Common Interview Questions

25 Common Interview Questions with Pass or Fail Answers

Common Interview Questions

Need interview help? We've got 25 commonly asked interview questions, with best answers and red flags.

Last updated April 19th, 2018

Common interview questions are valuable questions that are asked across many different jobs. These questions are great at showing if the candidate has the basic skills, experience, and personality traits to be a match for the job.

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Interviews are a place for an easy win. Because in general, this is part of the hiring process people where interviewers can make the most improvements by simply asking good interview questions. Learning more about the top interview questions from both the interviewer and applicant's side can be your secret weapon to building a better team.

Below are the most common job interview questions, along with red flags to watch out for, and what the best answers should look like.

The Most Common Interview Questions:

1. What are your strengths?

The consensus is to go for quality, not quantity here. Candidates should give a short list of strengths, and back each one up with examples that illustrate the strength.

Also, they should explain how these strengths will be useful in the job they're applying for, and use this question to say something interesting about themselves. Whilst this is one of the most common interview questions it is also one of the best interview questions to ask early in the interview process.

Red flags: The candidate is unprepared for the question or only gives generic answers.

This is the most common job interview question - everybody should be expecting it. If they don't seem prepared or give a fairly stock answer, it's probably a bad sign.

2. What are your weaknesses?

Candidates should talk about a real weakness they've been working on improving. For instance, they're not good at public speaking, but they've been taking a course to help them improve. This questions and the question above are two standard interview questions candidates should always be prepared for.

Or maybe they feel that they're easily distracted when working online but have installed software that helps them stay on task. Answers like these show a desire for improvement, self-awareness, and discipline.

Red flags: Again, everyone should expect it, so it's a bad sign if someone seems totally unprepared, or gives a stock answer like, "I'm a perfectionist."

Also, of course, candidates brash enough to blurt out a truly bad personality trait should go in the red flagged pile.

3. What grades did you get in college?

If they got excellent grades, this will be easy to answer. If not, look for a legitimate reason. Maybe it took them a little while to find the right major, or maybe they were doing excellent work at a job, internship, or extracurricular activity while going to school.

Red Flags The candidate has average to low grades and no good reason for it.

4. What were your responsibilities when you worked at job x?

A good candidate is able to talk in detail about their responsibilities. These should match up to what is expected for the job and even exceed it. The responsibilities should also match what they'll need to perform the job they're applying for.

Red flags: Candidates who are vague about what their responsibilities were, who didn't have the responsibilities that normally come with the job, or didn't have ones relevant to the job they're applying for.

5. Why do you want to work here?

This is one of the most asked interview questions. Look for an answer that shows they've done research on the company, and are truly excited about specific things they can do on the job. This not only shows enthusiasm for the work and basic preparation skills but gives you clues about the cultural fit.

Red flags: The candidate doesn't have a good reason, or provides a generic answer, such as, "I think it represents a great opportunity."

6. How many people were on your team at your last job?

This is a good interview question for screening people with management positions on their resume. The number of people on their team should match what you would expect for the position.

Reg flags: If they were in a management position and didn't oversee the number of people you'd expect, this could be a red flag and could indicate an inflated title. For example, a Vice President of Sales who didn't oversee any sales people could be a bad sign.

7. Where do you see yourself in five years?

The candidate should show that they've thought about this question, have plans, and that those plans align with the job and a career path that is possible at the company. General interview questions like this are still valuable and should always be included in your interview sheet.

You want to see that this candidate is a good long term investment.

Red flags: A generic or uninspired answer. Also, answers that show that this career/company is just a temporary stop for them.

8. What will your previous manager/supervisor say when I ask where you needed to improve?

A good answer goes in-depth and reflects positively on both their manager and the work they did, and lines up with other information you've been able to gather. This is one of the top 10 interview questions we recommend for all hiring managers. Candidates will often reveal information here they would not reveal if you asked them "What do you need to improve"

Red flags: Candidates that speak badly of their previous manager, provide very vague answers, or seem unprepared for this common question.

9. Why do you want to leave your current company?

This is in most hiring managers' top ten interview questions and is also one of the standard interview questions in any solid interview process.

The candidate should focus on the positives about why the job they're applying for offers them better learning or career opportunities, chances for advancement, aligns more closely with their long term goals, or is a better fit for them.

Red flags: Complaining about or blaming their former job, boss or colleagues. Also, having no good reason.

10. What was your starting salary and final salary at job x?

This is a top interview question for checking credentials. The pay should match their seniority level. You should also see that it has risen at least by what you'd expect during their time at the company.

