During my time as a manager and then as a director, I conducted dozens of interviews to hire for my teams but also to support other departments and markets. I interviewed people for different levels, from individual contributors to senior managers and directors.
Now that I am a full-time career and leadership coach, I help clients prepare for the same kind of interviews I once hired for. Here is the list of questions I ask them to prepare before we jump on a call to rehearse them, challenge them a bit more, and get them ready.
For each of these questions, take notes of your answer so you can go back to them later to complete them. You will have to learn and repeat these answers out loud a few times to feel very confident saying them during your interviews.
1. Tell me more about you
This question calls for a story telling, so the best way to nail it is to prepare the story of your career.
- Don’t take more than 5 minutes to answer, this should be a short introduction.
- Tell your professional journey since you graduated: what happened and why?
- Mention all your experiences, spend more time on the ones that are relevant for the job you are interviewing for.
- If you changed jobs or industry, or if you have done various jobs that don’t have a lot of common, prepare an explanation as to why you have so many different experiences: what have you learned?
2. Why did you apply to this position / What interests you about this role ?
Now we are in the realm of motivation and it’s very important you answer this correctly.
- Always – and I mean, ALWAYS – answer this question by telling the interviewer what you like about the job and the company you’re interviewing for.
- Read the job description several times and the about/career sections of the company’s website to learn more about the culture. Take notes of what you like and use that to explain your motivation.
- Never – and I really mean, NEVER – reply to this question by saying you just want to leave your current company, or your current role is boring/not good for you.
If you are a passive candidate (you were sourced by a recruiter and you didn’t proactively apply to the job), it’s particularly important you prepare this question. Even though the recruiter sourced you, they are going to want to see if you are motivated enough to go through the rest of the process and to eventually commit to the position.
3. Why do you want to leave your current role/company?
This question says so much about what’s happening in the candidate’s current situation and what their real motivation is. It’s quite subtle, so be smart about the way you answer it.
- Here the manager/recruiter wants to understand if you are genuinely interested in the job/company, or if you are trying to escape something.
- When asked this question, always, always, ALWAYS be positive and focused on why you want this job (cf question #2).
- Do not say that you don’t like your current job or manager, even if it’s true.
To give you a few examples of bad answers candidates gave me for this question:
- “Because I have learned everything I could in my current role”: this person was in her role for 8 months. This, to me, showed she wasn’t proactive to ask for more work, or mentor new hires, or start new projects.
- “Because the atmosphere in my company is not good”: this person was working for a call-center that was notoriously not a great place to work, however this told me that she was ready to accept any job that came her way, as long as that meant she left her current employer. If a candidate answers that way, it gives the impression it will be hard to keep them in the future.
4. What is your understanding of the role you applied to?
With this question, the recruiter/hiring manager wants to know if you understood the tasks and responsibilities of the job you’re interviewing for.
- Read several times the job description, the list of tasks and the expectations.
- Ask as many questions as possible to the recruiter during the first phone screen: you are not expected to know a lot about the job during that first phase, but do come prepared.
- By the second interview (generally with the hiring manager), you should be able to explain the main responsibilities of the job.
5. What do you know about our company?
The hiring manager wants to see if you have done your homework. Make sure you spend some time researching and taking notes of all the main information:
- When was it founded and by whom?
- How many employees and offices do they have?
- Was the company acquired recently or did they acquire any other business?
- What are the company’s mission and values? (this is usually shown on their career page)
- What are their products/services/solutions? (even the ones you will not work with)
My second advice to successfully answer this question is to create a customer account, if possible. Experience the product/service like a company would.
6. What environment do you thrive in the most?
- Are you at ease in an ever-changing, fast-paced environment, or a more steady, slow-paced company?
- Reflect on your experiences so far: where did you thrive the most?
- Are you happy with a certain routine or do you like when things change regularly?
- Are you okay with noise around you and potential interruptions?
- Do you like targets your performance is evaluated against?
7. What is your ideal team?
Here the interviewer wants to see how you interact with team members.
- Are you an independent worker or do you need to work with people around you?
- Do you like working in a team that bounces ideas off each other?
- Would you be helping new hires if this was expected of you?
- What role do you play in a team: are you the event planner, the support person, etc.?
8. How would your colleagues/manager describe you?
This question is about self-awareness.
- Think about the feedback you have received from your colleagues and your manager.
- Don’t make it overly positive because it’s going to sound like you are making it nicer than it really is.
- Be honest and transparent.
9. What management style do you prefer?
- Think about the best manager you ever had: what did that person do (or didn’t do)?
- Now think about the worst manager you ever had and ask yourself the same questions.
- Gather the pros and cons of each to start drawing a picture of your ideal manager.
- Do you need a manager that delegates or do you more involvement/guidance from them?
10. What experience in your CV is the most relevant for this role and why?
- Use what is required from the role (question #4) to see where you have learned these skills in the past.
- Think about transferable skills, that is skills you have learned and could use in any company: for instance, learning how to use a specific software, or project management, or dealing with difficult clients are all transferable skills.
11. Why should we hire you?
One of the most dreaded questions, especially for those of us who are not comfortable with “showing off”. To make it easier, you can reframe the way you see this question.
- See it as a way for the interviewer to check if you have understood why they are interested in your profile.
- See this question as the most direct and open way to tell the recruiter what you haven’t had a chance to say yet. For instance if one of the things you want them to know is that you are great at problem solving, this is a good moment to say it.
- Use the answers you have prepared for the other questions in this article to do a summary of what makes you a good fit.
