Interview well by knowing what’s coming


One of the biggest mistakes you can make going into an interview is thinking you'll do well because you're perfect for the job.

Everyone who got an interview is a potential perfect fit for the job. That's how they got through the resume screen. The interview is about something else: how you think, how you solve problems, how you react under pressure. And you are never quite sure of the quality the interviewer will focus on until you get a few questions.

Until now. Now Glassdoor has launched an interview resource where you can report what sorts of questions you got from a given employer. This is a great moment in altruism, really, because you are helping other people to get a job without knowing how doing so will help you. So I like Glassdoor's new idea right away, because of that. Because the very being of this tool assumes that people want to help each other.

I've sifted through lots of the questions and the first thing I noticed was that 90% of them are the kind you can study for. That's because they are all versions of common questions, just like those I see in books that list the 200 most common interview questions (here’s one). And, as always, you might think your interview will be a special case but it won’t be. You can learn the right answer for each question and just tailor it to your own career.

You can also learn from Glassdoor what sort of interview a given company favors. There is a tag cloud on the interview home page that is a laundry list of interview genres: behavioral, brain teaser, technical, and so on. For example, Microsoft is renowned for brain teasers (here's a book to study for those) and Deloitte is known for behavioral interviews (yes, you can study for that, too).

It's fun to read some of the odd questions people get. For example, a question during an interview for a video journalist at Turner Broadcasting was, “Who is the Minority Whip?” And a question for an interview for a flight attendant at Southwest Airlines was,

“You have 1 seat left on a flight, and you have 5 passengers waiting on standby, a military man in uniform, a pregnant woman, a woman and her infant child, an elite customer (one who is a frequent flyer of SWA), and a gentleman trying to go see his ill sister. Who will be the one to get the empty seat on the flight, and why?”

(Answer: At Southwest, elite fliers get preference unless it's life or death.)

The other information people can share at Glassdoor is which companies have nightmare interviews. Which is not the same as which company has difficult interviews. For example, according to reports at Glassdoor, Amazon and McKinsey are difficult, but not a bad experience. Google is difficult, too, and also it’s an unpleasant experience.

With all this data, Glassdoor will be the harbinger for which companies are bad to work for. Based on the interview process. Because Google is, right now, notorious for being a bad place to work. (Note: I can’t find a good link. But people I know in the know tell me this is true all the time. Maybe someone will provide a link in the comments section.)

I think the biggest problem with Glassdoor is that it's not fun. People are very serious in these reports. So you might not be able to get that interview information other places, but if you want to read about the worst places to work, peppered with spice and snark, try the Consumerist. They did a final-four style playoff, with match-ups like Comcast vs Bank of America, and readers got to vote. While it's too late to vote for the winner (AIG, is officially the worst company to work for) it's not too late to vote for how the trophy should be delivered.

In either case, though — Glassdoor or Consumerist — both are fresh foils for the BS lists that pop up every year about the best companies to work for.

49 replies
  1. Carol Saha
    Carol Saha says:

    Interesting post. I just wanted to say I’m sorry you don’t have a love interest in your life right now. I know this because when you do we don’t get as many blog postings. I know crazy people out there tell you to take a break, spend more time with your kids, be celibate, etc., but the truth is having someone that loves you and is supportive (especially when you make mistakes) is one of the greatest things there is. Isn’t that what Nat King Cole sang about? Keep looking. You’ll find someone. I found the love of my life on the internet, not even looking. And having him in my life has made me a better mom and a better person all the way around.

  2. lori
    lori says:

    Interesting that Southwest gives a Northwest elite customer the seat … ? Also, the Consumerist poll was worst companies in America, period. Not only to work for, but to work with (as a customer, etc.).

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      Unless it’s been edited, it does say an SWA customer in the post.

      I think it’s a BS interview question though. In real life, if you got the job, you would be told company policy and adhere to that. They’re asking some to make a hypothetical judgment call when in real life there would be no room for discretion.

