The reason why it seems like the same questions are asked at every interview is because it’s usually true. Overburdened hiring professionals want to make qualified assessments in as little time as possible, so they have a tendency to fall back on those questions that will reveal everything they need to know about a candidate quickly and effectively. Others, however, prefer to ask questions that will put candidates off balance so they can see how they think on their feet.
Here are the top 10 most common interview questions and some of the highest-scoring responses:
- “On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird do you think you are?” – This question is designed to make candidates think about how they will fit into the specific culture of the hiring company. If they answer 1, they may be too straight-laced for more laid back companies but perfect for the button-down culture of others. If they respond with a 10, it may lead to suspicions that the person is a little too kooky. Any number in between is generally the safest answer, as long as you can support it with an explanation. The worst thing a job seeker can do is say they don’t know.
- “Have you ever had the opportunity to effect meaningful change?” – This question is designed to expose what motivates a job applicant. It’s an open-ended question, which means that the candidate will have to think about their answer. Some might respond with a story about something that happened to them when they were younger, while others could point to a major accomplishment at a previous job. Again, the only way you can absolutely strike out with this question is to say you can’t think of any time you did anything meaningful.
- “Describe yourself in one word” – The purpose of this question is to identify those job applicants who already know exactly who they are and their place in the world. The answer you give is less important than the speed and conviction with which you give it. If you have to search your mind for a word that describes who you are, you probably haven’t really figured it out yet.
- “You wake up one morning to find yourself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. What do you do?” – With the popularity of “The Walking Dead” and other zombie entertainment, this question is actually becoming more common among corporate recruiters. There’s no real right or wrong answer. The question simply gives the hiring manager an opportunity to see how the candidate thinks on their feet, how they will fit in with the business’s culture, and what makes them tick on the inside.
- “Who was the last person you fired and what were the circumstances?” – This question is often asked of managerial candidates and addresses their leadership ability. A manager who claims they have never fired anybody is either a liar or a poor manager. Very often, in business, it’s necessary to retool and realign your team so that you can have the most successful outcomes. If the candidate has fired someone, the recruiter wants to hear how the process went, which reveals a lot about the potential manager’s communications skills.
- “What was your biggest professional failure?” – This question identifies candidates who aren’t afraid to take risks and who can admit when things didn’t go as planned. It’s also an opportunity for a prospective employee to show a sense of self-awareness, humor and humility. Usually, it is followed up by the recruiter asking what happened afterward. Just make sure you don’t go overboard and paint yourself as a perpetual screw up. Limit yourself to one failure per interview.
- “What was the best costume you ever wore?” – The type of costume the applicant wore isn’t important (unless, of course, it is something offensive or inappropriate). What matters is why they think that was their best costume. Here’s a chance for people to share their sense of humor and to open up a little bit about who they truly are on the inside. Candidates who can show that they have a fun and quirky side can often fit in better at innovation companies. While qualifications are important, they aren’t everything. People need to be comfortable working with others to succeed.
- “Tell me the one thing you are most proud of” – Asking somebody about their crowning achievement or most significant accomplishment not only expose what motivates a candidate, but it also helps hiring managers determine if their interests and passions are consistent with the company’s core values. The purpose is that if somebody can spend several minutes explaining the one thing they are most proud of, it provides a key insight into what energizes them and keeps them getting up and going to work every morning.
- “Describe your last project. Who was involved and what were your biggest obstacles?” – To get a sense of how people work with others, recruiters will often ask candidates about projects that they have worked on. Hiring managers are interested in seeing how organized candidates are, how they approach big projects, and how they perceive other people that they work with. There are very few jobs in any company today that are a 100% solo effort. More often than not, work is a collaboration in today’s business environment.
- “Can you describe a time when you solved a difficult work-related problem?” –This is known as a behavioral question because it asks the candidate to speak to their own experience. This can expose how they actually interacted in a real-world work situation. Plus, it provides high-value “meta” information about the candidate’s sense of what they consider to be difficult. It puts the burden on them to interpret the complexity or level of difficulty of the situation they describe. It requires them to think on their feet and do a little real-world problem-solving of their own right there on the spot.