More Awesome Answers to Common Interview Questions

My December 10, 2015 GovLoop blog presented common job interview questions accompanied by examples of unimpressive (but common) answers and impressive answers to those questions. Here are some more:


Unimpressive Answer: Any answer that reveals emotional weakness. (Hint: Don’t mention your secret stash of tranquilizers!)

Impressive Answer: Say that you get the job done and maintain grace under pressure no matter what—and that your references will support your answer. Cite your multitasking strategies, such as prioritizing, tracking progress, delegating if you are a supervisor, going the extra mile, and just taking a few deep breaths, when necessary.

Describe the types of tough challenges you’ve conquered, such as scrutiny by executives and tight, ever-changing deadlines. Cite examples.


Unimpressive Answer: The answer “no,” accompanied by an ox-like stare. Everything you say during an interview should help attract a job offer. So if you forgo an opportunity to ask intelligent questions, you’ll waste an important chance to increase your appeal (that your competition will seize).

Also, don’t use the Q&A period as an invitation to open salary negotiations or ask about benefits—because doing so won’t make you more irresistible. (The time to address salary and benefits is after you receive a job offer but before you accept or reject the offer.)

Impressive Answer:  Ask thoughtful questions that incorporate your research of your target organization, knowledge you gained during your interview or other insights.  Some example questions:

  1. Your office’s website recently announced a new program on X.  I am curious about the following aspects of this program…  Also, I have a few ideas about what how I might contribute to this program…
  2. Will the President’s announcement of his priority on X in his recent State of the Union address impact this office’s priorities?
  3. Every organization is always changing/ advancing. How is this department advancing? (After the hiring manager responds, suggest how you could contribute to such advances.)
  4. You mentioned that it has been challenging for your office to motivate employees who don’t have promotion potential.  May I ask you more about your experiences with this type of challenge and explain some of the techniques that I have developed to successfully address it?
  5. How would you like this job done differently than it has been done in the past? (After the hiring manager responds, explain how your credentials qualify you to contribute to carrying out the job in innovative ways.)


Unimpressive Answer: Any answer that includes wild predictions of the future. (No one wants to hire a Nostradamus wannabe!)

Impressive Answer: You may express some uncertainty about the future. Also, your answer should reflect realistic goals and staying power at your target job, if hired. You should also show reasonable ambition—tailored to your career stage. If you’re near retirement age, state your intention to keep working without discussing your age.

Example: “I can’t predict everything about the future. But I haven’t been a job-hopper. So if the past is prologue–if hired, in five years. I would expect to be an integral member of your team and be significantly contributing to X. I am devoted to lifelong learning so I would expect to be applying the latest tools in my field, would have hopefully advanced and be looking forward to many more years here.


Unimpressive Answer: “I haven’t had any authority to promote diversity.”

Impressive Answer: Review why you think diversity is important; describe your knowledge of hiring programs promoting diversity; and explain how you have mentored, hired, promoted and/ or successfully led or worked in teams including veterans, members of underrepresented groups and multiple generations.


Unimpressive Answer: Any answer that suggests that you’re an inflexible brute. Don’t pledge to buffalo through the office and immediately overhaul it.

Impressive Answer: Employers usually look for two main qualities: How you: 1) get results; and 2) deal with people. Here’s an opener:

“A manager’s job is to get the work done. To do that, I’m decisive and fair. Also, I make sure that I understand the work and relevant obstacles, understand the people who do the work, ensure they have the necessary guidance and resources, and continually look for ways to improve.

I tell it like it is to employees, and don’t let things get out of hand. But I also build teams bonded by comradery.”

You may also describe how you solve problems; show flexibility to employees depending on their needs; provide feedback; deal with problem employees and develop and motivate employees. Provide examples.

If you are interviewing for your first managerial job, describe your management style in the context of projects/teams you’ve led.

Note that, with some appropriate modifications, material covered in this answer may also be incorporated into questions such as, “What qualities make a good boss?”


If you’re asked about a skill you lack, admit it; don’t lie. But describe yourself as a fast learner, and cite a relevant example. A hiring manager advises, “Don’t just say that you can’t do X and leave it at that. Give me something to work with—a reason to think that you’ll be willing and able to rise to the occasion.”

Throughout each interview, be friendly and periodically smile. This is important: I know of many applicants whose winning personalities helped them beat out applicants who were more technically proficient but were less likeable. Finally, end each interview by affirming that you would accept the job if offered it.

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

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