Susannah Snider

Before heading into a job interview, it’s essential to prepare to answer a range of common interview questions.

While you can’t anticipate — or memorize — the responses to every interview question you’ll be asked, practicing good answers, brainstorming illustrative anecdotes and doing the research to address these types of interview questions is a great place to start. Better yet, rehearse your answers aloud with a friend who can offer insightful feedback and help you practice to overcome your pre-interview jitters.

Prepare for these common job interview questions. You’ll likely encounter these 10 questions in some form during your interview process. Prepare and practice your answers to these common questions before you head into your interview.

— Tell me about yourself. This “wide open” question is one of the hardest to answer, says Joe Weinlick, senior vice president of marketing at Nexxt, a Pennsylvania-based recruitment media company. Keep your answer short — you don’t want to start with the story of your birth — and use it as an opportunity to highlight the skills and experiences that mesh well with the job description.

— Why do you want to work here? You need to do your research before responding to typical interview questions such as ” why do you want to work here?” Get an understanding of the company’s initiatives, mission, industry and major projects — and use that information in your response.

— Why should we hire you? You’ll need to highlight what sets you apart from other candidates and why you’re a fantastic fit for the position. One trick: Use the language or words in the job posting when talking about yourself to subtly show your fit for the role, Weinlick says.

— What interests you about this job? Doing your research and understanding the parameters of the job is essential to nailing this common question. Before the interview, create a list of your skills that meet the job’s requirements and practice explaining how your work history sets you up to succeed and thrive in the new position.

— Tell me about a time when … You’re probably going to be asked to describe a time when you failed or succeeded. To answer these questions, prepare a few anecdotes that can work for a range of “tell me about a time” questions, Weinlick says. And practice telling them before your interview. The one answer you can’t give: “Oh, I can’t think of an example right now.”

— What’s your greatest strength? This is an opportunity to sing your own praises, relating them back to your professional experiences. One way to really highlight your strengths: Use metrics, says Glassdoor community expert Scott Dobroski. If you worked in retail, talk about how many sweaters you sold or customers you talked to each day. If you’re interviewing for a technology job, talk about how much code you’re writing.

— Tell me about your weaknesses. To answer this, “You need to know where your gaps are,” says Cheryl Hyatt, CEO and partner at Hyatt-Fennell, an executive recruiting firm based in Pennsylvania. Prepare one or two examples of the skills you’re working to improve. Find the silver lining and the professional lessons that you can use when talking about the sections of your resume that are weakest. After all, everyone has a weakness or a resume gap and answering this question confidently is key to making a good impression on your interviewer.

— What salary range are you looking for? No interviewee wants to be caught off-guard by this question and accidentally suggest a lowball salary range. Research typical salaries and determine your wage range ahead of time in case this tricky question arises.

— What would you do in the first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job? When an interviewer asks this common question, he’s looking to hear a bit about how you’ll get up to speed while achieving “quick wins” in the first 90 days on the job, Dobroski says. “Say it explicitly,” he says. “In the first 30 days, I want to soak up everything I can like a sponge, but I’d also look for a few opportunities for some ‘quick wins’ to help move this department forward.” Pick a few concrete strategies that you’d use. They don’t have to net the company millions of dollars, but your ideas should be tangible.

— Do you have any questions for me? Your interviewer will close the conversation with this question for you. Make sure that you have some questions prepared. For examples of fantastic questions to ask your interviewer, please see below.

Prepare for these tricky interview questions. Tech startups such as Google and Facebook have gained notoriety for asking hard interview questions that demand on-the-spot problem-solving skills. These questions are famously tricky to answer and can stump even the most experienced interviewees. Do some research ahead of time and understand what the employer is looking for when asking these problem-solving questions.

Some of the notorious tricky interview questions that your interviewer may ask include these:

— How many windows are in New York City?

— How many airplanes are currently flying over the United States?

— How many golf balls can fit inside a school bus?

— Why are manhole covers round?

— How many piano tuners are in Chicago?

— How many times do a clock’s hands overlap?

When interviewers ask these curveball interview questions, they don’t actually want to know how many golf balls fit inside a bus or why the city municipality decided to design manhole covers a certain way. Instead, “they want to know how you think,” Weinlick says.

Don’t feel obligated to answer these tricky questions right away. Buy some time — and some clues — by asking a few follow-up questions. For example, does the school bus include seats? Or is it empty? Then talk your way through your solution, including any numeric estimates you make. You don’t have to be right — you just need to talk your way to a compelling answer. Discover how to answer these odd interview questions.

Questions to ask during the interview. The most common interview question of all is probably “Do you have any questions for me?” Nearly every interviewer will close the interview with this question, and it’s terribly important to get your response right. “No, you answered everything for me already” is not the right answer. Here are some questions to consider asking:

— What have past employees done to succeed in this position? Asking this question lets you know how the employer measures success, understand the expectations for your job and determine whether you have the skills to do well in this position. It also shows the employer that you want to be — and plan to be — a star employee.

— How do you see this role making an impact and growing over one year or three years? Get a sense of the goals for this position and where it fits in with the larger company.

— I know that you’ve been here for five years. What are your favorite parts about working here, and what areas could stand improvement? Research your interviewer on LinkedIn or another job site to see how long he or she has worked at the company. Ask your interviewer about his or her favorite aspects of the job — and nicely ask about what could improve.

— What are some challenges that will face the person filling this position? Get a sense of the hurdles you’ll face while working at this job and in the industry overall. If your interviewer can’t name a single challenge, be wary. No job is perfect.

— What are the next steps in this interview process? Don’t exit the interview without having a sense of the next steps in the application process and when you should expect to hear back. You might also get a sense of how well you did by how enthusiastic and detailed the answer is.

In addition to the questions you’ve prepared to ask, bring up questions that arose during the interview. Asking good follow-ups shows that you were listening and are serious about the job. Learn more about questions to ask during an interview.

Questions not to ask during the interview. While the final segment of the interview is essential to ending the interview strong and getting answers to any burning questions, don’t ask these questions that show the potential employer that you care about the wrong things or haven’t done your research.

— How many vacation days do we get? This topic is better addressed after you’ve received the job offer and are discussing benefits, including vacation days, sick days and retirement offerings.

— How much does this position pay? Again, this is not the time to bring up benefits and pay. Save it for later in the process.

— Can my kids wait in the lobby? Don’t bring your kids, your mom, your friend or anyone else to the interview, even to wait in the company lobby. The interview is the time to stand alone as a professional.

Illegal” interview questions. While your interviewer won’t be thrown in jail for asking these questions, he isn’t allowed to make hiring decisions based on your answers. For that reason, smart interviewers won’t ask these inappropriate questions. But sometimes — for nefarious reasons or simply because the interviewer doesn’t know any better — you might hear one of these inquiries in an interview:

— When do you plan to start a family?

— Are you gay or lesbian?

— What religion do you practice? What church do you go to?

— In what country where were you born?

— How old are you?

— Do you have a physical or mental disability? (Note: Before hiring you, employers are allowed to ask whether you can perform your job duties with reasonable accommodations.)

If an interviewer poses one of these questions, it’s best not to respond aggressively or angrily. There is, after all, a chance that the hiring manager doesn’t realize that he’s treading into risky territory. Instead, politely decline to answer while refocusing the interview on your skills and fit for the job. For example, Dobroski says, you could say, “Thank you so much for asking, but I’d prefer to keep the interview focused on the job duties and skills required for this role.” If the question does seem to stem from somewhere malicious, consider it a red flag. You may want to contact the human resources department or rethink whether you will be happy working for this company.

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