can I ask to see the interview questions ahead of time?

A reader writes:

Would it be considered rude or off-putting if I asked to either hear or glance through the questions, either in person or on the phone, at the beginning of the interview?

Typical interview questions are disjointed. If I knew the questions up front, it would help me to think of answers beforehand to keep from replying with something that isn’t fully formed. It also allows me to incorporate some of those answers into a full circle example if it relates. Then when we get to their question, I can expand on my answer.

I don’t want to interrupt their process, but I think it would make for a better interview all around, for them and for me.

Nope, don’t do that. There are some interviewers who will give candidates some or all of the questions they plan to ask ahead of time, but they’re not the majority — and the ones who don’t are likely to see it as a weird request.

You’d basically be saying, “I want you to change your very normal interview process to make it easier for me, because I’m not confident that I can field your questions well without knowing them ahead of time.”

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed

    OP, definitely don’t do that.

    But, I can give you some advice that helped me prep for interviews better. I think of 5-6 vignettes of times I did things like – balanced competing priorities for high profile customers, resolved an internal disagreement, dealt with a problematic employee, etc.

    For each one, I actually write it out ahead of time (I don’t bring with me, but writing it out helps me remember) and focus on what the problem was, how I solved it, and what I learned.

    It’s helped me immensely to feel more prepared. I have a ready list of anecdotes that I can apply to several questions.

    1. AnotherHRPro

      Katie the Fed is giving you very good advice. I frequently coach people to develop several “stories” in advance of an interview that they can pull from to demonstrate competencies during behavioral interviews (i.e., tell me about a time you…dealt with a difficult person, managed multiple priorities, had a project that didn’t go as planned, developed an innovative solution, used xyz skill…). By doing this, you won’t need to repeat the same story multiple times throughout your interview. You should also practice giving a few minute response to “tell me about yourself”.

      Asking an interviewer for the questions will most probably raise a red flag. After all, most likely, they are also evaluating you for your communication skills and your ability to think on your feet.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          You have to use it in a different way — say something new or different about it. You wouldn’t want to just repeat the same story without highlighting something new in it.

          1. CrazyCatLady

            Okay, right. That’s what I was thinking. Like if one question is about a time I improved something, and I tell the story about a process that I implemented… and another question is about a time I had to deal with conflict and it involved that very process, that would be acceptable?

            1. AnotherHRPro

              That is fine. You just don’t want to use the same story for every example. Try to mix it up as much as possible, but if a certain story is the best one that will demonstrate your ability, use it even if you have already mentioned the topic.

                1. Tanith

                  However, the interviewers have no way of knowing whether the two examples/stories relate to the same project/incident unless you tell them. It’s good to be specific, but if they are asking how you dealt with a difficult teammate, you do not even need to mention that it’s the same project where you “took initiative.” If you provide the examples with confidence, don’t feel the need to insert the disclaimer, “Well, in the same project that I just mentioned…”

              1. TootsNYC

                Right. You don’t want to leave the impression that you only had one remarkable experience in your whole previous worklife.

                So, if you’re prepping for those questions, you have time at home to think of different stories.

              2. College Career Counselor

                Agreed. Even if you’re drawing on new aspects of the same anecdote, I would try not to use the same story more than twice with the same group of interviewers. Now, if you’re interviewing all over the company and get the same question with multiple interviewers, you can use the anecdote again. Having multiple anecdotes to draw from (that may illustrate how you handled a variety of situations–difficult client/colleague/customer; creative problem solving; ethical behavior, etc.) will help keep your “interview story” rotation fresh.

            2. The IT Manager

              I think so especially if you didn’t expound on the conflict in your first answer. “In the situation I just described, so and so disagreed with the idea to …”

              If you did go a bit off tangent when describing an improvement and discussed the conflict and they still ask you for how you dealt with conflict, I think you need a new example.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yup, this is what I did. I basically had a short list of stories I could trot out and that could be tied to various types of questions.

      2. TootsNYC

        THIS!

        That’s my advice, too.

        You know the biggest concerns a manager should have for the job, if you really stop and think about it. You know the kinds of skills, abilities, experiences a manager is hoping to find.

        Think about your experience, and figure out what stories you can tell that illustrate how you are good at those skills, etc. And be ready to tell it.

    2. Judy

      There is a system of behavioral interviewing that is used quite a bit called STAR.

      Situation,
      Task,
      Action,
      Results.

      You can google lists of questions. Usually you can come up with “STAR stories” that fit a few questions, so, like Katie says, you can end up with 5-6 stories that answer many of the questions you might be asked. The STAR acronym reminds you how to organize the story.

      1. Cafe au Lait

        Thank you so much for this. I just interviewed for a job where I felt I gave “bad” answers. Not bad in terms of what I was tying to say but disorganized. I’m adding STAR to my interviewing folder when future prep.

    3. Kimberley

      ^ This. All interview questions are similar – at least they cover similar themes. Search “interview questions” in your browser and practice how you would answer each one. You can even search by company name! You would be amazed at what you can find.

      As a hiring manager, that question screams to me “I’ve done no research and haven’t prepared at all for this interview, and now I want special considerations.”

      1. Katie the Fed

        The one that stumped me bad one time was so overly simplistic I just struggled to answer it – “tell us about a time you dealt with a difficult situation.”

        Difficult? Gah! Every day is difficult! I had trouble thinking of ONE time that made for a good story.

        1. BRR

          I had a tell me about a time you missed a deadline. I haven’t. But I know I can’t just say I haven’t.

          You now have that problem employee that was transferred to you. That might be good in the future.

          1. Katie the Fed

            Yeah that’s a good one. And I have some stories now. But at the time I wasn’t preparing like this and just COULD NOT think of one instant of a “difficult situation.”

