While some job interviewers take great pleasure in asking unusual interview questions, or asking brainteaser questions -- even though science shows that asking brainteasers is a waste of time -- most interviews follow a fairly similar pattern. The interviewer asks at least a few of the most often-asked behavioral interview questions. Or asks a few interview questions intended to reveal what a candidate has really accomplished.
Or asks just one question that sparks a great conversation.
Regardless: Job interviews, at least in terms of questions asked, are fairly predictable. Which means preparing for an interview is fairly easy -- both for the job candidate and for the interviewer.
And that's why LinkedIn just announced a new set of tools designed to help job candidates prepare for interviews, identifying eight of the most common interview questions and rolling out (in the weeks to come) a set of "expert-approved sample interview answers so you can see how you might approach the top interview questions."
Which is great, but those sample answers will only be available to Premium members.
So if you're not a Premium member and want a framework to help you answer what LinkedIn says are the most common interview questions -- or you're an interviewer who wants a feel for what a great answer might be -- here's a handy guide.
The following are LinkedIn's most commonly asked interview questions, along with my take on the best way to answer them. (And if you want more interview questions and answers, check out the post this is based on, and one of my most-read posts of all time, 27 Most Common Interview Questions and Answers.)
1. "Tell me about yourself."
As the interviewer, there's a lot you should already know: The candidate's résumé and cover letter should tell you plenty, and LinkedIn and Twitter and Facebook and Google can tell you more.
The goal of an interview is to determine whether the candidate will be outstanding in the job, and that means evaluating the skills and attitude required for that job. Does she need to be an empathetic leader? Ask about that. Does she need to take your company public? Ask about that.
If you're the candidate, talk about why you took certain jobs. Explain why you left. Explain why you chose a certain school. Share why you decided to go to grad school. Discuss why you spent two years with Teach for America, and what you got out of the experience.
When you answer this question, connect the dots on your résumé so the interviewer understands not just what you've done but also why.
And if you're the interviewer, take time to explore the "why?" behind the what.
2. "What is your greatest strength?"
This is a lazy question: A candidate's résumé and experience should make their strengths readily apparent.
Even so, if you're asked, provide a sharp, on-point answer. Be clear and precise. If you're a great problem solver, don't just say that: Provide a few examples, pertinent to the opening, that prove you're a great problem solver. If you're an emotionally intelligent leader, don't just say that: Provide a few examples that prove you know how to answer the unasked question.
In short, don't just claim to have certain attributes -- prove you have those attributes.
And if you're the interviewer, ask for examples that prove the attributes claimed. If I say I'm incredibly creative, ask me for specifics. Genuinely creative people will have plenty.
3. "What is your greatest weakness?"
Every candidate knows how to answer this question: Pick a theoretical weakness and magically transform a shortcoming into a strength.
For example: "My biggest weakness is getting so absorbed in my work that I lose all track of time. Every day I look up and realize everyone has gone home! I know I should be more aware of the clock, but when I love what I'm doing I just can't think of anything else."
So your "biggest weakness" is that you'll put in more hours than everyone else? Great ...
A better approach is to choose an actual weakness, but one you're working to improve. Share what you're doing to overcome that weakness. No one is perfect, but showing you're willing to honestly self-assess and then seek ways to improve comes pretty darned close.
Which is exactly what an interviewer should be looking for.
4. "Why should we hire you?"
Another lazy question: Since candidates can't compare themselves with people they are competing with but don't know, all they can do is describe their incredible passion and desire and commitment and ... well, basically beg for the job.
Which means, as an interviewer, you learn nothing of substance -- and definitely nothing you didn't already know.
Here's a better question: "What do you feel I need to know that we haven't discussed?" Or even "If you could get a do-over on one of my questions, how would you answer it now?"
Rarely do candidates come to the end of an interview feeling they've done their best. Maybe the conversation went in an unexpected direction. Maybe the interviewer focused on one aspect of their skills and totally ignored other key attributes. Or maybe candidates started the interview nervous and hesitant, and now wish they could go back and better describe their qualifications and experience.
Plus, think of it this way: Your goal as an interviewer is to learn as much as you possibly can about every candidate, so don't you want to give them the chance to ensure you do?
Just make sure to turn this part of the interview into a conversation, not a soliloquy. Don't just passively listen and then say, "Thanks. We'll be in touch." Ask follow-up questions. Ask for examples.
And, of course, if you're asked this question, use it as a chance to highlight things you haven't been able to touch on.
5. "Why do you want to work here?"
Many candidates try to flip this question and talk about how they'll benefit the company; they want to work at (company's name) because they can help the company achieve its goals.
But that's a given.
Great candidates talk about how the position is a perfect fit for what they hope to accomplish, both short-term and long-term. They talk about cultural fit.
In short, they can describe how their goals align with the company's goals.
But still: This is a tough question for even the best candidate to answer without sounding like a kiss-up. So if you're the interviewer, consider asking other questions. Like "Describe your dream job." Or "Why do you want to leave your current job?" Or "What kind of work environment do you prefer?"
Skills matter, but fit is just as important, especially over the long term.
6. "Tell me about a time you showed leadership."
This question is too broad. A better approach is to ask about a recent leadership challenge the candidate faced. Or a time the candidate disagreed with a decision, and what he or she then did. Or a time the candidate assumed, without being asked, an informal leadership role.
But if you're asked this question, say, "The best way for me to answer that is to give you a few examples of leadership challenges I've faced," and then share situations in which you dealt with a problem, motivated a team, or worked through a crisis.
Explain what you did -- that will give the interviewer a great sense of how you lead.
And, of course, it lets you highlight a few of your successes.
And if the candidate talks about roles rather than actions, dig deeper. Find out what they did. After all, you aren't hiring, say, an engineering manager -- you're hiring a doer of important things that need to get done.
7. "Tell me about a time you were successful on a team."
Here's an interview question that definitely requires an answer relevant to the job. If a candidate says he was part of a team that improved throughput by 18 percent in six months, but he's interviewing for a leadership role in human resources, that answer is interesting but may be irrelevant.
Great candidates can share team achievements that let the interviewer imagine their being a successful part of her team.
But that can be hard to determine by asking this question. So try something different. Ask "Tell me about a time a co-worker got mad at you. What did you do?" That will give you a sense of how the candidate deals with interpersonal conflicts. Or ask "Tell me about the last time you disagreed with a team decision. How did you handle that?" That will tell you whether the candidate can embrace and support a direction he or she doesn't necessarily agree with.
Think about your team. Think about the role the perfect candidate will play on that team.
Then focus on asking specific questions that reveal whether the candidate has the attributes you need -- not generic questions that rarely reveal anything.
8. "What would your co-workers say about you?"
I hate this question. It's a total throwaway. What do you expect candidates to say? "I'm difficult to work with"?
But I did ask it once, and got an answer I really liked.
"I think people would say that what you see is what you get," the candidate said. "If I say I will do something, I do it. If I say I will help, I help. I'm not sure that everyone likes me, but they all know they can count on what I say, and how hard I work."
Can't beat that.