20 Common Interview Questions at Big Companies — and How to Answer Them

Knowing the most common interview questions in advance could help you before your next job interview. But imagine if you also knew the answers.

That might be easier said than done, as notable companies pose especially challenging interview questions. Facebook, for example, has been known to ask: “On your very best day at work… what did you do that day?”

Whichever big-time company you’re interested in working for, you should be aware of common interview questions coming your way. You might prepare for philosophical or strategic tests, behavioral questions that assess your soft skills and experience-based questions (or even competency exams) that gauge your harder skills.

Here are 10 of the most common interview questions posted to Glassdoor by former job applicants at…

1. Airbnb
2. Amazon
3. Apple
4. Facebook
5. Google
6. IBM
7. Microsoft
8. Oracle
9. Tesla
10. Verizon
● Plus: 10 more common interview questions

1. Common interview question at Airbnb

If you had to teach a class at Airbnb to your peers, what would you teach?

Airbnb is a travel services company that emphasizes being open to new experiences. So it’s not surprising the company hosts in-house fireside chats. Like the intern who posted this common interview question on Glassdoor, you could be asked about the chat you’d lead.

Beyond gauging your knowledge and the ability to communicate it, this question is asking about your passion. You could show your personal side by sharing a hobby, but there’s a better way to score points.

“When you describe what you would teach, also express how it would be helpful to the goals and growth of the company,” Robyn Coburn, a resume reviewer, told Student Loan Hero in 2017. “That is, how your peers would become better employees if they knew this stuff like you do.”

Your pre-interview research should shape your choice of topic. The more you know about a company’s mission and direction, the better your answer could be.

“For instance, if you learn that Airbnb is developing shared communities targeted to aging adults, the class topic could be (about) housing issues facing seniors,” said Carisa Miklusak, the former CEO of talent acquisition company tilr.

2. Common interview question at Amazon

Give me an example of a time you used data to solve a problem.

Experience-based interview questions often require citing a specific example. You could be smart enough to come up with an answer on the fly. But having one in your back pocket would be in your best interest.

“Amazon knows that not all decisions should be made on gut instinct and that solving a problem with data is effective and measurable,” said Miklusak. “They’re also trying to see if you know how to conduct research and how to analyze data to derive relevant information from which smart decisions can be made.”

You could use an example from your personal life, such as the time you figured out how to pay off your student loans. From comparing lender quotes to choosing repayment methods, there are plenty of numbers to talk about.

No matter your example, highlighting how you employed data is more important than the problem itself.

“When they say, ‘used data,’ that could mean reexamining stats and information that were already available, or it could mean that you designed a survey or other data-collection system to discover the nature of a problem,” said Coburn, who specializes in film and TV careers. “Start with the problem, how it was noticed, then define how you used or found the data, what that suggested, and then (talk about) your solution.”

You might even ask if your interviewer has experienced a similar problem at the company. That will help you create a two-way conversation, not a dictatorial interview.

3. Common interview question at Apple

Tell me about a design decision you messed up, and explain how you handled it.

Talking about a decision that went wrong could show your seniority level. Maybe you miscommunicated with a client before handing off a brief to one of your underlings, or maybe you misread the brief yourself.

“Whatever the reason for the mess-up, it’s crucial to take responsibility, rather than blame any other person,” she said. “Especially avoid criticizing the client. That would be a job (interview) killer.”

Also avoid focusing too much of your answer on the problem, not the solution — even though the question doesn’t directly ask for one.

“It would be better not to tell the story of a truly catastrophic error unless you then made a spectacular save,” Coburn said. “Move on quickly to the solution and the eventual outcome, which should be positive. You can also say what you learned, and how you have used that new information since.”

4. Common interview question at Facebook

What is something that you fundamentally changed about yourself to be successful?

You might read Facebook’s query as one of history’s most common interview questions — “What’s your biggest weakness?” — but it’s actually about problem-solving and self-awareness.

When choosing how to answer, it’s again wise to prioritize a professional example over a personal one, even if it’s from a money-making side gig and not your full-time job. This will help the hiring manager visualize how your fundamental change makes you a better fit for the job you’re applying to.

“This might include overcoming a challenge or fear, like learning how to speak in public so that you could make better verbal reports and presentations in your department,” Coburn said.

