Interview Questions You Should Know By Heart

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I get so nervous before job interviews — sweaty palms, dry mouth, butterflies in my stomach. It’s really not fun. But once I’m sitting down with the interviewer, things usually get better, in part because I love talking about myself and my work. I don’t mean this in a braggy way, but how often do you get to sit down with someone and really talk about the projects you love or how you want to grow your career, except in an interview setting? And sure, the lead-up is nerve-wracking, but with a little practice, you can master the most common questions a hiring manager will throw your way. Ultimately, being prepared is an easy way to ease the tension.
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Ahead, 35 questions you should answer without second thought, advice on how to nail the interview, and how to land your dream job.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Hint: For an awesome answer, the best thing to do is look back at what responsibilities you had when you took your current job. Let's say you were hired as a marketing assistant, but now regularly pitch new clients or lead internal meetings. Since you've been doing those skills for awhile, they may seem like NBD to you, but they're two examples of how you're going above and beyond. A hiring manager loves to hear how you've grown in your job.

The other thing hiring managers love? How you can step up and perform way beyond your title in a pinch. So think back to the time you had to take over a meeting because your boss came down with the flu, the time you organized a whole presentation deck when everyone else in the office was working on an emergency project or anything else that will clearly show that you can perform well under pressure.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Relax, this isn't a trick question! The interviewer is genuinely curious about your career trajectory, so just be honest about why you love the current industry that you're in.

One thing: Watch out for negative talk. Even if you abhorred your two year stint as a paralegal, stick to the positives: You learned a lot about attention to detail and realized you were more interested in a client-services career for the future. When you talk up all the things you learned at a previous job that are applicable to the one you're applying for, you show that your resume with several different jobs only makes you more attractive.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Yes, some bosses will definitely ask this. Before you say the first thing off the top of your head (work hard, play hard is cliche and does not inspire confidence!) do a Google search of personal mission statements and pick one that applies to you. A quote or song lyric is fine too — the hiring manager is less interested in the specifics of the quote than how it applies to what you'll bring to the job.

For example, Sir Richard Branson's personal mission statement is "To have fun in my journey through life and learn through my mistakes." It's a solid statement. But what a boss really cares about is how you use it in real life — for example, to talk about how your career has brought you to far-flung parts of the world and how your favorite part of the job is meeting new people or how you were able to manage a mistake and turn it into a major success.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
In reality, you probably want to ignore it in your inbox and hope it goes away. But that is NOT what your interviewers wants to hear. This is a great chance for you to wow them with your problem solving skills — and also show you're a team player who knows how to quickly find the best person who can help you answer the question.

Frame the answer to this question so you make it clear to the interviewer that you like to proactively prevent this problem by having all your questions answered when a task is assigned to you, then add how you've successfully troubleshooted a similar situation at your old gig.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
First off, it's essential to know the difference between fired and laid off. Broadly, "layoff" is done for business reasons, like a company restructure. Being fired means that the decision was based on poor performance or otherwise negative behavior on your end.

So it's essential to get clear on what happened at your last job. If it was a layoff, use that term. Hiring managers are used to it and don't see it as a negative.

But if you left your job for more complicated reasons, keep the answer short and to the point, before focusing on positive aspects of your resume. "It wasn't the right fit," will suffice, and then point to the jobs where you lasted a long time.

And if you were only at that job for a short amount of time, consider keeping it off your resume entirely. Yes, there's a chance they might find it, but simply saying that it wasn't the right fit and the experience isn't germane to the skill set you're bringing to the new gig is fine.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Phew. This is a home run of a question — the interviewer is asking you to brag about yourself, so don't hold back. The best answer is one that hits on a few key points: How well can you follow projects through to completion, how well you work with others, and how you handle challenges along the way. Prior to the interview, write down your top five greatest work achievements and some notes on how you achieved them to make sure you hit on all these points.