  3. Emily
    Emily says:

    Consumerist’s competition is actually just for overall bad companies, and not looking at it from an employment standpoint.

  4. mamaworker
    mamaworker says:

    I noticed the same thing that Carol noticed, and laughed that there is a second farmer in the works. Because I’m actively looking for a new job, I have one of those “200 question” books and this helps too.

  5. Brian
    Brian says:

    Everyone should read Topgrading by Brad Smart. Learning about the interviewer side of the equation gives you a lot more insight than just learning to do some song and dance. I even find myself subconsciously critiquing people’s interviewing style and wanting to give them advice on how to do it better (though obviously not actually doing so as that would be a colossal mistake in an interview).

    On a different note, another large but unspoken problem in getting hired is inexperienced and incompetent hiring managers. Though the answer to that one is really just to find another job, because you probably won’t be happy working for that person anyway.

  6. Heather
    Heather says:

    What does it mean if you never get the job after an interview but you get a call a while later with an offer of work to work alongside the person who was offered the job. This has happened to me for every position that I have interviewed for. I think it might be the way I interview but I can’t work out if it’s positive or negative.

  7. Eric Berlin
    Eric Berlin says:

    Penelope, love your stuff as always. I have to point out though that unless things have drastically changed recently, Google is widely regarded as one of the best places to work, at least as far as large companies goes: campus packed with free food, gym, onsite spa, etc.; 20% of time goes to personal projects (they may have stopped this?); working with fellow crazy brainiacs with huge resources at disposal, and so on.

  8. Mike Drips
    Mike Drips says:

    Glassdoor (same guy founded Expedia and Zillow) is fine for generic questions and finding out if the company you are interviewing with is just a cubible farm filled with mindless zombies.

    I change jobs about 4 times a year, and have been doing so for over 20 years. That adds up to a lot of interviews. However, I am a computer consultant and in my specialty areas one can always be tripped up by bullshit questions that have no practical value in the real world.

    I could probably write a book on interviewing but that isn’t my interest. When I have conducted interviews, I don’t do the question and answer session crap. I ask the person to tell me what they have done, how they did it and if they enjoyed doing it. That’s my method. No right or wrong answers, just a conversation between two human beings not between a hiring figure and an applicant.

  9. Dave
    Dave says:

    Glassdoor sounded interesting, so I checked it out – the reviews for my current employer don’t agree at all with the reality as I see it, even to the point of having outright falsehoods. One review mentioned frequent layoffs, while I haven’t seen any layoffs during my tenure, and coworkers report none for a few years before that even. Take anything posted on that site with a grain of salt.

  10. Dan
    Dan says:

    Nahhh, when my wife and I were in the process fleeing Wisconsin for the greener and free’er pastures of Nashville, Tennessee, I had flown in and interviewed for three different positions where the companies were willing to pay for me to fly in.

    Even though I am an experienced professional, I received no job offers from my efforts. Finally, my wife told me I was doing something wrong. So I went to a website called, which is all about interviewing, and I watched each youtube video about how to interview. Up until then, I did not know what I was doing wrong or what the employers were looking for. Taking their advice as well as advice from a few friends who interviewed and hired people, I was able to surmise that I was not giving the impression that I had a “passion for excellence” by giving passionate work examples.

    After that point in time, I quickly got a job offer and had to decline another one (too low) and turn down a second/final interview.

    Your blog is cute but it’s not nearly as valuable to landing a job as is, for beginners or 33 year olds with experience such as myself.

  11. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    Interviewing is a big mystery for many people but it doesn’t need to be. You’ll never know ahead of time exactly what questions you’ll be asked, but you really only need to be prepared to address 3 questions. Everything the interviewer asks is designed to get the answers to:
    1. Why are you a great candidate for this job? The most important question. They want to know if you have the skills you’ll need to be successful in the position you’re interviewing for.
    2. Why do you want to work in this industry? They’re trying to understand whether this job/industry is a logical fit given your previous work experience and your future goals.
    3. Why do you want to work for this company? They’re looking to see if you’ve done your homework, if you know how they are differentiated from their competition

    Think through your how you answer these questions with examples from your professional, personal, or academic life, and you can feel much more comfortable about your interview prep.

