Rebecca Fraynt

Interviews can feel like torture, but they are a crucial part of the job search process. The good news is that there are some common interview questions that get asked at almost every interview. The bad news is, despite these questions being all over the internet, many candidates still give some summarily awful answers.

Here are some questions hiring managers often ask, answers you should avoid at all costs, and how to prepare a good response.

1. “Tell me about your weaknesses/growth edges/areas for development.”

Bad answer:

There are three ways to answer this question really badly. The first is to completely deflect or avoid the question. The second is to come up with a trivial weakness or to pass off a strength as a weakness. Examples are things like, “I can just be very particular about how pencils are positioned on my desk”, or, “Well, sometimes I can just be too organized.” In both cases, the hiring manager walks away wondering, “Does this person have so little insight that they can’t recognize areas for growth?” Or, even worse, “Does this person have weaknesses so scary they need to hide them from me?”

The third bad answer to this question is to state a weakness but not explain how you’re working on it. Now, the hiring manager will end up thinking, “This person has weaknesses but isn’t mature enough to do something about them.”

What the hiring manager is looking for:

When hiring managers ask candidates to talk about areas for growth, they are generally looking for two things. First, they are testing candidates for self-awareness. Everyone has areas for growth. Not everyone has the maturity and insight to recognize areas for improvement and discuss them openly. Second, they are looking for people who take responsibility for their weaknesses and take initiative to improve — and improving will maybe even increase your odds of becoming CEO some day.

Good answer:

Here’s a sample good response to this question. “Well, one area I have been actively working on is making sure I meet deadlines and appropriately prioritize my work. I once missed a deadline because I was feeling overwhelmed by my workload and hadn’t communicated this well to my supervisor. After that experience, I learned to keep my supervisor up to date on my projects, so we could set priorities. I also now use task management software to keep track of what I am working on. I have noticed some real improvement in my ability to get tasks accomplished.”

This response works well for a couple of reasons. First, it directly answers the question and discusses an actual weakness. Second, lots of people have missed a deadline, so, in the majority of jobs, this would not be a complete deal-breaker. Third, and most importantly, the candidate has identified ways they can work on this area and has noticed an improvement.

2. “Describe a conflict you had at work and how handled it.”

Bad answer:

This is another tricky question that candidates frequently deflect, avoid, or answer with, “I’ve never really had a conflict at work.” Any of these responses will leave the hiring manager thinking, “This candidate either a) has no self-awareness, b) has had some pretty scary conflicts they don’t want to tell me about or c) has never cared about anything at work enough to have a conflict about it.”

Another less than optimal way to answer this question is to frame the person you were having a conflict with as being completely in the wrong. The hiring manager will leave that interaction thinking, “This is a candidate who can’t compromise or see other people’s points of view.” It’s also not great to present a conflict that was never really resolved. This might leave the hiring manager worrying that a conflict with you could simmer for weeks or even months.

What the hiring manager is looking for:

Just as everyone has weaknesses, everyone also experiences conflicts at work. In fact, conflicts can be a critical part of the creative process, so long as you know how to resolve conflicts. As with the weakness question, part of what the hiring manager wants you to demonstrate is self-awareness. If you get hired, the manager is also probably wise in assuming that you will someday be in conflict with them. So, they also want to make sure you have reasonable conflict resolution skills. This means that they want you to demonstrate that you can: a) empathize with the other person’s point of view, b) express disagreement while maintaining a professional demeanor, and c) come to a resolution that feels at least ok to everyone.

Good answer:

Here’s an example of a great answer to this question, “I was working with a customer who wanted us to make a change to our [fill in the blank on an internal process/product]. I obviously was very interested in keeping this customer happy, but the [fill in the blank on the internal team] involved was pretty upset when I presented the requested changes to them. They let me know that they had a lot of other things going on and that they just didn’t have time to address the customer’s concerns. This, of course, made me very worried, as this was an important customer, and I didn’t want to lose the account. I had a conversation with the head of [internal team] explaining that I understood how busy [internal team] was at this time and that it might not be possible to fulfill all the customer’s requests. At the same time, I reminded her what an important customer this was, and that I at least wanted them to feel like their concerns were being heard. The head of [internal team] agreed to allow me to facilitate a direct meeting between her and the customer, so they could come to a better understanding of both the customer’s concerns and our [internal team]’s capacity to address them. During the meeting, the customer and head of [internal team] were able to come to some reasonable compromises that actually led to some great improvements. At the same time, our [internal team] was able to negotiate a timeline on those changes that felt comfortable for them. My customer even sent me a thank you note saying she was really grateful to talk to the [internal team] directly and better understand our company processes.”