For example, if your greatest achievement was scoring a coveted title at your former company, talk about how you got to that point. Did you take on a huge project? Collaborate with higher-ups? Fix a problem that had been plaguing the company? The interviewer is much more interested in the steps along the way than the final achievement, so don't skip any steps in your story!
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It's unusual to stay at the same job for years, but that doesn't mean it's a negative. A hiring manager will likely be psyched you're so loyal — it means you clearly get along with coworkers and are a valuable part of your current team. But they do want to know you're doing more than just clocking in, so make sure you're prepped to tell them how much your role has changed since you've been onboard.

Letting them know you've been promoted x times, manage a team of y hires, or have been through multiple leadership changes, which has meant you've been given new challenges and projects shows that you're flexible, dynamic, and an asset they want on their team for the next however many years.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
First off, your resume should primarily focus on jobs that are relevant to the one you're applying for. Took a retail or bartending gig during a time when you were job searching? Keeping it off your resume will keep the focus on your relevant skills. Have a bunch of several-month stints? First, any interviewer will understand that often, in order to get a paycheck, you have to cobble together a few freelance or contract positions until you find a full-time fit. Spin it into a positive by talking about the broad base of skills you have under your belt, and explain why all of those, together, make this would-be gig your dream job. The more you make clear the reasons why this job is a perfect fit, the less the interviewer will focus on why the other jobs weren't.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It's illegal for a hiring manager to ask this question, and a whole host of other questions that pertain to your race, disability status, age, religion, or ancestry. All of these inquiries could result in hiring discrimination, so be wary if they come up during an interview.

Also, keep in mind, you can't be asked if you're married and/or have kids, or when you might be thinking of having kids. For all the talk about how you shouldn't wear an engagement ring during an interview (for whatever ridiculous reason), a future boss can't (legally) not hire you because of your relationship status.

Not sure how to respond if one of those awkward questions does come up? The Muse has some very diplomatic responses, but it's also okay to just say that you would prefer not to answer. You might not want to take a job if such issues of discrimination come up in the interview — it's a big red flag for sure.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This is a loaded question, so be careful how you answer. If you hate your job, it's tempting to just go off on a tirade about all the reasons the company you're working for is the worst company in the world. But that can raise some red flags for a hiring manager or potential boss. Do you really want to work with someone who is so willing to complain about their manager or coworkers or the work their company does? Openly bitching about your job (whether it's a current position or a past gig) paints you in a bad light.

Instead, focus more on yourself and why the position wasn't right for you. Say things like, "The role didn't offer much growth potential." or "I didn't find the work fulfilling." And save all that whining about your horrible boss for happy hour drinks with your friends.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This question can be a little tricky if you haven't done some research about the company, as well as asked your interviewer some smart questions about the job you're applying for. While some of the questions on this list are general, and you can prep for them regardless of where you're interviewing, this one calls for a little more background information.

Before going into the interview, read up as much as you can on the business and changes within the company and the industry. The key here is to appear knowledgable, as well as be upbeat about any challenges you might face. It's okay to be honest, too. If you see something wrong that you think you can fix, an interview can be a great chance to point it out — as long as you take the time to offer some solutions for fixing the problem as well.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Your résumé is just one page, and it only tells a fraction of the story of what you do on a daily basis. It should feature a lot of impressive numbers (you’ve managed a $1 million budget; you organized a 1,000-person conference), but during the interview, you need to add context. Share anecdotes that display your management skills; have a good explanation for why you left your first job; and be able to talk about your accomplishments.

When prepping for this question, it can be good to take a look back at past performance reviews and pull out all the positive feedback you’ve received. This is an interview — talking about your successes is key.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This question shouldn’t be a surprise, and you should have a clear and concise answer. You’re looking for an opportunity to grow. You love cats and taking photos, so this position as a cat photographer is a natural fit. You’ve dreamed of writing about beauty products your whole life.

