Business Insider compiled a list of the strangest interview questions that candidates received while interviewing for jobs at some of the nation’s top companies.
While it’s fun to ponder your answers to these questions, your focus in preparing for your interview should be on developing responses to the following 20 common interview questions. These are standard questions asked at companies of all types and to employees at all levels.
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Why are you interested in working for us?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
What can you offer us that someone else can’t?
What are three things your former manager would like you to improve on?
Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
What is your dream job?
What would you accomplish in the first 30/60/90 days on the job?
Tell me how you handled a difficult situation.
Why are you looking for a new job?
Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
Who are our competitors?
What was your biggest failure?
What motivates you?
Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.
What are your career goals?
What are some of your leadership experiences?
What questions do you have for me?
We hope you have found this list of questions helpful. Remember the interview is not just an opportunity for an employer to learn about you, but for you to learn about the company and your co-workers.
So be prepared to answer any or all of these common interview questions, but not to the point that you sound overly rehearsed. The interview should be a conversation, that hopefully concludes with you being offered the job of your dreams.
Politicians have mastered the art of presenting information in a way that is most flattering to their point-of-view. This is especially true when numbers are involved — see President Trump talking about his inauguration attendance figures or the GOP Congress discussing the costs of the ACHA.
Numbers are cherry picked to emphasize their argument. While we would argue that it’s best to not emulate the worst traits of our politicians, they do offer some insight into how numbers can be used to enhance your prospects as a job candidate.
Finding the Hidden Numbers
Figures almost always add power and credibility to what you claim on your resume, especially when you are applying for a finance job. Let’s say you worked on a special project or initiative such as implementing a new Accounts Payable software.
Make sure you quantify the return on investment (ROI) by thinking of the software investment (monthly cost) vs. time it saved your company multiplied by the rate per hour. What about other costs such as missed invoices and late fees? Add those to the figure and you’ll probably come up with a pretty impressive figure for your resume. You can do this same process for anything, no matter how mundane it may seem.
Put it Into Ballpark Figures
As finance professionals, we often think that the more detailed a figure is the better it looks on our resume. That being said, often times we can’t always determine a precise amount, so go with a ballpark estimate.
Most hiring managers will be ok with a safe, lower estimate and state it in terms like, “Approximately $5,000 annually.” This gives your prospective hiring manager a sense of the magnitude of the impact that you had on your prior organization.
Avoid the Ridiculous
Yes, there’s a limit to all this. Something may look great on a resume, but think of how it will sound when someone asks about it in the interview. For example mentioning that you “increased company profits by 200%” opens yourself up to questions including “what specifically did you do to increase profits?”
If you don’t have a detailed strategy and operational roadmap for how you achieved this, your prospective interviewer will remain very skeptical of your prospects. Make sure that you always filter your claims through a common sense filter.
When to Leave the Numbers Off
Sometimes it’s best to leave the numbers off a particular resume entry. This is especially true when you’re talking about a relatively small amount. For instance, if by your calculations your efforts increased the average $2,000 sale by $10 over the course of a year, it’s going to be difficult to make that sound impressive (even though such a gain can indeed make a difference). In that sort of case, you’re better off putting it into terms like, “Increased average sales figures in key product line.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Look carefully at your resume and apply these methods to add power and boost its strength. You may be surprised at just how much your accomplishments can be enhanced with such techniques. Then the figure you’ll be pondering most is your resume’s enhanced success rate.
In a job interview, preparing for specific questions is not enough. If you want to make a great impression and stand out from the crowd, we suggest you follow the strategies outlined below.
Adapting these frameworks will put you firmly in control of your job interview and improve your chances of landing your dream job.
Develop Your “Elevator Pitch”
The average hiring manager interviews 8 people for every open role. The number is high enough that they generally have to go back to their notes to remember candidates. The exception is candidates with a strong elevator pitch. This is no more than 15-20 seconds about you, your background, or even your goals which answers the questions why they should hire you.
You should weave this into an early response — before you dive into something more factual. Offering a story or narrative that shows what a strong candidate you are helps you to rise to the top of the list of candidates.