              1. stellanor

                Also it’s not appropriate to bring up the time I disagreed with Incompetent Coworker and shouted at her in the middle of the office because she was being a gigantic moron and trying to blame me for the fallout of her moronic choices. But that’s what pops into my head when someone asks me that!

              2. BenAdminGeek

                Oh man, I got off on such a tangent on that question once, and realized about 3 minutes into my answer that I was enjoying the story-telling and not answering the real question. Took about 2 more minutes to bring it back to what I should have said in 30 seconds. Not surprisingly, they didn’t pass me through to the next round.

        2. Kelly L.

          I got stumped by a question where I was supposed to tell them about an ethical dilemma I’d faced. I literally could not think of one. I mean, I’m sure I made tiny ethical decisions all the time, but I hadn’t had a really glaring This Is an Ethical Dilemma thing happen in years.

          1. Effective Immediately

            I had one of these! Then I gave one, and my interviewer sneered (SNEERED) at me and said, “that’s not an ethical dilemma, that’s a legal dilemma” (as if they’re mutually exclusive).

            So I tried again, with something less serious and she said, “that’s not an ethical dilemma, that’s a professional dilemma.”

            That was the only interview of my career that I seriously considered throwing my hands up in frustration and walking out of.

            1. Nom d' Pixel

              Yeah, I don’t understand the distinctions. Ethical dilemmas would cover both legal and many professional dilemmas.

          2. Nom d' Pixel

            I really can’t think of an ethical dilemma that I have faced, so I would probably have to answer that with something about my company thoroughly training on a code of conduct and working in a department that strictly adheres to it. Then I would add that part of the training is to report ethical issues that arise, and I would include talking to my boss about anything that hypothetically came up.

        3. Nom d' Pixel

          One that I use that throws a lot of people is “tell me about a time that you had a disagreement with your boss.” This is something that will come up on some scale or another in every job, but most people have no idea what to do with it.

      2. TootsNYC

        Also–if your interviewer doesn’t ask those questions, you can actually bring them up all on your own.

        “I know that when you’re working with a team of people, you can have a conflict or people can feel that their input is ignored. I dealt with that before by….”

        “If the job is as fast-paced as you describe, I think my experience in juggling priorities of multiple stakeholders would be useful. At JobI’mLeaving, I developed a reputation and strategy…”

        And then, BOY, do you look smart!

        Not only did you juggle priorities/solve conflicts, but you are the type of person who RECOGNIZES that you need to juggle priorities/solve conflicts.

        Mega points.

      1. LeRainDrop

        I have not yet had an opportunity to use Alison’s guide, but when my friend (an attorney) got laid off recently, I sent him this link. He actually got an interview scheduled at a great firm for the very next week, used Alison’s guide to prepare, nailed it, and was hired! He hadn’t interviewed like that in years and was kind of nervous, but said he felt so much more confident and prepared after having gone through the exercises in Alison’s guide. On behalf of my friend, many thanks, Alison!

      2. BRR

        This is what I was thinking. A lot of questions are standard, glass door has some questions from certain organizations, and there should be certain ones to expect for you and the role.

        I have had a couple interviews in this hunt and only maybe 3 or 4 total have been a surprise with proper preparing (had one today from hr that complextley threw me because it’s not what the job does at all).

        Also remember it’s not a test. You don’t want to sound robotic in your answers. You want to be able to talk about things but not be reciting answers verbatim that you prepared.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian

        I was going to pitch it, too! I used it to prepare for my current job that I just started on June 15, and I could tell a difference in how confident I felt in the interview, which I think helped me build rapport with the interview team. And I could tell they were impressed with one of the questions I took from the guide; that may have been the clincher.

      4. Lea

        I was about to say – I use the AAM guide, it’s as good as getting the questions before the interview!

        I wrote out my answers to the questions Alison suggest preparing for, and practiced them till I felt comfortable (but still natural – so not word for word, but until I got clear on the points I would try to make).

        (If it helps, I got the job. Direct cause and effect? I’m not sure. I do know I felt really prepared and much less nervous than normal going into my interview.)

    4. Ad Astra

      I really need to sit down and do this. I have the hardest time with behavioral questions because I just can’t remember the appropriate details on the spot.

    5. Beebs the Elder

      I literally did flash cards for my last interview–the various stories I had ready, recast to respond to different questions. I knew that way something coherent would come out of my mouth.

    6. periwinkle

      Oh, so much this!

      My company does behavioral interviews using a panel and every candidate for a given position is asked the same questions. Every position posting includes a list of competencies. You will be asked to “tell us about a time when” you demonstrated each one of those competencies. Thanks to the Glassdoor hive mind, I knew this ahead of time and had vignettes ready for each competency.

      Prepared vignettes + AAM’s magic response to “do you have any questions for us” = confident interview.

      Of course, if you get the what-kind-of-tree-are-you type of questions, all bets are off. “Wow. Okay, I’d be Treebeard because then I could destroy this office and divert a river to flood the place. Do you validate parking?”

      1. Delyssia

        Oh, that is the best answer ever to “what kind of tree would you be?” I now hope to someday be asked that in an interview just so I can give that answer. Though I’d probably add some rambling about whether or not ents count as trees…

    7. Katherine

      A more developed version of this is called the STAR approach and it’s useful if you think you will have a behavioral interview.

      Also, read Allison’s interviewing PDF, and Jewish Vocational Services has some interviewing resources on their site (and if you have a local JVS, take their interviewing classes – free, don’t have to be jewish).

  2. Snarkus Aurelius

    Plus this approach puts the other candidates at a distinct disadvantage. If an employer does it for you, it has to do it for everyone else. Then all they’ll ever hear is scripted answers that someone else may or may not have written. You might as well be watching Oscar acceptance speeches.

