Most Common Job Interview Questions and Desired Answers - Atomic Hire Blog
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Most Common Job Interview Questions and Desired Answers10 min read

May 17, 2019 7 min read


Most Common Job Interview Questions and Desired Answers10 min read

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Below are 25 of the most common job interview questions and what recruiters and hiring managers should expect as answers plus some red flags to watch out for.

1. What are your strengths?

What you want to hear from the candidate is a list of strengths, and also examples that illustrate said strengths.

Candidates should also be able to elaborate on how these strengths will be an asset in the position they are applying for. This is a perfect opportunity for the candidate to tout all everything interesting about themselves and their background

Because this is one of the most common interview questions, a candidate who seems unprepared or gives a generic answer should raise concerns. 

2. What are your weaknesses?

This question is best answered when a candidate highlights a well-thought-out weakness which they are presently working on improving. For example, a candidate may be scared of interacting with people but is presently involved in workshops that build teamwork. These sorts of answers present the candidate as someone who is honest about themselves and committed to self-improvement.

This is a fairly common question, one which every candidate should expect, and as a result, fairly stock answers like, “I am a perfectionist,” should quickly set off alarm bells. The same goes for those candidates who own up to personality traits that are truly abhorrent.

3. What grades did you get in college?

A candidate who got good grades would jump at this question. On the other hand, candidates who did not have good grades should still be considered if they can offer a compelling reason for their struggles. For example, maybe they had to juggle school, work, and family life at the time.

Candidates who do not have good grades and who have no reason for their struggles should be canned.

4. What were your responsibilities when you worked at X job?

The candidate should be able to present detailed information about their responsibilities. The interviewer should pay attention to make sure what they say matches up or exceeds what is expected for the job. Ideally, these responsibilities should be related to the position for which the candidate is applying.

You want to steer clear of candidates who appear vague or clueless about the responsibilities for job x, as well as those candidates whose responsibilities seem unrelated to the job for which they are applying.

5. Why do you want to work with us?

The ideal answer shows a candidate who has done his research on the company and is really excited about certain things they get to do on the job. This shows enthusiasm and diligence on the candidate’s part and helps clue you in on if the candidate is a cultural fit for your organization.

If a candidate gives generic answers to this question you can tell they have neither taken the time to think their intentions through nor done any research on the company. This is a definite red flag.

6. How many people were on your team at your last job?

This is an interview question that would fit in well if you were interviewing people with management positions in their employment history. The candidates you want are those who have managed teams of similar sizes to the ones that come with the job being applied for.

Possible red flags are those candidates who were in a management position but didn’t oversee the number of personnel you would expect for such a position. For example, a Vice President of Marketing who did not oversee any marketers is a definite red flag.

7. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 

This question is popular because it can show you if a candidate represents a good long term investment for the company. Candidates should show that they have thought about their long term plans and these plans align with the career path that is possible at the company they are applying to work in.

Red flags would include candidates that have no clear idea about their long term plans and also those candidates for who the company is merely a temporary stop.

8. What would your previous manager point as an area you should improve?

This is a great question which all hiring managers ought to take note of because it allows candidates to reveal information about themselves which they might otherwise never have revealed. A solid, in-depth answer to this question would reflect positively on the previous supervisor and the work they did with the candidate, and this should line up with the information which you have been able to gather about the candidate and the collaboration.

Consider it a red flag if a candidate unjustifiably speaks badly of their previous manager or provides poorly thought out or vague answers to the question.

9. Why do you want to leave your current company?

The candidate’s answer to this question should highlight the reasons why the position they are applying for is a more attractive option in terms of opportunities and career advancement. The candidate should show how the new position aligns better with their long term goals and objectives.

It is a red flag if the candidate has no compelling reason or takes this question as an opportunity to blame their former boss and colleagues.

10. What were your starting and final salary at job x?

This is a great question for checking credentials. The answer should match the seniority level, and also show that the pay had risen by the expected amount given the time the candidate spent at the job.

If the salary is not commensurate to the position which the candidate occupied then you can consider this a red flag. The same holds if the salary appears to have remained stagnant for an abnormal length of time. For example, a senior-level job title that gets paid an entry-level salary should raise your eyebrows.