This response is fantastic for many reasons:

  • The candidate got into a conflict for a great reason — they wanted to please their customer.
  • The candidate clearly understood both the customer’s and the internal team’s points of views.
  • Instead of trying to force one side to “give in," the candidate facilitated a conversation between all the parties involved.
  • The candidate knows how to be an effective communicator and is able to show how everyone came to a reasonable resolution.

3. “Why did you leave/want to leave your last/current job?”

Bad answer:

It’s rare for someone to leave a job because things were going really fantastically. It’s also rare for someone to look for a new position if they are completely satisfied with their current job. However, it’s a pretty bad idea to answer this question by completely bashing your current/previous manager or company. Responses like, “My manager just didn’t know how to manage me,” or, “I was bored to tears at my last job,” are not likely to impress a hiring manager. It’s also generally not a great idea to say something like, “Well, I’m looking for a new job because I got fired for a huge mistake at my last job.”

What the hiring manager is looking for:

When hiring managers ask this question, they want to make sure their company is a better fit for you than your previous or current job. They also want to screen out very scary characteristics in potential employees. Onboarding new employees is generally a large financial investment, and the hiring manager wants to make sure you won’t leave quickly. They also want to make sure you’ll be able to do your basic job functions, get along reasonably well with your co-workers, and not get the company into a lawsuit. Anyone asking this question will expect you to have some element of your previous employment that made you unhappy. However, they will also want some reassurance that this job will work better for you.

Good answer:

Answering this question well generally involves softening and reframing your actual reason for leaving. It is also better to spend more time discussing what excites you about the new role rather than what you hate about your current/old position.

For example, if you feel micromanaged at work, say something like, “I receive a lot of very close supervision in my current role. This was really helpful initially as I was learning to do my job, but I’m excited to try a position with more autonomy. That’s part of why this new role was so interesting to me.” This sounds much better than, “My boss is way over-controlling and I can’t wait to have more breathing room in a new position.”

If you feel bored at work or want a raise, say something like, “I have learned a lot in my current role but am now looking to grow in my career and try some new responsibilities.” This sounds much better than, “I have nothing to do at my current job other than play on my phone to fill the time,” or, “I really just need more money.”

If you are working intensely long hours and want a more flexible work schedule, say something like, “There are many things about my current job that I enjoy, but I was really excited about your company’s emphasis on work-life balance and employee engagement when I reviewed your website.” This answer obviously works much better if you actually did review the company’s website, and it did say something about work-life balance.

If you were fired, laid off or some other variation of job termination types, it’s important to be balanced and honest in your description of what happened. Just like when describing conflicts or weaknesses, you want to demonstrate self-awareness as well as discuss what you are doing to improve.

4. “Do you have any questions for us?”

Bad answer:

The absolute worst way to answer this question is, “No, no questions from me.” This will generally make hiring managers think you haven’t done your research before the interview or that you’re not interested in the job. It is also generally not appropriate to ask about compensation and benefits in the early stages of the interviewing process.

What the hiring manager is looking for:

When a hiring manager asks you for questions, they are giving you the opportunity to have a dialogue with them. They want to see that you are actually interested in the job and that you have done some initial research about the company.

Good answer:

The best way to answer this question well is to review the company’s website before the interview. Jot down two to three questions based on the information on the website. A great, go-to question is also, “What are your favorite things about working here?” Not only will this help end your interview on a positive note, but it will also give you valuable insights into the company’s culture. If you're stuck, we have interview questions to ask for every stage of the interview process.

If you’ve recently been invited to an interview, congratulations! While interview questions can be difficult to answer, with a little preparation you can make a great first impression. Of course, there will be some interview questions you won't see coming, but if you're prepared and confident, you'l nail it and get the job of your dreams.

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Rebecca Fraynt has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and is an all-around healthcare nerd. She lives near Seattle with her husband, toddler, and two rescue chihuahuas. When she's not working or chasing her dogs or child around the house, she's guzzling coffee, reading, or binge watching Star Trek.