Answering tricky – but common – interview questions
If you've been on a lot of job interviews, you may have noticed certain questions get asked almost every time. Yet even though they're commonly asked, many jobseekers struggle with finding the right answers.
While technically most interview questions don't have "right" answers, there's no mistaking that some answers are better than others. Here are some of the most common questions that jobseekers trip up on, and tips for how to best answer them.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
You may have heard that people love to talk about themselves – which is why it's odd that this question proves so challenging. The open-ended nature of the question puts the pressure on you – and that's really the point.
"This question seems simple enough, but if you respond by talking about all of your past jobs and your dog, you're doing it wrong," says Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift. "You need to answer this question with a short pitch that shows you're the right fit for the job."
"You should relate your background to the position that you are applying for," says Cheryl E. Palmer, owner of executive coaching and resume writing firm Call to Career. "Match your skills to the organisation's requirements as closely as you can so that you reinforce for the interviewer that you are the best person for the job. Avoid the temptation to share personal data that could be used to discriminate against you, [such as] marital status or number of children."
Why do you want to leave your current job?
If any job interview question sounds like a trap, it's this one. Remember, the employer is trying to learn what they can about you, not your former employer, which means how you answer is more important than the answer itself.
"I met last week with a client who was telling interviewers that she had been at her company a long time and that she was ready for a change," says Roy Cohen, career coach and author of "The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide." "If that was the case, why would any other company be interested in her? The impression: She was bored, her experience was growing stale, and she was unmotivated as demonstrated by her willingness to stay far too long in a mediocre situation."
Instead, Cohen suggests offering a well-reasoned, thoughtful explanation of why you're interested in making a change. "She might have offered – and only if true – that there were changes in management and direction. Perhaps there were a series of cuts and she was now concerned about the stability of her job and the firm's commitment to the work she was engaged in. Or maybe, she and her family were looking to relocate to address quality of life issues," says Cohen. "The point being: to show that she had given careful thought to a major decision."
What interests you about this company?
Employers often use questions like this to weed out candidates who aren't genuinely interested in this particular position or company.
"Prepare for this question by reviewing the organisation's website, looking for information about how long the company has been in business, what they do, and what their mission statement is," Palmer suggests. "In addition, you can search for press releases and media mentions to find out what new initiatives the organisation is working on."
Vatta points out you need to take that research and turn it into a meaningful response. "You need to do your research and understand what the company does, but answering this question goes beyond reciting information from their website," Matta says. "Show the interviewer that you not only understand but identify with the company's mission. You want to show that you are passionate about their goals and their approach."
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
Possibly the most stereotypical interview question there is, many jobseekers nevertheless worry about how to provide an appropriate answer. Your best bet is to stay honest and support your answer with an example.
"Chances are, your interviewer does not care about your weakness as much as she cares about how you reveal it and what perspective you have of your own shortcoming," says Angelique Pivoine, SEO and PR specialist with 911 Restoration. "Watch out for comments that indicate negativity or pride. Humility makes the best team player, and a team player gets hired."
"You should be able to name two to three strengths and then share a story that illustrates that you have those strengths," Palmer says. "For example, I had a workshop participant who told me that she worked through a snowstorm to make sure that her colleagues got paid on time. That was a perfect illustration of how she demonstrated the fact that she is dependable and hardworking."
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