11. What can you offer us that someone else cannot?

The ideal candidate will have specific skills and knowledge that is in short supply among typical candidates.

This is a basic interview question and any candidate who does not offer a well-thought out response should set off alarm bells in your mind. The same can be said about candidates that use this question as an opportunity to trash talk other candidates.

12. What were your first and last title in your last job?

This question is similar to the question about beginning and ending salaries, and shows how much a former employer valued the services of the candidate. The ideal candidate is either one who rose through the ranks as expected or one who has a good explanation of why that did not happen.

If a candidate was not able to rise through the ranks and lacks a good explanation for why that did not happen then you should consider it a red flag.

13. What do you know about our company?

A good answer to this question is one that shows the candidate has done their homework on the company and its work culture and is well aware of information that can be gotten by the public.

A candidate that has not done any background research about the company is probably not serious enough about working there.

14. What is your desired salary?

Although it is illegal to ask this question in some locations, it remains a staple in others because it shows whether or not a candidate is knowledgeable about the market rate and the industry in general.

A candidate that is calls a figure that does not reflect market rates probably has not done their research. Also, you want to ask this question early on so that you know whether the salary gap between you and the candidate is too much to overcome 

15. Tell me about yourself

This is a great interview question, one that allows you as the interviewer to get a sneak peek into the candidate’s personality and also how this relates to the position for which they are applying.

Consider as red flags, candidates who fail to highlight information that presents them as the ideal candidate for the position for which they are applying, or worse, reveal information that shows them as unfit.

16. Why do you want this job?

The ideal response will show enthusiasm for the job as well as adequate knowledge about the company.

Be wary of candidates that have no clear answers about the demands of the job, and candidates whose answers show that they view the job as merely another among a sea of others they are applying for.

17. When did you leave company x?

This question allows you to ensure that what the candidate says matches with what is on their resume. Ask for an explanation for any employment gaps you can find.

If there are discrepancies between the dates on the resume what the candidate says then you should have doubts. Another possible red flag shows if the candidate has a history of occupying roles for short periods before moving on to the next.

18. How many cars are there in London?

You are not really interested in the exact figure as an answer to this question. What brain teasers like this are looking for is the method the candidate can come up with for arriving at a ball park figure.

If the candidate is unable to come up with a ball park figure then consider it a red flag.

19. If you started a company today, what would be its core values?

The ideal candidate will advocate for values that align with those of the company or which are a good fit for the company’s mission.

If the candidate cannot come up with any values or the values they come up with a either negative or opposed to your company’s mission then they are probably not a good cultural fit.

20. Tell me about a time you faced a conflict in your team?

The ideal candidate will be able to bring up a specific conflict and how it was resolved without getting negative about others involved.

Consider it a bad sign if the candidate spends their time blaming others for the conflict or if they fail to resolve the conflict which they themselves brought up.

21. What is the most difficult problem you have had to solve?

Look out for candidates who can outline a real problem and then give specific steps on how they tackled it and the steps they later on took to ensure the problem either never arose again or would be solved faster next time.

Candidates that either cannot name any problem or found difficulty resolving a routine part of their job should be suspect.

22. What steps would you take to make an important decision on the job?

The ideal answer would be a step-by-step strategy that is fitting for the position for which the candidate is applying.

You want to be wary of candidates who have no satisfactory strategy for decision making.

23. What would you do if you were assigned to work with a difficult manager?

The best answers for this question will outline a good strategy that does not involve getting negative.

A bad answer would be lacking in strategy or consist of talking negatively about past managers.

24. Tell me about a time you had to relay bad news to a colleague or manager.

A compelling answer would outline the strategy they developed for delivering the bad news and also assess the outcome while highlighting where improvements can be made.

Candidates who don’t have an answer for this question, or come up with a poor strategy for delivering bad news, should be moved to the red flag folder.

25. How many other jobs are you applying for?

The ideal candidate should be able to remain calm after being put on the spot in this manner. This is a question usually used in stress interviews to see how the candidate reacts.

A candidate that is completely thrown off by this question should set off warning bells.

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