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When preparing for a job interview is it a good idea to memorize an answer for all the common interview questions? E.g. what's your biggest weakness, etc.

I don't want to come off as robotic in my interaction but at the same time I feel like I shot myself in the foot giving sub optimal answers or taking too long to think of an answer.

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12 Answers 12

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Depends on what you mean by "memorize".

It is a good idea to ask yourself those questions and come up with an answer for each by yourself. So you don't sit in an interview looking for words.

It is a bad idea to pick a "good answer" from a book about interviews and memorize that. People asking those questions know all those "good answers". They know exactly whether you have actually answered that question or given them a preplanned line from a book.

If you give me a preplanned line from a book, I will not think "wow, what a good answer", I'll just mentally skip the question, because it does not say anything about you, other than the fact that you can order a book on Amazon and would rather use cookie cutter advice from a $5.99 book over your own judgement. That's not a positive impression.

So yes, prepare for those questions. By actually thinking about them, come up with a few answer of your own and then picking the one that seems to be the best in that interview.

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    I love when during interviews someone ask a question from 5,99 book and the person asked know this so they do Joey Tribbiani "smell the fart" to pretend they need to think about the answer. But yeah, premade questions should be well known (show that you prepared for the interview) and with somehow robotic answers, questions outside usual script should take a moment to answer. Dec 16 '20 at 10:07
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    imho, if you go with a book answer, you also need to be able to explain it. If you give me a perfect answer that you don't understand / cannot explain, that's a negative point instead of a positive one. I'd rather have someone who knows their limits than someone who pretends to know and then applies stuff in the wrong place or cannot fix/redesign it if need be. Dec 16 '20 at 21:24
  • It's good to practice these questions, but don't memorize them. Practice with someone on what you'd like to say, but you don't have to say it the same way each time.
    – Issel
    Dec 17 '20 at 0:42
  • And also try to think about how to extend the question. sometimes in interview, you asked a basic question, the interviewee answered directly and when you try to go a bit deeper he is completely lost...
    – f222
    Dec 17 '20 at 8:46
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    Imho if you give a question that can be answered straight from a book you're doing an awful job at preparing that interview. An interview shouldn't be an exam "what's the answer to X" but a process where you see the process of how a candidate approaches a problem. What questions does he ask? What conditions does he postulate? Can he explain why he picked one particular approach? An interview should be a dialogue and not a monologue.
    – Voo
    Dec 17 '20 at 11:45
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There are a few core questions that you should really have your answers ready for, that's true.

But these should be your answers. If you come across as giving rehearsed answers, this won't come across well to the interviewers (who have asked and heard answers from many candidates in the past).

In the past, beyond researching the company I'm interviewing for, I generally haven't done much work in preparing for interviews, taking questions in my stride. In my experience, I've not really been asked these "typical interview questions" like "what's your biggest weakness?" and "What challenges have you faced in the last five years?" because they're mainly time fillers for when the interviewer is stuck for something to ask (or just a sign of a lazy interviewer).

Don't be afraid to make the interview a discussion rather than a dry question-answer session. Ask questions, don't be afraid to discuss the answers and how they relate to the job/role you're interviewing for.

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  • Interesting would you say you have a good success rate at interviews?
    – bakalolo
    Dec 16 '20 at 21:20
  • so true, I want an interview to be a 2 way discussion, a way for the future employee and the employer to know both side. I hate having an interview just to do some questions / tasks and no real talk between the interviewer with the interviewee. Dec 17 '20 at 1:08
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I think a lot of the "no" answers here are hung up on the word "memorize". You should "prepare" to answer all common questions. Do this by thinking though what the question is looking to measure and deciding how you want to present yourself in that context. I have spent hours preparing in this way. I've benefited from that preparation and suffered when it was insufficient.

Here are some common questions I think it'd be good to spend some time thinking about:

Q. What's your biggest weakness? (I want to know that you can identify places where you need to improve, and I want to agree that those places are important)

  1. Bad answers: attention to detail (this sounds like you're careless) I can't think of any (everybody has things they can improve, if you can't think of any you haven't worked to improve recently) any softball answer (a softball answer doesn't build trust and doesn't get your interviewer to "yes")
  2. Good answer: I need to improve my documentation skills so that others on the team can easily tag in when I'm unavailable. (actionable, reasonable, shows due care for the job, company and colleagues. Indicates an effort to improve something important.)

