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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 March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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