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How to Answer Common Interview Questions in an Uncommon Way

How to Answer Common Interview Questions in an Uncommon Way

No matter how much we may love our job, there are always aspects that we could do without. And among all of my duties as Chief of Product Management at Lifehack, interviewing is by far my least favorite. It’s an awkward, draining task that wears me down both mentally and physically. Most interviews take around an hour to get through, a grueling 60 minutes that neither I nor the interviewee enjoys. I hear the same answers to the same questions time and time again. Boring, basic answers that by no way separate the individual from their competition. But every once in a while I will hear an answer that catches me off guard, leaving me impressed and inspired.

To help you to knock out your next interview, I’ve compiled a list of the best possible answers to common interview questions, and what to avoid.

“What can you tell me about yourself?”

Your interviewer isn’t looking for little fragments of information. They want to hear a story. This will help to draw them in and keep them interested. Be sure to include your progression and how it brought you to where you are today.

Avoid including irrelevant personal things like your love for cats. Your potential employer is only interested in your work persona, so only focus on that aspect of yourself. Summarize your experience and explain to them why you are an expert in this field. Highlight your achievements, as well as obstacles you have encountered and how you managed to overcome them.

Here is an example of an intriguing answer to this question:

“Previously, I had worked for a prestigious company, managing a team of 15 people. My job was to improve the company, but the longer I stayed, the more I realized that there was very little potential for growth. That is why I am here today. To further myself in this field, as well as advance this company with my skills. “

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“What are some of your strengths as well as weaknesses?”

When speaking about your strengths, focus on elements that are necessary for this potential job. Briefly describe your skills, and elaborate on how they will be beneficial for this company.

Don’t make the mistake of avoiding speaking about your weaknesses. Your interviewer will not be impressed, instead they will think that you lack the ability to self-reflect and improve. But when you do mention your weaknesses, include what actions you are taking to improve them. This will highlight your problem solving skills as well as your humility.

For example, let’s say that you are interviewing for a sales position. When your interviewer asks for your strengths and weaknesses you could say:

“I am very skilled at thinking on my feet, and using the art of persuasion to make a sale. Although sometimes I tend to shut down when dealing with an agitated customer. I am currently reading a book on how to quickly diffuse conflict to reroute the customer and have them meet me on common ground.”

“Why are you the right fit for the job?”

Before the interview, consider the position you are interviewing for and all of the duties that will be expected of you. Reiterate these duties to the interviewer, and how you possess the skills necessary to fulfill these requirements.

Be sure to include specific duties that were listed in the job ad, but doctor them so that it sounds organic. You don’t want the interviewer to feel that you’re just regurgitating the job description they’ve already provided for you.

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“What do you know about our company?”

Do your research before the interview. Familiarize yourself with the basic functions of the business, and the goals that they are working towards. Identify the challenges that the business is facing, specifically in the department that you are interviewing for. Mention these challenges, and how you have noticed the advancements they are making to alleviate them.

Search for individuals in a similar position on LinkedIn for example. Pay close attention to their specific job duties, as well as the challenges they have faced and how they overcame them. Use their technique to describe how your skills will help to improve the business.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Similar to question number 3 (please refer above), make sure you know the details of the position before the interview. Then, include how your involvement with the company will bring you satisfaction. This makes your answer more personal, as well as shows your interest in the actual company and not just a paycheck.

Reassure the interviewer that you will be very committed and passionate about your position, because it appeals to you on a personal level.

For example, as a Production Manager, I love to see projects grow exponentially instead of just naturally. I like to see big results right away, and will throw myself entirely into a project to see that happen.

“Why did you leave your last job?”

Do not by any means belittle the previous business that you’ve worked for. It will make you appear unprofessional. Instead, speak about how you learned all that you could from said company, and the reasons that you eventually outgrew it.

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What has really impressed me during interviews is the highlight of an achievement before leaving the company. This shows that you are a team player, and didn’t leave your previous employer high and dry.

Example:

“At my last job as a Production Manager, I realized that I didn’t believe in traditional media anymore, and my ideals did not line up with the concept of the company. But before leaving, I trained the editor so that the company could continue running as it had.”

“What is your greatest achievement?”

Use this opportunity to tell another story to keep your employer captivated. Don’t only speak about your achievements, but the action that you took to get there. Include how you analyzed the situation, the various options you came up with to resolve the conflict, and what led you to your final decision.