    1. TootsNYC

      As a manager, I don’t agree.

      I’m not bound by anything in terms of being fair. I don’t have to make any extra steps to level the playing field.

      My goal is to get myself the best candidate. The reason I wouldn’t tell you the interviews in advance is not because of the other candidates, but for MY sake. I don’t want to hire someone who only looks like an organized thinker because they got such detailed prep; what am I going to do when something gets dropped on them last-minute, and they can’t figure out how to express themselves, or how to troubleshoot?

      I’m looking out for me, when I’m interviewing and hiring. I’m not looking out for the candidates. (I’m not out to screw them over, but them and their “fair chance” is NOT my concern.)

      I’ve had people ask me, when picking up an editing test, what our dictionary is; I tell them. Other people could ask; they don’t. Not my problem. (I have ways to evaluate people’s skills when they use any dictionary they want, for my own sake; I don’t want to pass up a good editor for this.)

      1. Anna

        Right, but if you didn’t level the field, you couldn’t say you were getting the best candidate. Because for all you know, the worst candidate got the questions ahead of time and looked more prepared than the best candidate who didn’t.

        1. TootsNYC

          Well, that’s why I wouldn’t give them the questions. But it wouldn’t be because I was trying to be fair.

  3. AVP

    Plus, a decent, non-government interviewer won’t have a rigid list of questions at the beginning – I always go in with a list of what I need to know and what I want to talk about, but lots of times an answer will lead to a different question and follow-ups, or something you say will spark it to go in a new direction, which you then wouldn’t be prepared for.

    If anything, I would look at the job description and the job ad and see each piece as a likely question, and then prepare based on that (along with Katie the Fed’s idea above which is great).

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      This. While we do work from a basic list of questions, we often deviate with lots and lots of follow up questions, specific questions about your resume, etc. I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I”m going to ask only the questions on the list. And frankly, I want to have a natural conversation, not hear you recite what you practiced.

      1. AMG

        Yep! The best interviews I have had were conversational and unscripted. There was great flow, and I felt like I was able to give the interviewer a sense of who I am and what my capabilities are.

    2. BRR

      This was another thought I had (in addition to most start the same way). I don’t know what I will want to follow up with or prod deeper on.

    3. Mike C.

      There should be a set of basic questions (that you then start digging deeper on as answer warrant) that you ask everyone however. Otherwise you then have to ask yourself “why am I digging really deep into one candidate but not another”, and that can possibly lead to some bad places.

    4. Kyrielle

      This. Also, in some fields, some questions may be grossly biased by being asked in advance! As a software engineer, I’m likely to have technical questions lobbed at me, like how I would write code for a simple sort algorithm, or a depth-first search. These are things that anyone with the years of experience I have should be able to riff without looking it up – but someone who didn’t know it could easily Google it and memorize it beforehand if they knew. I assume OP isn’t subject to those questions or doesn’t expect them to be given to them in advance, but a hiring manager would have some cause for concern if they had any skills-test questions or scenarios of any sort.

    5. stellanor

      Yep. I have a big interview question bank divided into general topics I grab from depending on the position or what the hiring manager has asked me to focus on. I usually know what my first question is going to be and having a plan for the others but I inevitably deviate — sometimes the interviewee coincidentally gives me info about another topic I was going to ask about before I ask the question that probes for it. Sometimes previous answers make me interested in or concerned about a topic I wasn’t planning on bringing up (e.g. the time a guy gave an example about breaking up bar fights when I asked about resolving conflicts — I emergency-inserted some questions looking for proof of professionalism). And like half of the interview is going to be probing and followup anyway.

      So if someone asked me for a list of questions I was going to ask them I would 1. be super uncomfortable, and 2. tell them I didn’t know yet.

    6. Nom d' Pixel

      That is what I was going to post. In our department, interviews last for a few hours and you are interviewed by several people. Each interviewer asks questions according to their own strengths, and those questions are not preset. Interviews should be conversations, not interrogations, and conversations might not stick to a script. Plus, if someone doesn’t get an answer that they are 100% satisfied with, they might ask the interviewer to ask a follow-up question.

  4. Lily in NYC

    I don’t have a set list of questions I ask interviewees and this would also create more work for me when the onus should be on the interviewee to prepare. Also, part of the interview process is to see how well a candidate can think on their feet, so having prepared answers defeats the purpose. And no way would I give someone their case study ahead of time (we often test candidates with them and will give a general idea of what to except, but nothing specific).

  5. grasshopper

    If they are interviewing five candidates who all have the same robot “my biggest weakness is that I work too hard” answers, there’s no way to get an accurate idea of how the candidate will do the day-to-day work when they don’t have time to rehearse scripted answers. It sucks from the candidate side, but some interviewers really do want to try to throw you some curve ball questions to see how you react. It isn’t applicable to all jobs, but often the ability to think on your feet is considered an asset.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yep the last person I referred for a role with my company failed the interview because the VP said she couldn’t think on her feet very well. She had aced the phone screen but told me later the VP was intimidating and made her really nervous because they wanted her to role play a customer call :(

  6. AndersonDarling

    OP, I think you may be putting too much pressure on yourself to come up with a perfectly worded answer. When asked a tough question, take a moment to compose your thoughts before you answer. I think it shows that you really considering the questions rather than spilling out a scripted answer.
    You’re not on stage, and the interviewer isn’t expecting a perfect speech. It’s just a conversation between two people.

    1. CJ

      Yes, this. A job interview is only somewhat of a performance.
      I find extremely scripted, and pre-meditated answers, somewhat offputting and fake. Please consider an interview like a formal conversation instead of an on-stage presentation.