Go above and beyond with your response by describing a change that includes a sacrifice, Miklusak recommended.

“It could be a change to (a) habit or your mindset,” she said. “Perhaps you started waking up two hours earlier because you realized you’re twice as productive in the morning. Or it could be that you started taking more risks in your personal life and your career.

“At Facebook and companies like it, change is imperative to be disruptive (on) a large scale, so they want to know if you can operate within that cultural mindset,” she added.

5. Common interview question at Google

Do you work well independently?

You don’t need to hire a career coach to know that Google’s interview process can be grueling. With that in mind, this five-word question might seem too simple. You might even think it’s a trick.

“If you say ‘yes,’ are you implying that you don’t work well in a team-based environment?” asked Lynda Spiegel, a job search coach. “If your response is ‘no,’ doesn’t that suggest that you can’t get anything done on your own? Your only recourse is to hedge by explaining that your work is informed by the synergies of teamwork, but you’re comfortable completing projects on your own.”

Like with many of these common interview questions, saying yes or no won’t be enough. You’ll also need to provide details, ideally workplace scenarios that you’ve lived through.

In one case, you could prove you don’t need to be micromanaged. Explain times in your current job where you delivered results individually — and as part of a team.

6. Common interview question at IBM

How would you deal with a situation where you’re given a task that doesn’t match your skills?

Like Google wanting to hire independent thinkers who can also collaborate with others, IBM doesn’t want robot employees. This question asks you how you would employ soft skills when your hard skills don’t measure up.

Answering hypothetical questions isn’t easy, but put yourself in this situation and think about the appropriate response. You might begin by saying that you’d explain the ill-fitting task to a supervisor while also volunteering to get up to speed and troubleshoot your way through it. That would show that you take initiative and are willing to learn on the fly.

Be prepared to confront a more unique version of this question that’s specific to your department or role. If you’re a web developer, for example, you might be asked how you’d react to being assigned working with a coding language that you’re not fluent in.

7. Common interview question at Microsoft

Why Microsoft? What differentiates us?

This common interview question isn’t unique to Microsoft or name brand corporations in general. No matter where you apply for a job, have an answer pocketed for it.

The simple “Why us” question forces you to look in the mirror and see how you and your prospective employer are a mutual fit. Then you have to explain your findings to the hiring manager seated across from you.

Human resources representatives at Microsoft have undoubtedly heard fresh-faced applicants talk about the company’s mystique. But that’s not enough for a good answer. Get down to specifics and explain why you’re so interested in the role, perhaps describing how it could help you advance your career while also allowing you to contribute to the next big development at the company.

8. Common interview question at Oracle

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Technology and finance companies pose many of the most common interview questions found elsewhere, and this one falls into that category. It asks you to imagine your future and your potential employer’s place in it.

You might incorrectly assume that the hiring manager is expecting you to pick a higher role on its “org chart” and say you aspire to one day fill those shoes. But be honest. Companies like Oracle don’t shy away from bringing on ambitious, even entrepreneurial applicants who imagine pit stops at 9-to-5s before starting companies of their own.

If you see yourself somewhere else at or around the five-year mark, just make sure you also explain how you — and your potential new employer — could benefit from a partnership for the intervening five years.

9. Common interview question at Tesla

You discover a component on the assembly line that is not safe. What do you do?

Don’t assume this question is only meant for assembly line workers. You could be the engineer or just an at-work bystander who notices something amiss in this scenario — and your reaction is what’s most important.

Tesla’s common interview question also isn’t merely an ethical one. Yes, your hiring manager might like to confirm that you value customer safety. But one level deeper, this question is actually about your confidence in speaking up when it’s the right thing to do. What would you say? And who would you say it to? How would you handle being brushed off by a higher-up?

If you’ve done your research on the company you’re hoping to join, you should have a specific answer to these follow-ups. At Tesla, for example, you might note CEO Elon Musk’s open-door policy and express no hesitancy about speaking directly to the company’s leader.

10. Common interview question at Verizon

Describe a time where you had to divert from the usual system of doing things and what occurred as a result.

Like the common interview questions at Apple and Amazon (above), Verizon asks you to call up a career experience and shed light on its importance. It can be difficult to remember details on the spot, so try outlining some defining moments during your interview prep.

