Companies and people have different interviewing styles. Here's a list of the five most common types of interview questions, along with suggestions for how to answer them:
"Write a program to determine whether one tree is a subtree of another."
A part of any interview is to evaluate a candidate's ability to do the job. To fill programming or systems positions, for example, companies need to evaluate the candidates' coding and language expertise. Many companies will require candidates to provide a coding sample and explain it line by line. Some companies will give candidates a coding challenge to be analyzed and coded during the interview (although there has been considerable criticism of timed coding challenges for being artificial and not representative of actual coding environments). If you are a computer professional there are good online resources (with answers!) for general coding questions and coding challenges. For other fields, you should make sure to search the web for technical interview questions.
"Tell me about a time when you were on a project that failed to meet a deadline." Behavioral interviews are considered to be one of the best evaluators of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses because they reveal how the person actually acted in a certain situation. Good interviewers will use them freely. If you are asked a behavioral question, don't respond with a general answer like "It's important to let the project manager know about problems as soon as possible". Your answer has to be personal and begin with "I" as in "I let the project manager know that without additional resources we would miss the deadline." Here's a link to some good sample questions, and and exhaustive list of behavioral questions.
"How are you qualified for this job?"
Informational interviews questions are asked when the interviewer wants a specific answer to a specific question. Duh. See the list of 50 Tough Interview questions below. Take a moment to think and give a short answer summarizing your points. Then ask "Would you like me to expand on that?" and let the interviewer pursue any point of interest. Don't drone on for 10 minutes.
- Critical Thinking
"How many golf balls would fit inside of a 747?" These questions used to be a favorite of the computer science and management consultant interviewers because they were thought to show how a candidate deals with ill-defined questions under stress. Recent research from Google shows them to be useless in predicting whether a candidate will be a good employee. If you are asked a question like this (or my personal favorite "Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or fifty duck-sized horses?"), the wrong thing to do is silently ponder the question. The interviewer wants to hear you think out loud. How will you approach the problem? What additional information do you need? What assumptions will you make? Relax and talk through the problem. And never fight a horse-sized duck.
- The Trap
"What's your biggest fault?"
Interviewers will ask questions like this to see how honest and self-aware a candidate is. If you answer "I'm a perfectionist", the interviewer will know you are lying and trying to substitute an asset for a fault. If you are asked this question or its companion "What is the one thing you would change about yourself?", don't be too honest, like "I'm really just a lazy person at heart". Find some minor fault that you can overcome and go with that. Something like "I tend to be compulsive about what I'm working on, so I have to actively stop and ask myself if I have lost sight of the big picture."
Here's a link to 50 Tough Interview Questions with guidelines for preparing your answers. Don't memorize the answers even if you can. Just know how you would address the question if you're asked, and during the interview craft an answer.
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