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Candidates shouldn’t stumble over the most commonly asked questions in an executive interview. When they do, they are either clueless to rising expectations of potential employers or they are determined not to put their best foot forward in a crowded, highly competitive market.

interview questionsEither way, it does not make any sense.

Research shows that 70 percent of the interview questions that candidates are asked are ones they have heard before – probably more than once. And yet the way in which candidates answer these questions would lead one to believe that this is the first time they have ever heard or answered them. In a job market where a senior executive will be lucky to get a real shot at six or eight jobs in a 12 month period, you would think they would show up prepared to the hilt. But that is not the case. National surveys of recruiters show that poor candidate preparation for interviews is one of their biggest concerns.

Even for candidates with complicated reasons for why they left their last job, the lack of preparation can be mind numbing. The reason? Candidates in transition may be accomplished in running a business but they are decidedly inexperienced in finding their next job. That they experienced a train wreck in their previous position does not seem to alter their perspective. Prepping themselves for the obvious questions doesn’t seem to cross their minds, and that is a real shame.

There are literally dozens of books on the market containing frequently asked interview questions. One of the best I have found is Bradford Smart’s Topgrading. The last section of the book can only be considered a take home test. Dr. Smart is a champion of behavior and values interviewing and these are some of the best questions from that approach. We have been using this system since the mid-1990s with exceptional results in candidate selection.

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions in executive interviews. When you see an “E” following a question, that signifies that it is an Eephus question. In baseball the term Eephus pitch refers to a slow arching pitch,  sometimes looking as it was thrown in a slow pitch softball game. Hitters who successfully anticipate it typically do well. Those who are caught off guard, usually look foolish. The secret is preparation and discipline.(There are videos, back to back. Watch both.)

Truth be told, we could probably develop 10 lists of the these 10 most commonly asked questions. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. Tell me about your years growing up. Tell me about your mom, dad, brother and sisters and please share with me some lessons or values you learned growing up that have shaped who you are today. (E)
  2. Tell me about your biggest failure?
  3. What are your strengths? (E)
  4. Tell me about your weaknesses? (E) What are you doing to improve on those issues?
  5. Why do you want to work for us? (E)
  6. Why did you leave your last job?
  7. Why should we hire you? What skills and expertise can you bring to the table?
  8. Tell me about a time when someone who reported to you made a serious costly error. Briefly describe the situation and tell me how you dealt with the it as well as individual who made the mistake.
  9. When making a decision, are you quick but sometimes too quick, or are you careful, methodical but sometimes too slow? Which is more like you? (Hint: you can’t have it both ways.)
  10. Are you more comfortable asking for permission or forgiveness? (E)

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