How to Answer the Most Common (And Tricky) Interview Questions
Written by Brandon Hien
Graphic Design by Yamash Subedi
There I was…
Sitting in my parked car, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles turned white. A painful but familiar tightness formed in my stomach. Beads of sweat piled up on the edges of my eyebrows. They were seconds away from dripping down my face and staining the new collared shirt I’d bought for that day. I saw a few crumpled documents floating away from the office building looming in front of me. Man, I thought, I wish I were those pieces of paper were me right now. How I would have loved to shift my car into reverse and get out of there.
This is the unfortunate reality many candidates experience before an interview. Even if they’ve been dreaming of an opportunity for ages. Our guide on how to answer the most common (and tricky) interview questions will ensure this never happens to you, so that you can ace your next interview. First, we’re going to walk you through an important mindset shift you need to make. Then, we’ll reveal a strategy for having a story ready for any question thrown your way.Finally, you’ll receive a proven framework for answering questions that is sure to impress your interviewer.
It’s a Conversation, Not an Interrogation
It’s important to realize that an ideal interview is a conversation, not an interrogation. Your interviewer is a human being just like you, so you’ve got to humanize them in your mind (and no, we don’t mean picturing them in their underwear). A better way to do this is by asking your interviewer a follow-up question after giving an answer. Remember, an interrogation is one-sided while a conversation is two-sided. For example, let’s imagine you’re asked to list some of your greatest strengths. After answering, respond with, “What is the #1 strength you are looking for in this position?”
This is going to do a couple of things for you. First, it takes pressure off yourself to constantly talk. Second, you’re going to get some key insights into candidate qualities the company is looking for. Based on the answer you receive, you can explain how you embody the characteristics you heard. By drawing connections between yourself and an ideal employee, you’re painting a positive picture of yourself in the interviewer’s head. You’re going to seem more engaged and create a more enjoyable conversation for everyone involved. Much better than rattling off answer after answer.
Write Down Your Stories
One of the most painful moments of an interview is stumbling over your thoughts as you try to form words. We’ve all been there before. You get asked a question and your response starts off something like, “umm, ahh, hmmm, well, uhhh.” Then comes several seconds of painstaking silence. You’re racking your brain for an appropriate answer… but nothing. This can feel like an eternity as your interviewer sits across the table staring at you. Tapping their pencil; waiting for a response. The worst part of this entire situation is when the perfect answer pops into your head… after you’re already home. Regret.
Hopefully we haven’t sent you into full-blown panic mode with this scenario. Don’t worry, we have a fantastic trick that will allow you to avoid this scenario altogether. Here’s what you need to do. Go ahead and google ‘common interview questions.’ It won’t be hard to find a solid list. Throw these questions into a blank document and think about how you would answer them. Then, start typing out your answers. We recommend doing this for 6-8 different questions. Take as much time as you need and really think back to situations in your life that answer these questions. This is going to create a “database” in your mind of stories you can tell during an interview. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t asked those exact questions you wrote down. Honestly, you probably won’t be. What matters most is that you now have different examples from your life to pull from. You can frame these stories to answer a variety of questions. Before you check out our final tip, take a peek at this other article we wrote on the most common mistakes to avoid during an interview.
The START Method
Finally, here’s a proven framework for answering any interview question. One of the most popular methods out there for interviewing is theSTAR method. We’re going to add our own little twist as well. STAR stands for “Situation, Task, Action, Result.” You should be able to answer each piece of this framework with one sentence. This will keep your answers succinct and focused. First, share the situation you were in to set the stage for your story. Then, explain the specific task that you were responsible for. Next, talk about the action you took to complete that task. Be as specific as possible here to emphasize what YOU did. Finally, describe the results of your action. Emphasize how the company was better off because of you.
But wait, you’re not done yet. We promised our own little addition to this method. Any guess on what the last “T” represents? It stands for “Throw it back.” As we discussed in the beginning, you want to throw questions back to your interviewer. This makes it a conversation. Here’s what a real-life example of this method sounds like.
Q: “What has been the most stressful situation you have found yourself in at work and how did you handle it?”
A: “I was working in a sales role and had my quota raised by 20% (Situation). I was responsible for booking 20 meetings that month (Task). I increased my activity metrics, stayed late at work, and asked my boss for extra coaching (Action). I ended up exceeding my quota by 35% and was the #1 sales rep on the team (Result). What kind of resources do you offer your employees to ensure they succeed in stressful times?” (Throw it back).
There you have it! Three applicable tips that will help you answer any interview question. First, remember that your interview should feel like an enjoyable conversation. Not an interrogation. Second, make sure to prepare in advance by writing down stories you can weave into the interview. Last, answer those questions with the START method. Now that you’ve aced your interview, take a look at these 6 powerful things you should do after an interview.