      1. stellanor

        I once had an interviewee who, in a phone screen, sounded like either he was reading from a script or he had rehearsed his answers so thoroughly I couldn’t tell the difference.

        It was VERY offputting. It was like calling tech support and getting a rep reading from a script, except I was supposed to be evaluating this guy for a job that involved, you know, communicating with people, and I was totally unable to draw any conclusions about his communication skills (or lack thereof) since he wasn’t using them!

    2. AnotherHRPro

      The more you treat an interview like a professional conversation the better. You don’t want to be too causal (like a conversation with a close friend) but you want to build rapport. That would be hard to do with a prepared speech.

    3. KT

      Yes, absolutely! Being authentic and real is so important.

      I had one person when I asked her to tell me about herself, she pulled out a written statement and read it off. I know that’s a tricky question to answer and people practice it, but it still needs to feel “real”. At the end when i asked if she had questions, she pulled out another sheet of printed off questions.

      Just no.

      1. AnotherHRPro

        I’m totally ok with an interviewer referencing pre-written questions, but reading a statement about themselves?! Yikes! If there is one topic in this world you should be able to talk about off the top of your head is yourself. :)

        1. Shannon

          It’s a common enough question that you should expect it in any interview and have prepared an answer to the point you don’t need read a prewritten statement about yourself.

          I can understand referring to notes to make sure that you get across all the points you want to get across, but, the cynical side of me would wonder if you had committed identity theft or falsified your background and needed to refer to notes to answer questions about yourself because the whole thing was fictionalized.

      2. Shannon

        I wouldn’t hold the sheet of printed off questions against her, unless the questions had all ready been addressed in the interview. It shows that she did her homework.

        1. Beezus

          I’d look askance at reading the questions verbatim from the page. I write out questions in advance to prepare, and bring the list in with me, but I know the questions well enough that all I need is a glance at the page to remind myself which direction I was going to go, and then I’m able to ask the question in a conversational tone while making eye contact.

          1. Ad Astra

            The phrase “could you tell me about…” does a lot to make these questions seem conversational rather than “What is…” and “How does…” which are more likely to sound like essay prompts.

      3. Kyrielle

        Yeah, the prepared statement is really strange. I did pull out a prewritten sheet of questions at the ‘questions’ points of the interview in my recent job search, in one case saying “I think you’ve answered all the ones I thought of, but let me check” – but I didn’t just mechanically read down it in either interview, just skimmed it, looked back up, and asked what I still wanted to know and seemed appropriate to the interviewer. (One of them was a series of five mini-interviews, and the questions I picked off the list for the system architect weren’t the same as the ones I picked off for the developers or the manager, for example.)

    4. JMegan

      Agreed. And in fact, all the interviews I’ve been on recently have provided a pen and paper, and encouraged you to take a minute to organize your thoughts before answering each question. They’re not testing you (usually), they’re just trying to learn more about you and the work you’ve done.

      1. Lai

        I had one candidate take this to the extreme. First, she wrote down each question as it was asked, often asking us to repeat parts so that she could get it all. She then proceeded to think about her answer for about 30 seconds, jotting notes to herself. 30 seconds might not sound long but it is a looong time when there is a table full of people silently staring and waiting for you to finish.

    5. Koko

      I think this is one of those areas where you just get better at interviewing the more experience you have both with working and with interviewing. When you don’t have much experience and aren’t used to talking about it reflectively, it can be really hard to come up with quality answers and you feel more need to scour your memory and prepare scenarios.

      Once you’ve been working for 5+ years and you’ve gone on half a dozen or more interviews and you’ve gone to networking events and conferences where you talk about your work a lot, it becomes a lot more like talking about anything else in your life. If someone asked you, “What kinds of things does your sister like to do?” or “How did you get your cat to stop vomiting all the time?” or “Can you recommend a good restaurant in town?” you might think for a minute and then you just answer. You don’t freeze up because you just know these things – you lived them, you have thought about them before being asked the question in the course of making your own decisions about entertaining your family, adjusting your cat’s diet, or choosing where to eat yourself.

      The longer you’ve been working and the more you talk about your work with others, the easier you’ll find it to answer questions like, “What best practices do you consider most important for teapot design?” or “How do you handle working with a team that is geographically dispersed?” or “Can you recommend a good teapot design software?” You think for a minute and then you just answer – because you have already thought about all these things for completely non-interview related reasons, because you’ve needed to implement best practices in your own job, work with a colleague who is remote, or demo different software to help with a purchasing decision.

      1. Liza

        How DO you get your cat to stop vomiting all the time? (Mine does, and it’s a fairly new development. It’s not quite to the point where I want to take him to the vet.)

    6. Stranger than fiction

      Yes, you’re allowed to pause and you’re allowed to ask if you can come back to that question. That’s better than just rambling off something.

    7. Honeybee

      Yes, I was coming to say this. The interview is not a performance; it’s a conversation – and a mutually beneficial one. What really helped me during my interviews was remembering that while the company was trying to decide if I was a good employee, I was trying to decide if I wanted to work there (and in some cases, whether the person interviewing me seemed like a manager I’d want to work for). It made the conversations feel more mutual and natural. Even when the interviewers are asking questions, you can glean helpful information – like in one interview I was asked to discuss how I would complete a task in an incredibly compressed amount of time, which raised a yellow flag about the work style and turnaround time they would expect.

    8. Florida

      If I can’t think of a good example right away, I have asked interviewers if we can come back to that question. I’ve never had an interviewer who seemed bothered by it. In fact, I started doing it because once I had an interviewer suggest it.

      “Wow, I know I have an example of that, I just can’t think of one right now. Would it be OK to skip that question and come back to it at the end?” If they forget to go back, remind them. You don’t them to be comparing notes and you are the only candidate who didn’t have a good example of a time you demonstrated leadership among your peers, or whatever it is.