Don’t be vague! Don’t answer the question like this:

“I had the highest record of sales at my previous company.”

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Definitely start off your answer with this achievement, but then elaborate.

“In order to achieve the highest record of sales at my previous company, I collected market research on the demographic that I was aiming to sell to. I considered what appealed to them, and how I could use those variables to make them want my product.”

“Tell me a story about how you overcame a conflict or challenge in a work environment.”

Use every opportunity to tell a story instead of just providing a simple answer. This gives your interviewer the opportunity to focus on individual aspects of your story and expand on them. You want to engage your interviewer as much as possible.

Again, stress the steps that you took in order to resolve the conflict. If your interviewer is engaged, go on to tell them more stories about overcoming conflicts.

This is your golden opportunity to sell yourself and showcase who you are. At this point you can delve a little deeper into how your techniques reflect who you are as a person, but still keep it professional and work related.

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on April 22, 2021

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

How to Work Hard the Smart Way: 4 Daily Rituals to Follow

Habits are what sets an average leader apart from a great leader. We can argue that talent is the biggest factor; we may debate how the amount of charisma sets the two apart. Yet, if you were to show me what you believed to be a great leader, I can show you the habits that made her/him great. Great leaders have great habits and know how to work hard the smart way.

Developing Great Habits Is Hard Work

In my early college days, I had spent a lot of time learning how to play the trumpet. Playing the trumpet took time and discipline. I had some natural talent, but not enough to hide my lack of ability. My trumpet teacher was a man of discipline, and there was no doubt he had talent. What stood to me was his work ethic. He had to be one of the hardest working mentors that I had the privilege of working with.

One afternoon, I was in his office getting ready for my weekly trumpet lesson. As I was preparing, my eyes scanned the room and saw that there were quotes all over his office. My eyes rested on one quote that forever changed my thinking about my playing. It was a quote from my high school basketball coach Tim Notke that would become popular through professional athletes Kevin Durant and Tim Tebow:

“Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.”

Hard work trumps talent. The key to success is not found in your talent or ability. Talent and ability are necessary, but they are not the primary factors. They are supporting roles in the story you are writing.

Ultimately, hard work is the key to your success. A good work ethic creates the momentum that propels you forward towards your goals.

Motivation Is Not the Answer

How many times have you seen someone go to a conference, get inspired, and then come home and do nothing?

If motivation were the answer, the world would have transformed hundreds of times over. Yet, when we look out our doors or turn on the news, we do not see a utopian society.

We have thousands of people who become inspired but lack the work ethic to apply anything they have learned. Time and time again frustration creeps in. We are so motivated and inspired by what we see but fail to put in place the things that would change our lives.

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Frustration happens when the gap between what you expect to be true and what is true gets bigger. Motivation tends to create an expectation that is not rooted in reality. We want to take on the world but cannot get off Netflix long enough to do so.

Motivation is not the answer, but working hard is. Good habits and routines that produce success are the byproducts of a strong work ethic. The habits and routines we create and follow are the foundation on which we build a winning life.

How to Work Hard by Working Smarter

Here are 4 routines that will help you learn how to work hard and achieve your short term and long term goals.

1. Define What a Win Looks Like

In football, a player that crosses into the end zone gain points. In soccer, a player kicks the ball into the net to score. Hockey, lacrosse, and basketball are all the same. The player takes the object and moves it into the designated area to gain points. The team with the most points wins the game.

Why is it that we can define what a win looks like in sports, but we fail to do so in our leadership, our businesses, or our homes?

Learning how to work hard without setting a target is futile. It is insanity to work hard without having a clear direction to place your energy. I would argue that defining a win is one of the most important routines that a leader can have. Defining a win separates superficial activity from meaningful activity.

When I define a win, I know the goal line I have to cross[1]. Knowing where the goal line is informs me of the activity I have to engage in to cross it. Without a clear direction, I am spinning my wheels hoping that I will get to a destination I haven’t defined. It is like asking a GPS for directions but failing to input the destination.

4 Steps to Define a Win
  • Know the outcome you desire.
  • Declare the outcome in specific, meaningful terms.
  • Write the outcome down.
  • Set your activity list to only do that which will complete your goals.

