BE PREPARED TO ANSWER THEM
AND TO ASK THEM
The following ten interview questions will be asked in one guise or another. The problem is that there are no scripts to follow so your answers will need to be second nature to you. Then there can be questions that are tossed at you out of the blue. You need to be able to handle those too without losing your stride.
The main key to successfully answering any and all interview questions is to LISTEN CAREFULLY! Be sure you understand what the interviewer is asking so that you avoid responding with an answer that makes no sense to them.
Some people seem naturally prone to start answering questions before a speaker has even finished asking them – not a good idea in an interview! You may misunderstand the question and you may really annoy your interviewer! If you are one of those people, force yourself to wait for a brief second of silence before you begin to speak.
The Top Ten Interview Questions
And How to Respond to Them
Job candidates will always ask the following interview questions. I’ve asked them lots of times myself (and asked to answered them too). Be sure you listen carefully for them so you will recognize them when they are asked. Then proceed with the responses you will have thought through during your preparations.
Why do you want to work for us? This interview question is almost always asked to screen out applicants who are absolutely desperate for any job that will pay the rent. Put your research to work to highlight how and why your strengths are a great fit with the company’s needs.
Give me an example of a situation where you didn’t meet your objectives. It’s obvious what they are looking for here but in addition they want to know what you did to rectify the situation. The very best answer would be to describe a situation in which something almost went wrong, but you prevented it from happening. Whatever you do, don’t say that you can’t think of anything. You’ll sound either arrogant or so naïve you can’t spot a problem coming.
Give me an example of a situation where you faced conflict or a communication problem. Here they are looking for a response that demonstrates you can rise above conflict, defuse a situation and know how to find win-win solutions – your interpersonal skills, your teamwork skills and your maturity. Don’t feel your example has to be one where you alone were responsible for a resolution. Often, it can be more powerful if you led a collaborative solution.
Where do you see yourself in three, five and/or ten years? The interviewer wants to know if you are serious about the company and your career, if you know where you are going and how this job will help you get there. It also will be gauged to judge your ambition (careful here especially if the interviewer could be your future boss). It’s a good opening to show you know about the company’s culture, structure and vision.
What would your last manager say are your strengths? A good place to start is with your most recent performance appraisal then relate the strengths pointed out there to the position you are interviewing for. You will have revisited the position description just before your interview so this is a good time to link your competencies to those required for the new job.
What would your last manager say are your weaknesses? The key here is to admit that you have areas for development in your professional life, but that you are working on them. Provide examples of the progress you’ve made. And if one of your weaknesses is in an area required for the job? Show why it won’t be a problem.
Why should we give you this job? Here’s where you talk about your professional brand (or unique value proposition), having condensed it into a strong "sound bite". (Be sure you are well-practiced on it.) Good interviewers will question every word you say and are used to hearing polished, textbook responses. So be ready to defend every example you use briefly and honestly. Use the items from your portfolio.
Give me an example of when you worked with an unreasonable deadline or were faced with a huge challenge. In other words, give me an example of how you successfully responded to stress? They may also be checking your integrity – one of your most highly-valued assets – or want you to address your commitment to delivering results.
Do you prefer working on a team or by yourself? Think about this one for a minute. The position you are applying for is likely to fall into one of three categories: group/team, team/solo (a blend of group and solo) or mainly solo. Try and tailor your answer to the needs of the job as you understand it, but don’t try to fool them or yourself. It could come back to bite you once you get the job.
What is the first thing you would change if you were to start working here? You should know from researching the company if they are looking for a change agent or someone to maintain stability. A good way to answer is to explain how you would get to know the business, the people, the challenges and your role before you considered changing anything. You could also answer this question with one of your own: “What would the company expect from you”? This one can be sensitive and tricky so tread carefully.
Other Interview Questions
You May Be Asked
There’s simply is no way to anticipate all the possible interview questions you could be asked. But if you are well-prepared and remember the following two suggestions, you'll be fine.
Keep your cool. If you get flustered and have trouble thinking straight, take a deep breath (as inaudibly as possible) to help you relax so you will sound more confident.
Listen! Are you sure you understood the question or are you making assumptions about what the interviewer wants to know? Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. The answer helps guide you toward your answer and ensure you don’t repeat an answer you’ve already given.
Interview Questions and the Law
There are certain interview questions that are illegal for a potential employer to ask you. If the answer to a question could be used to discriminate against you on grounds other than your ability to perform in the job, it shouldn’t be asked. As a general rule (in the United Kingdom and North America) interview questions concerning marital status, sexual preferences, ethnic origin, health status, family plans and religious affiliation are not allowed.
How should you respond to an illegal interview question? Your best approach is to answer “around” the question by giving a response, but ignoring the illegal part of the question. For example if you are asked whether or not you are married, you might respond with something like: “It’s important to me to keep my work and personal lives separate. Whether or not I’m married or in a long term-relationship will in no way affect my work or career with this company”.
If an interviewer asks a lot of illegal interview questions, you might want to reconsider whether or not you want to work for this particular company.
Now It’s Your Turn!
What Questions Should You Ask?
Ask yourself ahead of time: What are the three things you most want to know about the job? About the team? About the company? Perhaps your advance research highlighted some questions: About the competitive environment. The corporate culture. Company practices. (Be sure these questions weren’t answered during the interview process or aren’t answered on the company’s website or in literature you may have received in advance of your interview.)
Here are some thought starters that will show you really prepared for the interview.
- Why is this position open? What would you like to see done differently by the next person who holds the position?
- What are the most pressing things that need to be done within the next three months?
- What significant changes do you see for the company in the next couple of years?
- How does the company define success?
- How important does senior management consider this function or department? (This a good opportunity to get a feeling for the company’s projected timeline for making a decision about filling the job. Having a sense for this will help you form your follow-up strategy. Remember the recruitment process always takes longer than even the hiring company expects or hopes it will.)
- How does the department or position fit into the organization’s five-year plan?
- How is success measured in the company? By whom?
- Would you describe the organization’s management style and the type of person who would be a good fit.
- What is the company’s position on providing professional development opportunities?
- How much decision-making authority will you have in your first assignment?
Be prepared with a summary or closing statement when you reach the end of your questioning time. This is something few people I’ve interviewed are prepared to provide. Their questions come to a screeching halt and an awkward pause follows. So ... You might say something like "I have no other questions just now, but may I give you a call if something else occurs to me? Are there any other questions I can answer for you?" You've opened the door for a second contact and put the ball back into the interviewer's court to end the meeting.
NEVER ASK ABOUT SALARY AND BENEFITS DURING AN INTERVIEW! Also, do not ask any questions related to: holiday, maternity or sick pay entitlement, working hours, overtime, travel or interview-related expenses. Put yourself in the interviewer’s position and imagine the chain of thought you might generate - this candidates is too eager to find out what I will do for her before whe's even done anything for me!
And, in case you were wondering, it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to the notes you made during your preparation and to jot down a few things while asking your questions.
Another Use for These Questions
Print out this page and tuck it away for future reference. When you are part of an interviewing team or when you are hiring a new team member, you'll know what questions you should ask job applicants.
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