acing interviews

You have been eyeing your dream job, and you have finally received that long-awaited call to come in for the interview. Then you start getting the jitters.

Are you prepared enough to ace the interview? Do you know enough about the company and the role to help you sail through the interview? What questions should you expect, and how do you answer them?

All these are valid questions, and no matter how prepared you think you are, you can never prepare enough for some popular interview questions. I have heard candidate after candidate complain about how they freeze in the interview room when asked specific questions.

Interestingly, some candidates bungle up their responses and never get the offer despite the questions asked being the same ones they have answered in numerous other interviews.

In this post, we look at some popular interview questions and their appropriate responses. 

Question 1: Tell Us About Yourself

This question seems simple. I have had the opportunity to sit on interview panels at the different companies I have worked with. I can tell you factually that most candidates make recruiters cringe as they answer this question.

The simplicity of the question tricks candidates into thinking they do not need to prepare for it, so let me shine a light on what you need to do. Rather than give your complete education and employment history, this is your chance to pitch why you are the best candidate for the job.

The Answer:

You answer here should be concise and compelling. According to Lily Zhang, MIT career counselor, the best approach to answer this question is to highlight your present, past, and future. First, talk briefly about your current role, responsibilities, and at least one major achievement.

Then, backtrack to your past and talk about how your experience helped get you to the present position. Finally, tie your present and past into why you want the job you are interviewing for and why you are the ideal candidate.

Question 2: What Are Your Greatest Strengths and Weaknesses?

Most candidates go wrong with these questions as they construe them to be asking for a list of adjectives describing their strengths or weaknesses. On the contrary, these questions present you with the opportunity to embellish your selling points and tie them into the requirements of the job.

While explaining your greatest strengths and weaknesses, it is always best to follow each attribute with an example that demonstrates it.

The Answer:

These two are popular interview questions, and most candidates have an idea of how to answer them. Unfortunately, most interviewees pick a theoretical weakness and sprinkle some ‘magic dust’ on it in a bid to convert the weakness into a strength in disguise.

For instance, I have seen candidates lead on with something in the line of; “My biggest weakness is that I am a workaholic who loses the sense of time once I start working on a task I love. Once I start doing something, I am completely absorbed in it.”

That is good news for any recruiter. Besides, it means you just might put in more hours than every other employee might, right? Great…

However, most recruiters can see through that façade. Rather than picking a superficial weakness, I recommend that you choose an actual flaw that you are working to improve on. Then, share how you are working on overcoming it.

If it is genuine, the recruiter can tell. Showing your honest commitment to self-assess and improve is a quality any employer will appreciate.

Question 3: How Did You Hear About This Position?

This question might seem innocuous, but it helps the recruiter gauge whether you are the right candidate for the job. Whenever I am working with a job seeker, one of the areas we cover is how to be intentional and purposeful with your job search.

When you are aware of what you are looking for and where to look, you have a better chance of landing the job. Your ability to demonstrate your knowledge and interest in the company makes you stand out in a pool of competitive candidates.

The Answer:

Interviewers want to know how interested you are in their company, and your answer here will demonstrate it. You have a good start if you found out about the open position from the company website or their social media.

Even better, if you heard about it from an employee in the same company, it tells the recruiter that you keep in touch with company affairs. If you found the job advertisement on a job board, share with the recruiter what piqued your interest. 

The potential employer wants to know whether you are just another job seeker looking for any job, or you are here because you have made it your purpose to get a job in the company.

Question 4: Why are you interested in working at this company?

Another popular interview question, recruiters ask this to find out if you have done your homework. Did you only apply for the job after coming across a random job ad, or have you been keeping tabs on the company because you want to work there?

According to Zhang, you have the best chance of impressing your interviewer if you have done your research. Better still, she advises that you apply to companies you have an interest in.

That way, it is easier to convince your recruiter to hire you, and your interest means you will be in a happy place if you end up getting the job. 

