10 Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them
In my career development seminars, I cover a 100-point interview checklist, complete with interview questions. One of these days, that’s going to turn into an E-book! In the meantime, I want to share with you the 10 most common questions that my students tell me they are always asked, and how to answer them appropriately. I’ll also share where, as an experienced interviewer, I see people mess up.
What I’m going to do is give you the question, explain what most employers are looking for, then tell you how to properly answer it. Sound like fun? It will be. Let’s go!
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Employers/interviewers are hoping that you will open up and tell them things they cannot legally ask. That’s why they often start with it – it may save them some time by not having to ask you as many questions. So this is your chance to let them know you’re a smart person by being open and honest about who you are.
What I like to hear is something like, “I’m happily married with two beautiful children who are 6 and 10. We’ve lived in Flemingsburg for 3 years now and love it. My husband works for a local company and hopes to get a promotion soon.” It’s okay to say something about your religious preference here, if that applies. If you’re an “older” worker and you think your age might be an issue, here’s your chance to state it and give the benefits of it. Like, “I went back to school at the age of 47 when my company closed down. I’ve learned so much in the past couple of years! I think that being older helped me to stay focused on my studies and get better grades than I would have when I was younger. I know (this subject) inside and out.” If applicable, you can even compare your latest school experience with your educational performance at a younger age.
It’s also good to include something, in brief, about your work history. Where are you on your career path? Why are you applying here? How did you lose your last job or why are you looking? Things like that. Don’t prepare a report, you’ll get into the details later in the interview. A synopsis like, “I worked here, and then there. That company went out of business, so I went back to school and am now looking for a position that will challenge me.”
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to open up. Personally, I’m more frightened in an interview by someone who’s vague. I was interviewing a person once for my husband’s dental office and his response to this question was, “I don’t know what to say. I’m a good person, I pay my taxes, I’m just like everybody else.” That was the first “red flag” sort to speak and I did not hire him.
2. Tell me why you’re interested in working for me. Employers have egos. Did you know that? They want to be wanted. They want to know that you’re truly interested in this business and possibly this particular establishment. If the job comes down to two people, and one had a definite interest in working here and the other did not, who would you give the position to?
The best answer I’ve ever heard, was, “Well, I’ve decided I want a career in dentistry, and I’ve heard you’re the best. If you don’t hire me, I’ll apply at other dental offices, but I’d prefer to work here.” Do I need to tell you that this woman works for my husband to this day?
3. What have you done in the past year to improve your knowledge? Continuing education is required in many fields today and employers want to hire people that will readily improve their skills and knowledge. So be prepared for this one. It can be as simple as purchasing and reading books on your own time to improve your skills on your current job, or to prepare for the one in which you are interviewing.
4. Why are you considering leaving or why did you leave your current/last job? Interviewers are listening for reliability and job fit for the position for which you are applying. Stay positive regardless of the circumstances. Never refer to a problem with management and never speak ill of supervisors, co-workers or the organization. If you do, you will be the one looking bad. Talk about leaving for a positive reason such as an opportunity, a chance to do something special or other forward-looking reasons. And don’t say anything that doesn’t add up like, “The drive was too long,” when your drive to this job would be just as long or longer. We’ll catch things like that.
5. How would you describe yourself as an employee? What are your strengths? What things do you think you might need to improve? What employers are listening for here is information about your work ethic, and your willingness to serve others. Do you work hard, smart, or both? It’s okay if you don’t consider yourself to be a “hard worker,” you’ll just want to phrase that fact carefully. For example, “I’m a thinker. When a crisis arises, I’m not necessarily the first to take action. I have a need to examine all the possible solutions before making a decision. The strength in that, is that I don’t overreact, or act too soon. I could probably improve on my ability to make decisions quickly.”
Now, on the flip side, if you’re the type who likes to be told what to do and when to do it, without having to think much, you would say this. “I’m a hard worker. I will jump in and help anyone with anything. Tell me what to do and I will do it. My strengths are that I am dependable, and will see a job through to its completion. I could probably improve on my ability to take charge and make my own decisions.”
