Prepping for a job interview means knowing how to handle curveball questions about your past jobs, boss and projects. Impressing an interviewer means not just having great career stories to tell, but also thinking two steps ahead to the kind of questions hiring managers like to ask.
So here’s a peek behind the curtain: We talked with recruiters and human resources experts about the go-to interview questions they ask when they want to know how a candidate really thinks. Take notes, job seekers!
1. “If I went to one of your former managers, what would they say is their favorite part of working with you, and what would they say is challenging about working with you?”
Daniel Space is a human resources consultant with business partners in strategic staffing. For roles that are manager level and above, he likes to ask this question to see if the candidate’s leadership style is aligned with the company’s.
“That shows me, one, their ability to self-reflect, to self-analyze, to take accountability for growth,” he said, “as well as to find that middle ground in being confident in who you are or being overly braggadocious. I find that it really allows the candidate to open up about what’s a potentially challenging trait they have or something that they discovered that is a developmental flaw that they wanted to work on.“
When answering this question, take ownership of where you fall short in your performance, and what you are working on about yourself. Space said every once in a while, he sees candidates who blame a company and boss for their developmental challenges, and that raises his suspicions.
“It just shows that very one-sided approach of ‘I was perfect and nobody else was wrong,’” he said.
2. “Tell me about a time you failed.”
Tejal Wagadia, a senior talent acquisition specialist at MST Solutions, said asking about a time someone made a mistake, failed or had a conflict with a co-worker is her go-to question for getting a revealing answer.
“We all have failures, we all have conflicts, we all make mistakes,” she said, noting that what she is looking for in the answer is whether a candidate is being honest and if they learned from the situation.
Don’t claim to be perfect. Wagadia said not remembering the last time you made a mistake is a red flag for her.
“That tells me they either don’t know that they have made a mistake ― they are oblivious or cannot introspect ― or they know, and are intentionally lying to make themselves look good. Which tells me they could potentially lie in the future about something else,” she said.
To show self-awareness, Wagadia recommends picking a job-related story about a career mistake through which you can show that you learned from the experience and have moved forward from it.
“It’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it,” she said.
3. “Walk me through a project that you’re most proud of.”
Gabrielle Woody, a university recruiter for the financial software company Intuit, said her go-to question is asking people to share their proudest project or accomplishment.
“It’s a really great question. Candidates get really nervous, but if they’re talking about something they truly love, they’re more comfortable. They’ve already done the project. It’s not a hypothetical,” Woody said. “It just allows us to evaluate a lot of their impact ... and it addresses a lot of the key skills and competencies.“
Woody said this question can lead to follow-ups such as how they accomplished the project under constraints, what metrics they used, and how they measured success or failure.
Woody recommends preparing a story around two to three projects you are proud of that are related to the role you are applying for.
She said a great answer happens “if it’s clear to me that they are passionate about what they do and the project involves skills they would be using in their future role,” while a bad answer is “just very vague, or you can tell they’re just sharing what their team did and they might not have had many contributions to it.”
Here’s how to craft an answer to these type of questions:
If you are stumped on how to answer an interview question that asks for a story, Woody recommended the STAR method. She said this checklist helps you stay on track and be very clear about the situation at hand and what your individual deliverables were.
With STAR, you tell an interview story with these four parts:
1. Situation: Which job was this? When was this? You set the scene and describe the context within which you performed a job or faced a project at work.
2. Task: You remember to highlight which specific responsibilities you had in the situation.
3. Action: Share what actions you took and showcase how your contribution made an impact.
4. Results: You share why your actions mattered to the team or business. This can be said with data or by detailing steps you took to improve.
“I literally have STAR written down as candidates are answering interviewing questions, and that helps me probe more if they’re missing one of these areas,” Woody said.