Following are some suggestions on how to answer commonly asked interview questions:
Tell me about yourself?
The “tell me about yourself” question is often an ice-breaker at the beginning of the interview. The employer wants to know more about you, but doesn’t know where to start, so you are given the opportunity to say what you want. Compare this to a trial where a lawyer can either ask you a close-ended question or an open-ended question.
Sometimes, when you are given too much latitude, you don’t know where to start; do you relate your professional experience, say where you come from, etc.? Well, let’s put it this way, whatever you say will have to relate to the position you are applying to. However, it doesn’t mean that your answer has to be impersonal (there is always a personal aspect to every job, unless you work only with machines). Give a brief overview of yourself, from your background to why you are interested in the job to your main qualifications (“introduce yourself”).
What do you know about our line of work?
This question is meant to gauge whether you have researched the company and is sometimes used to compare the level of interest between different candidates. Take this opportunity to describe to the interviewer your perspective on what you think he does. Interviewers are sometimes curious to know what others think they actually do. If you have questions about the company, now is a good time to ask.
What are your weaknesses?
This is a tricky question because you are supposed to show how good you are at the interview and here they are asking you how bad you are. Guess what, it doesn’t mean that they asked that you have to answer. Remember when you hear politicians avoiding those same types of questions on television? If they can do it, so can you!
Never admit a weakness that goes to the core competence of the job. If you are applying for a receptionist position, don’t tell the interviewer that you are anti-social… Instead, tell him something that you know he won’t care so much about because it doesn’t relate to the position that you are applying to. There is a balance to be achieved between being truthful, yet realistic. Choose what you are going to say and remember that we all have weaknesses.
What are your strengths?
Use this opportunity to describe your strengths in a way that will complement the position you are seeking. Put your strengths in perspective. Show concrete examples. Also, avoid mentioning strengths that you know other candidates will invariably mention. Set yourself apart.
Be credible. If you say that you have good communication skills, make sure to live up to it.
Why did you leave your last job?
Answer with a positive statement. Avoid saying things like you didn’t get along with a co-worker, etc. Instead, say something like your contract ended, your job was seasonal, you wanted to change career, you returned to school, you relocated, you wanted to raise a family, etc. People change jobs many times in their career. It’s ok.
Why were you fired? Have you ever been fired?
If being fired was the reason for looking, try to avoid saying literally, ‘I was fired.’ Never lie, but simply state that you had a ‘difference of opinion’ with your former employer. Employers are not always right. If you explain the situation briefly and put forward good reasons, this will not necessarily jeopardize your interview. Do not spend too much time on this issue however. Address it and then move on.
* Make sure not to show resentment regarding your past employer.
Why have you been unemployed for such a long time?
This is a difficult question, but show confidence and don’t be intimidated. De-emphasize the past and emphasize the future. If there is a reason for your long absence from the workforce, mention it, but don’t dwell too long on it. Show that you want to move forward and especially show what you have to offer.
Why should we hire you?
Employers want to hire people that are qualified and with whom they would like to work with on an interpersonal basis. Emphasize your qualifications as much as your personality. For instance, say that you have in-depth knowledge of the industry, are hard working, etc., but also mention that you work well in team and that you enjoy meeting new people.
What is wrong with your present firm?
Do not say bad things about your current employer. Say something to the effect that you have been there for a few years now and are ready to undertake new challenges. Put the emphasis on yourself and the fact that you want to move on.
How long would it take you to make a contribution to our firm?
If you are staying in the same field, you may have ideas as to what you can do. You can also stress your transferable skills and the fact that you can adapt quickly.
Otherwise, mention that you would like to make a contribution your first day on the job, but acknowledge that you will need time to learn about the organization and acquaint with your co-workers. Nonetheless, you will bring a positive attitude to the job.
Why are you leaving your present position?
Be honest and avoid saying bad things about your current employer. Mention that your current position does not offer the opportunities that you are looking for, etc.
Would your current boss describe you as the type of person who goes the extra mile?
Give concrete examples to back up your assertions. If you mention that you work long hours, make sure to specify that you are also productive in order to avoid giving the impression that you spend a lot of time inefficiently.
Ideally, stress that you are dedicated, meaning that if you need to put in long hours to get a project done, you will.
What new skills or ideas do you bring to the job that our internal candidates don’t offer?
Make sure to show that you can bring outside experience to the organization. Explain how your experience will complement the current body of knowledge and expertise in the organization. Don’t play down internal candidates’ credentials, but emphasize what you can bring.
Why did you choose this particular career path?
Be genuine. Employers look for people with passion and drive. If there is a specific event or reason that triggered your interest for the profession, go ahead and share it.
Can you tell me about a special contribution you have made to your employer?
You probably already mentioned your main contributions in your resume. Try adding something new so that it does not sound like a repeat of your resume. Go through the events; share the action.
Can you give me an example of how you can help my company?
If you are staying in the same field, stress your past accomplishments. If you are changing field, stress your transferable skills. Remember that this question is future-oriented.
The more detailed your answer is, the more it will show that you know what you are talking about. Again, it’s all about setting yourself apart from other candidates.
Can you tell me about your salary expectations?
Do not put too much emphasis on salary. Convey that you are primarily looking for a place where you can progress and where you will feel comfortable.
Where do you want to be in five years?
Employers like employees with a sense of purpose. Don’t necessarily go by “title”, but describe the types of files or projects you would like to take on, etc.
Do you have references?
Always have your references ready. You can either give your references at the interview if so requested or email your references afterwards, also using that opportunity to send a thank you note.
Can you describe a time when you faced a challenging situation?
This question probes a candidate’s ability to deal with difficult situations. Prepare concrete examples that you can share with the interviewer.