Here’s an example:
Interviewer: Tell me about why you are looking for a new job?
You: I’m an accountant with 5-years of experience at fast-growing SAAS companies and have a passion for building accounting processes at a ground-level before companies really start to scale. I’m looking to move to an earlier-stage company where I can leverage that skillset and my interests, and believe this opportunity would be a great fit.
Read about the Company
No matter how prepared you are to talk about yourself, not knowing the essentials of the company you’re interviewing for conveys a lack of preparation and interest. You can’t show an interviewer how you’ll fit in the company until you know the company.
In this day and age, every company either produces content or promotes the content written about them by third parties (i.e. Techcrunch, Business Insider). Make sure you delve deeply into the company’s website or LinkedIn feed so you can see how they position themselves to their clients.
From this, you’ll be able to know who the leaders of the company are, their revenue model, and near-term strategic objectives. Pick something that grabs your interest and ask your interviewer about it.
The Briefcase Technique
This is an amazing technique that will absolutely set you apart from your competition. The following video provides more info of how and why this method works.
In a nutshell, you show up to an job interview with a written proposal describing what you believe a company’s pressing problem is and how you would go about solving them. Some ideas for this include:
Create a high-level 5-year model
CAC / LTV analysis based on your understanding of the business
Audit readiness roadmap
Map of chart of accounts
Don’t worry if any of these are not perfect, it is the effort and discussion that you want to foster.
Diligence the Job You’re Applying for
Get to know the job you’re applying for intimately before arriving at your job interview. Don’t just read the job description—study it and research every task required of you.
When you interview, framing your responses so that you reveal your significant knowledge about the job gives you a massive advantage.
Use insider information (via informational interviews ideally with someone in a similar position to your interviewer) to make sure you speak their language — if you are interviewing at a highly metrics driven org, then make sure you speak about KPIs that you believe they should be tracking.
Figure out the Company Culture and Position Yourself as a Great Fit for it
When you diligence the company, figure out what the founding/leadership team emphasize. Do they value ideas, numbers, or design? Once you know that, you can position yourself for the position perfectly and speak to it during the interview.
What makes you special? It could be that you’re an idea machine, or a statistical fanatic.
Whatever they emphasize in a job interview, you can prepare to fit it into your responses. For example, when an interviewer asks, “What are your strengths?” skip the clichés and go right into qualities about you that are unique to the job. You’ll make it clear that you’re the perfect fit.
Prepare a Story Behind Every Answer
While you should outline key points you will touch on if asked these questions, you need to be ready for the interviewer to ask a follow-up question like, “What does this strength look like in action?”
Prepare a story that really demonstrates your work or strengths in action. Make it simple, high-level, and relatable. And make sure you have a great punchline speaking to your impact.
Humans relate to stories which are often more memorable than just listing off facts. We’re confident that this strategy will leave an indelible impression far after your interview.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You, and everyone else interviewing for the job, already know many of the questions you’ll be asked. The difference lies in preparation. Preparing unique and position-specific responses will give you the competitive edge over everyone else.
You don’t need to memorize answers, but instead know certain points of reference about yourself that you can apply to different questions.
Make sure to “mock interview” yourself. Video your responses until you’re able to speak comfortably and flexibly—as opposed to rotely regurgitating answers—about your prepared topics. Videoing yourself will feel awkward when you do it, but it will pay off in spades.
Project a Relaxed, Calm, and Positive Demeanor
Your hiring manager or future colleagues will feel more comfortable with you as a potential colleague if you project a relaxed and calm demeanor. Humans are attracted to confident people and a telling sign of that is someone who is relaxed and calm.
If you show fear or anxiety, it appears weak — while interviews are nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing scenarios, take a deep breath and do your best to stay calm and relaxed.
We also recommend that you smile when starting your interview; numerous studies show that smiling not only increases your happiness and confidence, but it also puts the people you’re interacting with at ease. This is mostly due to mirror neurons in the brain that naturally mimic other people’s expressions and emotions.
Pulling this off requires emotional intelligence (EQ), a skill that employers are increasingly looking for in candidates.