Please, never, ever, say, “I am perfect in every way and have no weaknesses. You and your employees will feel honored to work with me.” Likewise, don’t say, “I don’t know.”
6. What sort of people do you prefer to associate with as personal friends? What type of people do you like least? Why? Employers are listening for openness and lack of prejudice with this question. Your answer will also give them a clue into your personality. It is best to concentrate on people you do like, and do not even bring up any type you do not like. A good answer is, “Mostly, I hang out with people from my [name a group], but I think it takes all types of people to make the world go ‘round.”
7. If I wanted to tell your coworkers what they should know about you in order to work well with you, what would you tell them? What the interviewer would like to ask is, “Are you easy to get along with?” However, everyone knows that there is no way you would get an honest answer. Not because people are dishonest, but because it’s such a subjective question. We all think we’re easy to get along with, but we also know we have our “ticks.” Your answer to this question will make or break your interview.
If your response starts out with, “Tell them they should,” or “Tell them I am looking for,” or anything that lists your requirements of others, you’re sunk. Approaching the question from this direction highlights the fact that you expect others to live by your rules. It means you’re judgmental, probably a drama queen, and definitely difficult to get a long with.
Your response should start with, “That I am . . .” For example, “Tell them that I am sometimes shy around new people at first, but once I get to know them I will open up. In previous jobs, people thought I was a snob, when I was really just shy. But once I was on the job for a while and we all got to know each other, everything was fine.”
My favorite answer from an applicant was, “Tell them that I am the type of person who would do absolutely anything to help them, in any way I can. I love everybody and want everybody to love me.” She was hired.
8. Tell me about your future. Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years? Mostly, your interviewer wants to know if you’ve thought this far ahead. Are you a planner, in other words? Also, they are probably wanting to know if you plan to still be in the geographical area. Most employers are looking for people who will stay long term. Training employees is very expensive, and it often takes months or years to get an employee fully trained. Small businesses cannot afford to hire someone only to have them quit about the time they are trained. The best thing you can do is answer this question honestly. Sometimes, employers are looking for a temporary sub and if your skills are in check, you might be just what they are looking for.
9. Out of ten of your closest friends, how many of them would say you’re totally honest? This is not a trick question! The answer is all 10! At least, I hope that’s true for you. If you say a number anything less than 10, the interviewer will ask the follow-up question, “Tell me about these (number) people. Why would they say you’re not?” What are you going to say then? Okay, it’s time for my all-time dumbest responses during an interview list. Here’s what I’ve heard in response to this question:
- Well, two of my closest friends don’t really like me.
- No one is totally honest . . . are you?
- I’ve lied before, in fact, I do it all the time.
- My friends know me really well, but I’m not that way on the job.
- Honestly, I have honesty issues.
- My parents taught me you’re not supposed to be honest all the time.
Yes, I’m not kidding, I’ve heard these answers during interviews. Look, we’re not trying to trip you up. We’re not going to come back and say, “Aha! You said you’re totally honest but no one is totally honest all the time. You mean you’ve never told someone they look nice when you really didn’t think they did?” That is not going to happen. What the question is really trying to get at is this: Are youtrying to be an honest person in your dealings with others? When it comes to what really matters, are you honest? The thing that gets me, is that people who aren’t honest, have no problem with this question. (Chew on that one for a minute!) But rest assured, that as a trained interviewer, if you lie on this one, I will find the truth in your answer to another question. So all the rest of you can relax.
10. What words do other people use to describe you? The employer wants to know that you care about the impression you make with other people. So don’t say, “I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.” (Yes, I got that answer once.) The best thing you can do, is prepare a quote or two from actual co-workers. “Susan Smith, one of my co-workers at ABC Company, always said I was one of the hardest workers she had ever known.” Otherwise, just say, “My friends say I’m organized, loyal, and hard-working.”
How prepared were you for the above questions? Go back and write out your answers to each, using the guidelines I’ve given you. Once you’ve conquered those, try these at CollegeGrad.com. The more you think about these types of questions the more confident you will be in your next interview. And when you start getting offer after offer after offer, you’ll be very glad you took the time to formulate your perfect answers.