Common Job Interview Questions and Answers

What to say, when to say it, and how to say it.

There’s an old story about the Friar’s Club, where entertainers in New York gather for camaraderie. It seems the veteran comedians sharing jokes were so familiar with each other’s repertoire they assigned a number to each story or gag. A comedian would start by saying “number six,” for example, and the others would say, “Funny.” Another would say “25,” and someone else would say, “that’s okay, but your delivery wasn’t great.”

That kind of codification of the spontaneous reminds me of the job interview process. However formulaic and ceremonial it was in the past, today’s interviews have become so ritualized and studied they probably have lost most of their functional value, especially when conducted by human resources people, whose chief job is to eliminate candidates.

The truth is, as primates, we formulate an opinion about another person within five seconds of meeting them. Psychologists have studied this subconscious behavior and learned that humans determine whether they like or dislike someone – from the body language we use and chemicals our bodies emit – almost immediately. In a job interview, the true role of the 20-or-so minutes the interviewer spends with you is to figure out rational reasons to support the subconscious emotional decision he or she made in the initial five seconds. Like most of us, human resources people probably aren’t aware they’ve already made up their minds about a candidate before the candidate even opens his mouth.

In light of that, don’t ignore all that seemingly basic advice about good grooming, a firm handshake and making eye contact. If you come off as confident, friendly and “nice” in the few seconds it takes to shake the interviewer’s hand, you may be three-quarters of the way to a new job – assuming your credentials and background are suitable.

Since the first five seconds of your interview probably have decided its direction, why not take a tip from the Friar’s and make it easy for yourself. When talking with human resources people, who rarely understand what you’d be doing if you got the job anyway, the best approach is to go on a kind of Stepford Wives’ auto-pilot. As in the movie where the perpetually upbeat wives turned out to be robots, become a positive, cheery, never-say-a-negative-word interviewee. Be able to match the interviewer’s rote questions with equally rote, but positive, answers.

Why did you leave your last job? Not because your boss was an abusive tyrant, even if that were 100 percent true. You left because you accomplished what you had set out to do and wanted to go in a new direction. Why did you job hop? Oh, maybe it looks that way, but two of the companies I worked for were having business reversals and I wanted to take control of my career. Do you prefer working alone or in teams? I do both well and really enjoy making a contribution no matter what form it takes.

You get the point.

(C) Copyright 2001 Evan Cooper. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.

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