Q. Name an interpersonal conflict you've had and how you resolved it. (I need to know that you have a bit of emotional intelligence and will be able to get along even when there are problems)

  1. Bad answers: I can't think of one (Really? you've never had a problem with ANY person, or a difference of opinion or a difference of interests? Congratulations, I don't believe you and I'm not hiring you.)
  2. Good answer: I had an colleague who would always say he'd do what we agreed but then just go do whatever he wanted. I started asking him to create tickets for his tasks so we had record of what we'd agreed. (You didn't get mad, you communicated the problem and identified a solution)

Q. How did you get here

  1. Bad answers: I took fifth, luck, I'm awesome
  2. Good answer: I owe a lot to my mentors, hard work, and being in the right place at the right time. I suppose I've also been able to identify opportunities when they arose.

Q. What's the biggest mistake you've made and how did you recover

  1. Bad answers: softball answers will sink you here too
  2. Good answers: candid exploration of failure, claiming responsibility and being forward looking and solution oriented.
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Well, as I see it, if it's a "common" question, one should not need to "memorize" the answer.

In other words, prepare / rehearse as much as you'd like before an actual interview, but do not by-heart so called "ideal" answers for these sort of common questions. be truthful about it, as when asked to explain a part of previous answer, or there is a follow up question, you'd not be blank and have some natural response.

Finally, understand that not everyone has polished inter-personal skills. Interviews are serious affair, and some people tend to take some time / think through to come up with a reasonable answer. As long as you're not freezing, taking a little time to think about the answer for these sort of behavioral questions is generally well-accepted.

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    The converse is also true. If you've been asked the same question so often that you can answer straight away, don't pretend having to think about it. (You can even laugh and say you get asked that a lot. Just act natural.)
    – Llewellyn
    Dec 16 '20 at 12:29
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In our interviews, we ask increasingly difficult questions until we arrive at one you don't know. The primary goal is to witness what you do when you don't know something.

  • Do you ask for help?
  • Can you admit that you don't know something, even in the high-pressure scenario of an interview?
  • Do you try to work it out? Maybe with guidance?

These attributes are important to us, so this is what we pursue. Other companies have different, but probably similar, values that they'd focus on.

This doesn't mean that we don't want knowledgeable people. That's certainly part of the interview, too, but it's not the primary focus.

Memorizing interview questions wouldn't help you much in one of our interviews. In fact, it may hinder you.

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    Do you ask for help? Can you admit that you don't know something, even in the high-pressure scenario of an interview? Do you try to work it out? Can they bounce ideas off a team-mate? Are they a team player, rather than a solo star? These are the key interview questions for who we're hiring. So why does my manager insist on asking a "trick puzzle" type question?
    – D Duck
    Dec 16 '20 at 22:02
  • We want to see the behavior. Asking if a person will ask for help is like asking if they steal. You can get whatever answer they want to give, but seeing it in action reveals the truth. Dec 17 '20 at 2:50
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    That sounds terrible. You're just weeding out people who are not good with high pressure.
    – Davor
    Dec 17 '20 at 8:46
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    @Davor Yep. For some positions you want to be weeding out the people who are not good with high pressure.
    – D Duck
    Dec 17 '20 at 18:53
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    @DDuck - yes, and if you were hiring pilots that would make sense. But it's pretty clear that this is not the case.
    – Davor
    Dec 18 '20 at 13:10
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There are many "no" answers, but only one seems to be from someone who actually does interviews. I think there's still more to be said from this point of view.

For technical details, there absolutely are right and wrong answers. I want to see that you know what they are - or in my interviews, more likely, that you know the processes by which you'd narrow down what of a selection of possibilities might be the right answer. These tell me your technical ability.

For other questions though, they're the start of a conversation. I don't just want a closed answer, however well rehearsed. I want an answer that continues the conversation and lets me get to know you. I want to see what you care about, and what makes you excited about your work. The chances are good that I'll be working with you if we hire you, after all.

And in my experience, a feature of people who learn to "talk the talk" is that none of them can walk the walk when it comes to technical skills. I can't count how many people I've interviewed who've hidden behind nicely polished answers on the chatty side and then sunk without trace on the technical side. And for all of them, the chatty side has been polished but strangely anonymous - all "this is how it should work" but not "this is what I did last time". Don't be one of those.

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Memorize questions, absolutely not.

They will be asked in all sorts of ways and you will end up wasting time trying to decipher which memorized question is being asked.

You should brush up on past experiences, accomplishments, and difficulties that you've had to form an overarching picture of yourself as a professional.

It is perfectly normal to be asked a question and take 2-5 seconds to reflect on how you wish to answer it. As an interviewer I would value this much more than receiving a canned response without hesitation.

Think of interviews as a conversation and not some sort of exam. Fluidity is much more important than answering "perfectly". As long as you don't bash a previous employer then it's hard to answer a question "wrong" per se.

