How to stand out when Interviewing – Part 9: Common Interview Questions and Answers

In the introduction post, I mentioned that there were three questions that you will want to ask while you are interviewing. Those are all interview wrap-up questions and we will get to those in a bit, but for now, I want to focus on things that happen during the meat of the interview. 

Common Interview Questions and Answers

When we go into an interview, we typically get asked the same types of questions. These common interview questions can boil down to following generalized statements and questions:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Tell me about a project you worked on. OR Tell me about this specific project.
  3. What is a weakness/strength you have?
  4. How would you solve a particular problem?
  5. Tell me about a time when you dealt with a conflict.
  6. Why are you looking for a new job?
  7. What types of relevant job experience do you have?
  8. Tell me about your technical skills.
  9. How well do you fit in with the team?
  10. What types of leadership skills do you bring to the table?

Practically every interview you will be in will be focused on these common interview questions and answers that you give show how prepared you are to answer these questions and others.

But, the question we should be answering most importantly that a company will never ask is:

What VALUE do you bring to the company?

While you are interviewing, you have to continuously and consciously be showing that provide value to the company. You have to be illustrating ways that you understand the business objective, can measure it, break it down to the smaller problems, and solve it.

The reason a company will never ask this question is because it’s too vague, so they ask other questions to try to gather pieces of the puzzle so they can fit them together. If you were to be asked this question, it would probably stop you cold in your tracks, no matter how much of a hot streak you had been on. This question is HARD to answer and that’s why this entire post series has been about providing you a strategy to understand the value you bring to the table.

However, they may ask this question in different ways, such as “Why should we hire you?” or “What makes you the best candidate?” Understanding what they are really asking, also called answering the question behind the question, can give you a bit of a different viewpoint to consider when answering questions.

So, how do you figure out the question behind the question? You’ll need to understand the interviewer’s viewpoint. Think about who the interviewer is, what their role or position is, what type of interview they’ll be conducting, and what they are looking to get out of the interview. Knowing this helps you understand their viewpoint. Do you give technical answers to someone who doesn’t have a technical background? Are you going to talk about how you fit with the team when you are asked to solve a hypothetical problem instead? Would you stay high level when asked how to implement a certain piece of functionality?

No, you wouldn’t. You should deeply consider why they are asking this information and who’s asking it. You’d give more high level answers to less technical people, but when asked by a Senior Software Engineer how to implement the merge sort algorithm and what it’s worst-case runtime is, you wouldn’t be talking about why sorting is useful, but rather what merge sort is good for, when it’s applicable, how to implement it, what it’s logarithmic running time (Big O Notation), etc. For those who aren’t software engineers, a wedding photographer shouldn’t be talking about ISO, Aperture, and shutter speed settings to a bride who’s got about 500 other things on her plate and just wants someone who’s going to capture the special moments on her wedding day. What they should be doing instead is showing their portfolio of past weddings they’ve done and how they captured that magic.

The Three Questions You Must Ask

I’ve already mentioned that I have three questions I must ask in the interview, but it’s important to understand where you stand in the interview and whether you are likely to move on. Below are my three must ask questions:

  1. What reservations do you have about me as a candidate?
  2. What are some problems the company is currently facing that someone in this role would be responsible for addressing?
  3. Who I interviewing with next, what is their role, and what type of interview is this?

The first question is my absolute favorite question to ask because it helps me understand why I might not advance in the interview process and it gives me a chance to address their concerns. It also gives me clues on what to address in the future when interviewing to make myself more compelling.

The second question clues you in on problems the company is facing and why they are looking to hire someone in this position. If you can get to the point where you’ve discovered problems the company has faced or is currently facing, you can use that to your advantage and hit “sore spots” when talking about the value you could potentially provide to the company.

The third question is what I mentioned earlier by understanding who your next interviewer is and what their role will be. This helps you more proactively prepare for the next interview because you’ll better understand the context and can reframe your answers accordingly.

Action Steps

Going forward, I want you to take the following action steps to get the most out of your next interview. You’ll need a notepad and pen, and take that to your next interview, along with copies of your resume and briefcase/portfolio.

  • Write down the Three Questions You Must Ask to remind yourself at the end of the interview.
  • Write down any concerns the company has about you, along with who you’ll be interviewing with next.
  • Write down questions you are asked during the interview.
  • Write down any problems you discover the company is facing so that you can address them in future interviews, even if they don’t bring you back. Problems are typically shared by companies in the same space.

We’ll cover how to handle acceptance or rejection in the next post. See you then!

If you found value in this content, I encourage you to read the rest of the posts in this series about how to stand out when interviewing:

  1. Picking a new PositionOne of the biggest problems people encounter when they are looking for a new job is, “What do I look for now? Should I get the same job somewhere else? Should I try to move up? What if I’m not qualified?!” In this post, we discuss a couple of methods you can use to help you get clarity in which direction you should head with your career.
  2. Gather Data about YourselfThis post discusses some ways you can use to get concrete insight on information you can use to prove your skills and experience throughout your job search.
  3. Craft your Theme - Once you’ve gathered the data, you should either see or develop some sort of trend in your work. You should also try to craft this theme to fit into your overall career goals. Your theme should provide a narrative behind where your career has been and where you are proactively directing it.
  4. Writing your Base Resume - I recommend you write a base resume to help you get a solid grasp of the direction you want to head with your career. This post discusses an approach I take to doing this.
  5. Build your Portfolio - By providing a portfolio of your work, you not only tell the person or company you are interviewing with that you are awesome, but you give them examples of your work so that they can investigate it for themselves.
  6. Practicing InterviewingWith this post, we talk about some methods you can use to practice interviewing.
  7. Picking the Companies to interview - In this post, we’ll talk about picking the right companies to interview with so that you know how to tailor your resume.
  8. How to prepare for an interview - While you are waiting for companies to respond back asking for interviews, you should be breaking apart the job descriptions even further and writing down examples of work you’ve done previously to satisfy each requirement that they are listing. You should be also boning up on the basics of your potential job and the theory behind it.
  9. (You are here) Common Interview Questions and Answers - You’ve made it this far and you’re starting to interview with companies. During each interview, you want to ask 3 specific questions which I’ll cover later in this article.
  10. Accepting a Job Offer - At the end of the interview process with each company, one of two (obvious) things will happen: rejection or acceptance. I’ll discuss how to deal with each one of them and where to go from there.

Comments

  1. says

    Nice article!

    One question that is quite important and asked at almost every interview is left out: “What do you know about the company?”

    And in many cases I wouldn’t worry about the leadership skills question as it’s rarely asked for lower level positions. (But if you have those skills then all the better, and I would definitely mention them at some point in the interview.)

    • Jarrett Coggin says

      László, you bring up a couple of really great points. The question you mention is asked quite often. I’ll be updating this article to include that questions, as well as some other questions that I’ve found to be asked quite frequently as well.

      I primarily brought up the leadership questions as I’m aiming for my audience to at least be thinking about these things at low-level positions so they can start identifying areas of opportunity to flex their muscles in these areas to get this experience. It also helps when brainstorming how you could approach telling stories about the different projects you’ve worked on.

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