Your answer should show how passionate you are about the position and that you’ve done your research into what the job will entail.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Your answer to this question should reveal that you’ve done your research on the company and the people you’ll be working with. Were they in the news recently for a big accomplishment? Mention that. Do they have world-class research facilities that are unparalleled? That’s a no-brainer. This is your chance to express your enthusiasm for the company, and help the hiring manager understand why you’d be a good fit for the job.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It can be really hard for some people to really talk up their accomplishments, but it’s crucial in a job interview. Again, go through past performance reports and make note of the positive feedback. And then take a few minutes to think about the things you do that make you feel really good. Those are the strengths you want to talk about — and make sure you have some anecdotes to back them up. You don't want to just state, "I'm a great manager." You need to share a few stories that illustrate your point.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
My favorite episode of the British Office is when David Brent is going over Big Keith’s year-end review, and Keith lists that his weakness is “eczema.” Makes me laugh every time. This is one of the most difficult questions to answer, and saying “perfectionism” will drive your interviewer bonkers.

Having a smart and thoughtful response to this question can show the hiring manager that you’re self-aware, and willing to grow and change. No one is perfect at their jobs — if they are, it’s probably time to find something more challenging. And everyone has an area where they struggle. Be honest, but don’t reveal too much.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I really hate this question, and the first time I encountered it, I had a really hard time coming up with an answer. But it comes up all the time in interviews, and it’s a great chance to show off your problem-solving skills.

Remember, the problem doesn’t have to be epic, but your reaction needs to show that you’re flexible, capable of making smart decisions, and able to think on your feet.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This is not the opportunity to bash your current employer, as much as you might be tempted to say a few nasty things about that bitch of a boss who’s holding you back from a promotion. That’s a conversation to have with your friends over cocktails, or with your therapist. Playing the growth card is always good — you love your current job, but you’re looking for an opportunity to grow. And again, this is a time to show you’ve done your research, and explain why you’ll be such a good fit at this new company.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I love this question, because it’s a chance to talk yourself up using other people’s words. Again, reference those performance reviews, mention great feedback you received from clients, and talk about how well you work with your colleagues. If you’re really unhappy at your job — you feel minimized, there are no growth opportunities, you’re isolated — it’s okay to explain that you don’t think your boss and colleagues see your full potential, and tie your answer back to the question about why you’re looking for new a gig.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Again, this is a question where you need to do your research. And similar to the question about your weaknesses, you need to be honest without being harsh. You should not only have a list of improvements you would make, you should explain how you could help institute these changes. That will help the interviewer understand the value you'll bring to the job.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It's a deceptively simple question, but it can be a really good conversation starter that can help you better understand the company's culture. Do you put your headphones on and power through a bunch of work? Do you thrive on being busy? Do you like strong direction or do you prefer a hands-off manager? Before you go in for an interview, take a while to ruminate on how you work best and what you look for in a boss (or how you like to be the boss, if that's the case).

When a hiring manager is considering a new employee, it's important for him or her to consider how you'll fit with the team. And while it can be disappointing not to get a job, just remember that you don't actually want a gig where you don't fit in.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Work is not all sunshine and roses, and when you're interviewing, sometimes you have to talk about the tough stuff along with all your achievements. Even if you and your boss have the best relationship of all time, there are moments when you will disagree. How do you handle those situations?

Obviously, you're not going to tell the story about the time you had a meltdown and cried in front of your coworkers (hey, it happens to the best of us). But you can talk about how you've successfully navigated tricky situations and survived an awkward conversation or two. This will show that you're diplomatic, flexible, and able to "manage up" — all qualities of a desirable candidate.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This is a surprisingly important question, and the answer probably shouldn't be "I like to binge-watch Law & Order SVU" (even though there's nothing wrong with that). It also doesn't need to be something as selfless as "I spend my weekends feeding the homeless" (though that's great if you do).

These days, many hiring managers and recruiters are as concerned that you'll fit into the work culture as they are about your skills. So, you should be honest about your answer, but make sure you do include some of the cool things that keep you entertained during your downtime — activities that really reflect your personality.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
One thing that can be hard about interviewing is self-promotion. It's natural to feel like you're bragging when you start talking about your accomplishments, but that's what you need to be doing. And when this question comes up, it's time to show off your skills and talk about how you exhibited grace and resilience when facing work craziness.

