You’ll be one step closer to that dream job with these tips.
When you get an exciting career opportunity, it’s easy to skip ahead and start daydreaming about how to get the best salary possible or what you might wear on your first day. But, of course, that’s all moot if you can’t score the job offer in the first place, so it’s no surprise that the high stakes of an interview can be seriously anxiety-inducing. You never know what you’ll be asked or what “right answer” you’re expected to give in response.
To demystify this, we sought advice from a very helpful group — the people who are asking the questions! Below, 10 leaders who have conquered the business world (and conducted a whole lot of job interviews in the process) tell us their favorite things to ask, along with what they’re really looking to discover by asking them. It’s great advice no matter where you’re seeking a job, but if you just happen to be interviewing at one of these companies, you’ve already got a head start.
Which animal do you identify with, and why?
“You need to look at candidates in terms of competencies and capabilities, but you also have to evaluate their leadership style and personality — and that can be hard in an interview. I’ve certainly had some interesting responses to this question over the years. The candidate’s answer can reveal their self-identified characteristics, and it helps me evaluate whether a particular personality might work well with an existing team. I try not to have a team with too many of one animal type, like lions. It’s important to have diversity in terms of capabilities, but also with different dominant traits.” – Jeannette Bankes, president and general manager for global surgical franchise at eye care company Alcon
How have you worked to eliminate institutional racism in previous jobs?
“As a chief diversity officer, this is my favorite question to ask in an interview. As the candidate is responding, I’m listening to see if they have a clear understanding of institutionalized racism in the workplace, and whether they have relevant experience challenging the status quo.” – Quita Highsmith, VP and chief diversity officer at biotechnology company Genentech
If you could be doing literally anything in your career 15 years from now, what would it be?
“I love when people give me a stretch answer, like, ‘My dream job would be to be CEO of Apple,’ or ‘I’d like to launch my own company,’ or ‘I’d like to be a C-level executive at XYZ company.’ Sometimes people say things like they’d want to be on a beach or on a yacht somewhere. While that sounds nice, it’s not exactly the answer I’m hoping for. I like ambitious people who dream big.” – Katerina Mountanos, founder and CEO of Kosterina, a high-quality, organic brand of extra virgin olive oil
Teach me something you know a lot about in two minutes or less.
“It doesn’t have to be serious — it could be how to play backgammon or the plotline of their favorite show. But it’s really helpful to see how people synthesize and present information, how digestible it is, and how they prioritize what you need to know. Especially if they’ll be reporting directly to you, getting a glimpse into how someone communicates and frames information is crucial.” – Kaylin Marcotte, founder and CEO of JIGGY Puzzles, a jigsaw puzzle brand promoting the work of emerging female artists
What’s a tradition that’s important to you?
“I think there’s an assumption in corporate America that everybody’s the same, that everybody celebrates Easter and Christmas. This question often opens a pathway to broader conversations about who we are and the things that matter to us. The answer explains the things that are important to someone, and that’s what Our Place is about as a brand. It makes us more thoughtful as we understand people and cultures, and a lot of that comes from our team and the ideas they bring to the table.” – Shiza Shahid, co-founder and co-CEO of Our Place, an innovative cookware brand fostering human connection through food
What’s your dream job?
“This gives me are really great sense of someone’s personal passion and career goals. I find the food and beverage industry it is very job-oriented and less career-oriented. Hearing about candidates’ ideal jobs and future goals gives me a good picture of whether this is someone who’s looking for a job to pay the bills, or if there’s potential for growth. Those who express interest in opening their own cafe one day seem to take things more seriously, and they have a more invested interest to learn and grow with the company.” – Elisa Marshall, owner of the French bakery Maman
How do you evaluate success for yourself?
“On the surface, it’s a really simple question for an interviewer to ask. But it demands a whole lot of introspection from the candidate. An average response will show a history of self-awareness and a willingness to overcome and work with a team. An above-average response will show their integrity and takeaways from past experiences. And an excellent response will go above and beyond — really unpacking their intrinsic motivators in a way that goes beyond the workplace. I want my team members to be thoughtful folks who do things with intention and integrity. If they can show me that they’ve thought hard about what success means to them, then I’m more likely to believe they can find success in my company.” – Rachel Rodgers, CEO of Hello Seven, a coaching firm for female entrepreneurs looking to take their business to the million-dollar mark
What’s the most memorable win in your career so far?
“When I ask this, I’m not looking for a particular answer, but instead for a feel of passion — the passion and authenticity of what’s being said. You can feel the energy when someone is all in and loves what they do. I look for someone to light up with deep enthusiasm, emoting pride and confidence.” – Rachel Krupa, founder of socially conscious convenience store The Goods Mart
Where do you see yourself in five years?
“I want to know what drives them, what they’re excited about, and what kind of impact they want to make in the world. So much of that is understanding people’s journeys and how they want to grow and learn. The impact factor is particularly important. Purpose is central to everything we do, so it’s critical to build a team that’s as committed to return on purpose as they are to return on investment. At Wild Elements, we educate people and inspire individual actions that support personal and planetary wellness, protect biodiversity, and create collective impact so that all kinds can thrive. As a team, we’re all at different places, but what’s so powerful is that we’re all committed to being on the journey together.” – Nikki Eslami, founder of Wild Elements, a purpose-first platform that aims to restore symbiosis between humanity and nature
Tell me about you as a person.
“This immediately pivots the discussion from the technical aspects of the role to helping me assess things that are more difficult to dig into in an hourlong discussion. I’ve noticed it tends to dial back the candidate’s nervousness, and they can really shine. Some of my best hires were interviews that were average until this question came up, and the person revealed unshakable positive attitudes, deep grit reserves, and the ability to work collaboratively on a team.” – Kari Dixon, chief financial officer at air purification company WellAir