12-20. Tell me about a time…
Below are 9 examples of situations it would be good for you to think about and prepare. For each I have added a few pointers as to what your answer should probably refer to.
12. Tell me about a time you had a challenging situation with a client. How did you handle it? (what the interviewer is looking for: client focus, problem resolution)
13. Tell me about a time you had a challenging situation with a colleague. How did you handle it? (what the interviewer is looking for: communication, feedback, conflict resolution)
14. Tell me about a time you didn’t know the answer. What did you do? (what the interviewer is looking for: teamwork, transparency)
15. Tell me about a time you failed. What happened? (what the interviewer is looking for: growth mindset, learning, resilience, positivity)
16. Tell me about a time you faced a difficult problem. How did you approach it? (what the interviewer is looking for: creativity, out of the box thinking, problem solving)
17. Tell me about a time you had to say no. What happened? (what the interviewer is looking for: confidence, ownership, accountability)
18. Tell me about a time you took an initiative. How did it go? (what the interviewer is looking for: proactivity, going above and beyond)
19. Tell me about a time you received a negative feedback. How did you take it and what did you do? (what the interviewer is looking for: learning, self-awareness, personal growth)
20. Tell me about a time you had to give a bad news to someone at work. How did you handle it? (what the interviewer is looking for: interpersonal skills, communication, emotional regulation, learning)
21-23. What would you do if…
Same as #12.
21. What would you do if you made a mistake and no one else noticed? (what the interviewer is looking for: work ethics, transparency)
22. What would you do if you were asked to perform a task you’ve never done before? (what the interviewer is looking for: teamwork, problem solving, honesty)
23. What would you do if all the tasks in your to-do list were high priority? (what the interviewer is looking for: time management, prioritisation)
24. What are you passionate about?
Passion is a big quality interviewers look for as this is what usually drives performance and initiative at work.
- It’s a good way for the interviewer to see if your passion and values match the company’s. For instance, if you reply that you are passionate about the environment and the problem of climate change, but you’re applying to an oil company, this collaboration might not be a good fit.
- Don’t answer something corny or banal, like “helping others.” The interviewer has likely heard that a million times before. If you are genuinely passionate about helping others, talk about how specifically you like helping others (volunteering, helping new hires, etc.)
- You can answer with something that is not necessarily related to work, but it would be very impactful if you manage to link it to work anyway. For instance, a candidate might say they are passionate about knitting because it helps them be more mindful and in the present, which is very important in a day-to-day job.
25. What are your top 3 strengths and your top 3 weaknesses?
The infamous questions. If you’re lucky, they won’t ask this question at all. If you’re unlucky they will ask for 3 of each.
- In your interview preparation, keep this question for last. After working on all the other questions, you will have examples of strengths and weaknesses you’ll be able to use for this questions.
- Do not list “perfectionist” as a weakness. Please, just don’t. I rolled my eyes every time I heard this in interviews. If by “perfectionist” you mean “detail-oriented”, say this instead, and have an example of why it’s a weakness for you (example: “I sometimes get lost in the details of a project and I need to be reminded of the big picture). If you mean you can’t delegate work to others because you want it to be done your way, say it like that and explain how you are trying to manage it and get better at it.
26. What are you the most proud of?
This doesn’t have to be something related to work. Talk about your biggest achievement, what you did to reach it and what impact it had on you (learning a new skills, learning about yourself, etc.).
27. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Think about your career goals: would you like to step up in the organisation and become a manager? If so, you can share your ambition but do so by explaining why you would love to become a manager.
- Reflect on what you would be interested in learning: what skills would you like to develop? How would you develop them (doing a course, practicing, doing a lateral move, etc.)?
- Overall, this question is about the continuity of your journey. The interviewer wants to see if you are going to drastically change path or if you are ready to grow within the company.
28. What are your salary expectations?
As a former hiring manager, here are my tips regarding the salary conversation:
- Don’t proactively mention the compensation and benefits, wait for the interviewer to bring it up. It should be discussed in the initial phone screen. If after a round or two you still haven’t been asked about your salary expectations, it’s best to have this conversation with the recruiter and not with the hiring manager (though this is my personal, very subjective opinion).
- A lot of companies will unfortunately use your current salary to calculate the offer, so be mindful of the salary you share with them in the first place, especially if you know your current company is paying below the market. If they are, add 10 to 15% to the amount you’re earning.
- Research about the company’s approach to salaries on Glassdoor (are they paying below or above the market?), as well as other job sites where they list salary ranges for your city, your industry, your experience, and your type of role.
- Set a minimum salary you will not go below, kind of like your non-negotiable salary. I would add 10% to 15% to that as your official salary expectations.
- Repeat saying this number out loud. It’s a weird advice, I know, but believe me, it works. Get used to the sound of this number with your voice. Repeat it until it feels natural to say it.
29. How do you deal with stress?
Stress can take many forms at work. This question definitely calls for one or two specific examples of how you managed stress in the past.
- Reflect on situations where you:
- had a very tight deadline,
- were overworked,
- were constantly interrupted by colleagues,
- had a backlog of emails to catch up on,
- had no work/life balance, etc.
- Pick two that you managed to solve, and prepare a story on what happened that led to this stressful situation and how you handled them: how did you control your emotions, who did you ask help to, what have you learned so it doesn’t happen again to you?
30. Do you have any questions?
Having questions shows curiosity and interest. Always say yes and ask one or two questions you prepared beforehand.