Red flags: Salary hasn't risen at the normal rate for a long time. Salary does not match position, for example, they had a senior-level job title, but were paid an entry-level salary.

11. What can you offer us that someone else can not?

A solid candidate can name specific skills, abilities or understandings they have that apply directly to the job that other candidates are unlikely to have, or that are in short supply.

Red flags: Going negative - if the candidate starts trash talking other candidates, it's a sure sign of a bad attitude. Also, if they can't provide a solid answer, it may show that they lack a thorough knowledge of the skills the job requires and an understanding of where they fit in.

Being unprepared for basic interview questions like this is also a bad sign all around.

12. What were your first title and last title at job x?

This one of the typical interview questions used to find out how much a former employer really valued the candidate.

Ideally, the candidate rose in rank at the company at the expected pace, or they have a satisfactory explanation for why their title didn't change as expected.

Red flags: Similar to the beginning and ending salary question - if they were not able to rise in rank at the pace you would expect, it could be a red flag.

13. What do you know about our company?

Look for an answer that shows they've really done their homework and know what the company does, and they're aware of any important current events that involve the company, and the work culture.

Red flags: They don't know much about the company. If a candidate is serious and enthusiastic, they should have done some basic research.

14. What is your desired salary?

This is one of the best job interview questions for screening. Look for a number or range that falls within the market rate and matches their level of mastery of skills required to do the job.

Red flags: A candidate who is unable to answer the question, or gives an answer that is far above market. This shows they have not done research on the market rate, or have unreasonable expectations.

It's good to use this for screening early on. If you're far apart on salary, it's a hard gap to overcome.

15. Tell me about yourself.

Look for an answer that gives the interviewer a glimpse of the candidate's personality, without veering away from providing information that relates to the job. Answers should be positive, and not generic.

Red flags: A candidate who rambles on without regard for information that will actually help the interviewer make a decision or a candidate who actually provides information showing they are unfit for the job.

16. Why do you want this job?

A good candidate has clear reasons for wanting the job that shows enthusiasm for the work and the position and knowledge of the company and job.

Red flags: No solid answer, answers that don't align with what the job actually offers, or uninspired answers that show your position is just another of the many jobs they're applying for.

17. When did you leave company x?

This is another of the top interview questions for checking credentials. Check to see the candidate's answer matches what their resume says, without any large, unexplained employment gaps.

Red flags: There is a discrepancy between the dates they give and the dates on their resume, or their roles lasted for very short times.

18. How many street lights are there in New York City?

The answer to this common brain teaser question isn't so much about getting the exact number as coming up with a solution for solving it that seems reasonable and would yield a ball park answer.

Red flags: The candidate is unable to come up with a way to solve this question.

19. If you started a company today, what would its top values be?

This question is meant to test a candidate's emotional intelligence. A good answer articulates values, and the values are a good fit for their role and for the company's mission.

Red flags: They have a hard time nailing down any values, values are negative or completely opposed to the company's mission.

20. Tell me about a time you faced a conflict while working as part of a team.

A good candidate answers this behavioral interview question by naming a specific conflict and can talk constructively about how it was resolved without getting overly negative.

Red flags: Focuses on blaming others for the conflict, or conflict doesn't seem to have been resolved.

21. What’s the most difficult problem you have had to solve?

Look for answers that name a real problem, talk about specific steps taken to resolve it, and any processes developed to ensure that it would be solved more quickly next time, or would not arise again.

Red flags: The candidate is unable to name a problem, or names something that is a routine part of the job and should have been simple to solve.

22. What steps would you take to make an important decision on the job?

Candidate answers this common situational interview question with a coherent, step-by-step strategy that makes sense for the position.

Red flags: The candidate is unable to come up with a coherent strategy for making decisions.

23. What would you do if you were assigned to work with a difficult client?

A good answer should talk about a specific strategy for handling a tough client without becoming negative.

Red flags: No strategy for dealing with difficult clients or the question triggers negative talk about past clients.

24. Tell me about a time you had to relay bad news to a client or colleague.

A good answer includes the strategy they developed for delivering the bad news and shows the candidate can assess the results and has ideas for improving in the future.

Red flags: The candidate doesn't have an answer or didn't have a reasonable strategy for delivering the bad news.

25. How many other jobs are you applying for?

This is one of the standard interview questions used in stress interviews. The candidate should be able to stay calm, not get irritated that they're being put on the spot, and answer the question honestly.

Red flags: Being overly flustered by this question is probably a bad sign.

Next Steps:

Want more sample interview questions? Check out how to interview candidates and second interview questions or check out our job-specific interview questions: