Don’t you just love job interviews? Here are some of the most common interview questions with guidance on how to answer them.
“What are your biggest weaknesses?”
Every candidate knows how to answer this question: Just pick a theoretical weakness and magically transform that flaw into a strength in disguise! One approach is to choose an actual weakness, but one you’re working to improve. Share what you’re doing to overcome that weakness. No one is perfect, but showing you’re willing to be honest and self assess, is a good answer.
“What are your biggest strengths?”
I’m not sure why interviewers ask this question; your resume and experience should make your strengths readily apparent. Even so, if you’re asked, provide a sharp, on-point answer. Be clear and precise. If you’re a great problem solver, don’t just say that: Provide some examples.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Answers to this question go one of two basic ways. Candidates try to show their incredible ambition by providing an extremely optimistic answer: “I want your job!” Or they try to show their humility (because that’s what they think you want) by providing a meek, self-deprecating answer: “There are so many talented people here. I just want to do a great job and see where my talents take me.” Why not tell the truth – except where the truth crashes the interview!
“Out of all the candidates, why should we hire you?”
Since a candidate cannot compare himself with people he doesn’t know, all he can do is describe his incredible passion and desire and commitment and … well, basically beg for the job. Here’s a better question: “What do you feel I need to know that we haven’t discussed?”
Rarely do candidates come to the end of an interview feeling they’ve done their best. Maybe the conversation went in an unexpected direction. Maybe the interviewer focused on one aspect of their skills and totally ignored other key attributes. Now it’s your turn to shine.
“Why do you want this job?”
Now go deeper. Don’t just talk about why the company would be great to work for; talk about how the position is a perfect fit for what you hope to accomplish, both short-term and long-term. And if you don’t know why the position is a perfect fit, look somewhere else. Life is too short.
“What do you consider to be your biggest professional achievement?”
Here’s an interview question that definitely requires an answer relevant to the job. If you say your biggest achievement was improving throughput by 18 percent in six months but you’re interviewing for a leadership role in human resources, that answer is interesting but ultimately irrelevant. Instead, talk about an underperforming employee you “rescued,” or how you overcame infighting between departments, or how so many of your direct reports have been promoted.
“Tell me about the last time a co-worker or customer got angry with you. What happened?”
Conflict is inevitable when a company works hard to get things done. Mistakes happen. Sure, strengths come to the fore, but weaknesses also rear their heads. And that’s OK. No one is perfect. But a person who tends to push the blame — and the responsibility for rectifying the situation — onto someone else is a candidate to avoid.
“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
Let’s start with what you shouldn’t say (or, if you’re the interviewer, what are definite red flags). Don’t talk about how your boss is difficult. Don’t talk about how you can’t get along with other employees. Don’t bad-mouth your company. Focus on the positives a move will bring. Talk about what you want to achieve.
“What kind of work environment do you like best?”
Take a step back and think about the job you’re applying for and the company’s culture. Find ways to highlight how the company’s environment will work well for you — and if you can’t find ways, don’t take the job, because you’ll be miserable.
“What is your leadership style?”
This is a tough question to answer without dipping into platitudes. Try sharing leadership examples instead. Say, “The best way for me to answer that is to give you a few examples of leadership challenges I’ve faced,” and then share situations where you dealt with a problem, motivated a team, worked through a crisis. Explain what you did and that will give the interviewer a great sense of how you lead.
“Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision. What did you do?”
No one agrees with every decision. Disagreements are fine; it’s what you do when you disagree that matters. (We all know people who love to have the “meeting after the meeting,” where they’ve supported a decision in the meeting but they then go out and undermine it.) Show that you raised your concerns in a productive way. Every company wants employees willing to be honest and forthright, to share concerns and issues, but to also get behind a decision and support it as if they agreed, even if they didn’t.
“Tell me how you think other people would describe you.”
I hate this question. It’s a total throwaway. But I did ask it once, and got an answer I really liked. “I think people would say that what you see is what you get,” the candidate said. “If I say I will do something, I do it. If I say I will help, I help. I’m not sure that everyone likes me, but they all know they can count on what I say and how hard I work.”
“What was your salary in your last job?
This is a tough one. You want to be open and honest, but frankly, some companies ask the question as the opening move in salary negotiations. When asked, say, “I’m focusing on jobs in the $50K range. Is this position in that range?” Know this first.
“What questions do you have for me?”
Don’t waste this opportunity. Ask smart questions, not just as a way to show you’re a great candidate but also to see if the company is a good fit for you — after all, you’re being interviewed, but you’re also interviewing the company.