Right and Wrong Answers to 8 Common Interview Questions

If you’re on the job hunt, your first goal is to land an interview. But what you say in the hot seat can impact whether you land the job — or even a second interview.

This article explores the right and wrong ways to answer eight common interview questions.

What is your dream job?

Wrong answer:

“I want to be CEO of Apple Computers.”

Stay away from naming specific jobs. If you say the job you’re interviewing for is your dream job, you’ll come off as disingenuous.

If you name a job other than the one you’re interviewing for, you may give the impression you won’t be happy in the position if hired.

What is your dream job?

Right answer:

“My dream job is one in a team atmosphere that feeds my need for creativity . . . one with growth potential that allows me to fulfill my desire to keep learning.”

Instead of naming specific jobs or companies, discuss the qualities that you like in a job. Not only does this approach keep you in the running, it tells the interviewer a little bit about what you value

What can you tell me about yourself?

Wrong answer:

“Um . . . well . . . I have 15 years of experience in the . . . uh . . . marketing industry, and in my spare time I really enjoy showing dogs and watching Dancing with the Stars.”

This is one of the most commonly asked interview questions, and there’s a good chance you’ll be asked it. As a matter of fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked this question over and over again.

There’s no reason to be unprepared. Also, unless the interviewer asks specifically, don’t delve into personal topics.

What can you tell me about yourself?

Right answer:

“I’m a branding and marketing specialist with 15 years of global experience at the executive level, guiding high-growth specialty sporting goods companies. I’ve been responsible for the successful launch of several new products over my career, including Product X and Product Y.”

Give yourself the leading edge by preparing a one- or two-minute statement that gives a synopsis of your professional life.

If you had to highlight your career in the time it takes to ride an elevator, what would you say?

If you could compare yourself to any inanimate object in this room, what would it be?

Wrong answer:

“The lamp. Because you turn me off.”

An interviewer who asks this type of offbeat question is less interested in your specific answer than in how you handle the question. He or she wants to see how you handle stress.

Don’t panic, and avoid answers that are angry, sarcastic, or defensive. If your reaction to stress is typically the use of humor, know that a bit of humor is good in any interview question, as long as you don’t go overboard.

If you could compare yourself to any inanimate object in this room, what would it be?

Right answer:

“The lamp, because I enjoy shedding light and contributing to a brighter environment by sharing my skills, knowledge, and experience with others.”

Calm, thoughtful answers like this show you manage stress well, are creative, have quick reflexes, and can function well under the gun.

If you get one of these “stressful” questions, take the time you need to think about your answer, then just be yourself and answer as honestly as possible.

What do you think is your greatest weakness?

Wrong answer:

“I’m an overachiever, and work long hours that leave me little time for anything else but serving the organization.”

Never, ever try to manipulate your answer by turning a so-called “negative” trait into a positive. Every interviewer in the world is hip to this trick.

Everyone has something they need to work on. When it comes to self-appraisal questions, be cautiously honest!

What do you think is your greatest weakness?

Right answer:

“In the past I’ve struggled with time management, but recently took a course that has resulted in significant improvement in this area. By using certain tools and technology, I find that I’m able to manage my time well.”

This type of answer recognizes an area of difficulty, but also shows you’ve taken steps to improve in that area. Admitting your weaknesses, and showing that you are willing to change, shows the type of commitment to self-improvement that employers love.

Why do you want to work for this company?

Wrong answer:

“Someone has to put food on the table, and my family needs health insurance.”

Leave your personal needs — and those of your dependents — out of your answer. It’s a given that most people need to work for money and benefits, but there are plenty of jobs to choose from, so why this one?

Why do you want to work for this company?

Right answer:

I’m passionate and knowledgeable about the product you manufacture, and the position would allow me to use my skills and experience while expanding my knowledge. I like your company culture and philosophy, and feel it fits with my own.

This type of answer focuses on passion, skill, knowledge, and experience — things every company is looking for in an employee.

Research the company — search the web for press releases and news articles — before your interview. The more specific you are, the better.

What kind of person do you find difficult to work with?

Wrong answer:

“That’s easy! At my last job, the woman on my left was absurdly competitive and stole my promotion, while the guy on my right was a total backstabber and took credit for everything I did.”

Mentioning the bad habits of particular co-workers will make you come across as trivial, judgmental, and difficult to work with.

What kind of person do you find difficult to work with?

Right answer:

“That’s a tough one. I can’t remember working with someone I’ve found truly difficult. Inevitably there are interpersonal challenges at work. None, in particular, come to mind, but as a general rule I’ve learned from these situations and am grateful for them.”

Spend a little time thinking, acknowledge that workplace conflicts do occur, then state that no one particular co-worker really comes to mind.

The goal here is to show that you are flexible, easy to work with, and not afraid to deal with conflict.

Why did you leave your last job?

Wrong answer:

“I hated my boss, and the organization was poorly run. I couldn’t run out of there fast enough.”

Criticizing your boss, your organization, or your co-workers, or making reference to conflicts that couldn’t be resolved, will only make you look bad.

Even if your circumstances were horrendous, don’t mention them.

Why did you leave your last job?

Right answer:

“I enjoyed my last job, but I’m always looking for new growth opportunities that will help me advance in my career. I left my last job because I was given an opportunity that would help me meet my long-term goals.”

Focus on the positives of leaving, such as the opportunity to learn something new, the ability to work at a new organization or in a new industry, or the chance to increase responsibility and experience.

Do you have any questions for me?

Wrong answer:

“Uh . . . no. Well, actually, would I be able to use my vacation time right away?”

Not having any questions shows a lack of interest in the job, as well as in the organization.

As a general rule of thumb, stay away from questions that ask how the organization will serve you.

Do you have any questions for me?

“I have a couple. How soon would I start? What types of projects would I specifically be assisting on? In what ways, specifically, will my knowledge and experience be used to help the department?”

Prepare several questions that focus on how you will serve the company. You probably won’t get to ask all of them, as some of the questions will have been answered previously during the interview.

Asking questions shows you are interested in the job and have an inquisitive mind.

A well-prepared response can open doors

When it comes to landing your dream job, how you fare in your interview can mean the difference between doors that open . . . and doors that shut.

Increase your odds of acing the interview by preparing great answers to some of the most commonly asked interview questions.