Is your job so boring that you've never had to deal with a crisis (even if that so-called crisis is your mean boss having a meltdown over spilled milk)? Then take a story from your day-to-day life. Because everyone faces high-pressure situations from time to time, and how you stepped up and handled the problem shows a lot about your character. Polish this anecdote so you'll really shine.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
It took me a while to figure out my management style, and I think for the best managers, it's an evolving thing that differs depending on whom you're managing. But this question goes back to the issue of culture, and culture is a big concern for recruiters, so be thoughtful with crafting your answer.

If you've never been a manager before, look back on all your past bosses and use that experience to form your response. A bad boss can teach you almost as much as a good boss (sometimes more). Most of us have had a moment when we thought, When I'm the boss, I'll never, ever treat an employee like that. You've been learning a management style all along, even if you weren't tuned in to it.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This is one of those simple questions that can trip you up, like when your date asks you to name a favorite band. But, it's a super easy one to prepare for. Even if you're not reading anything impressive at the moment, you can mention some favorite books (or even magazine/newspaper articles) that made an impression on you in the past. This is less about proving you are The Most Well-Read Person Of All Time and more about showing some outside-of-work personality.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I hate this question. In my dream world, the recruiter/hiring manager would be up-front about salary, and the two of you wouldn't waste time playing mind games. But that's not how the job-hunting process works, and at some point, you're going to have to talk about money.

I've read a lot on this topic, and everyone says something a little different. Some experts suggest you should never give away your requirements first — wait until the hiring manager tells you a number. Others say you should do your research and offer a range. Another school of experts argues you should never, ever play coy. With so much conflicting information, what are you really supposed to do?

I think this is a purely personal answer: You need to choose the response that works best for you. Some people will be good at avoiding the questions and coming across as master negotiators; others will have more success providing a range.

Whatever you do, make sure you do some research, so you know your worth (sites like Payscale provide some insight into how much people are paid depending on experience level and industry) — and have a number you are okay with in your head that you stick to when offering a range. Being personally comfortable and confident with your own salary requirements will only help the process be less awkward.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I'm not sure I've ever been asked this question, but you never know when you're going to have an interviewer throw you a curveball. Tech companies are famous for their nutty questions, but you might come across a surprise regardless of the industry you're in.

There's no right answer to this question, but there is a right way to respond. You want to be game for these silly twists and come up with a creative answer that shows off a little bit of your personality, whether you most closely identify with a lion or a zebra. Just don't say "a house cat, because they get to sleep all the time." I mean, you could, but it's probably not the quickest way to get hired.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
I hate this question, because I've never been someone with a five-year plan. I don't have a next-year plan, for that matter. And I think that's prevented me from getting jobs in the past. What I perceive to be flexibility (I'm game for anything!), hiring managers might view as flightiness. But, the truth is, I do have long-term goals, and even if they aren't concrete (editorial director by 40!), sharing them with an interviewer shows I am invested in growing my career.

Like with so many answers to interview questions, you should worry less about having a super-specific answer and more about displaying your personality and drive. Because, realistically, it's unlikely your career path will be so straight and narrow, but it's definitely not going to move forward if you don't have a good answer to this question.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Money? Fame? Saving the children? What inspires you to do good work? There's not really a wrong answer to this question, but you probably want to make sure your response fits with the industry culture of the job you're applying for. If you're interviewing at a non-profit, I wouldn't recommend saying you're motivated by the desire to earn a big paycheck.