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Don't memorize questions or answers. Memorize why you'd be a valuable addition to their company.

If you're applying for a new job or even just requesting a raise in your current one, the one thing you should have down pat is the answer: Why Should They Say Yes?

In other words, forget about memorizing an answer to "What is your greatest weakness?", "If you could be an animal, what would it be?", or such. Instead, memorize:

"When I did my internship at XYZ corp, I was able to get the inventory selection routines down from a 2 hour runtime to less than 10 seconds - which gave them an additional hour of sales uptime and saved the company about $10,000 per year. After that, they let me take a crack at helping out with the Floobar project with a senior dev, and the dev told me afterwards that I saved them months of work."

Etc, etc, etc - you should have memorized every single positive thing you've contributed or accomplished. You should give them as many and as large of reasons to say "Yes" as possible.

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  • Just make sure you can explain how you worked that small miracle of reducing 2 hours to 10 seconds, when the interviewer has already decided he/she doesn't want to hire Walter Mitty, and decides to have some fun at your expense by asking some follow-up questions.
    – alephzero
    Dec 16 '20 at 18:47
  • @alephzero - Oh, absolutely! And to be honest, the biggest accomplishments are the ones you should be the proudest to share the details over anyway :-)
    – Kevin
    Dec 16 '20 at 18:52
  • @alephzero - though... just so you know, that's not as impossible as you think. I've actually done that once before. It was a path-planning algorithm in SQL that took hours to run - it basically figured out the optimal forklift paths throughout the factory. But it used a terrible algorithm, which involved recursively joining a table against itself without any pruning. Rewrote it, used a better approach... and got it down to about 7 seconds.
    – Kevin
    Dec 16 '20 at 18:55
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No

The whole hiring process is for the company to answer "Do I want to hire this person?"

If you memorize someone else's interview, either they will recognize you being false (most likely), or they will see you as that someone else, not yourself. Neither is a good outcome.

Don't memorize, but practice

Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes. What would you ask to learn about the applicant? Write down some questions you would ask. Now, switch back to yourself, and write down some answers you would give that explain why you're a good option to pick.

When you attend interviews, go home and write down the questions they asked you, and write out a thoughtful response. Even if the interview failed, it's a good source of material to practice with.

The idea is that you don't memorize word for word what to say, but you do practice answering common questions, so you can get used to explaining your work history, knowledge, ethic, etc.

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In my experience of interviewing candidates, we've made changes to the questions we ask so that they're not the vanilla questions that candidates get.

The reason for that is to avoid this very scenario of people trying to squeak by with only the common interview questions we provide, which don't tell us anything about the candidates' own ability to problem solve or field questions that we ask.

I would conjecture that playing to a script actually goes against your chances of being recognized as a stand-out candidate, and you would want to avoid that.

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Learn about the company, not the questions

The goal of the questions is to give the company the opportunity to find out what kind of person you are and if you are worth of hiring.

If you done your research you know what kind of person the company is looking for. So prepare with some stories and experience that show case that you are the right person.
The questions often aren't very straight forward "what's your biggest weakness", could become a story of how you made a mistake and fixed it. Which sound way better than a list of your weaknesses.

In my case, I often take 20 minutes to answer the question "who are you?" and tell my good qualities (especially those that fits the jobs profile). Make sure that you do give the interviewer space to ask questions and steer the conversation, else you could come across self-centred.

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Unfortunately, no.

Interviewing is very much one of those things where the one and only thing that helps is:

experience.

With some human endeavors (say, college testing, or being a gridiron quarterback) memorization definitely is a huge factor.

With other endeavors (say, golf, or procreation), it's really only "reps" - experience - that helps.

I feel that if one is looking for memorization to help in skills like interviewing, public speaking etc, it's really just trying to avoid the reality that one just needs experience, experience, experience.

Thus indeed, note that rehearsing for interviews - the next best thing to actually having done zillions of interviews - is often correctly held-up as a great idea that will help.

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    There are plenty of people who have learned the hard way that procreation requires no experience (or reps) at all.
    – alephzero
    Dec 16 '20 at 18:53
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    I disagree. I have benefitted from spending time preparing answers to common questions ahead of time e.g. Q) What is IT? A) IT is not the most important thing at your company, that's your people and the work they do. IT is the thing that helps them do their jobs. And have suffered because I didn't recognize Big Question. Q) How did you get here (looking for wisdom, answered with insufficient gravity, wasn't hired although I knocked the rest of the interview out of the park)
    – jorfus
    Dec 16 '20 at 20:43

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