Important Interview Questions and How to Master Them

Six-Figure Job Interview Guide

In the last chapter, I discussed what not to do during an interview. In this chapter, I will discuss some key interview questions that you need to master if you want to get that job offer. I consider these questions and the associated answers to be things that you will need to master if you hope to survive the interview process.

An important question that people get asked during interviews is:

What are you currently working on? What are your current duties?

Do not answer this question by reading back information that is already shown in your resume and/or cover letter. Do not talk about day-to-day stuff like, “Last month, I unplugged a server and moved it from Rack #10 to Rack #12. I also emptied a file cabinet so that I had more room for my personal stuff.”

Instead, use this question by bringing up a recent success story that is related to the position for which you are applying. For example, if they need someone who is great not only in administering, but also super proficient in designing and architecting computer server infrastructures, then bring up a success story that plays along precisely with their needs. The objective is to present yourself as exactly that person that they are looking for.

Why are you leaving your current job?

This is one of the most asked questions in a job interview. Don’t be scared of this question; the interviewer simply wants to know why you are looking for a new job. If you provide a response that makes sense, is honest (though it does not have to include everything), and “does not show burned bridges,” you’ll be just fine.

Even if you had a very bad job experience before, as long as you can “package” it correctly, it is no big deal. Chances even are that your interview partner has had something similar in his or her own past, too. It’s less important what the bad job experience looks like; more important is how you sell it and what you learned from it. Personally I always liked to turn those things into a learning experience that would make me look more valuable to the potential hiring manager of a firm where I was applying.

As an example, currently I have 2 job experiences on my resume that cover only 12 months each. A 12-month job experience simply does not look good if not properly explained. One of those 2 job experiences was with a mortgage company that simply started running out of money 6 months after I had joined. I did start looking for work around that time for various reasons – one of the reasons being the financial situation of the firm. It also came into close proximity of the overall mortgage meltdown that the US experienced the 2007 to 2010 time frame. I left before the company ran out of money, but I am trying to avoid leaving that as the main reason. I am also trying to show that I pay attention to detail and do my work while keeping the overall business success in mind, too. Just leaving the job under the circumstances mentioned above is already a good enough reason, but I am also trying to show business-related skills and that is like the icing on the cake. These are soft skills that other job candidates might not possess and therefore it might separate me from my competition for a job.

If you have something on your resume that could be considered negative and a deal breaker, find something that actually turns this “liability” into an asset. If you sell it correctly you look like a much stronger candidate.

But let’s assume you are in a different situation and you are simply looking for a better job; here are some potential answers that will help you to cruise through this question with no harm.

Good answers to this question are:

  • I am not being challenged really at work and I do not feel like I am able to make a good contribution. I perform best when being challenged at work. I love to be challenged and if I am happy at work I perform best.
  • There isn’t really any room for growth with my current employer. While I like working there, I do feel I have a lot more to give and I’m ready to move on to a new challenge and to have an opportunity for growth in my professional career.
  • I am seeking a position with a stable company with room for growth and opportunity for career advancement. Things at my current workplace sometimes seem a little less financially stable, and the opportunity with your firm sounds very exciting to me and I decided to apply.
  • I was hired to do a certain job initially, but the position is lacking additional challenges after I successfully worked my way through the initial job assignment. While it is comfortable to maintain the status quo, it’s not why I hired on initially and it is not where I feel I am providing value to the firm.

 

How do you deal with conflict?

The answer to this question can be either short or long, depending on how satisfied the interviewer is from your short answer. Simply say, “I believe that in most cases it is important to analyze the situation first, and technique (to solve conflict) is second. I gather all the information on the specific situation before I take any action.”

If the interviewer has specific interest in this kind of question and answer, be ready to answer with a conflict issue from your past work experience. Make sure you answer with a success story where you have turned a conflict into an asset for the company.

Please note: it might be worth asking if the position you are applying for has to deal with a lot of internal conflict situations. The answer (and the interviewer’s body language) might give you clues as to what to expect.

What frustrates you?

This question generally is trying to draw some cynicism and negativity from you. Remember, avoid negativity the interviewer can be cynical, but you cannot. If the interviewer is acting cynically, let him air it out. There can be many reasons for this type of behavior. It could be a rough day, or the interviewer is actually dissatisfied with the current climate at work. Don’t confirm or deny or show any type of confirming physical behavior like nodding your head up and down or back and forth. Simply listen and be still until his/her moment of cynicism evaporates.

The best way to answer this question, without exposing yourself to a bad response, try something like this:

For me, work is work there are always challenging and less challenging parts, but I don’t really look at it as being frustrating. It’s part of the deal.” But you might not be off the hook just yet. Continue on to “complete” your answer: “When something comes up that others might consider as frustrating, I always try to see it actually as an opportunity to take thisliability and turn it into something positive. Even if I only defuse it,’ but cannot fully change it, I consider that better than just accepting something bad and live with it.”

