What if employers who have set interview questions shared them with candidates pre-interview? If it helps the candidate give better explanations of their accomplishments, I say why not?
Since I don’t know of any employers, as of yet, who share their questions ahead of time, I’d like to share some of the most common ones you could expect at your next interview and some tips on how to approach each question. The key thing you’ll want to keep in mind is for you to have a short list of scenarios and a straightforward and clear strategy to communicate your accomplishments.
Presenting your polished and knowledgeable self is key; your strong experience plus prep work will take care of that. Equally important, is to give yourself permission to be both polished and genuine in your communication. Your ability to connect with others and engage in a good conversation is valuable and will make you tough to forget and most likely increase your chances to forge onward with the interview process and ultimately the job offer you want.
A clever and well-prepared interviewer will engage you in a conversation and effectively and smoothly plug in the questions throughout your conversation. Notice I did not say experienced interviewer because we all know years of experience does not make you better or an expert at anything unless you have the drive and discipline to be better.
The reality is that many interviewers will have a list of set questions they will ask at you and simply take note of your responses. Hopefully, at some point in your career you’ll experience a fulfilling conversational interview and find yourself walking away feeling better than when you walked in not to mention wanting the job even more.
1. Tell Me About Yourself.
Only speak about your professional self. Leave out any childhood memories, whether you are married or not, have kids, none of that matters and has the potential for inadvertent implicit biases towards you. Organize your pitch in three points past, present, future. Choose an accomplishment that connects best with the role you are interviewing for and speak to that, be concise and add a pinch of genuine appeal. Give a brief background as to your path to that accomplishment that is relevant, such as your education or a prior pivotal experience. Finally, connect it to why you are the perfect fit for the role and why it is of interest to you.
Present: Choose an accomplishment that connects to the role + Past: Background/Pivotal Experience = Future: Explain how you are the perfect fit for the role
2. How did you hear about this role?
This is a good opportunity to speak about a person you both know if that is the case to how you found out about the role. It may sound like name dropping but, in all honesty, you are just making some connections that will hopefully work in your favor if of course the person you mention is highly regarded by your potential employer. However, if you found out about the role by attending a job fair or on a job board, go ahead and mention that. Add to your answer what specifically caught your interest about the role and why you ultimately decided to apply.
3. What interests you about this role?
This is when you speak to one aspect of the job that is of interest to you, but please don’t talk money at this point. Here is where you shine with your research. You’ll want to talk about how you’ve watched the company over some time and how you’d like to grow with it, always wrap it up with what you can bring to the table, your contribution. Another way to answer it is if you know someone in the company or have been inspired by their work. If their values resonate with yours mention that, be honest. Have an answer that genuinely connects with you and your interest to join their team.
4. What is your biggest weakness?
This question should be banned from interviews, it’s wasteful. Yet it is one of the most common ones so have a short answer ready and move on. Do not mention a weakness that has to do with the job. For example, do not say you are not good at public speaking if you are interviewing for a corporate trainer role. You’ll do fine, choose something honest but innocent and mention what you are doing to improve.
5. What is your greatest professional achievement?
This is your time to shine! Don’t sell yourself short, be honest but go strong on your accomplishments. Choose wisely, meaning choose an accomplishment that relates to the role you are applying for. Speak about it clearly and approach the answer strategically to maximize its efficacy.
Here is a simple formula to keep in mind (Plug it in on your resume too!):
Accomplished X as measure by Y by doing Z
Wrap your answer to what you know the company needs, which comes from your research and listening. Many times, interviewers will reveal as they chat with you what their weak point is. So, take this piece of gold and speak to it tactfully and indirectly. Remember if they are hiring, they have a gap, they have work that is not being done and hope for nothing other than for you to be the perfect candidate and solve their issue. Connect your accomplishment to their needs.
6. Tell me about a challenge you had at work and how you dealt with it.
Be honest but not too honest, this is not the time to vent about your toxic coworker. It is, in fact, your time to shine, so go for it! You’ll want to keep the above formula in mind for this answer as well. Think of a problem you solved even if at first you encountered resistance. Speak about money you saved, a process you simplified, time you saved, etc. For instance, let’s say you are interviewing for an HR role, a good example would be how (in your first three months) you led the research and integration process of a new payroll, benefits and HRIS platform. However, some team members pushed back claiming if it isn’t broken don’t change it. But your ambitious, smart, and hard-working self knew it didn’t have to be broken to be better, so you persevered through action and saved the company money and time. Speak to that action and how you approached the resistance from your co-workers and achieved regardless of their initial push back.
7. What are your greatest strengths?
Connect. Connect. Connect. Use their job description to make these key connections and narrow down your list of qualities to one or two you know are important to the company you are interviewing with. Read and highlight as you go through those points and speak to how you can contribute through your strengths. This is a great opportunity to drive in why you are the perfect fit.
8. Why is there a gap in your employment?
Your approach to this question depends on your situation, however answering it honestly and confidently is best. No need for a lengthy story and a slew of details. Do mention if you focused on developing new skills, always work your way to connecting that skillset and experience to the role you are applying for and the future you seek. When and if the gap comes up, clarify any concerns gracefully and with confidence showing once again your ability to handle a challenge by focusing positively on the future.
9. Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
This is not a fun one to answer but be honest and tactful. What you want in the end is to demonstrate how you are open to feedback and do the work to become better. Be clear and concise and you do not want to place blame on anyone or any circumstance. The point is to show how you are growing and learning at every step; how you handle these situations with self-awareness and a desire to be and do better as a person.
10. Why did you leave your last role?
You’ll want to approach with caution, answer it honestly and with great care and respect for your last employer regardless of what happened. If you were fired and not due to a change in management or an acquisition, be honest about it being a pivotal learning experience for you. Give a couple of details to show how you’ve grown from the experience. Again, self-awareness and a genuine desire to do the work and become a better you.
A little prep work goes a long way. Who am I kidding? There is no little when preparing for an interview it is a major task one that I hope pays you in dividends with a good job offer, mostly a new role that keeps you moving onward and upward!