Prepare Answers to Give
Although each job interview is different, there are several common questions that arise in the majority of interview situations, and it is essential for you to be well prepared to answer them. Most interviews will contain a few unexpected zingers, but there’s no reason not to be prepared for the questions you can anticipate.
- Highlight your knowledge, skills, and abilities.
- Quantify your success whenever possible.
- Make sure you are presenting yourself in the best possible way. Videotape yourself during a mock interview and watch the playback.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
A: This is about as wide open as it gets—and it’s a gold mine. This is a chance to sell yourself. The best rule of thumb is to reveal a tiny personal tidbit along with some interesting professional stuff relating to the company you’re interviewing with or the position you’re interviewing for. Sometimes it’d be fun to just tell them what you really feel, especially since it’s so easy to go off on a tangent or get too personal. But, unless you’re applying for a job at Weight Watchers, there’s no use mentioning that you’d like to lose 10 pounds. If you’re not looking to work in a retail shop, don’t mention your favorite clothing brands.
Q: What is your greatest strength?
A: The best way to approach this question is to imagine that you’re really being asked something much more straightforward: Do you really have what it takes to effectively do this job? This is your golden opportunity to toot your horn and make the case for why you know that you’re up for the task. If the most important requirement of the position is dealing with customer complaints, then you will want to discuss in detail your past experience with customer service, why you enjoy the challenge of turning an unhappy client into a happy one, and specific, quantifiable examples of how you successfully managed customer complaints in a past position. Have a list of character traits in mind that you feel comfortable attributing to yourself, along with supporting details to back them up.
Q: What is your greatest weakness?
A: Now they’re really digging for dirt. This is the interviewer’s safety net. Here’s the perfect opportunity for you tell them something they were not able to get out of you any other way.
Too many honest applicants make the mistake of being brutally honest. We’re not suggesting that you lie, but for goodness sake be careful! For example, even if it’s true, you should never admit that you’re a horrible procrastinator or that you’re terribly disorganized. If you’re interviewing for a position that requires a team player, this is not the time to admit you’re somewhat of a loner. Some fail-safe possibilities that shouldn’t land you in trouble:
- At times I can be impatient with those whose standards aren’t as high as mine.
- At times I can be too sensitive and caring about other people’s opinions.
- At times I can find it difficult to make time to relax.
- Sometimes I am a bit aggressive in my desire to close a deal.
With each of these responses you’re basically saying that you do not approve of sloppiness, you have a heart, you are a workaholic, and you are a hard-nosed salesperson. Not exactly bad attributes in an employee!
Q: How would you evaluate your last boss?
A: There’s only one right answer here: a positive one. No matter how tempting it may be to blab on and on about someone you just couldn’t stand, do not do it. Never ever trash a former employer. It’ll kill your chances for the job. By no means should you go overboard with compliments for a real jerk or a total incompetent. Find something neutral to say if you are not able to offer anything nice.
Q: What would your last boss say about you?
A: Focus on the best aspects of your relationship with your last employer. You might say that your last boss would praise your ability to follow directions, work as part of a team, and achieve measurable results while also taking initiative on specific projects. This is a great chance to show how you improved in your last position if you received regular performance reviews. Again, focus on the positive side of your relationship with your last employer—no bitterness even if the relationship was acrimonious.
Q: What do you think you’ll be doing in five years?
A: Most of us can’t plan next week, let alone years down the road. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to growing in a particular industry or company. Combining your professional growth with loyalty to the employer will serve you best:
“I don’t think it’s really possible for any of us to truly know where we’ll be five years from now, but I can tell you my hopes. For the immediate future I want to immerse myself in this business to learn from the ground up. Beyond that my goal is to contribute to the success of the company, which will hopefully enable me to grow within the company.”
You may think of this job as a temporary stage before moving on to bigger and better things, but avoid diminishing it in your response. Don’t say that you’d like to use the position as a stepping stone. Instead, indicate that you’re interested in learning and growing with the company. And NEVER tell the interviewer that you hope to have his or her job someday! Instead, compliment him by telling him you’d like to learn from him as his new assistant. If your personal goal is to be married with children in five years, don’t confess this during your professional interview. Employers want to know that you are committed to your career as must as – if not more than – you are to your personal life. Stick to confessing your professional goals and leave it at that!
