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The most common interview questions

1. Tell me about yourself?

Be clear and consise. Pick a specific starting point, and if possible illustrate positives and accomplishments. Write down ahead of time what you plan to say; perfect it; then practice it every chance you get.

2. Why are you leaving your current position?

Do not talk in the negative about any aspect of your previous employer, but also do not come across as a sales person. Simply be truthful and talk in the positive.

If you’re unemployed, state your reason for leaving in a positive context: "I managed to survive two rounds of corporate downsizing, but the third round was a 20 percent reduction in the workforce, which included me."

If you are employed, focus on what you want in your next job: "After two years, I made the decision to look for a company that is team-focused, where I can add my experience."

3. What do you like or dislike most about your current position?

The interviewer is probing to see if there are potential obstacles with their open position so be careful about how to speak about your dislikes. Use this as an opportunity to talk about the positives of your previous position including learned skills and areas of personal growth. Always present a positive image.

4. What are your most significant strengths?

Be prepared with at least three specific strengths and qualify these with specific examples and accomplishments. Discuss strengths that would be applicable to the open position.

5. What are your most significant weaknesses?

Provide areas that you have identified as weaknesses and that you are working on to improve. The goal is to turn the fault into a character quality. Handle it by minimizing your weakness and emphasizing your strengths. Stay away from personal qualities and concentrate on professional traits: "I am always working on improving my communication skills to be a more effective presenter. I recently joined Toastmasters, which I find very helpful."

6. What is your most significant career accomplishment?

Your past performance and accomplishments are the best indicator of future performance! Prepare an answer that goes into who, what, where and why of the accomplishment and relate the results it had on the organization. Talk about the details and your personal involvement if it was a team accomplishment.

7. How do you work under pressure and stress?

It is important to illustrate your ability to perform in pressure and stressful situations. People who are top performers have the ability to work well under pressure. You should provide a specific example of an accomplishment in a stressful situation, why it was stressful and the details of how you overcame the adversity.

8. Why should we hire you for the position?

Your objective is to summarize the qualities and strengths you bring to the organization, show how your past accomplishments predict your success, and reveal how you can help them overcome the immediate challenges in the position. You want to let them know that you feel confident about your ability to make a contribution to the team, but not come across as egotistical. A good way to summarize is: "With five years’ experience working in the this industry and my proven record of saving the company money, I could make a big difference in your company. I’m confident I would be a great addition to your team."

9. Describe a situation in which you failed.

It is important to recognize that the best people in business fail. You have to be able to communicate the failure and most critical, how you overcame the failure and succeeded. The interviewer is trying to gauge your ability to recognize your mistakes and how you react when faced with adversity.

10. What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?

Be honest and realistic, but be careful not to tell them what you think they want to hear. This can get you in trouble. Your answer should incorporate that if given the opportunity you want to still be with the organization in a role allowing you to make an even stronger contribution with greater responsibility.

Sometimes it’s best to talk about short-term and intermediate goals rather than locking yourself into the distant future. For example, "My immediate goal is to get a job in a growth-oriented company. My long-term goal will depend on where the company goes. I hope to eventually grow into a position of responsibility."

11. What salary are you seeking?

It is to your advantage if the employer tells you the range first. Prepare by knowing the going rate in your area, and your bottom line or walk-away point. One possible answer would be: "I am sure when the time comes, we can agree on a reasonable amount. In what range do you typically pay someone with my background?"

How to overcome negatives in an interview

You may have to overcome some obstacles during an interview. In some cases you will know what questions will surface allowing the opportunity to prepare in advance for overcoming any issues.

1. Acknowledge the negative: “I can appreciate that you are concerned that I have had three jobs in the last six years.”

2. Clarify the negative: “I know it appears that I transition jobs every couple years, however, some of the reasons were out of my control (closure/downsizing) and in my other reasons for leaving, a lot of thought went into my decision in regards to what was best for the organization and my career”.

3. Transition to the positive and benefits: Explain what happened on each position, transition any potential negatives into positives. A way to turn the negative into a positive is if you left because of no growth opportunities.

Watch out for these common negatives during an interview and be prepared to head them off using the ideas above:

  • Frequent job changes
  • Gap in work experience
  • Working out of the industry
  • Inflated salary level in relation to market
  • No degree or applicable certificate
  • Unemployed status
  • No job progression or advancement

What to ask during the interview

Nearly every interviewer asks at the end if the candidate has any questions. This is great time to set yourself apart from other candidates by having researched the organization prior to the interview. Employers say that they are interested in candidates who ask quality questions and make intelligent conversation based on what they know about the organization.

Here are some appropriate questions to ask at the end of your interview:

  • What do you like most about working for the company? Why?
  • What is the future of the company from your perspective?
  • Describe the corporate values of the company?
  • What is the average tenure of people in this department or at XYZ company?
  • What are the immediate challenges of the position that need to be addressed in the first three months?
  • What are the performance expectations of this position over the first 12 months?
  • How will I be evaluated in the company and how often?
  • What projects are this department currently working on?
  • What sets this company apart from the competition?
  • What is the next step in the interview process?

How to pick great references

Who should you list as a reference? Be sure to think about this from the prospective employer’s viewpoint.

  • Choose people who are responsible and accessible. The prospective employer will not likely try to contact a reference more than two or three times.
  • Choose someone who can talk directly about your responsibilities and performance.
  • Choose a person who will be honest, open, and represent you well.
  • Your perfect reference list should have one or two supervisors, a peer, and a subordinate.
  • Remember that personal references are just that and should have no relevance to your past professional accomplishments.

It is important to work with your references throughout the process for the best outcome.

  • Ask their permission to include them on the list and ask if they feel comfortable taking calls on your behalf.
  • Keep references aware of the activities and achievements. Make sure they know about any new education advancement.
  • Your references should be prepared with the prospective employer’s contact person and title.
  • If a reference perfers to be contacted at home (where they may be able to speak more freely) be sure to note this on your reference list.
  • If you get the new job, be sure to call or email your references with a thank you and your new contact information.

Use your references to stand out in the crowd

  • Prepare your references with some information about your performance and accomplishments in some specific areas relevant to the job your are seeking.
  • Educate them with specifics and your successes. Your references are probably familiar with the major results and the benefits those had to the organization. Any specific information will allow them to understand your accomplishments in more detail, allowing them to represent you better.
  • Arm your references with numbers. Your former boss might remember that you finished above quota in your last year. However, they probably can’t specifically recall that you finished 26% above quota and were 12% above anyone else on your team.