Some common categories of questions that interviewers may ask, along with suggested answers to those questions.
What are some smart answers given to an interviewer?
It's difficult to anticipate specific questions any one interviewer may ask, so it's difficult to give specific answers that are likely to be useful to you during an interview. But it's pretty easy to anticipate categories of questions that are commonly asked, and anticipating categories of questions should help you prepare to answer questions in those categories.
This is an excerpt from "How to ace your next interview", a chapter in my upcoming book Fearless Salary Negotiation. You can get the full chapter for free here: How to ace your next interview.
Once things are rolling, there are many different topics that may be covered during your interview. Every interview is different. Even your particular interviewer's interviews may vary from day to day depending on his mood, the particular job he’s trying to fill, or whether he’s bored and feels like doing something different that day.
Make sure to listen carefully to each question, and then consider your answer before you give it. Don’t be afraid to ask for some time to think about a particular question before you answer. Sometimes the interviewer will ask you a question you just didn’t anticipate, and you’ll be caught off guard. It’s okay to say, “Wow, that’s a good question. I’m just going to think about this for a few seconds before I answer.” Then gather yourself, compose your answer in your head, and deliver your answer. Most interviewers will appreciate that you took the time to really think about your answer rather than just blurting something out. You can do this two or three times in a single interview, but no more than that.
Let’s talk about several potential topics you may encounter in your interview so you have a sense of what to expect and how to shine in each situation.
Questions about your resume
You should know your resume cold before you start the interview. Make sure you know which previous jobs you’ve listed, any skills you’ve listed, accomplishments, all of it. And be ready to talk about everything on there.
Many interview questions begin with, “I see on your resume that…” This is because it’s the easiest place for an interviewer to go for material, and that may be all he knows about you before he meets you. It’s even possible he hasn’t seen your resume before the interview, so he’ll likely be scanning it to get a quick sense of who you are as you’re introducing yourself.
If you have things on your resume that you can’t talk about (a tool you used one time for a class project in college, but don’t really remember anything about), you should strongly consider taking it off your resume or noting that you have “basic knowledge of…” that thing. It’s not a good sign if the interviewer asks you specifically about something you have on your resume and you hesitate and say, “Well, that was a long time ago. I haven’t used that in forever.”
Questions about you personally
These are often questions about hobbies, side projects, or activities listed on your resume. Many hiring managers want to be sure you’re a good fit for their company and for their team in particular. A good way to figure that out is to learn more about you and, more importantly, to hear you talk about yourself. How you answer questions, your demeanor, how thoughtful or nonchalant you are—all these things give a manager a sense of what it would be like to work with you.
Just relax and answer these questions honestly.
Questions about tools and technology
The interviewer might ask you about some tools or technology that are in the job description, or that you have listed on your resume, so be ready to talk about them. Most of the time, you can anticipate these questions by carefully reviewing the job description—there’s often a section near the end that lists required and desired skills. Many of those skills will be technology-specific (“proficient with such and such”).
If it’s on your resume, it’s fair game, so make sure you only list technologies you actually have experience with.
The interviewer may ask you technical questions related to the job itself. You can’t do too much to prepare for these unless you happen to know they’re coming. Just be sure to carefully consider the question and either give your best answer or tell him you don’t know. This might be a good opportunity to ask for some time to gather your thoughts.
Most of the time, you’re being asked these questions because your resume or something you said indicates that you should know the answer. If you have multiple interviews where you’re asked similar technical questions that you can’t answer, you may need to study up on that topic so you’re more prepared next time. In the meantime, consider revising your resume to avoid similar questions until you’re able to answer them.
Questions about your career goals and aspirations
Be ready to talk about these because they’re probably coming. A common one is, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Yes, it’s cliche, but it’s also a useful question because it will give the interviewer a sense of how you’re thinking about the job. The best way to give a good answer to this question is to think about it ahead of time. Specifically, think about it in the context of the company you’re applying to.
Frame your answers so that they define how you’ll contribute to the company and team you’re applying to. A good structure for an answer to this type of question is, “I would like to learn more about [something] and apply that new knowledge to help improve or grow [some business function] within the company. I would also like to help [the team you’re interviewing for] be more proficient at [something else]."
“Why do you want to work here?”
Some companies will just come right out with it, so you should be prepared to answer this question. Fortunately, you’ve spent time reviewing their website and looking at their job openings, so you know what they do and how you can contribute.
Mention things you like about the company in general, and then talk specifically about how your skillset would be a good fit for the company’s mission. This is also a good opportunity to mention some good things you might have heard about the company from friends or acquaintances
Questions about “a challenging situation”
A common one is, “Tell me about a difficult work situation you’ve encountered, and tell me how you resolved it.”
Interviewers ask this type of question because it can provide some insight into how you think about difficult problems in tough situations. You should have at least one of these stories ready to go.
Questions about special projects or side projects you’ve done
The interviewer might ask you about special projects you’ve worked on or side projects you’ve done on your own time. Make sure you’re ready to talk about at least one of these in detail. Before the interview, think about your previous special projects in the context of the company you’re interviewing with so that your answer resonates with the interviewer.
Hopefully this gives you a sense of the categories of questions that are commonly asked in an interview so that you can prepare to answer questions in those categories. If you've got more interviews coming up, this free chapter from my book, Fearless Salary Negotiation, can help you prepare for the entire process: How to ace your next interview. Or you can get the full book here: Fearless Salary Negotiation: Get it here. Good luck!