Don’t Let These Interview Questions Trip You Up

Photo: Getty Images.
If you're fortunate enough to make it to the interview stage of applying for a job, you've already impressed your potential employers in a big way. Still, a major reason that interviews can be so nerve-wracking is because conveying your worth off the résumé requires careful preparation, quick thinking, and verbal fluency that are hard to maintain on the spot. Especially if you have no idea what interview questions may come your way.
The good thing is, you're not alone! Hiring managers are looking for candidates with certain skills and experience who can execute the job they need to fill, but they usually aren't trying to reinvent the wheel. Glassdoor sorted through thousands of interview questions on its site to come up with the 50 most common ones job seekers are confronted with. Then, they got insight from a variety of experts on how to answer them.
Ahead, check out 10 common, but usually unexpected, interview questions you might be asked. They come with suggestions for responses, so that you won't get tripped up.
1 of 10

"Why do you want to leave your current company?"

Answering this question is hard enough in an exit interview at your current job. Explaining it to someone you want to hire you (without sounding plaintive/bitter/gossipy) is a whole other minefield.

Glassdoor says:

Rather than focusing on what's driving you away from your current company, "focus instead on what you want to achieve with the move," says Aurora Meneghello of Repurpose Your Purpose.

"Emphasize the attributes this new company has that you have been seeking and don't have today, like a part of their strategy you find really exciting or perhaps an element of their culture you feel really aligns with how you best work," recommends Nicole Wood of Ama la Vida. "Read the company's latest press releases, listen to earnings calls, read Glassdoor reviews, and network with folks. This shows you have done your homework and that everything you have learned thus far sounds like a great opportunity."
2 of 10

"What can you offer us that someone else can not?"

Glassdoor says:

"When you are lucky enough to get an interview, you are now competing against a number of equally qualified and talented candidates," says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. "If you really want the job, you have no choice but to [show] why you are the absolute very best candidate."

In your response, "make sure that you clearly articulate what you want to be remembered for," advises Mary Grace Gardner of The Young Professionista. "Include a specific example that demonstrates the competencies and characteristics you want to highlight. Stay away from trite responses such as, I'm a hard worker,' or your education (unless you have had some sort of specialized training you know no one else would have)."
3 of 10

"Who are our competitors?"

Glassdoor says:

"This question checks to see if you've done your homework," Wood explains. "It also tests if you are a strategic thinker or simply a doer. Finally, [it] gives you the opportunity to show just how much you're interested in working for this company."

"To effectively answer this question, I'd suggest conducting a general Google search of your given industry to get a list of all relevant competitors," Painter says. (You can also often find a company's competitors on their Glassdoor profile.) "Visit their sites and read up on their products and company blog to understand what qualities give them their competitive edge."
4 of 10

"Who’s your mentor?"

Mentorship can already be a stressful topic. You might not have one at all to discuss, or have had trouble finding someone to fulfill that role in your career. Many people talk about snagging a mentor like they do grabbing Halloween candy, so try to think more generally if you're still working through these frustrations.

Glassdoor says: "First of all, this could be anyone: your mother, a close friend, a past boss, or perhaps a professor," says Painter.

"The 'who' is not as important as the 'what,' the 'how,' and the 'why,'" agrees Wood. "Describing who your mentor is and what you get out of that relationship shows firstly that you proactively seek out learning opportunities, and it also tells your interviewer what you value. It is also a good idea to provide an example of how you have learned an important lesson from your mentor in the past."
5 of 10

"Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss."

Thinking about what makes certain people good bosses can help you to think about what kind of manager you'd like to be one day; or, as an employee, figure out best how to work toward your mutual goals. Articulating a time you disagreed with your boss — even if you still respected them as a leader overall — can be tricky.

Glassdoor says:

"This question tests two things: your political savvy and your courage to speak up. If your boss is making a major mistake or you have an even better idea, they will definitely want you to speak up — but it would be important to do it the right way," Gardner shares.

To answer it, "use an example that illustrates a disagreement where you were able to persuade your boss to try things your way — and ultimately, it worked out well for everyone (including your boss)," says career coach Angela Copeland. "The goal is not to make your boss look bad. It's to show how you can effectively work through conflict with another person effectively."
6 of 10

"What gets you up in the morning?"

Glassdoor says:

"Knowing what excited you helps to assess whether or not you fit with the company's culture," Gardner says.

In your response, "offer up examples that are relevant, like managing projects, learning new skills or a specific activity that is tied directly to performing this role," says Cohen.

A word of caution: "Saying what you think the interviewer wants to hear is always a mistake — they can easily sense an insincere response right away," Gardner warns. Plus, you may end up at a company that isn't right for you.
7 of 10

"What are your coworker pet peeves?"

Dealing with a difficult coworker will take different forms depending on the problem. But, in an interview, you don't want to start with a litany of complaints that make you look high-maintenance or irksome yourself.

Glassdoor says: For this question, think less about minor irritations like how loudly your coworker chews their gum or taps their pencil, and more about big-picture issues that "[prevent] you or the team from getting work done." Then, describe "what you do to address that particular pet peeve," Gardner says.

"The former shows your ability to pinpoint a barrier and the latter demonstrates your leadership, collaboration and problem-solving skills – all desirable attributes for a candidate," Gardner adds.
8 of 10

"How would you fire someone?"

Glassdoor says: Before you launch into a tactical plan of how to let someone go, Meneghello recommends "first sharing the steps [you'd] take to not get to the point of firing someone" (think: more effective candidate screening, ongoing communication, implementing a performance review plan, etc.). Then, you can dive into how you would terminate the employee if it came down to it.

"Show that you would be capable of delivering the news in a calm, empathetic, but matter-of-fact manner," Wood says. "[Employers] want to ensure you have the soft skills to provide the news as nicely as possible and the grit to handle whatever reaction may arise."
9 of 10

"Would you work 40+ hours a week?"

Glassdoor says: It might seem like the "right" answer is simply to say yes, but job seekers should "beware of answering interview questions just to get the job," Meneghello explains.

"Are you okay working 40+ hours a week? If you are at the point in your career when you are eager to work as much as possible, by all means, go ahead and say yes!" But, "if you know you will be unhappy, resentful, or at risk of burnout, make sure to express your preferences," she says.

In that chase, Zachary Painter of suggests answering with the following response: "I think there is nothing wrong with working occasional overtime hours if it's justified; however, I also need the time outside of work to invest in myself so that I'm more productive and effective in the workplace."
10 of 10

"What questions haven't I asked you?"

Glassdoor says: Don't worry: This question isn't a trick. If anything, it's a freebie.

"This is your opportunity to showcase anything they haven't touched on that you think is important to your story or that will help set you apart," Wood explains. In particular, you'll want to suggest questions that hint at why you're here, how you're different, and how you plan to contribute, she says.

Respond with one of these questions:

"How did you become interested in the position?"

"What unique skills do you possess?"

"If hired, what would your 30-/60-/90-day plan look like?"

Then, of course, make sure you have a prepared response for each.

More from Work & Money


R29 Original Series