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How to Handle Five Common Interview Questions

You know they’re coming. You’ve no doubt heard most of them. But, are you prepared to answer them? Your responses could be deciding factors in whether or not you get the position. Here are five common questions you’ll likely face in your next job interview and how best to handle them.

1. Why are you interested in this position?

DO: Show you’ve done your homework and are prepared. Be sure to relate your answer to the job responsibilities, the company or the industry. Do you have a personal interest in the company’s product? Work that into the conversation. Talk about a challenge this position presents and how you may have tackled something similar in a previous position. Discuss the synergy between what the company is looking for and what you can bring to the table. Use this question as an opportunity to sell yourself and highlight successes in your background.

DON’T: Wing it. Don’t say it’s because of a bigger title, a closer commute or better salary and benefits. While all those things might be enticing, exclusively mentioning those items might make the manager question whether or not you are interested in the role for the right reasons.

2. Where do you want to be in three to five years?

DO: Answer with something like, “I want to look back on my time here and see that I made a positive impact in the department/company/business.” This shows you have an eye on the bigger picture and want to be a valuable contributor without locking yourself into a specific career path that may not exist at the company. 

DON’T: Shoot yourself in the foot by giving an overly lofty goal. While ambition is a positive trait to have, being out of touch with reality is not. Avoid naming a specific position or especially the title of the person doing the interview! You may think this makes you look motivated, but if that isn’t the career path for this role at this specific company, you just might eliminate yourself from the process. Candidates who seem to view the job they are interviewing for only as a stepping-stone to the next one are rarely seen in a positive light.

3. Why did you leave your previous jobs?

DO: Be honest, but put a positive spin on it. “No brainer” reasons such as the company relocating, changes in your personal life or a company’s financial instability are easy to explain. For more complicated reasons such as a personality conflict or a termination, explain the highlights in two sentences or less in a matter-of-fact manner. Candidates who tell long-winded and complex stories about the circumstances can look like they have something to hide. This is especially true if you have had many job changes in a short period of time. 

DON’T: Badmouth your past employers or direct supervisors. Just. Don’t. Do. It. This is not the time to vent or be emotional about leaving a prior position. Be careful of the, “I left for a better opportunity,” answer. If this is the truth, be sure to back up that fact with solid reasons for why the new opportunity was a step forward in your career. If you don’t, you may appear to be someone who is hard to keep happy and who is always looking for the next best thing.

4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

DO: Highlight strengths that are directly related to the job responsibilities. Tailor your response to each interviewer and the role he or she has at the company. For example, talk about financial successes to a CFO and productivity improvements to a COO. Use this question as an opportunity to sell yourself. Find a silver lining when it comes to weaknesses, and highlight a personality trait that could also be perceived as a positive such as, “I have a hard time turning off at the end of the day and am always planning ahead for the following day.” Discuss a weakness you once had and what steps you have since taken to overcome it, be it a training class or professional coaching. Providing specific examples is a great way to support how you overcame this challenge.

DON’T: Dodge the weakness question. Saying, “I really can’t think of any weaknesses,” is a cop-out. Don’t throw out a frivolous reply like, “My cubicle is always messy.” This tells the interviewer you’re not taking the question seriously. In nine times out of 10, the interviewer is not looking for a specific list of your faults. Typically, he or she is looking to see how you handle being put on the spot. Getting flustered or avoiding the question entirely may give an indication that you won’t react well when you find yourself under pressure on the job.

5. Do you have any questions for me?

DO: Come prepared with questions for the interviewer ahead of time. Write them down, and have them in front of you; this is especially helpful if you are at the end of a long series of interviews and are feeling a little “spent.” This question is an ideal opportunity for one last personal plug. If nothing else ask, “How did I do?” This displays genuine interest in the position and shows you are open to constructive criticism. However, it is important to take it well if there is any! Ask if there is anything in your background that might be considered a negative in being hired for the job. This gives you a chance to address an issue right away before the interview is over and clear up any miscommunication about your skills. Ask what was missing from the last three candidates who were declined, and show how you bring to the table those qualities that others don’t have.

DON’T: Simply say, “No, I’m all set.” This is a near certain kiss of death! Doing so sends the message you are not prepared, it gives the impression you aren’t engaged in the process and might not be all that interested in the opportunity. Avoid asking questions about salary, benefits, work hours or vacation time at the early stages of the interview process. While these are all important questions, it is better to save these questions for later in the process after you have secured your place as a finalist for the position.

While none of these questions should come as a surprise, being well prepared in advance will allow you to not only be more comfortable during the interview process, but also to set yourself apart from the crowd and land the job.

Photo Credit: Dilbert.com