Successful people’s favorite interview questions

from the point of view of a successful candidate and a successful CEO

“Hello. I am accomplished and I would like to talk about…”

To put matters simply, interviews are stressful. This much is indisputable, regardless of how experienced you are or what your industry of choice is; even more so if you happen to be a poor soul who prematurely succumbs to worry and falls prey to the sneaky Self-fulfilling Prophecy monster. But fear not! The fake it til you make it ancient maxima is here to help.

Savvy CEOs and seasoned workforce executives all have preferred questions to answer, and it only takes understanding why once to integrate the approach into your own routine and give yourself the confidence boost that seals the deal.

“Let me tell you a story…”

When climbing the professional ladder, it is inevitable that one gathers a collection of experiences, some excellent, others less so, but all equally contributing to the exhibition of abilities they curate. That said, a question like Can you tell me the story of your prior successes, challenges, and major responsibilities? extends an open invitation for a successful person to highlight their skills and unique qualities. And they accept it readily.

This question gives the candidate the opportunity to showcase their soft skills. To build a gripping narrative of success and failure, of rising to challenges and overcoming setbacks means to demonstrate an ability to motivate peers and to present complex ideas to an unaware audience; it allows them to impart on the listener their aptitude for delivering strategic information to partners and clients, and, in fact, to entertain. Successful senior-level leaders are excellent storytellers and can dress up even their most dismal failures in a narrative of resilience and creativity. Taking a page out of their book as early in your career as possible and learning how to tell a good story of you may amount to the difference between being hired and coming in second.

“What I’ve done?… Yes, that’s interesting, but let me tell you what I will do next!

Other successful individuals prefer not to dwell on past achievements unnecessarily but instead to keep a focused eye on the future. These are the people who shine the brightest when faced with the question What is your biggest dream in life?

Here they can outline an ambitious plan for what they have in store for themselves and how they will achieve it. Success stories typically include ingredients like ambition and perseverance, proactivity and a lot of self-starting entrepreneurial spirit, and their recipe for the future holds no less. Answering the question also enables them to highlight the areas in which they want to grow in, and inadvertently broadcasts their passions. A well-presented answer can demonstrate courage to break away from the status quo which typically demands a linear career progression. When it comes to the future, successful people know that bold is gold, and a hiring manager would usually not have it any other way.

“If we ever play Monopoly, the railroads are mine!”

But for those who prefer to not keep one eye on the future and the other on the past, a discussion of a hypothetical present seems most appealing. These individuals welcome brain-scratchers like Would you rather be respected or feared? or What is your favourite property in Monopoly and why? which allow for a lengthy analysis of risks and rewards in light of situational specifics. They know that a good answer lets them to showcase their leadership style and ability to isolate the right answer given the position they are applying for. The conversation turns into a virtual resource management game; it requires thinking on your feet and weighing in of responsibilities against abilities & personal ambition. Although what’s crucial here is the answer rather than the journey, this is definitely not a question to shy away from: a successful response can ultimately demonstrate the mentality of a true leader.

“Hello. I have what it takes to be successful… What would you like to talk about?”

Time to switch gears a little. So, you have prepared to channel an accomplished professional and you’re feeling like the interview is in the bag. Great. But chances are you are not the only one who has preferred topics. You may be paired with a successful executive who knows what they are after, and voila!, your 1-hour chat is about to get a whole lot more challenging (bonus points though, it will also be this much more intellectually rewarding).

Well-versed CEOs have their own special recipe for a successful interview and this includes throwing game-changing questions to the pile. The good news is that these generally fall into three categories: the What do you want to be when you grow up?, the What would you do in a zombie apocalypse?, and the Use an ad slogan to describe yourself., and aim to assess those core you qualities which don’t come neatly summarised in the one-page resume you handed in.

“Are you a dreamer? A visionary? Tell me what your wildest dreams are!”

Applying for a leadership position? Expect to have your soft skills put to the test. With questions like Talk to me about when you were seven or eight. Who did you want to be? your “friendly neighbourhood CEO” is actually asking you to show them a glimpse of the real you, of what your passions were, how they evolved over time, what drives you and makes you put the hammer to the nail and ultimately take it home. They want to assess how you fit with the company’s values and if you align with their mission. Other means to the same end would be questions along the lines of What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?, What is your biggest dream in life?, or On your very best day at work — the day you come home and think you have the best job in the world — what did you do that day?.

“A zombie virus is spreading fast – what are you doing?”

On the other hand, when your interviewer decides to break the routine line of questioning and instead becomes interested in what you would do as a survivor in a The Walking Dead episode, they really are just poking around for reassurance that you would fit right in with the team and its dynamics. It doesn’t really matter what you would do, inasmuch as you manage to get across the why. If you are a logical, methodical being, then this is what should show in your line of reasoning; if you are a quirky and fun and inject this in your everything-you-do, you muster all your showmanship and convey it. In any case, no need to practice a cover story here – even if you are the most respectable hobbit in the Shire, if you don’t fit with the company’s work style, YOU SHALL NOT PASS (or you won’t be successful or happy in the role).

With the same goal in mind, other questions this curious executive may ask are What was the last costume you wore?, or simply On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?.

“If I were an animal, I would be a duck! What would you be?”

Finally, if you are asked to pitch yourself with an ad tagline, don’t be stumped. This is another favourite go-to question which aims to assess your quick on-feet thinking, and communication style. In fact, it goes hand-in-hand with the classics like If you were an animal, which animal would you be?, Describe yourself in one word…, or even Tell me about your background. This type of questioning is favoured because it gives you the spotlight and lets you shape the narrative and presentation: are you going to answer concisely or are you going to build a story; do you strive to entertain or to deliver a direct response? This is no time to hold back on ingenuity – delve into the opportunity for creative talk and own the interview.

And there you have it – an overview of the what and why can pop up during an interview and how to make it work for you. And since success is always, always tied to the amount of work you put in, feel free to gather up some friends, or line up childhood stuffed toys you have lying around, and give them your best answers to some of these questions. Practicing out loud triggers tons of new ideas!

Good luck!

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