    9. TootsNYC

      Exactly! The interviewer is a person.

      Most people aren’t sitting there expecting a performance. They know the questions are coming out of the blue, and they’re OK w/ pauses to think, a little hemming, maybe even a false start.

      Most of us are listening for the substance of what you say; we aren’t overly critiquing the way you deliver it. You’re not on stage, and we’re not a critical audience.

    10. BRR

      1,000% agree. Unless you can answer perfectly while making it seem off the cuff don’t over prepare. Take a moment to reflect, remember all your points then go. It should sound completely spontaneous as the result of meticulous practice.

      Also remember that when you take a second, it feels longer to you than them.

  7. Elizabeth the Ginger

    OP, if you’re not sure what types of questions you might be fielding, you could post in the Friday open thread asking people with experience in your industry about what questions they would typically ask in an interview. Then you could practice answering those on your own or with a friend. Even if those exact questions don’t come up in your real interviews, often related ones will and you’ll be able to adapt the answers you thought of before.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Yes practicing helps a lot . This is dating me but does Monster still have that interview wizard that asks all the most coming questions and you pick from three answers which is best then it explains why that is or isn’t the best answer??

    2. TootsNYC

      Oooh, Alison, that would be a fun open thread:
      What industry and positions or levels do you hire for, and what questions would you ask in an interview?

      1. Winter is Coming

        Great idea, I would certainly participate! I interview candidate for skilled labor positions as well as some sales and accounting/admin positions. I’d be happy to share.

  8. Workfromhome

    While I agree with everyone that you shouldn’t ask since it may send the wrong signal…

    Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say”Hey can I have the questions because if you are planning to ask me “What is your greatest weakness, why should we hire you, or if you were an animal what kind would you be? I don’t want to bother interviewing. :-)

    Try sites like Glassdoor where people give reviews of interviews they had with the company and even record some of the questions and answers they gave.

    1. BRR

      I definitely recommend glass door. I recently interviewed with a place that has a couple core values. Glass door said they ask about which one applies to the best and which the least. I would have never prepared for that but they’re big on a certain culture and it’s always asked.

      1. AnotherHRPro

        Many companies have their values/competencies listed on their website. This is great information to have as you can bet that many of the questions you get will be looking for examples that you will/will not fit into their culture.

    2. WLE

      I was definitely going to recommend checking out Glassdoor. OP should also google popular interview questions and then WRITE responses to reach one and practice saying them in the mirror.

      1. Anna

        I don’t know if I would write and then practice saying them. Writing speech is much different than spoken speech. Maybe an outline of points she wants to make in her answer because that is going to come out sounding more like your actual conversation rather than rehearsed and memorized.

    3. Adonday Veeah

      Ugh, I hate questions like this! Our President likes to ask, “if you could only tell us 3 things about yourself, what would they be?” We’ve tried to sneak it out of the list, but she insists we put it back in even when she’s not on the interview panel.

      I coach my managers to figure out what they need to know about their candidates in order to make a decision to hire, and to formulate questions that will address those things. My Prez insists that question will do that.

      How many times can you listen to candidate after candidate say, “I’m honest, I’m hardworking, and I do what I say I’m going to do” before you get THIS QUESTION IS A WASTE OF TIME!!!!!!!

      1. College Career Counselor

        I’d ask the president to ask YOU that question and give her three sets of answers that demonstrate different competencies (two NON-related) to the job to demonstrate that this question doesn’t really work (unless the president is trying to ask a cultural “fit” question here).

        While I realize that a certain amount of “know your audience and why they’re asking” is important for the candidate, you can answer truthfully and either not get hired or not answer what they were looking for. Can you amend the question to say “what three things about you/your background are relevant to this position?” Even that’s not great, unfortunately.

  9. TheLazyB (UK)

    In my interview for my current job, I was asked question 3 and gave an answer. At the end of it the interviewer finished making her notes, looked at question 4, looked confused and checked question 3 again. I had inadvertently given an answer that answered two consecutive questions. I used a weaker example to answer question 4 but then gave some additional context to the previous answer so effectively gave two answers. Yeah sometimes stuff like that is really frustrating but part of the point of an interview is showing that you can think on your feet when the unexpected happens.

    Good luck!

  10. Jubilance

    OP, I do something similar to Katie the Fed, where I prep answers to pretty common questions.
    * Tell me about a time when you failed at something
    * Tell me about a time where you had to influence without authority
    * Tell me about a time where you had conflict with a teammate and how did you handle it

    You can Google for all kinds of behavioral interview questions, and then flesh out your responses. I like to use the SAR method – situation, action, result. Briefly explain the situation, share your action, and what resulted from it.

    It also helps to just write out more detail about the accomplishments you’ve listed on your resume, in case they ask you to go into more detail about the project/metric/accomplishment.

    1. CrazyCatLady

      What if I haven’t failed at something? (At least not that I can think of – surely I’ve made mistakes but nothing that would constitute failure.)

      1. TootsNYC

        OK, maybe not failure, but did you tackle a project that didn’t have as powerful an effect as you thought it would?

        I moved our stylebook onto the web–win! But if I want to update it, I have to use a totally new URL; it’s PDF, because I don’t want other people to be able to edit it, and our current GoogleDrive folder is “all rights.”

        I have to sort that out. So, it’s a failure, of sorts.

      2. Honeybee

        That was the hardest question for me to answer, and I ended up picking something that made the answer shape up in a way I didn’t like (I talked about a class I failed in college, but that was literally 9 years ago. I couldn’t think of any professional examples.)

