How to Tackle 5 of the Most Common Interview Questions
Job interviews are inherently high-stakes situations—your livelihood depends on how well you perform in this professional ritual. Although an interviewer occasionally throws a curveball question, most job interviews actually follow a fairly predictable format. Below are tips for tackling five of the most common interview questions.
- Describe your current position. This interview question is one of the easiest to prepare; after all, you know what you do in your current job. The goal here is to answer the question strategically, highlighting skills and experience that would be relevant to the position you want. If you can quantify any of your current responsibilities, these data points help prospective employers conceptualize your skills. For instance, rather than saying, “I oversee support desk staff,” say, “I’m responsible for managing a 12-person IT support department and a $2 million annual operating budget.”
- What are your greatest strengths? This question invites you to highlight the skills that set you apart in the workplace, but many people fear that they will sound arrogant or immodest if they compliment themselves. Before the interview, you should prepare 2-3 strengths that are skills-focused. For example, delegation of authority, responding to criticism, and offering constructive feedback are all skills that are portable from one job to the next. You should also brainstorm specific examples that illustrate how you have demonstrated these strengths.
- What is your greatest weakness? This dreaded interview question feels like a trap, and in some senses it is. As much as interviewers are evaluating your self-awareness, they are also paying attention to how you field a challenging question. Rather than trying to evade the question (“I just care too much about my job”), be strategically candid. Select a weakness that would be relatively minor in your prospective position, and also offer an explanation of what you do to combat that weakness. For example, you might say, “In the past, I have occasionally fallen behind in providing performance feedback to my subordinates. This year, I implemented a semi-annual review process to ensure that I prepared written feedback for employees on a regular basis.”
- Why are you leaving your current job? In answering this question, you should be candid but also emphasize your future goals. Rather than seizing an opportunity to complain about your current employer, focus instead on your personal professional goals. A sample answer might be, “I have gained a lot of valuable experience in my current position, but that position does not have room for me to develop my skills as a project manager. I am looking for a position where I can continue to develop those skills in a collaborative, project-based work environment.”
- Why should we hire you? Perhaps the most obvious interview question, many people nevertheless fail to prepare a thoughtful and effective pitch. The goal here is to establish yourself as a unique candidate who stands out from a sea of otherwise qualified applicants. Focus on one or two specific qualities that distinguish you, and then describe how these qualities make you especially desirable for the position. Here’s one example: “My experience in multiple sectors sets me apart from other candidates. Having worked in the government sector, I have developed expertise in regulatory frameworks. However, I also spent five years in the private sector, where I learned to be an advocate for businesses. Most recently, in an administrative proceeding, I was able to use my government experience to advance the interests of a private client and avoid a costly regulatory penalty.”
Many other interview questions are actually variations on these most common queries. Preparing thoughtful responses to these questions can arm you with the go-to answers you need in a variety of interview situations. Although the interview can be a stressful experience, preparation and practice can make you more confident and ultimately more successful.
Most importantly, be prepared and have fun with it. Be sure to review my Top 10 Interview Basics.
Mindy Mihajlov, Manager of Technical Recruiting
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