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You’ve finally had it. You’re quitting that job where you stuff envelopes all day/count grains of rice/dress as a monkey and make balloon animals for adults on corporate retreats. You’ve turned in your envelope-wetting sponge/rice counter/monkey suit and you’re off to find your dream job! The only thing that stands in the way? The Interview.

If you’re quaking in your boots, we get it. It’s never easy to sit across the table from someone in a suit and tell them everything about yourself. So we’ve made it easy. Below are some sample interview questions real-life hiring managers at local employers ask prospective employees, as well as the reasons they ask them and roadmaps to the perfect response. So spread your wings and fly, little birdie! (Just remember you knew us before you made it big.)

Question 1: What is 15% of 90?

Position, Company: Marketing Coordinator, Overstock

Analysis: “When are we ever going to use this?” said everyone ever in their high school calculus class. Well, prepare to eat your words. While brainteasers have fallen out of favor with the bigwig tech companies that pioneered them (think Google, Microsoft and Apple), many employers in the finance, engineering or analytic industries still use math problems, riddles, and puzzles to get a peek into the inner workings of your brain. Don’t worry, though, this isn’t all Groundhog Day, High School Edition. Unlike the folks who write the SAT and ACT, your prospective employees aren’t looking for the right answer. Like a clever psych student, they’re looking for something else: how you solve the problem.

While you’re sweating the details, they’re on the lookout for problem-solving skills, critical thinking, creativity and coolness under pressure. So before you answer, pause, take a deep breath and consider your options. Think less about the exact answer (which the interviewer may not even know anyway) than your approach. And just like your high school calculus class, remember to show your work! Share the steps of your process out loud so they see how you came to your conclusion.

If you’re still freaked out, count your blessings; at least they didn’t ask you how many ping pong balls could fit in a Boeing 747.

Suggested Answer: 13.5 (highly suggested given that it is the only correct answer)

Good news! You don’t have to remember how to calculate exact percentages to solve this problem. All you have to know is how to add and divide by two. Big picture: 15% of 90 is just 10% of 90, plus 5% of 90. It’s easy to find 10% of anything: you just move the decimal point left one space. So 10% of 90 is 9. Five percent is half as much as 10%, so half of 9 in this case, aka 4.5. To get 15%, just add 9 to 4.5. Voila! The answer is 13.5. Use this approach for any kind of percentage question. Just use the easiest percentages (50%, 10% and 5%) and add or subtract them to get other percentages. Now go get it, whiz kid!

Want to practice? Here’s some homework.

Question 2: Why did you become a CNA?

Position, Company: Company Health Care Assistant, U of U Hospitals and Clinics

Analysis: This may feel like a terrible first date question, and you’re right it kind of is. But employers ask it anyway for the same reason that guy your parents set you up with is asking it: They’re trying to get a feel for who you are and what you’re passionate about.

Hint? They hope you’re passionate about them. So when your interviewer asks you this question, don’t pretend like you just got a text from your roommate in the ER. Instead, see it as an opportunity to take charge of the story you want to tell, and to differentiate yourself from other dates candidates they’ll be talking to. And we do mean a story. Back to our analogy: You wouldn’t spend your first date showcasing your qualities in bulleted lists, and employers don’t want to hear it either. So instead of saying that you want to help people, tell them a story about what made you want to help people. Tell them how your aunt got sick when you were in college, and you gained respect for the competent nurses who helped her recover (for example). Connect that story to why you’d be great at the job — how, inspired by those nurses, you’ve worked to become knowledgeable about the human body, to be a good listener, and to balance no-nonsense honesty with gentleness and empathy. And you’re golden! You’ll definitely get that (second date) job.

Question 3: Tell me about a time when you challenged something ethically wrong.