        I think the approach is to think of failure more broadly. Not in terms of failing a class or failing to get together a deliverable, but maybe a more minor thing. My interviewers were particularly good and asked me a follow-up – to ask me to talk about a time I failed to convince someone of something when I knew I was right, and that was easy for me to talk about.

        1. CrazyCatLady

          I mean, I can think of mistakes, for sure. I just don’t view mistakes as failures unless you refuse to confront them, fix them, or learn from them. But I can definitely use some mistakes I’ve made as an example. The word failure seems so catastrophic to me – like if the mistake resulted in me getting fired and repeating that mistake for the rest of my life, then sure, that would be a failure!

          1. TootsNYC

            The word failure seems so catastrophic to me – like if the mistake resulted in me getting fired and repeating that mistake for the rest of my life, then sure, that would be a failure!

            You can totally substitute whatever definition for failure that you want to answer.

            So, something you learned from, something that “wasn’t a success.” Or “was a disappointment.” Or “I didn’t get what I truly wanted.”

            That’s one of the key interview tricks–to redefine the question in a way that makes your answer strong.

        2. Kate M

          I hate these types of questions – which I think makes them the most important to practice. I can ace some questions pretty easily, which are always the ones I like going over in the interview. But the ones I really need to practice are the ones that might still be asked that 1) don’t have an easy answer; 2) don’t have an answer I like; 3) don’t have an answer at all yet, or 4) I know will trip me up in the interview.

      3. Beebs the Elder

        Then think about something that didn’t go the way you wanted/expected it to–that’s how I’ve heard that question framed. Any time a person is stretching to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities, there will be something that doesn’t go quite right. What I want to hear is how that person did about it–how did she respond/change tactics/etc.? What did she learn from the experience? The ability to learn from failure (or at least imperfect success) and reflect on the experience is key.

        1. TootsNYC

          exactly!

          I ask people about their worst mistake, the one they still feel a little bad about. Ir a big one they remember recently. Because I want to hear WHY it was a big deal (was it high profile? did they let down a colleague? was it something so incredibly basic and they overlooked it?) –do they recognize the value in our job? How do they think about it?

          I’m always quick to say, “I promise you, I’m not going to say, ‘I can’t hire her, she misspelled kernel’ (which is mine). I want to hear how you think.”

      4. Tau

        I really struggled with that one (it was “tell us about a problem you couldn’t solve” for me), in part because all of the vignettes I’d rehearsed had me *succeeding* at doing something, for obvious reasons! I wasn’t completely happy with the answer I ended up giving (tutoring/TAing as a grad student, where I tried and failed to get the students to actually engage in the tutorials instead of sitting there in silence) but at least I came up with something that, I figured, didn’t reflect terribly on me and wasn’t ignoring the actual question.

  11. Retail Lifer

    Most of the questions you’ll be asked will be pretty standard, but you can never prepare yourself for the real curveballs. Some of the weirdest questions I’ve been asked:

    “Tell me about your friends and why they’re friends with you.”

    “If the FBI were building a profile on you, what information would it contain?”

    If you were in a room with 100 people, what would you say you do better than most of them? Worse than most of them?”

    A friend of mine interviewed for a management position at a clothing chain store and they had to do crazy stuff like build a castle out of cards and compete at some game involving a ball and a cup on a table.

    There’s some excellent advice in this thread, but just be aware that you really can’t prepare for EVERYTHING an interviewer might throw at you.

    1. Koko

      “Tell me about your friends and why they’re friends with you.”

      “Well, we all love bacon and getting hammered, and they’re friends with me because I have a huge kitchen so we can get together on weekends and have drunk brunch together.”

      Yeah, that question is irrelevant garbage. People are different with their friends than they are at work!

      1. Ad Astra

        Nah, my friends are friends with me because they love hanging out with excellent communicators who have strong writing and social media skills and lots of CMS experience. They love that I’m a self-starter and a team player.

    2. Honeybee

      I got a version of that third question. I was asked what my superpower was. (A work-related one – he gave an explanation of the question and examples before he asked me to answer it.)

    3. Florida

      The FBI question is a little silly. Who is going to day, “Well, my profile says that I’ve been arrested 5 times and am wanted in three states.”?
      The answer I would want to say, “My FBI profile says I have no tolerance for stupid questions.”

    4. SevenSixOne

      An interviewer once asked me “With what fictional character do you most identify and why?”

      And I had no idea how to answer, because the first dozen or so answers that popped into my head are all smartass jerks with poor impulse control and no regard for authority… and most of them are way younger than I am or not human.

  12. Meg Murry

    Another +1 to looking into behavioral or STAR type questions. You will probably get a lot of “tell me about a time when ….” questions. Other questions you should be prepared to answer:

    -Why do you want to work at XYZ Corp?
    -Why are you leaving your current job?
    -Where do you see yourself in [2, 5, 10] years?
    -Why did you move from [previous job] to [current job]?
    -Do you prefer to work in teams or independently?
    Some variant of “what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses” – which could be in the form of a “tell me about a time when” question, or something like “on your last review, what did your manager say you did well and what do you need to improve?” or “tell me about a time when you failed”

    You don’t need to have perfectly polished answers for any (or all of) these, and it’s ok to think a minute before diving into these questions. Its even ok to say “I don’t know” (and then elaborate – for instance, I always say “I don’t know to the ‘where do you see yourself’ and then explain that looking back I wouldn’t have seen myself where I am right now, but here are my future goals and what I’m looking for in a new position, etc etc). It’s also ok to say “I can’t think of a good example right now, can we come back to this one” once or maybe twice – but you do need to come back to it.

    Before one of my interviews, my former co-workers (who had worked with me at XYZ, moved on to ABC and submitted my resume to ABC) took me out to lunch, and told me about their interviews, what kind of questions they got, and then listened to my answers and helped me polish them. If you have anyone in your network that has ever worked at the company you are interviewing with or even interviewed there, asking them if they would like to go out for coffee and get some interview tips would be super helpful.

