When it comes to interviews, some would have you believe that you'll be asked one of several hundred interview questions, all fundamentally different. My view is that there are a limited number of valid, distinct questions to contend with.
These are the 'Fateful 15': the fifteen classic interview questions that my research suggests you're most likely to be asked. If you're prepared to tackle these 'Fateful 15', then you'll be well on the way to acing your interview.
11. Tell me about a time you worked in a team.
• The real question: No-one achieves anything on their own - and you know that, right?
• How to approach it: Find a recent, real-world example of where you've worked successfully with others.
For this question in particular, the first step to a good answer is acknowledging the need to put in a special effort to make it memorable. That's because almost everyone is striving to come across as a team player: it can be hard to make your answer stand out.
Generic terms like 'team player' and 'effective communicator' go in one ear and out the other and don't sound particularly convincing. Anyone can rattle off buzzwords. On the other hand people are far more likely to remember - and believe - concrete details.
Therefore, this is a perfect question to throw in a touch of colour or a quirky detail to differentiate your answer from a sea of 'I'm a great communicator' replies.
12. What do your co-workers say about you?
• The real question: Do you sound calm or wary about this question? Are you self-aware or just self-conscious?
• How to approach it: Use real examples and testimonials, not just adjectives.
The secret to this question is to answer with real-life examples, and not to resort to merely reciting lists of favourable-sounding adjectives like 'hard-working' and 'reliable'. After all, anyone can string adjectives together - it doesn't mean they're a true description of you.
Testimonials are what really count. There really is no substitute for them, so you should either turn up with a few or feature them where they can be easily found, such as on your CV, your LinkedIn profile or personal website.
13. How do you deal with stress and failure?
• The real question: When the pressure gets turned up, will you turn into a monster, a useless blob of jelly or someone who sets a good example?
• How to approach it: Don't pretend you live in a stress-free bubble. Instead, give concrete examples of the steps you take to handle pressure.
Every job on the planet, from an entry-level post to a board-level position, is sometimes stressful in its own way. Given that reality, it's no surprise that this is a perennially popular interview question.
It should also come as no surprise that interviewers aren't expecting that you're immune from stress. Rather, you only need to convince the interviewer that you won't crumble at the slightest hint of pressure.
As with all successful answers, the key to doing well is in the detail. Replace forgettable answers like 'I don't do stress - it just rolls off my back', with specific practices you've used to cope with stress, such as exercise and appropriate delegation.
14. How much money do you want?
• The real question: Can we afford you? Are you value for money?
• How to approach it: Do your research and avoid the topic as far into the interview process as possible.
How and when to discuss salary is one of the most fraught - and most controversial - job search questions. Many jobseekers legitimately worry about either lowballing themselves or pricing themselves out of a potentially great job - or both.
It's worth reading carefully about this and doing your research before entering the interview room. Questions along these lines are highly likely to come up, and answering them poorly can cost you a very large amount of money, or even the job.
There's no doubt that this is a meaty subject, but as a starting point you may find it useful to use our Salary Calculator.
15. Show me your creativity
• The real question: No hidden agenda here - are you creative?
• How to approach it: Dig into the 'Curveball and Creativity Questions' section of my book Why You? 101 Interview Questions You'll Never Fear Again for insights.
Although you're unlikely to be asked this question in so many words, you'll almost certainly be asked one that has creativity as the underlying agenda.
With these questions the interviewer is looking for evidence that you're adaptable and imaginative. The astonishing rate of change in our world today means that many of the jobs we'll be doing ten years from now simply haven't been invented yet - your employer is asking if you'll be dynamic enough to recognise that things in their industry are changing.
Chapter Six of my book provides a complete rundown of the sort of creativity-probing questions you might run into in the interview room, as well as techniques to make sure you master a sometimes maddeningly - and even occasionally downright fun - section of many job interviews.
The key to mastering each of these 'Fateful 15' questions is preparation - as the saying goes: "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail." While there's no way that you can prepare for every possible question that might come up at interview, you can go a long way - though not all the way - by preparing an answer to these fifteen questions alone.
You can find more advice on how to answer these questions and many others in my best-selling book Why You? 101 Interview Questions You'll Never Fear Again.