    There’s lots of good advice on tricky interview questions and interview prep on the Gotta Mentor website, specifically here

  12. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Just spent 30 seconds looking at Glassdoor and found 4 grammatical errors in text written by Glassdoor and not by posters. Am I the only person who finds it difficult to take companies seriously if they can’t ensure that this doesn’t happen?

  13. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers
    Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers says:

    Interesting resource and use of Web 2.0 to share information. No, interviewing is not the mystery that many job seekers think. You do not need to memorize answers to 200 questions!

    Most research I read says that interviewers have several pet peeves that are easy to avoid with some preparation:
    – Interviewee talks too much, isn’t succinct and/or does not actually ANSWER the questions asked.
    – Interviewee can’t make a clear case as to why he or she should get the job.
    – Interviewee is generally unprepared, doesn’t know specifics about position as advertised, asks questions that are already answered in materials, etc.
    (Note: these don’t include all of the stories hiring managers tell about candidates who come with their parents to the interview, flush the toilet during a phone interview or give some outrageous answer that give a little TOO much insight into a less than stellar work ethic or history.)

    I agree with Andrea’s comment that there are several underlying questions. My focus is always, “Why should we hire you?” If you don’t know, don’t waste time interviewing!

    I also advise clients to have several stories prepared to describe successes, failures and situations working with colleagues (good and bad). If you have good stories, you’ll be prepared for most interview questions. A great resource for job search story telling is a book I recently reviewed: Tell Me About Yourself, by Katharine Hansen
    People who know how to tell good stories can communicate their value proposition, which is key for job seekers and careerists!

  14. Margo
    Margo says:

    Your article is good. I agree on the tips you shared with regard to interviewing. I am not sure where you got your information on Google though. I know many people who work there and all of them love it! Having visited Kirkland, New York and Mountain View offices, I can say, it is truly an amazing place! The benefits are incredible and true brainiacs need the challenges they are able to offer employees. To get in to Google and be successful, one must be brilliant and very capable.

  15. Eric
    Eric says:

    Good post except for the “Google Thing”.

    Actually, Google is in the Top 10 of the companies where is a good place to work.

    Google allows to its employees to use the company’s ressources for personnals projects few hours/week. They have some cooking masters and they have a lot of facilities.

    Of course… I’m talking about the HQ. I cannot tell beyond that spot in particular.

  16. Anca
    Anca says:

    Glassdoor’s idea is useful, but they rather fail at the implementation. It’s a cluttered site that I don’t feel like spending time navigating. Not very Gen-Y-friendly I suppose.

  17. Becky
    Becky says:

    I have been interviewing for jobs for the last month and found some really great things on Glassdoor. Susan Kennedy and Karen Baker’s book, titled, “The
    Job Coach for Young Professionals” has also been incredibly helpful. This book helped me set goals that are realistic given the current job market. I now realize that I can still get my dream job but it might take a little longer.

  18. GreatPlaceJobs
    GreatPlaceJobs says:

    Not sure why you refer to the “great workplace” awards as “BS lists.” Most of these workplace evaluation programs are based on employee surveys and input, so the people working at those companies seem to feel like their employers employers are high quality.

    In addition, a study that we conducted earlier this year found that the great workplaces are much more recession-proof than the average company. For example, companies recognized as great workplaces conducted layoffs at a rate of less than half that of a general sample of companies. More information about this study is available on the .

  19. MartinT
    MartinT says:

    The Google point has already been covered many times in the comments so I won’t dwell on that one, just to say that I too have heard pretty good things about working for Google. I wish my employer would adopt some of the facilities made available there! As for interviewing, we recently had great trouble recruiting new people for some software positions. It was difficult to devise a set of interview questions / scenarios that would allow us to get beyond the ‘rehearsed’ answers. We ended up with a 2 interview process, issuing simple software tasks to be completed in between the interviews. The tasks were not meant to be challenging technically, but it was the way the candidates approached the problem and presented it to us afterwards that was used as the measure of success. It proved very interesting and certainly helped us get a better feel for the sort of people we were interviewing.

