Something that many people don't realize when being interviewed for a job is that every question has a very specific purpose. If you don't interpret the purpose of the question and answer appropriately, you'll not only fail to give the interviewer the information that they need, but you'll also miss out on a chance to sell yourself and may lose the job in the process.
The Question Behind the Question
Before we look at interview questions, it's a good idea to put ourselves in the shoes of the person interviewing us. They are there because they are trying to find the best possible (fill in the job title here). So, skills are important to them (or potential is important to them if it is a training position), but they aren't the only thing that is important. For some people, interviewing is their only job, but for most, it is a distraction from their "real job." That means that they'd rather be doing something else, and would prefer to have to do interviews as infrequently as possible. So another thing that is important to them is how long you'll stay in the job if you're hired so that they don't have to be interviewing for someone to replace you in the near future. A third thing that is true of most interviewers is that they are also responsible for improving productivity and tranquility in their department, so they'll want to find someone who plays well with others or, in the parlance of the employment world, is a good fit.
That means that many of the questions you'll be asked are geared to find out whether you meet the interviewer's needs in the areas that I just mentioned. While they may come out and ask you these questions directly, they're more likely to ask them in a round about way because they know that you want the job and will try to give the "right" answer to each question that you're asked. It's for that reason that there is almost always a question behind the one being asked. To find out what it is, you can ask yourself, "what do they really want to know by asking me this question?"
If an interviewer asks, "what is the most difficult problem you've faced at work and how did you solve it?" what are they really wanting to know? Sure they want you to tell them about this big problem that you had and what a good problem solver you are, but they also want to gain insight into your perception of what a big problem is. Is it that you ran out of toner for the copier and so you ordered a new canister? Or was it a more complex problem that demanded a more complex solution? The question will also help them to gain insight about how you solve problems. Are you a collaborator, or do you do things by yourself? Do you choose the best possible solution, or a less desirable one? How do you make decisions? (skills?)
If they ask you where you see yourself in five years, they may expect you to have aspirations, but are likely hoping that you will want to stay in this job a reasonable amount of time – which, barring any unusual circumstances is three years according to most supervisors or human resource managers. Another question that is often asked to get at this information is "why did you leave your last three positions?" If someone says, for better pay, then it tells the interviewer that when a job comes along that pays better, you'll jump ship. (length of stay?)
If they ask you how you handled a conflict with a coworker, they're wanting to know who was really to blame for the conflict and whether you came up with a solution that worked, waited for the other person to solve the problem, or whether the relationship was forever broken. (plays well with others?)
Believe me when I tell you that there is always a question behind the question. Even the most innocuous question has a double meaning and it is your job to figure out what that is. By knowing what the interviewer is trying to learn about you, you will be better prepared to answer the question and will leave them with a better feeling about you as a candidate.