How to Answer Common Interview Questions – Breaking the Ice – I

We have put together a few pointers on answering the most common questions you can be expected to be asked every time you attend an interview. These are not simply ice breakers but actually very important questions which interviewers ask to gauge a candidate’s ability and attitude.

“Tell me something about yourself…”

One of the favorite questions an interviewer likes to ask a job candidate, usually at the beginning of an interview to get a feel for the candidate. And to see what they choose to reveal about themselves. Remember that there are a lot more questions to come, so you don’t want to start at “I was born in a log cabin… ” And you definitely don’t want to focus on overly personal things like marriage status, health issues and unrelated hobbies.

This is a time to tell your short career story, perhaps starting with education, and touching on key points in your career that ideally lead up to this moment – and the reason you are an ideal candidate. The best things you can tell them about yourself are things that make them think “we can use someone like that.” Learning stories help greatly here.

“What’s your greatest weakness?”

This question is often used by people new to interviewing, but since it can show how a person handles the obvious, even longtime job interview pros may ask it. Go for response that sounds sincere, but winds up as a positive, using the basic format of
(1) this is my weakness;
(2) I’ve worked on it; and
(3) now I’ve learned to turn it into a strength.

It can vary from that, but mainly you want to leave a good impression of how well you face and then overcome issues. What you don’t want to do is play the old worn-out “I work way too hard” weakness card. You might get away with it, but it shows no creativity and possibly leaves a taste of someone who thinks they are outsmarting the interviewer – or trying to.

“What’s your greatest strength?”

There are many good ways to answer this question, but when you prepare for it, try and think ahead of time about what the new job requires (carefully review the job description) and what you’ve done in the past (good to look at your resume). Think of a strength of yours that fits nicely with the job you want. And make sure to have a quick story as an example of how you successfully used that skill / strength in a prior job.

You don’t want to brag, but you also don’t want to seem like you’re uncomfortable talking about your strengths. Again, just answer naturally. It might help to sit up straight when you tell it, leaning in a little toward the interviewer and looking her or him in the eyes with just a bit of a smile (practice this before so that you don’t look creepy :)).

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?”

This is one of those questions with no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the type of company and job. Some interviewers look for strong signs of ambition. Others, for a person who will be content to grow slowly, taking on more responsibility as the need arises. And some, although they may not tell you this, are fully aware that you may not see yourself at all in this company in 5 years, but are just looking to see how you handle the question.

Hopefully your research prior to the interview will help you decide what is best. For me, a good answer paints a picture of a person who will look to build solid working relationships, and do their best wherever they are and whatever challenges they are given. Someone looking to become an essential part of the company and take on new projects and opportunities as they arise. You may also want to mention some particular goals you’d like to take on at some point based on the type of job.

Remember – practice makes perfect. If you have a series of interviews lined up, create a cheat sheet for yourself by writing your responses down and reading them aloud to see if they sound right to you.

If you found the post useful, check the next post in this series.

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