Let me give you an example. 15 years ago, I started speaking professionally. As a young and naïve speaker, I thought winning meant that I had to get a reaction from the audience. If they cheered, smiled, or cried, I considered myself a winner. The problem was my lack of understanding of what a win looked like. As a seasoned speaker, my wins look different.

As of today, when I speak, I am not looking for any emotional reactions from the audience. I win if, and only if, I clearly communicated my point so that anyone hearing the talk can take it and apply it to their lives that day. That is how I define a win when I speak now.

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Create a habit of declaring a win. When you do, you will see your productivity soar and your encouragement increase. Pairing a hard work ethic with wise decisions creates victory. Stop being a mouse on a wheel that goes nowhere, and start being the captain of your fleet.

2. Evaluate Your Activity

Not all activity is equal. There are things you must do, things you need to do, and things we can either give away or delete. The greatest challenge of a leader is understanding the difference. Understanding what activity is busywork and what activity is mission work is pivotal.

Not only do we need to learn how to evaluate our activity, but we must make this a core routine in our arsenal of success. Stop working so hard on everything and start learning how to work hard on the right things.

Not every activity will move the needle forward for you. In fact, you were never meant to do everything yourself! Once we stop trying to be a martyr in our leadership, we can start looking at how to take things off our plates through delegation.

Based on the Eisenhower box, there are 4 things that we look at when deciding on which activities are important:

  • Do now
  • Plan to do it later
  • Delegate to someone else
  • Delete it

Powerful questions are the way you discover if the activity is right or not:

  • Does this activity move me towards or away from my goals?
  • Do I have to do this activity or can I give this activity away to someone else?
  • Does this activity have to be now right now or can it be scheduled for later dates?
  • Does this activity have to be done at all?

Evaluating the type of activity you engage in should be a routine that you do daily. Learning how to work hard should create progress. Having a system of evaluation and a routine to do it will help.

3. Prioritize Your Calendar

If you were to show me your calendar, I could show you why you are not further along. When you lack the routine of placing things on your calendar, two things happen.

First, what does not make it on your calendar does not get done.

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It is a simple truth that is often overlooked. Your calendar contains the power to change your life. Yet, we don’t use our calendars to their fullest potential.

“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” -John C. Maxwell

Also, if you don’t mark you activities on your calendar, you are leaving it open to other’s priorities.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” -Stephen Covey

Having a routine in your life where you place things on your calendar is pivotal to your success. This is not a routine one should overlook.

It’s time to take your leadership and business to the next level. It’s time to start putting your daily routines on your calendar, along with your priorities.

4. Reflect on Your Day and Plan the Next

We are all about the morning routine. Whatever that looks like for you, there should be a routine in the morning that sets you up for success.

Hard work starts when your feet hit the ground in the morning. Creating the habit of winning starts with the first thing you accomplish that morning. If you win your morning, you will win your day.

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Best Morning Routine to Prepare to Work Hard

    But how often have you heard people talk about an evening routine? Tomorrow is won the day before it happens. When you fail to plan your day, you may put your effort toward in the wrong things. Route replaces routine. Indecision replaces decisiveness. Losses replace wins. The discouragement will deflate your momentum and increases the chances of procrastination. That is why we set our schedule the night before.

    “Every battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.” -Sun Tzu

    Working hard doesn’t have to be hard work. It shouldn’t take much out of you learn how to work hard as long as you work smart. Having a time where you reflect on the day and set your priorities is the difference-maker.

    Use these questions to reflect on your day:

    • What went well?
    • What didn’t go well?
    • What can I change?
    • What do I need to start doing?
    • What do I need to stop doing?

    The Bottom Line

    Navigating through life is hard work. Yet, the work doesn’t have to be hard when you work smarter. When you create routines that support your mission, you create wins. Working hard, the smart way will tip the balance in our favor.

    Boxing legend Joe Frazier said:

    “Champions aren’t made in the ring; they are merely recognized there.”

    Champions put in the hard work behind the scenes. The world recognized them as a champion when they saw the results of the hard work. Right now, you are doing the work of creating a champion in yourself.

    That work is setting your routines in order because you now know that success flows from your daily routines. If you are not experiencing the success you desire, then it is time to change things up.

    More on Creating Healthy Routines

    Featured photo credit: Zan via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Balance Careers: Interview Question: “How Do You Define Success?”

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