If the interviewer asks for an example of turning a liability into something positive, pick an example where something seems to be frustrating at first, but explain how you looked for the positives in the situation and improved it. I like to bring up examples of some boring repetitive tasks. Explain how boring (= not very challenging) a certain process has been and that it was pushed into your court, ignoring your input. Then you took it and maybe automated that repetitive task using macros in Excel or iMacros in a web browser. Both macros in Excel and iMacros are easy ways to automate certain tasks.

What motivates you?

I just talked about what might frustrate you at work. You might also be asked what motivates you. This is another great question to sell yourself. You are actually asked “to make a commercial about yourself” – make the best out of it.

So, how do you answer this question? Think customer service – even if you do not work in customer service. If your “customer” is satisfied, doesn’t that make you happy? Build your response around this type of topic—even better if you can attach a number to your response.

Example Response

“I am specializing in getting loan applications approved for people with bad credit by helping them to consolidate other loan accounts and to get rid of high-interest credit cards. I am able to shape off hundreds of dollars in interest alone of their monthly payments and then get them a mortgage to buy a house. So, I have been working with this couple that desperately wanted to move out of a bad neighborhood into an area with better schools for their kids. These people never believed they had a chance, but I made it happen and they are paying less per month now compared to before when they rented an apartment in this crime-infested area. This type of result is extremely motivating for me and lets me work even harder the next time.”

You should be able to find something similar that applies to your own job. But do not come back with a response that makes you look like a moron.

Example Response

“When I worked at Shark Loans, I sold 14 high-interest credit cards (9on average) to low-income people per day, earning $100 in commissions per approved credit card account. This really motivates me to sell even more high-interest credit cards.”

 

How do you think people/your peers/managers perceive you?

Kind of a trick question, but not really. Go straight to the point of this question. Do not be modest! You want to sell yourself as the best candidate for the open position, and the answer to this question has to make that specific point.

I would answer this question like this: “Both my managers and my peers would say that I am the ‘go-to person’ when it comes to virtualization. I am dependable, very trustworthy, I know my stuff, and I get things done.”

The answer is short and simple and leaves no doubt whatsoever.

 

What would your manager say to me if I would ask him about you?

Well, what do you think he or she would say to a company that is trying to lure you away? It would probably not be too pleasant. So, the question is kind of lame. What the interviewer wants to hear is how highly your manager thinks of you. The problem is how to package your answer correctly.

I would highly recommend to keep the answer short and simple and don’t leave much room for attack. “My manager would say that I am determined and motivated. She would say that I know my stuff and that I get the job done. You would hear that I good to work with (team player) and that I can handle stressful situations quite well.”

It doesn’t matter what your manager would really say about you. The interviewer is looking for reassurance that you are the perfect candidate for this job. You can see it from the psychological side of things – human beings always like to get reassurance from others about things. Even if we make a bad decision, it is kind of natural behavior for many people to be able to blame somebody else for a mistake. I am not saying that the interviewer is such a person. I am just trying to determine what sense it makes to ask this question.

 

What type of management structure do you work best in?

When answering this question, you need to make sure that you show flexibility. You want to point out that you can work in a micro-management environment as well as in a macro-management world. You can expand the answer and explain in which environment you feel more comfortable, though.

What are your career goals?

This question comes in many different disguises. “Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?” or “What are your longterm goals?” are other variants of this question, but aim to find out the same from you.

This is not a situation for a “one size fits all” response. You have to put into consideration where you are at with your career. Lay out a career path that matches up with where you are at. If you are at a junior level position, your next step would be a senior level position in the same field. If you are a team lead, you would say that you see yourself becoming a manager. If you are a manager, your next logical step would be to become a director.

What you are doing with this type of response is showing consistent desire to learn and grow. You could call it upward mobility. Merriam Webster defines the term “upward mobility” as follows:

“The capacity or facility for rising to a higher social or economic position”

Hiring managers like to see that you are motivated and ambitious, but they also like to see that you give this goal time to grow. After all, they are not hiring you to move up to your desired goal level immediately. They want to hire you to fill the current need.

To make more out of this question, you can spice things up a little bit.

Example Response

“While my long-term goal is to take over the responsibilities and the title of a director position, I see myself being in a good spot to work as a manager for you. This gives me the opportunity to better learn and understand the characteristics, challenges, and the overall environment of your company and to make significant contributions to the future success of your company. Eventually taking over a directory position a few years from now would be the icing on the cake.”

Further on in this book I talk in detail about “challenge and contribution.” I already used these terms in the response above. Believe me when I say that these 2 terms alone can turn the interview to your favor. I have used this strategy many times … with a lot of success.

But as mentioned above, the response depends on where you are a in your career. If you are 56 years old, goals that work well for a 45-year-old might not work well for you. I will talk about interview success for people 55 or older later on this book.

When can you start?