Position, Company: Operations Analyst, Goldman Sachs

Analysis: At some point in life, everyone is faced with a moral dilemma: whether to cheat on that algebra test, be honest on your tax forms, or take that suitcase full of unmarked bills from the mob. The good news? You don’t have to be Mother Theresa to answer this question correctly. Employers just want to know that you know the difference between right and wrong, that you have examples of when you chose the former, and that you can explain your reasoning. So think of a time when you were confronted with an ethical dilemma in your professional life and made the right choice. (Hint: Use a job you had awhile ago, not recently.) Explain the dilemma in clear, broad strokes, then say what you did and why. Emphasize that you are not only ethical, but also good at resolving the dilemma in a creative, effective way. Who knows? Maybe you’ll achieve sainthood after all.

Question 4: What do you know about our competition?

Position, Company: Communications Specialist, Intermountain Healthcare

Analysis: You know the phrase, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”? Well, in this case, it’s a bit different. Employers want to know how much you know about their ‘enemies’ (competition) so they can see how you can be a ‘friend’ (good employee) for them. So do your research before any interview — not just of the company that’s hiring (that’s the bare minimum), but also of similar companies they’re competing with as well. Don’t just rattle off facts from your most recent visit to Wikipedia. Show your knowledge of their competitors’ latest products, their financial performance, their tactics and their projects.

But don’t stop there. Connect that knowledge to your knowledge of your prospective employer. Describe what they need to do to keep their competitive edge, and then (see what you’re doing here?) tell them why you would be the perfect person for the job. For example, mention a new advertising tactic the competitor is using, compare it to what your interviewer’s company is doing, mention one thing the company could do to stay on top of its game, then describe a specific skill you have that would help them do just that. Abracadabra! You’re smart and indispensable.

Question 5: Why do you want to work here?

Position, Company: Inside Sales Representative, Clearlink

Analysis: Assuming you didn’t wander into your interview on your lunch hour thinking it was a Papa John’s, there’s a reason you want to work for the company. The trick is letting the employer in on your passion. When employers ask this question, they actually want to know two things: Why you want to work for their company, and why you want this particular job. They also want to know what you know about the company, how it fits into your career plan, and what aspects of the job most interest you. Use your answer to bridge from one of these sub-questions to the next. Start with a specific example of why you want to work for the company. Maybe it’s their company culture that gives employees innovative freedom. Maybe it’s the three-story slide between floors. (Just kidding. If that’s your reason, keep it to yourself.) Pick an aspect of the company you sincerely care about and let them know why.

Second, let them know why you want this particular job. What compelled you in the job description? Remember, be specific!

Finally, end with your signature move: talking about why your skills dovetail with the company culture and the job itself.

Question 6: What made the iPhone a success?

Position, Company: Product Manager,

Analysis: Finally, something relevant from your high school education! This question is about being aware of trends in your field. But this time, instead of evaluating JNCOs and the latest puka shell necklace, you’re showing your ability to analyze and contextualize other companies and their products.

Start with the specific question, then move to your general blackbelt abilities to track the pulse of the industry. So why is iPhone a success? You could emphasize its iconic founder, Steve Jobs, and his ability to build a sleek and trustworthy brand. You could highlight Apple’s forward-thinking design or its “genius” approach to customer service. (Extra points for puns!) Or, you could simply mention how out of place you’d be in a coffee shop without one. Whatever you say, follow it up with an explanation about why it is important to be aware of trends and to be constantly sharpening your trendspotting skills.

Question 7: Why do you want to leave your current company?

Position, Company: Proposal Writer, Instructure

Analysis: This question can feel like a trick. For example, if someone asked, “What’s the worst thing about your mom?” you could probably think of an answer, but it would make you look bad, not her. Employers don’t ask this question because they want to know all the juicy gossip about your last boss, or how so-and-so didn’t clean out the coffee grinder or all the times your manager didn’t recognize your inner genius. They ask it to learn about what kinds of opportunities you want at your new job, and what changes you are excited to make in your own work. So instead of ragging on your old boss or getting negative about your past company’s culture, mention something challenging about your prior job and link it to why you are excited for opportunities at your next one. Congratulations, Rumplestiltskin! You’ve just spun your complaints into employment gold!

Now that you're a wiz at answering tough interview questions, search and find your next amazing career opportunity at KSL Jobs.