10 common interview questions; the good, bad, and the ugly

Nevervous Interviewee

Preface: I will always believe that behavioral-based and situational questions are better than the ones discussed in this post; however interviewers feel differently.

There are interview questions that have survived the test of time and are still being asked at interviews. Some of these classics are good, others are bad, and still others are ugly. In this post I talk about these questions and rate them from 1 to 10.

Your opinion might be different, so feel free to add your comments at the end of this post.

The Good

Do you have any questions for me?  This is my favorite classic question. Why, you may wonder. It’s a question that many candidates have difficulty answering. Their response may be that they asked questions during the interview, so they have none left. Not good enough.

The interviewer wants to hear intelligent, thought-provoking questions you’ve formulated during the interview and ones you’ve brought with you. Go to the interview with 10-15 questions written down on note cards or a piece of paper. Ask if you can refer to your questions; this shows preparedness and interest in the position and company.

I give this one a 9.

Why should we hire you? I like this question because it makes you address three major components employers look for in a candidate—your ability to do the job, your willingness to do the job, and your ability to fit in. This question is one of the most important of the classics an interviewer will ask.

The interviewer asks this question to hear how you’ll articulate the answer. After all, she’s trying to determine why she’ll hire you. Make it clear why she should hire you with a concise, value-added answer. Telling her you’re a hard worker, well liked, outgoing is not going to impress her, nor should it be a reason for her to hire you.

This question deserves an 8.

Tell me about yourself. This is more of a directive and one you should expect in least in 7 out of 10 interviews. It challenges your nerve and sets the tone for the interview. You’re being tested on how well you summarize your strengths and relevant accomplishments, as well as how confidently you deliver your answer.

Knowing your personal commercial (or elevator speech) and knowing how to adapt it to the job and company to which you’re applying will make this directive easier to answer. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t answer this question easily, yet many a candidate slide under the table when faced with this directive.

In my mind this question is also an 8.

Why are you looking for this sort of position and why here? This two-part question is another way of testing your enthusiasm for the job and company, as well as asking why you left your previous company (or are leaving your current company). Well played by the interviewer.

Talk about the challenges you look forward to facing and how you want to make the company stronger. Also be careful about revealing too much information about your departure from your last company. There are three possible scenarios for leaving your last company: you were laid off, let go, or quit. (Click on the links for great post on how to handle each one.

This one is also an 8.

The Bad

What would your former boss say about you? You can think about your strengths and accomplishments till the sun sets, but the interviewer makes you think about what someone else thinks of you—not what you think of you. And there’s a chance your former boss might be contacted.

I suggest you contact your former boss, providing you’re on good terms, and ask him how he would answer this question. It’s best to be on the same page, and you can lead your answer with, “My former supervisor often told me I was someone people in the office would go to if they had questions regarding technical marketing content.”

I give this question a 7.

What are your plans for the future? Better than, “Where do you expect to be five years from now?” because it’s testing your self-awareness. Do you want to advance in the new company, remain an individual contributor, or even take a step back from your management responsibilities?

All three answers are fine, as long as you will add value to to the company. Talk about how you plan to develop new skills, contribute to the company’s bottom line, and show your leadership skills (whether you manage or not).

This question is worth a 6.

What is your greatest strength?  This is one of my least favorite questions. Why? Because you can practice answering this in many different variations. It’s easy to adapt to the situation. The company needs a great leader, well there you go. Communication skills, bingo. Technical knowledge, you get the point.

You should have no problem with this question as long as you know the most important skill required for the position. Review the job description and assume the first requirement is the most important.

This question also earns a 6.

The Ugly

How does your previous experience relate to this position? Really dumb question. The interviewer wants to know if you have the job-related skills, something that should be obvious from reading your resume.

To answer this question you need to know the job requirements and how you qualify for every one of them. Do your homework. Also think of transferable skills that can contribute to the position.

This question deserves a 4, because it only requires you to read the job description and connect the dots.

What is your greatest weakness? Here’s the thing, no one is going to admit to their greatest weakness, and everyone is so nontransparent that this question should be barred from all interviews. A word of advice, never tell the interviewer you’re a perfectionist. Read why here.

On the plus side the interviewer is trying to gauge your ability to say a fraction of the truth. In other words show some transparency. He wants to see if you are aware of your faults and how you are trying to correct them.

Nonetheless, the score for this question is a 2 out of 10.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Resist the urge to giggle; some argue that there is a good reason for asking this question and questions like it. They say it determines your knowledge of the work environment. For example, the environment is fast and progressive, so you want to be flexible like a birch.

My suggestion for answering this question is to play along. Most interviewers who ask this question are inexperienced and have no idea of why they’re asking it. However, some interviewers do.

Regardless, I give this question the lowest score, 1 out of 10.


These questions have popped up in article after article. My clients report being asked them in their interviews. These questions, as good or ugly as they are, are timeless. So expect some, if not many of these classic questions, in your next interview.

Final thought: questions like these are the easiest to answer because you can arrive at the interview with the answers already in mind. If you’re wondering which questions deserve a perfect 10 our of 10, behavioral-based interviews like “Tell me about your greatest challenge, what you did about it, and what did you learn from your actions?” is more like it.

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2 thoughts on “10 common interview questions; the good, bad, and the ugly

  1. Things Career Related Post author

    Bjorn,

    These are better questions than the pat ones inexperienced interviewers ask, especially the weakness question. I like “What was the thing that surprised you most about working at ________________?”

    Thanks.

    Like

    Reply

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