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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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Published on May 20, 2019

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

Time.

When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

So, how do you start?

Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

Assess Your Current Time Spent

Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

Tricks to Tackle Distractions

Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

2. Beware of Emails

Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

3. Let Technology Help

As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

Time is in Your Hands

At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

So what are you waiting for? 

Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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