Good interviewers have a way of getting to the crux of who you are. They may have an innate sense for reading people, or they might just be really good at asking the right questions. Regardless, it’s essential to approach your interview with honesty.
If you interview as your non-authentic self, you’ll either not get the job when the interviewer sees right through you, or you’ll end up in a job that’s a poor fit. Don’t focus on what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Instead focus on giving an honest and passionate breakdown of what you have to offer.
Bringing It All Together
Let’s face it, interviewing is still tough. It’s hard to show who you really are and what you’re capable of during a quick sit-down chat. These strategies will help you to eliminate nervousness and anything unexpected that might derail an otherwise great job interview.
No matter how good your job search strategy, there’s always going to be failure and rejection. It’s inevitable. In any job search, you just can’t get to that glorious “Yes, you’re hired” without lots of “No, we’re not interested” responses.
For that reason it’s crucial that you get realistic about the process of getting a job and set the right mindset to handle setbacks. Without the ability to persevere, you won’t be able to power through the challenge inherent in the process of landing your dream job. Don’t fret though, we have some practical thoughts on how to develop the growth mindset for not only your job search but also for your career and personal life:
#1: Embrace the Challenge of a Job Search
The average time it takes to land a new job is 6-weeks; add several weeks to that figure for more specialized work or more senior positions like Director or VP. There’s a lot to do when trying to land your next job, from research, networking, interviews, and a lot of soul-searching. Don’t shortcut any of these items in the hopes that the pain and frustration of looking for a job will go away. Have some faith that if you can commit to approaching this journey with an inspired mindset, hard work, and commitment, it’s impossible not to be successful.
#2: Remember That Finding a Job is a Numbers Game
It’s easy to romanticize one particular job opportunity as “the one”. This happens often when you have one process going and all your eggs are in one basket. Nothing feels worse than engaging in one process, and then finding out that company isn’t interested in you. You will constantly feel like you are starting from scratch. You should definitely be excited to apply to your dream company – particularly if you have some connections there, but realize that your burning desires and the company’s pressing needs don’t always align. Don’t take it personally but it’s a good reminder to have a few processes going at once. Odds are they all move at different paces so you won’t have to start from scratch if one particular door closes.
#3 Persist in the Face of Setbacks and Learn from Them
Bottom-line, it’s easy to get caught up when you get rejected especially when you are deep into an interview process. It’s ok to feel bad about these scenarios (we’re all human after all) but only to a point because then it becomes self-defeating. Make sure that you are able to pull the plane that’s your emotional well-being up and course correct as needed.
Just accept that things won’t always go your way and that this has no reflection on you as a person. Sometimes companies are looking for a specialized skill-set or the job opening gets postponed. Don’t shy away from asking difficult questions to the company as well.
Try and get candid feedback as to why they passed on your candidacy. While rare, there might be some valuable feedback that you can use for your next interview.
Remind yourself that you’ll always have to get through a certain number of failures before getting to success in your job search. Think of the classic Winston Churchill saying: “When going through hell, keep going!”
#4: Stay Positive!
While this is often easier said than done; we have some practical thoughts on how to accomplish this. It’s easy to forget about all the good things that have happened in a job search such as you making it to the case round of interviews or the meeting with the company founder.
Make sure that you write these wins down in a journal that documents your successes and lessons learned as you go through this journey. It will come in very handy when you feel stagnant or when you go through the job search process again.
Try to remember that big successes are nothing more than the product of many smaller successes added together!
#5: Find Lessons and Inspiration in the Success of Others
This might be the most difficult for you as most people are not taught to think/feel this way. However, here’s a quote that really embodies the mindset: “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.”
Remember, you are just starting your journey and there’s no need to envy your peers that are in positions that you are seeking.
What if you stopped the comparison game altogether? What if the success of others had nothing to do with us, and our own success had nothing to do with anyone else? Why do we need to waste so much of our precious time competing with the people around us and focusing on how we “measure up” to them?
Remember, there are lessons to be learned but to get them takes some humility to ask.
Use these strategies to create the mindset that you need to persevere during your job search for the best outcome. Let us know if you have any questions.