This is a very important question, and it often weeds out some candidates. I have to admit, I once was one of those that got weeded out. In the very early days of my IT career, I was interviewing for a junior system administrator position because the place where I worked was no good. The managers of the company I worked for did not seem to care, and I was still at an hourly range of around $17 per hour. I felt that giving one week’s notice would be fair and sufficient, but apparently having said that during an interview did not go over very well. While the hiring manager was impressed with my skills and knowledge, he was not impressed with my “loyalty” back then.

I learned my lesson the hard way back then, so you don’t have to today. So, when you are being asked about when you can start, giving two to three weeks is appropriate and will be viewed favorably. After all, hiring companies want to be treated fairly, too, when you eventually give notice years down the road. To a certain degree, I think that this is so lame, as corporate America does not have any loyalty toward its employees. They will set one free whenever they feel like it. Loyalty from companies toward employees barely exists these days. If you find an employer that is really loyal to its employees, hold on to that job. Working in such environments can be rewarding—socially, financially, and professionally. I worked for a company that made it frequently onto the “Top 100 Companies to Work For” list, and I really loved it. When I left, they had not made it onto the list in a while, and loyalty and respect from management was missing. It’s very sad when a workplace goes from great to bad.

Why should we hire you?

This question might come up toward the end of the interview. You do not have the job just yet, as this question is another test. You do not want to come back with an arrogant answer like, “Because I am the best candidate out there!” Instead, use this question to sell yourself again. Here is a solid example that you can customize to your specific situation:

“I am extremely passionate and enthusiastic about virtualization. I love the challenges that come with this technology, and I am also ready to handle the considerable responsibility a virtual environment puts on the administrator. I have the skills and the knowledge you are looking for, and I think that this would allow me to meet the challenges of the position described and to exceed them, as well.”

The Money Question

This is a difficult part to master. Most people get nervous when this type of question pops up during an interview. The assumption often is that if they ask about money, this will signal interest and will presume that the interview went very well so far. “Slow down, grasshopper!”

Even if the money question pops up, do not assume anything. Some companies use this just to see if you would fit in under the budget and how you might compare to other interview candidates.

However, the most important thing if the money question happens to show up is: BE PREPARED.

You need to do your homework. The money situation might come in many different forms. Here are some examples:

  • How much money are you looking for?
  • What are your salary expectations for this position?
  • What are you currently making?
  • What is the salary and bonus structure of where you work right now?

I never answered the first two questions with a plain number. I prefer to use a salary range as the response. You need to set a value that includes possible raises or bonus payments you would be making over the next six months. With one exception, I have always looked for a minimum raise of $5,000 when switching jobs, but I usually aimed to make $8,000 to $12,000 more per year. So, my salary range that I replied with started $5,000 above my current annual salary. From there, I usually added $10,000 on top of it.

So, for example, let’s assume that your current salary is $95,000. You would add $5,000 on top of that as the lower limit for the new position, and then use the $10,000 amount to set the upper range. Therefore, your salary range would be $100,000 to $110,000, if asked.

If you are unsure whether that range fits into their budget, you can add the following statement to your answer:

“I’m very interested in your company and the open position, and if offered the position, I will look at the entire package and then decide.”

This leaves room for them to make you an offer that will get you on board. For example, some companies pay your entire portion of the health insurance premiums, and that can add up to several thousand dollars per year. A 10% 401(k) match can make a significant difference even if the base salary is a notch below the base salary range.

I had an offer from a consulting company earlier in 2012. I had given them a range of $110,000 to $120,000, and they entertained an offer at $105,000 verbally to see if I was interested prior to sending me a written offer. While this offer was below my expected salary range, they had mentioned they had great benefits earlier, so I was willing to look at the entire package.

Well, in this case, it turned out that the cost of health insurance was very high, and some other parts of the entire package were not as attractive as I had hoped for. I went back and said that with those benefits, I would have to go back to my initial salary range requirement. They acted somewhat unprofessionally then, so I dropped them. If the start is rocky like this, I would not feel comfortable working there, because in my opinion it does not put you in a good spot for a salary review down the road.

When asked how much you are currently making, be sure to come up with a number that includes your base salary and possible bonus or other payments you would get throughout the year. If you are underpaid by industry standards, let the interviewer know this during this part of the conversation (not during other parts—and do not bring this up yourself as part of the overall reason why you are leaving). In most cases, candidates who were making below industry standards have been working for smaller companies or government entities.

DO NOT NEGOTIATE WHEN THE MONEY QUESTIONS POP UP during the main interview!

This is not the time to negotiate. If you are being asked whether you would accept X amount of dollars as your salary, do not say yes or no. Instead, say that you are willing to look at their strongest offer and that you will look at the entire package in detail. If they are too pushy, say that you are not ready yet to commit and want to review what you learned from the interview. You can also say that you prefer to negotiate at the end of the interview process and they really consider you the best candidate.

Companies asking these details during the main interview are often more budget-focused and less looking for the best candidate. For me, pushy companies are usually a sign to walk away.