Prepping for your next big job interview? There are some critical interview questions you need to get ready for--either gauging responses or figuring out the best way to answer some of the quirkier requests. The times they are a-changin', and so are interview formats. Many are informal and more conversational than the traditional question-and-answer format.

It's not going to do to read up on as many interview questions as possible. It's quality over quantity, and being prepared for worst-case scenarios. After all, it's pretty easy to think on your feet when you're asked about how your education complements the job, but not so simple to think up an appropriate joke on the spot. Here are some (very real) interview questions that might be in your future and how to answer them.

1. What's your biggest strength/weakness?

This pair is played out, but it still gets asked on a regular basis. Interviewers know all the cop-out answers (like being "too much of an achiever"), and a lot of managers tune out during these questions anyway. The trick? Answer them honestly, but choose your mildest weakness and a moderate strength. Saying you prefer prioritizing to multitasking is a good "weakness" since recent studies show that nobody excels at multitasking.

2. What's up with these gaps in your employment history?

This isn't the red flag it used to be, since the Great Recession isn't that far behind us, but it's still relevant. How you answer depends on the reality of your situation. Were you laid off with scores of others? Did you have trouble finding a job or take a few random gigs to make ends meet? There's no shame in that, so be honest.

3. Tell me a joke.

Yes, this is a very real (and very frightening) job interview "question" that's been gaining in popularity. However, you should have a few clean jokes up your sleeve anyway, and interview prep is the perfect time to memorize them. Steer clear of any that could be offensive (and please, no "hurts donut" jokes).

4. How would your friends describe you?

The best way to find out is to ask them now--or pose the question on Facebook and let everyone chime in. Choose replies that would work well in a job setting, such as "dependable" or "trustworthy." As a bonus, you get a peek into what the people around you really see as your best side.

5. Where do you want to be career-wise in five years?

This one's tricky and depends on the job you're applying for. However, assuming it's a job you plan to stick with for a few years, it's time to do your research. American society has a penchant for assuming everyone wants to keep climbing the corporate ladder when that might not be the case. Not everyone wants to be a manager or to have "senior" in front of his or her title. If you do want to keep moving up the ranks, figure out the next ladder rung at the company you're interviewing with and work that goal into the answer.

There are many right and wrong ways to answer interview questions. Your best tool is researching the company and practicing your responses.

Published on: Oct 16, 2014