    If you are still in school, your career services department may do mock interviews where you could practice some of these standard questions and answers. Some will even do them for alumni, either in person or over the phone.

    The first few times I got the hard questions like “tell me about a time you failed” I froze up. Now, I’ve failed so many times (and learned so much from it), I answer these questions without blinking an eye – practice (and experience) make better, if not perfect.

    Last, it is ok to reach out and ask a more generic “is there anything I need to know or prepare for before the interview?” You might not get specific interview questions, but you might get more general information that still would be useful, such as who you would be meeting with, or things like “don’t use Google Maps to get here, because it sends you down streets that have closed. Use exit X, then street Y and then Z”.

    1. TootsNYC

      Just bringing this out again, so it doesn’t get lost:

      “Last, it is ok to reach out and ask a more generic “is there anything I need to know or prepare for before the interview?” You might not get specific interview questions, but you might get more general information that still would be useful, such as who you would be meeting with, or things like “don’t use Google Maps to get here, because it sends you down streets that have closed. Use exit X, then street Y and then Z”. ”

      You might also get the info that you’ll be asked to complete some presentation, and then you can think of questions to ask about it before you leave the interview.

  13. Anonymous Educator

    A few other points to consider (that I don’t believe have been mentioned yet):

    1. Many interviews go in a question-and-answer format, but the best interviews I’ve had (either as an interviewer or as an interviewee) have been more conversational. As an interviewer, I may have a few questions prepared to ask, but I may not get to them all if the interview goes well—I’m kind of hoping I won’t and that the conversation will just naturally go over the important stuff I want to glean about the candidate.

    2. It’s okay to not have an answer ready, especially for some not-so-straightforward questions. It’s okay (and even preferable for some interviewers) to say “That’s a good question. Let me think about that…” instead of just jumping into a rehearsed response.

    3. Some of the worst interviews I’ve had (as an interviewer) have involved interviewees seeming to be gleeful about reciting their canned answers and saying the “right” response back. Interview assessment goes far beyond just what you say. It has a lot to do, for many jobs, with picking up on social cues, appearing thoughtful, acting semi-natural even in an artificial environment, etc. If it were just about your “answers,” the interview could be conducted via an online form instead of in person.

    1. Koko

      Yes, definitely conversational is the way to go. I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates over the years. I usually start with a really softball question to put the candidate at ease and get them warmed up and comfortable talking: “Why don’t you tell me how you found this opportunity and what attracted you most about it.”

      Then, I would say for any given position there are probably 3-4 standard questions I ask where I think about what will be the most important/challenging aspects of the position and ask the candidate to tell me how they have handled or would handle those kinds of situations. For an admin position it might be something like how do you handle competing high-priority items that pop up without warning. For an account/customer service rep position it might be something like how do you handle clients with difficult personalities. For a specialized developer position it might be something like how do you handle staying abreast of your field if your supervisor doesn’t share your technical background.

      The rest of the interview is asking for more detail and clarification about things in the person’s resume, and questions that their other answers prompted me to ask for clarification, so it’s very tailored to the candidate.

      1. TootsNYC

        I always say, “What do you like about copyediting?”

        I sometimes say, “What was your best catch?” and “What was the mistake that still bugs you?” (I always tell them mine, so they know it’s not a gotcha question) or “What mistakes or new usages are you seeing in the world lately?” Or “What makes someone really good at this field?”

        There’s no wrong answer to any of these–I just want to hear them talk about our field. How much do they think about it. At what level are they thinking? Just talk a little bit about what you do, hands on, day to day.

  14. Jake

    If a candidate asked me this is be unable to provide it because the only question I use in every interview is give me a rundown of your resume.

    From there its just an organic conversation.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      But don’t you prepare at least a couple of questions based off their resume that would relate to the role? I’ve had interviews where they spend most of the time going down each and every job and why I left and it made me wonder if they ever read my resume before the interview and wasted a lot of time. But I do see what you’re saying about organic conversation there should be some of that too of course.

      1. Jake

        Of course, but those”prepared” questions come out differently depending on how the interview is going.

        Maybe I use, “tell me About a time when you managed multiple deadlines” to redirect the interview one time, but in another interview the candidate may be discussing a particularly difficult position and we organically hit on deadlines.

  15. Ad Astra

    I do think interviewers might get better, more helpful answers to their questions if they gave them to candidates ahead of time. Or at least gave them an idea of some specific things they wanted to know about.

    But asking for them ahead of time comes off like asking your professor for the test questions ahead of time. For most, the questions are a guarded secret and it’s presumptuous to ask. For the others, there’s no need to ask because they’ve already provided them to you proactively.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      In my past experience as a student, “open book” tests were always more difficult than “closed book” tests. If you were allowed notes and even knew the questions ahead of time, the teachers expected you to produce a lot better work. Unfortunately, for interviews, it doesn’t work quite the same way. You’re not testing what they know. You’re trying to find out who they are and how they work.

      1. Ad Astra

        Yeah, “open book” was usually the hardest for me because you had to know exactly what you were looking for, and usually the questions asked you to apply something rather than just reciting it. I didn’t have many classes with “open note” tests, but I would think those usually involve formulas or dates or something and then you have to apply the formula to a complicated problem or write a persuasive essay or something with your notes. All it did was save you some memorization so you could demonstrate skill rather than knowledge.

        But I did have a lot of teachers whose study guides included all or most of the test questions, or sometimes all of the potential test questions (so you’d prepare answers for, say, 20 but the test only used 5 of them). I always found that really helpful.