But preparing for this question is also a good way to think a little more about the kinds of jobs you do want. Are you excited by the opportunities a certain industry might offer? Will your responsibilities and the potential rewards (whether monetary or something else) keep you motivated? Once you've given it some thought, you shouldn't have any trouble giving the interviewer a great response; plus, you'll be on your way to working in a field that will actually keep you motivated.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
You don't need to be a boss to have leadership experience. If you're searching for your first real job, you can talk about running your college paper or how you organized your sorority's annual charity drive and raised the most money ever. If you're two or three years into your career, look back over your experience and pick out moments when you stepped beyond your job description and took on extra responsibilities. And if you really find yourself tripping over this question, maybe ask yourself if you need to seek out more leadership opportunities so you can develop that essential skill.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
This is a chance to really show your passion, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the job. Don't hold back: Tell the story of why you were drawn to this profession and the steps you've been taking to grow in the field. Talk about how this job will help you continue on your desired career trajectory. And don't be afraid to "talk shop," so to speak, and discuss areas where you think there is room for improvement, whether in the business where you're interviewing or in the industry as a whole.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Don’t say no. Always have at least one question, even if it’s been a thorough interview, and you’ve asked almost as many questions as you’ve answered (a great interview is usually more like a conversation). This is a great time to ask about the hiring timeline and figure out the next steps. This isn’t the time to ask about vacation days.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
You are a special butterfly — truly. And it's impossible to express that on a résumé. It can be hard to even make clear just how awesome you are during an interview. I'm no natural at boasting about my strengths, but here's the thing: In an interview, talking about how great you are isn't really boasting. Sure, you could come across as cocky if you use the wrong tone. But if you're passionately sharing your experiences, you'll only come across as enthusiastic. And that's what recruiters and hiring managers are looking for in a job candidate. So take this moment and savor sharing some stories about your successes and what makes you so special — it's essential if you want to land this kick-ass job.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
The answer should always be yes! Yes, you have more to add. It's likely there's a great anecdote about your career that you didn't get to talk about. Now's the time. Or maybe you have some thoughts on the state of the company that's relevant to the job you're interviewing for, but you haven't had a chance to fully express your ideas.

Just don't blather on too long. It's better to wrap things up on a high note and leave feeling good about the interview.
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This isn't an invitation to talk about your love of long walks on the beach or scorn for people who text on the sidewalk, but it is an opportunity to humanize yourself a bit. Remember: Hiring managers and interviewers aren't only looking for people with a certain skill-set; they also want to find someone they would actually enjoy working with.

Before your interview, think of a few bullet points about yourself that you'd feel comfortable discussing. You can keep it strictly factual, i.e.: "I've been out of school for ___ years, started out doing ___ and have transitioned into ____. I'm really interested in this job because ____.") But if you want to fuse personality with practicality and avoid restating everything your résumé already says, you could also expand that a it. For example, you might start by talking about your current/most recent job, and then slip in additional details about what you like about that work or are good at. Like, "I've worked as a manager at a five-star restaurant for three years, which can definitely get pretty hectic, although I love the rush of busy, customer-focused environments."

That way, you're keeping things on track but are indicating what you're good at — in a relevant way.
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Some curveball questions are designed to trip you up, while others are meant to establish a rapport, uncover who you are as a person and, sure, see how well-versed you are in a particular subject.

There's no surefire way to know what your interviewer "wants" you to reply to a question like this. You might say "J.K. Rowling" only to learn that the person opposite you has never read Harry Potter, kind of hates fantasy as a genre, and doesn't follow her amazing Twitter account. That's not a signal to backpedal and go with Johann Sebastian Bach instead. Be thoughtful and explain why you'd want to have dinner with this person. How are you familiar with their work? What do you like about what they do? What do you find fascinating about them that you'd want to discuss over a meal? You might give a bashful but honest answer, only to learn that your interviewer geeks out over the very same things — or at the very least, appreciates your keen, inquiring mind.
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Glassdoor cited this curveball as one of the 50 most common interview questions job seekers on their site are asked.

People who are happy and willing to work at any and all times may have no issues declaring their willingness to work long hours. But those who want or need a bit more flexibility on time might risk being passed on if they answer honestly. It's important to do so anyway.

"If you know you will be unhappy, resentful, or at risk of burnout, make sure to express your preferences," Aurora Meneghello of Repurpose Your Purpose told Glassdoor. You might find it unfair to be asked to work beyond those hours, but your potential employer will likely find it equally unjust if you misrepresent your willingness to comply with that schedule.
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