How to Ace Common Interview Questions

Most job-seekers leave job interviews feeling like they have just endured the working world’s version of enhanced interrogation. But you can simultaneously reduce the torture of your next job interview and significantly improve your performance.

How? Before your next interview, prepare answers to questions that you will probably be asked by interviewers and role-play your answers with your trusted advisors.  You will thereby boost your confidence and increase the wow power of your answers.

To help you do so, here are answers to some common interview questions.


Unimpressive answer: A rambling autobiography that includes irrelevant professional and personal information.

Impressive answer:  A concise, logically structured summary of your most important and recent professional and academic credentials that parallel the demands of the opening.  Lead with a powerful opener, such as “I’m passionate about X because…” Then immediately dive into your best credentials so that you will be sure to cover them even if you’re interrupted before you finish your answer.


Unimpressive answer: Any criticism of your current job.

Impressive answer: An explanation of: 1) why you’re qualified for the opening; 2) why the opening interests you; and 3) why you want to advance your target organization’s mission.  Incorporate into your answer knowledge about your target organization. If you would be switching into the public sector, explain why public service would inspire you.


Unimpressive answer:   Any information that raises doubts about your worthiness.  It’s important to consider yourself Mirandized throughout your interview; anything negative you say can and will be used against you.

Also, avoid clichés like: “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I work too hard.”

Impressive answer: An answer that reflects self-awareness, humility and commitment to self-improvement. Options:

  1. Describe how you keep current in your field through formal or informal training.  Cite a topic that you would like to learn more about via training or self-study.  (But don’t cite a topic that would be a deal-breaker.)
  2. Say, “To avoid repeating mistakes, I inventory lessons learned after each project with my staff.” Describe some of your results.
  3. Acknowledge that, as a newcomer to your target organization, you would need to learn a lot about it—and describe how you have previously quickly assimilated into other organizations.

QUESTION: Why should we hire you over other applicants?

Unimpressive answer: A meek, weak answer like,I don’t know the other applicants so I can’t compare myself to them.”

Impressive answer: Say, “I am qualified for this position because X.” Draw parallels between your achievement(s) and problem-solving skills and the demands of the opening.  Describe your work ethic and team-friendly approaches.  Show interviewers your success portfolio.


Unimpressive answer:  Information that indicates you have trouble working under any conditions.

Impressive answer: A description of how you thrive in teams—and enjoy the camaraderie and interaction within teams but how you’re also skilled at working independently with minimal supervision. Describe relevant examples and mention that your references would support your answer. Refer to team awards you have earned as evidence of your team-friendly approaches.

QUESTION: How do you deal with conflict?

Unimpressive answer: “I get along with everyone.” (Sorry, the credibility meter just hit zero.)

Impressive answer: Say, “Disagreements shouldn’t become conflicts. Colleagues should be able to discuss varied points of view amicably. I seek common ground and compromise. But when I get overruled or overrule others, I do it graciously, and move on.”  Provide examples of work conflicts that you successfully resolved without rancor.

Also, mention that you understand that if you disagree with your supervisor’s decision, it is your responsibility to effectively carry it out. And acknowledge the importance of overlooking small differences of opinion.

QUESTION: Can we call your boss?

Unimpressive answer: “I don’t want to use my boss as a reference.”

Impressive answer: Don’t want your interviewers to speak to your boss? Say, “I would prefer not to inform my boss about my job search.” Instead, use other managers, colleagues and previous bosses as references.  If possible, include in your success portfolio a recent glowing annual evaluation.

By Lily Whiteman — author of How to Land a Top-Paying Federal Job; consulting career coach; and seminar leader

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