      2. AnotherHRPro

        But interviews aren’t tests. They are an opportunity for the hiring manager to get to know the qualifications of various candidates. There are not right or wrong answers. The interviewee is simply sharing their experiences and qualifications. These really are things that they should be able to talk about. With anything, practice goes a long way as it helps you make your stories more succinct and thorough, but not “right”.

      3. Anx

        Agreed!

        As much as I hate being surprised by interview questions, the spontaneity does alleviate the pressure of coming up with an absolutely stunning answer every time.

    2. Honeybee

      I think it depends. In the last interview I was in, at least part of the purpose was to see how you worked under pressure. There was also a problem-solving part that was supposed to include a lot of interaction between you and the interviewers – they wanted to see what kinds of questions you asked to glean more information, etc.

  16. nicolefromqueens

    As a clerical/admin, I find answering some of these “tell me about a time…” question very, very difficult, especially keeping it concise.

    1. TootsNYC

      Practice in the shower.

      Or, better yet, practice in the shower, then type it out, and go through the cross out stuff.
      that’ll help you see what parts of it are cuttable, or how you can tighten.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        And then during the interview, if you start to forget something, just act like you’re lathering up your hair and that will trigger your memory.

      2. nicolefromqueens

        hehe.

        My problem is while the general skill set and knowledge that is required for these jobs are the same, the industries and environments are so varied that communicating a problem to an outsider is complicated.

        The data entry job that I had for a high-end boutique retail in a small, rich town was almost completely different than the data entry job I have at a large city’s Department of X, which was different from my DE job at the same city’s much smaller Department of Y. My coworkers and managers at Department X are sometimes flabbergasted when I discuss what we did at Department Y.

    2. Hillary

      When I was in business school, they gave us a six page handout of behavioral interview questions. We used to practice at the bar.

  17. Gene

    I am a municipal employee, with the strictures that are put on our interview questions by the Civil Service system. We have a list of questions, and everyone gets asked the same questions, in the same order, with acceptable answers listed (at least for the technical-type ones). And HR treats the questions like the nuclear codes in POTUS’s “football”. Not even the interviewers see them in advance; there is a question bank that they pull them from that evidently was written long ago for our specialty. More than once I’ve had to say something like, “That expected answer doesn’t apply anymore.” This creates a delay in the first interview of the day while we fix the questions/answers.

    For those who make it into the top tier of that, the follow-up interviews with the hiring managers are much more “normal”.

  18. TootsNYC

    Actually, you probably know what the important question is:

    How does your experience prove that you can do a good/great job on the duties that are listed in the job description?

    So go through the job description, and figure out what you’ve done or experienced that will function as that evidence, and prepare that evidence.

    The other stuff, if you fumble or flub it, probably won’t matter that terribly much.
    I don’t think most managers will make their hiring decision off of an answer to “what’s your weakness” if you also say, “I see that this person is responsible for the teapot curvature; I’ve found that a French curve is really useful for getting a pleasing line; I used one to redesign the spout at Global Chocolate Teapots, and our executive committee really liked the end result. I felt much more confident, and the whole process was much faster, less trial and error. Does your team use the French curve?” and the like.

  19. The Other Dawn

    Just curious, has anyone ever said, “Tell me what you know about the position you’re applying for”? I used it for the first time when hiring a junior person recently. Since these candidates had little exposure to this particular area of the bank, at least in the back office, it helped me see who prepared and who didn’t. Plus, it was interesting to hear from someone else what they think we do here.

    1. TootsNYC

      that’s very nice, actually.

      And if you’re open to hiring someone who’s a bit of a rookie, it gives you a starting place for educating them about the job, because you know where they’re starting.

  20. Sandy

    From the hiring side, there is a middle ground I haven’t seem mentioned but I love for both sides of the table: give the questions a half hour beforehand.

    The first time I saw it done, I was a candidate and quite surprised. I arrived at the appointed time for the interview, I was given a sheet of interview questions,a nod my interview was a half hour later. It gave me enough time to actually think through the questions and come up with good examples, but not enough time to script them.

    I really like to use that technique now when I am the one doing the hiring. I can still ask follow up questions to the questions on the sheet, but I find candidates are generally less scattered and nervous and I’m able to get a better idea of what the situation actually was/what they actually did rather than I did before.

    1. Cafe au Lait

      In library-land, interviewees are often handed a list of questions at the start of the sit-down portion of the interview. You’re expected to take a few minutes to look through them, underline key points and perhaps jot down an example in bullet point form. (Example: Tell me the time you handled a difficult situation. Bullet point: Student; composer; focus reference)

    2. Eva

      That sounds like the perfect compromise. I had only my second ever behavioural – type interview yesterday, and while I was way more prepared than the first one and I thought I had prepared some good stories, none of them seemed to fit the questions I was asked and I ended up looking unprepared. I felt like the examples I drew upon were not my best answer to each question. Even 30 minutes would have allowed me to recall better examples while not being long enough to make my answers sound canned.

      1. LQ

        Not if they are told to arrive a half hour early, which I’ve definitely seen happen. Sometimes people have additional paperwork to complete or such.

  21. LQ

    I’ve seen questions given in advance at a handful of governmental interviews, in those cases to all applicants and usually just when they show up. They are the most likely to stick to a strict set of questions (which can be good and bad, mostly, nearly completely bad), but they are also most likely to give them to you. Don’t ask though. If they aren’t one of the places that gives them to everyone they will be horrified.

  22. copperbird

    I did once go to an interview where they gave me a list of the questions when I arrived, and some blank paper to make notes, and 10 mins to think it over before the interview.

    It really changed my view on best practice for interviewing because actually having that 10 minutes and being able to take notes in really did let me show off my knowledge and experience better. It avoids you getting into that state where you panic and give the wrong example etc.

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