As an executive recruiter I’ve debriefed scores of hiring managers after interviews, and I see a number of questions that are typically asked of candidates. When you are vying for a job, where you can really stand out from your competition is by answering these questions honestly so they’re specific to you.
There are a lot of articles giving advice on how to answer the questions often asked in a job interview. If you follow that advice the law of averages will catch up with you and you’ll give the exact same answer your competition gave. To get noticed you’ll need to prepare for the interview more extensively and put some thought into it, and most importantly be honest with the answers. Hiring managers have usually interviewed enough people to see when someone isn’t being honest. Stand out by being yourself.
The most common questions where you can be a hero or zero are usually asked at the beginning of the interview to break the ice. The interviewer is trying to see you in three dimensions. Candidates will generally assume they can answer these questions on the spot; however, it’s usually not the case.
Here are the common questions and how you can answer them with originality:
Tell me a little about yourself.
This is a great opportunity to make yourself three dimensional with the interviewer. I encourage my candidates to mix both professional and personal aspects into this answer. It’s a home run if you mention you’re a triathlete and the hiring manager is one as well. Your goal with this question is to find something in common with the interviewer so the two of you “click”. The best way to answer this is to prepare a two-minute story about yourself and how you got to be where you’re currently at in your personal life and professional career. The most effective way to create this story is to bullet point the highlights of what you’ve done. Read articles on how to tell a good story and then bullet point out the most interesting aspects of yourself and your accomplishments.
Why do you want this job?
Have three to five points on why you’re passionate about this opportunity. Incorporate the research you’ve completed about the company and add this in to your answers. Dig deep and find information that most other people wouldn’t know about. Recent press releases and quarterly investor relation reports are great sources of information.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
This is the most challenging of the typical interview questions. You know your own qualities, so be honest when answering this question. Describing your strengths is easy for most people. The weakness portion, though, can be challenging. The interviewer is not looking for someone who is perfect, they know no one is. What they’re looking for is your knowledge of your weakness and whether you let it get the best of you. Answer with an honest weakness and tell them your strategy for overcoming it. Please—please—do not answer this with, “(You are) challenged with working too much, or achieving work/life balance.” Every person who has interviewed someone has heard that answer!
Why are you looking to leave your current position?
This question is best answered if you view the job interview as a first date. Be as honest as you can with your answer without being too honest. You want to give the impression you’re running to their position instead of running away from a job you don’t enjoy. It may take several drafts to craft the answer.
The best way to make a positive impression in an interview is to “click” with the interviewer, be prepared, and come across as thoughtful, honest and, most importantly, knowing thyself.