A good answer here will show that you’re able to think outside the box, perhaps even defy custom, by taking a better route to a solution. Sharing an experience where you worked cross-functionally to come up with a new and improved workflow would be ideal.

If you’re early on in your career, maybe even applying for your first job, try either talking about how you used unusual means to reach your desired ends on the college campus, or wonder aloud how you would go about such a situation at your first job. If it’s the latter, you might get bonus points for your imagination, too.

Other common interview questions at companies, big and small

Whether you’re trying to get hired at Amazon or at a small business around the corner, here are 10 more common interview questions to expect, plus tips on answering them.

11. Tell me about yourself…

Not so much a question as it is a prompt, this common interview ice-breaker is really a test of your communication skills. Can you succinctly summarize your educational and professional backgrounds as it relates to your interest in this new position? No, interviewers don’t want your life story from birth, but adding in appropriate personal details could help you make a connection with the person seated across the table.

12. What experience has prepared you for this role?

Now we’re drilling down into specifics. You might pick one or two experiences from your career to date and explain how they ladder up to the job you’re applying for now. If you’re seeking an entry-level position, you might detail college classes or internships that set you up well. Alternatively, for mid-career gigs, you should have plenty of past experiences to draw on. Just make sure to connect the dots to how those experiences have made you more qualified than ever before.

13. What are your strengths?

And is modesty one of them? Yes, this common interview question asks you to brag a bit about yourself, but you might find that talking about your strengths leads into talking about mentors who helped you develop, or colleagues who brought out the best in you. It’s certainly acceptable to talk about what you do well as an individual, but be mindful of how your answer might be perceived by your interviewer.

14. What is your biggest weakness?

You might be tempted to disguise a strength as a weakness in responding to this query, such as saying that you work too hard. That might just mean your biggest weakness is self-reflection. Instead, give this common interview question some thought and come up with an honest answer that points to a real shortcoming. Employers aren’t expecting you to be perfect, though you should elaborate on your weaknesses by explaining a plan for improvement.

15. What would your past managers say about you?

This is another opportunity to show your ability to think critically about your performance and how it’s perceived by others. If you’ve had good working relationships with managers, your response should come naturally. If you’re lacking good fodder, on the other hand, best to rehearse your answer. Either way, be sure that the truth shines through; your interviewer might contact your past managers to make sure your stories are straight.

16. Can you explain this gap in your employment history?

This common interview question might sound like an accusatory one. Don’t let it be. Explain any possible gaps in your career without oversharing personal details. Perhaps you took a year off after an especially stressful job, for example, to recharge your batteries. Or perhaps you have taken months off work on multiple occasions in order to continue your education or seek a professional certification. Find the benefit of your taking time off and share how it makes you a better overall employee.

17. Why are you leaving your current company?

Or perhaps, why did you leave your last one? Oversharing the details of a messy breakup with your last boss could be a red flag to your potential next boss. One possible strategy to more cleanly answer this question is to compare your past employer to the one where you’re trying to get hired. Explain how the company you’re aspiring to join might be a better fit for you.

18. What is your dream job?

You might be worried that your answer is different from the role you’re applying for at present. But hiring managers and human resources teams aren’t under the illusion that everyone they hire is walking into a dream job. Answer honestly and explain how the role you’re actually applying for could one day lead to your more ideal position. Even better if your dream job is available at the company and could be a possible fit after gaining more experience.

19. Why should we hire you?

Companies like Microsoft (see question 7, above) want to know why you’re interested in them. Now it’s your turn to argue why they should be interested in you. A tried-and-true method for answering is to list off all the elements of the provided job description and, in a sentence or two, explain how you meet or exceed them. If you pull that off, your interviewer may think you’re the perfect fit.

20. What are your compensation expectations?

Negotiating salary probably won’t occur at a first or even second interview, but you could be asked generally about your expectations during that initial meeting. You might punt on the question and say you’d like to learn more about the scope of the role first. Alternatively, you might offer a very general range – “in the six figures,” for example – to set a baseline. Just don’t forget to mention other aspects of a compensation package that might be important to you, whether it’s as small as stipends for continuing education or as large as full-funded healthcare benefits.

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