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Last Updated on August 3, 2017

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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Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boosts Productivity 10X More with Focus

There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

Why is multitasking a myth?

The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

Your brain on multi-tasking

Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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But I can juggle multiple tasks!

You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

Why multitasking is failing you

Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

Multitasking wastes your time.

You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

It makes you dumber.

A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

This is an emotional response.

There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

It’ll wear you out.

When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

How to stop multitasking and work productively

Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

1. Consciously change gears

Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

3. Set aside distractions

Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

4. Take care of yourself

We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

5. Take a break

People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

6. Make technology your ally

Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

The key to productivity: Focus

Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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