yourself look bad. If you can devise an answer that makes you look good, that’s fine, but mostly just make sure you don’t harm your case.


There are three very common versions of this question that you should give at least a little thought to preparing for, the Ethical version, (“Tell me about a time when you faced an ethical problem at work”), the Challenge version, (“Tell me about a time when you faced a serious challenge at work”), and the Goal version, (“Tell me about a time when you had trouble meeting a goal at work”). These three variations will cover about half the times when this sort of question comes up.


Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?

This is another simple question that can leave you tongue-tied if you’re not ready for it. It’s important to remember that you’re not being asked for facts, you’re being asked for your imaginings, so anything you care to reply is legitimate. If you are just looking for a McJob to get you through your Freshman year of college, you’re under no obligation to tell him that. One possible reply might be something like, “I see myself well embarked upon a career with a great company that offers me lots of challenges and good opportunity for growth”. Yes, it’s shameless brown-nosing, but that is a legitimate interview tactic.


Nothing you can do ahead of time will remove the anxiety from the interview process completely, but by taking a little time to prepare for these five categories of questions, you can go into the interview feeling more confident in your readiness to answer those difficult ones.

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