  20. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    After reading your post on “sponsored posts” it is so obvious that you were paid to write this, as you neglect to mention Glassdoor’s biggest competitor who has been providing this information for years. Vault has interview surveys that I’ve been reading for many years. Glassdoor is just the latest to catch onto this valuable resource.

  21. Veronica Sawyer
    Veronica Sawyer says:

    Here’s one link about Google not being a great workplace:

    I’ve also read about how all the benefits Google offers lull the young workforce into a parent/child relationship with the company so they feel unable to leave and the company feels it justifies lower than average salaries by giving all these benefits. If you go straight from home to dorm to Google, there’s no reason for you to ever learn to cook your own dinner.

  22. Nike Lebron VI
    Nike Lebron VI says:

    Everyone should read Topgrading by Brad Smart. Learning about the interviewer side of the equation gives you a lot more insight than just learning to do some song and dance.

  23. Paul Tonkin
    Paul Tonkin says:

    The best preparation to have for interviews is to be comfortable going into new experiences that you have never had before with people you have neve met before.

    Practice doing this will enable you to be calm and relaxed in the interview, the ideal state to be able to manage anything that arises.

  24. Seiko
    Seiko says:

    Not sure why you refer to the “great workplace” awards as “BS lists.” Most of these workplace evaluation programs are based on employee surveys and input, so the people working at those companies seem to feel like their employers employers are high quality.

  25. Tim
    Tim says:

    That is a very unique idea from Glassdoor. I think it is a great way to help people get jobs, but then again, companies will change their questions when they learn about this. So I am thinking about whether it can be effective at all.

    Regards, Tim from Payday loan direct lender

  26. Payday Loan Direct Lender
    Payday Loan Direct Lender says:

    That is a very unique idea from Glass door. I think it is a great way to help people get jobs, but then again, companies will change their questions when they learn about this. So I am thinking about whether it can be effective at all.

    Regards, Tim.

  27. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    One should not only research potential interview questions, but go on as many as possible to “get used to the fishbowl”. The simplest question that trips most people up is the old favorite: “Tell me about yourself.” It is so open-ended that, if unprepared, the interviewer will blather on about things that will only get them a rejection letter.

    Since interviewing is so important, one should research it and practice as often as possible. The resume gets you into the door, but the interview seals the deal. Utilize a credible interview coach if necessary.

  28. Ziv
    Ziv says:

    I agree, since you have been shortlisted for the interview, it goes without saying that they know a lot about you. In my opinion this question is asked to observe how well a candidate describes and what he chooses to speak- prioritizing. Possibly this is one SMALL question which enables a candidate to speak maximum, it gives lots of scope to interviewer to observe many aspects of candidate’s personality, his clarity of expression, body gestures, also reflects one’s approach about life, A successful (positive personality) person will have a lot to discuss about himself with lots of enthusiasm where as less successful person would be hurrying up to sum up his answer.

  29. Ellie
    Ellie says:

    I am a junkie. I had a very bad experience during my first job interview after college. (The interviewer told me that taking off Yom Kippur meant I had poor work ethic.) Anyway, is a great way to hold bad companies accountable and give good companies credit.

    PS- Use the salary reporting tools. The more information workers have-the better equipped they are to ask for more money.

  30. Dave Potts
    Dave Potts says:

    This is an interesting article, in my view. All the (what I call) trick questions (that a HR type would quickly correct me on) is merely a way to narrow the field.

    I spent 35+ years as a contractor (supplemental employee) -so I jumped around alot. There were many a time that I was hired -not because I could spew canned answers to a few BS questions during the interview, but because, as one guy told me later, “he liked the ‘cut of my jib.'”

    I guess those days are gone. The Genie is out of the bottle, and he’s not going back in.

    Dave Potts

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