The Answer:

As I mentioned before, having sat on recruiting panels and worked with HR managers over the years, I know a thing or two about interview questions. I understand what hiring managers are looking for in your answers. For this question, you can take four approaches, namely:

  • Acknowledging the company’s wow factor – To show you understanding and interest in the company start by acknowledging what makes them unique. The more specific you are, the better. Otherwise, you risk sounding like every other candidate if you use general statements. For instance, if the company makes weekly goals or monthly targets rather than quarterly ones, go into detail about that. Let the recruiter know that you thrive in goal-oriented environments and that their weekly goals or monthly targets culture is what interests you most.
  • Start from the beginning – Knowing tons about the company you are interviewing for is impressive. Nevertheless, it is not always easy to come by company information such as their goal-setting culture or other workplace traditions. However, that does not mean there is nothing you can talk about from your research. You can briefly talk about how you first heard of the company and touch on its evolution ever since. Talk about the company’s growth and any changes they have undergone so far. As you share, show interest, so the recruiter knows your interest in the company has been there all along.
  • Think about the future – this is where you share with the recruiter which areas you think the company has the most significant growth potential and why. While you share the vision you have, remember to show how excited you are as you now have the chance to contribute to that growth. Showing your drive to work for the company by sharing this kind of information makes you stand out.
  • Get personal – if you are interviewing to work at a company that genuinely interests you, you have probably interacted with some of their employees. If so, share what impressed you about them. Was it their welcoming nature or their enthusiasm when they talked about the company? Maybe it was the experiences they have had working for the company. Whichever it is, you can always circle back to company employees to illustrates your interest in the company.

Question 5: Why do you want this job?

This popular interview question might not always come up – at least not as directly. However, if you are keen on landing a job, and even if this question does not come up, you should answer it anyway. At the very least, find an appropriate time to share your reason for wanting the job.

Just remember, do not be carried away and go through your entire list of life achievements and highlights. The recruiter is only interested in what you bring to the table!

The Answer:

Like our previous question, there are varieties of ways you can approach this interview question. For starters, this question allows you to express your enthusiasm and share your knowledge of the company.

You also get the chance to pitch why you are a good fit for the company and the position. The best answer here is when you align your skills and experiences with the description of the job you are eyeing. 

To sell why you are the best fit for the role, focus on your experiences and skills. How do these tie into the vacant role? How exactly will they help you deliver if you get the job? To crown it all, show the recruiter how the position they are hiring for is in line with where you want to take your career. 

When lining up the job with your career trajectory, you want to give the recruiter the impression that you are there to stay. That way, they feel more inclined to invest in you and give you the job.

Question 6: What do you consider your greatest professional achievement?

Many interviews, and rightly so, focus on your record of accomplishments. The purpose of this popular interview question is to bring out your achievement record. If you have achieved amazing results in previous jobs over the years, this is the time to bring them up.

The Answer:

When giving your answer, don’t just mention an achievement and move on. Go into detail by describing the situation, the task, actions taken, and the results realized. To answer this and to give the recruiter context, explain the situation and solution you came up with and implemented.

Then as you finish, share the outcomes from your intervention. For instance, an accountant would talk about how they overhauled the invoicing process, which in turn saved on 10 work hours and increased invoicing accuracy by 25%.

Question 7: Which is the biggest challenge/conflict you have faced at work? How did you deal with it?

Nobody wants to talk about conflict. Unfortunately, conflicts are inevitable in a work setting, and every recruiter is aware. Recruiters love this question because it brings out a side of that many candidates often hide too well.

When it comes up, do not be afraid to answer truthfully. Besides, no one is perfect, and your potential employer expects you to have made mistakes at some point. 

The Answer:

Before we get to the answer, we must understand the purpose of this question. When a recruiter puts you to task with explaining one of the most uncomfortable times in your job, they have an agenda.

Often they want to find out whether you have what it takes to work with others. They want to know whether conflicts make you defensive or whether you learn from them. They want to see if you are good at resolving disputes.

Here is what NOT to do when answering this question:

  • Do not push the blame on the other party – instead, own up and take responsibility for resolving the conflict. Also, do not focus too much on the conflict. Instead, let your focus be on the resolution and your contribution to it.
  • Avoid dodging the question – unfortunately, this is a common trend in interviews. Many candidates try to sanitize themselves by dodging this question. Again, nobody is perfect, and the more you try to seem perfect, the further away you push your recruiter. A better approach would be to share how you try to resolve conflicts before they are blown out of proportion. Even then, always have a concrete example you are willing to talk about at length.
  • Do not be defensive or confrontational – often, this question is bound to have follow-up questions. Regrettably, some candidates let the prodding get to them, and they become confrontational. Yes, it is an uncomfortable topic, but the last thing you want is to show the recruiter that you are irritable at the slightest provocation. 

Remember, the essential trait the potential employer is looking for here is your ability to resolve conflicts and learn from them. Keep your cool and avoid rambling about the negatives as you would to a friend. Instead, focus on the resolution and end with the lessons you got from the situation.