I’ve written articles about interviews and how to prepare for them before. I think the reason why interviews get so much attention on this site is because they are door to your career and terrifying for most. I thought it would be helpful to give you some common interview questions and suggestions about answering them so that you can prepare your answers in advance and be a interview superstar.
The 5 common questions are:
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
The common misconception candidates have about this question is that you’re supposed to give an answer that entails details about your personal self. This open ended question used to invoke the greatest fear in me straight after school. I have subsequently come to know that the question should actually be interpreted as: “What have you done with your life after school?”. Easier right? Less vague. You’re welcome.
Your answer should include a brief time line detailing your education, work experience and accomplishments. Also elaborate on the reasoning behind your comings and goings from employment, projects or contracts.
My answer will go something like this: ” After completing my senior certificate at Windsor House Academy based in Kempton Park, I decided to study Psychology at University of Pretoria, after two years I had decided to study through correspondence with UNISA to build up work experience whilst studying. My first position was as a data capturer at an office automation company. My position ensured that customers were billed for copy charges made on printing machines at their premises, thus generating revenue for the service department. The contract expired after 6 months as I was hired as a temp whilst an employee was on maternity leave. There were no other vacancies within the company so I had to move on. I then decided to purchase a pie company situated in Greenstone mall with money that I had inherited years before…”
But let me not bore you with details of my employment history. I’m sure you get what I mean by brief but detailed by the example above.
2. “What are your strengths?”
Yet again its best to keep to your work related strengths. Try stay away from the usual buzz words, because they make interviewers tune out. Using buzz words is the equivalent of not answering the question at all. Using buzz words only speak to the fact that you have no real strengths and are fairly unimaginative. An example of a bad set of strengths would be: Person orientated, friendly, organized and good telephone communication skills.
Try tailor your answer to things that you feel might make you different from the other candidates that they have seen. Think of times that you have problem solved in the past. Maybe you have the ability to appease difficult customers, keeping to deadlines with a sense of urgency, the ability to brainstorm a variety of new ideas, networking capabilities or maybe you have existing relationships with key role players that might be of interest to the new company. Don’t be shy to elaborate by providing examples of where you have been awesome in the past.
3. “What are your weaknesses?”
This too, is a trick question, as I have mentioned in a previous article, it is not your job to point out your flaws to the hiring company. You are advertising yourself and pointing out flaws is not what you are there to do. (Ever heard of pleading the 5th?) The best way to answer this question is by looking at your weaknesses and turning them into something completely redundant and insignificant so that the weakness does not influence your likelihood of being hired.
For example, a good answer would be something like “I get annoyed with people who do not do tasks as and when they promise, because it interferes with my work flow and deadlines but I manage it by following up with friendly reminders of reports or documentation due via e-mail or telephone.” So by answering in this way, your weakness is something that you can acknowledge and know how to manage and it isn’t a deal breaker for the interviewers.
An example of an answer to stay away from is something like: “I have serious anger issues but i’m working on it” . When working on your answers during your preparation for an interview, keep in mind that you don’t want your prospective employer to think that you are erratic or unpredictable in any way. You should be the drama free and mature candidate, which will make you the obvious choice.
4. “Why should we hire you?”
An interviewer who asks you this question is trying to see what it is that makes you stand out from the rest. Some candidates think that this calls for a comparison but my advice is as follows; Beware not to put any other candidates down by saying that you are better than them in some way. I find this question is best answered if you combine your strengths with the requirements of the job and state how these strengths can benefit the company. A good answer (by using the strengths as mentioned above) would be: “By approaching the tasks I do with a sense of urgency I can assure you that I will get my work done in time without neglecting quality of work. My relationships with government officials can give this company a step up in the market. I will definitely handle all customers from this company with dignity and work my charm to retain customers as best I can.”
5. “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
The nice thing about this question is that you do not have to be specific, in fact it is best not to be specific (It’s very tempting to answer “I see myself living on a beach drinking cocktails and living off the land”). If you are in an interview for a sales position and say you see yourself as the Human Resource manager in 5 years the interviewer might question your career choices and wonder why you are applying for a position in sales. It could also make them fear for their job if they are the human resource manager at the moment. Make sure that your 5 year goal is easily obtainable but not where you are right now and also include the fact that you see yourself at the company that you are applying for a position with now.
Answer this question by drawing a broad overview of where you would like to be. For example, you could mention that you’d like to be a valuable employee in this company in a position with a high level of responsibility where you get to work in a team. This is a broad goal that is obtainable and isn’t specific as to which department you would have to work for.
So those are the big five interview questions that I have come across. I hope you found this helpful.
The more time you spend on preparing your interview questions, the better your answers will be and the more confident you will be in the interview.
Which interview questions have you come across that were hard to answer? Maybe I can give you tips and we can share notes. Have you got interview tips for me? Please leave your responses in the comment section below.