Dealing with typical interview questions

Interview questionsThe very thought of an interview and the interview questions that might be asked – whether in-person or online – makes many people nervous. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Although there are many things you can do to feel at ease, one of the best is to imagine what questions you will be asked and practice how to answer them. This will not only give you confidence but will ensure that you won’t be caught off guard when the hiring manager asks something difficult.

Here are some common questions you may be asked and how to develop a response:

Tell me about yourself.  This is where you give your elevator pitch, and remember to keep it brief. About 30 seconds is sufficient.

What is your greatest strength?  The hiring manager may ask for your two or three biggest strengths, so be prepared with several examples. It’s best that these are work related, but they can also highlight your soft skills like being able to work well with others, paying attention to detail, ability to follow instructions, or whatever might be relevant to the job you’re applying for.

What is your greatest weakness?  Again they may ask for more than one. If you mention a weakness, also tell the hiring manager what action you are taking to correct it and the results you’ve seen. (Some refer to it as waging WAR – weakness, action, result.)

What is your greatest achievement?  Try to make it work related if possible. For example, it might be that you trained a new employee who became successful on the job, won employee of the year as a server at the previous restaurant you worked at, completed an apprenticeship program or created procedures that increased the company’s bottom line.

Why would you like to work here?  That is for you to decide, but come up with an answer that shows why you would be a good fit for the company and the job you’re applying for.

What do you know about this company?  Make sure you do your homework and learn as much as you can about the company where you will be interviewing. Check out the company’s website; its annual report, if available; and its LinkedIn profile. The LinkedIn profile of the hiring manager may give you some insight as well.

Why should I hire you?  Think in terms of how your efforts can help the company improve its products or service and ultimately make more money.

How do you handle stress?  Choose an example of a past situation to illustrate how you handle stress on the job. If you’ve developed a meditation practice or exercise regularly or take hikes in nature, for example, then mention it here.

What are you passionate about and how can you help us improve our business?  Make sure this answer relates at least somewhat to the job. For example, if you’re applying for a retail or restaurant job, you could say “I’m passionate about people. I love to meet them, talk to them and make them happy. My enthusiasm and empathy will help you attract repeat business.”

How do you describe good customer service?  This question is particularly likely to be asked by retail or restaurant managers.

If we asked people who know you why you should be hired, what would they say? Think very carefully about why you would be good at the particular position you’re applying for and how you would fit into the company’s culture.

What would your last boss say about your work performance? If you got along well with your previous boss and left on good terms, ask them to answer this question. You may also want to ask them to write a reference letter.

How do you evaluate success? This can be personal or professional success, but perhaps the best answer is a combination of both.

What type of environment do you prefer to work in? If you’re interested in the job, try to provide an answer confirming that the type of environment you like to work in is similar to that of the company where you’re applying. 

Describe a difficult situation you had in a job and how you overcame it. This is where you tell your PAR (problem, approach, resolution) story. You will want to talk about the problem you encountered, what you did to solve it and the positive outcome.

There seem to be gaps in your work history. What were you doing during that time?  These gaps could be related to your time in jail or prison, so you’d give the turnaround talk, but there may be other gaps as well. As for the turnaround talk, it’s better for you to bring that up before they ask, if possible.

What is your hourly pay (or salary) expectation?  If they ask this question, reply with something like, “What is the pay range for this position?” You don’t want to state an amount, because you might be underpricing or overpricing yourself. Try to get them to answer first. And if they bring it up early in the interview, you might say something like, “I’d like to know more about this position before we discuss the pay range.” Later, when it’s time to negotiate pay, here are some helpful suggestions.

Do you have any questions?  Be sure that you come to the interview with a handful of questions about the company or the job itself. You could ask the hiring manager things like why they like to work there, what qualities make a good employee at their company, etc. You can also ask why the last person left or is leaving, if you don’t know already. Questions are important. If you don’t ask anything, the hiring manager will either think that you aren’t interested or that you haven’t done your homework.

For more details on an effective question to close your interview with see this article we wrote on the subject.

Editor’s notes: Bringing notes to your interview is considered acceptable by most hiring managers. Not only do your notes help to calm your nerves during an interview and offer a reminder of the key points to cover, they can also serve to show your preparedness and professionalism. Bullet points and short phrases as reminders can all be useful. And asking good questions can help to make a favorable impression with the hiring manager. Having things written down means there’s less you have to remember.

And don’t forget that unless you find the position is not a good fit, always, always ask for the job at the end of the interview. In the language you feel comfortable using, you need to close the sale. If the hiring manager says something to the effect of “We’re still in the interview process until ’date,’” say “May I follow up with you on ’date’ if I have not heard from you?” You want to come from a place of confidence, never sounding desperate. Other helpful tips for dealing with an interview can be found here.

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