Q: What makes you the ideal candidate for this position?
A: “I’ve always wanted to work here” is a bad answer. “I really need a job” is the worst answer. An employer wants to hear what you’ll bring to them, not how they will help you pay your bills. If appropriate, talk about how you’d solve a problem, lower costs, increase sales. You can apply your previous successes/knowledge/skills in this area.
Q: What’s the most appealing part of this position?
Be able to provide one or two strong examples, although salary and location should not be among them. “I’ve always been someone who is great at juggling multiple priorities simultaneously, ” is a great response when interviewing for healthcare or customer service positions. “I”m really passionate about current events,” is appropriate for jobs in the media.
Q: What’s the most unappealing part of the position?
Focus on something minor and try to associate some type of positive comment with the unpleasant task. For example, a clerk at a law firm might hate transcribing long depositions, yet by doing so she would learn the ins and outs of effective questioning.
Q: What do you think are the most important qualifications of a BLANK (position you’re applying for…Sales Exec, Operations Manager, Executive Assistant)?
A: Be able to provide two or three action- and results-oriented responses.
Q: What is your management style?
A: Open door is ideal, but don’t lie if it’s not true. Be sure to work in that you communicate well with the entire staff, solicit their opinions, keep them informed, get the job done, and that you interact well with upper management equally well.
Q: How do you handle difficult situations at work?
A: Never say you get along with everyone so there are never ever problems—and never say you avoid people who aren’t cooperative. Big bells go off when candidates are overly defensive when answering this question. Instead, talk about your ability to negotiate and compromise while understanding that different people have different perspectives, and that new ideas often develop from controversy.
What skills do you look for when hiring new employees?
How many people have you had to manage?
What’s the most difficult part of being a manager?
What do you think your direct reports think of you?
Have you ever been in a situation when you had to say something although you know it wasn’t popular?
How have you specifically helped to increase sales, profits, success?
How have you reduced costs?
What were the best/worst parts of your previous job?
What were your greatest accomplishments in that position?
Have you ever lost a customer?
What is the most difficult decision you’ve ever had to make?
Do you prefer staff or line work? Do you prefer working with figures or words?
How do you handle conflict on a team project?
Have you ever had to fire anyone, and if so, how did you handle the situation?
How do you enlist the help of others in your work?
What do you do to put co-workers at ease?
How do you solicit feedback from others on your work?
How do you stay cutting edge?
How do you learn from failure?
Describe your listening skills.
How do you handle working under pressure?
While interviewers cannot ask about your age, sexual orientation, religion, or marital status, they’re certainly able to get a sense of your personal side with other pointed questions, such as:
Which business leaders or role models do you respect?
If you could have dinner with someone famous, living or dead, who would it be and why?
What kind of books do you read?
What type of recreational activities do you enjoy?
What are your favorite Internet sites?
How do you avoid excess stress? How do you relax?
How do you get along with and embrace people who are different from you?
Where do your ideas come from? Describe your creative process.
What’s the most out-of-the-box idea you’ve ever had?
In the case of each question, the correct response features positive information about you and will suggest ways that you can be useful to the company. Incorrect responses feature too much personal information, are long and pointless, or steer the interview in a negative direction.
Sometimes an interviewer asks a “trick” opinion question to catch you off guard. For example, you may be asked if you object to drug testing. The only correct answer is no. If you do not wish to consent to testing, you should consider looking at other employers that do not engage in such practices.
Flipping the Script
More times than not you will be asked a question that the interviewer hopes will reveal a weakness and a strength, such as:
Describe a time when you missed a deadline on an important project.
Describe the type of bad decisions you have made as a manager.
Your answer not only reveals a mistake you made, but also says a lot about your ability to handle stressful or negative situations. This is your opportunity to turn a negative into a positive, because the ability to acknowledge a mistake is often seen as a sign of maturity and leadership.
Assuming that you can wing it is a bad approach to negative questions. More times than not that leads to disappointment—not to mention you probably won’t get the job. When responding to negative questions, keep in mind these three points, which will help ensure thoughtful and winning answers:
- Briefly state the incident in which the problem or mistake occurred.
- Explain how you overcame the problem as it related to that particular situation.
- Describe the steps you took to ensure that such a problem would not happen again.
The end result is to convince the interviewer that you learned from this experience and have overcome this particular weakness.