5 of the Most Common Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Going on a job interview can be a nerve wracking experience for many people. This is a situation where a surprising number of individuals under prepare. The good news is that most interviewers ask some version of the following common interview questions. Here are the questions along with suggestions on how to answer these common interview questions and the pitfalls to avoid.

1) Tell Me About Yourself

What the Interviewer is looking for in your answer is:

  • An opportunity to get to know you personally and professionally.
  • Confirmation that your background is right for the role (i.e. the right technical, client or practical experience).

Pitfalls

  • Don’t start at the beginning of your resume and walk the interviewer through all of your experience. If you do this it will likely be too much detail and the interviewer will start to tune out.
  • Any experience that is 10 years older or more is simply the pathway to how you got to where you are now. The details of it are largely unimportant.

How to Answer

  • Your answer should focus on how your background is naturally a fit for the role that you are interviewing for.
  • Highlight things that you have been responsible for over the last 6 years that will lead to you being successful in this job.
  • Mention awards or public recognition that you have received.
  • If you have completed personality assessments like the Kolbe Index http://www.kolbe.com/ or Myers Briggs http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/ share about the test and the insights you discovered.
  • If you have an important mentor who taught you something that greatly impacted your career, mention it here.

2) What Are Your Strengths?

What the Interviewer is really looking for:

  • Strengths that match the requirements of the job.
  • Your strongest skills.
  • Your strongest personality strengths.
  • Examples of those strengths in action.

Pitfalls

  • Don’t just come up with a laundry list of adjectives. Most people will say things like “I’m hardworking” or “I am a team player” without any kind of evidence to provide proof.

How to Answer

  • Tell the interviewer what your greatest strength is.
  • Choose a strength that is relevant to the role you are interviewing for.
  • Provide an example of that strength in action in your last role.

3) What Are Your Weaknesses?

What the Interviewer is really looking for:

  • This question is designed to see how self aware / emotionally intelligent you are.

Pitfalls

Most people aren’t authentic about this. They will say things like “I work to hard” or “I’m a perfectionist”. Those answers provide no insight into who you really are.

How to Answer

A weakness is simply a strength used in the wrong environment.
Ex. “Sometimes a weakness is a strength used in the wrong setting. One of my strengths is that I love to share my ideas. However, at times I can get over zealous. I have learned through experience to be aware of this. Sometimes I intentionally stay quiet so that other people feel they can contribute. Otherwise my enthusiasm can actually stop other people from sharing their own ideas.”

4) Tell Me About a Work Accomplishment that You Are Proud Of

What the Interviewer is really looking for:

  • An example that shows you taking ownership of a project and producing great results that wouldn’t have happened without your contribution.

Pitfalls

  • Sharing an accomplishment that was more than 5 years old. It leaves the interviewer wondering if you have stopped producing great results.
  • Sharing an accomplishment that had little to do with your personal performance.

How to Answer

  • Say what the accomplishment was. Share how the situation was originally. Tell the interviewer what actions you took and what things you considered while you were enroute to the end result. Share the accomplishment again.
  • Good accomplishments can include: Saving your company money or making your company money. Saving your company time. Making your company culture a better place to work. Doing something that had a real positive impact or made a difference.

5) Tell Me About A Time When You Failed

What the Interviewer is really looking for:

  • Self Awareness
  • Your willingness to take risks
  • Your willingness to be authentic
  • Your ability to learn from your experience

Pitfalls

  • Don’t blame your boss
  • Don’t blame someone else
  • Don’t say “I can’t think of anything”
  • Don’t put on your “I’m bad / I’m in trouble” facial expression

How to Answer

  • Take responsibility for what happened. (Or for your part in what happened.)
  • Everyone fails from time to time. Failure in itself isn’t a problem. It is what you learn from it that matters.
  • Share what happened. State what you would do differently if you had the chance to do it all over again and what you learned from it as a result. The learning is the most important part.

Interviewing is one area where practice makes a difference. Take time beforehand to anticipate what the interviewer might ask and rehearse your answers in a mirror or record your answers using the video option on your smart phone camera. Here’s to your success!