Did you know that you can anticipate-and be prepared to answer-most questions you will be asked in an interview? The majority of interview questions can be predicted beforehand. This means that you can develop and practice giving effective responses before you are sitting face-to-face with a prospective employer. This is like having the questions in advance for a final exam!
How to Prepare for an Interview
Begin by developing a list of frequently asked interview questions such as the ones included in this article. Write out your answer to each question (realizing you will have to "tweak" your answers to make them specific for each individual interview). Once you have developed good answers to each relevant question, practice saying your answers out loud on your own. Then have a friend pose as the "interviewer," and use a tape recorder or camcorder to record the mock interview.
Listen to the recorded "interview" and modify any of your responses that: (1) are too long (most answers should not exceed 60 seconds); (2) do not clearly answer the question being asked; and/or, (3) do not market your skills and abilities effectively. See how the "bad" and "good" responses below illustrate what to do and what not to do.
In addition, prior to an interview, think through the 3-5 things that you most want to communicate to the interviewer about your qualifications for the position. Make sure you emphasize those points in your responses to his/her questions. And, if the interviewer isn't asking questions that elicit good information about your qualifications, take the initiative in talking about yourself. For example, you could insert a statement like this into the interview: "This position really is of interest to me, and I believe I could do it well. Some of my strengths are...."
Frequently Asked Interview Questions
-- Can you tell me about yourself? This type of open-ended question is often used at the beginning of an interview. In your mind, re-word the question to "Can you tell me about your qualifications for this position?" Do not mistake this question as being an inquiry about your personal life or entire work history. In this example, the person is interviewing for an accounting position.
Bad answer: "Well, I was born into a family of four children. I started working early, and my first job was sweeping floors at my parents' store. Then in high school I worked at a movie theater. After college I started working for the XYZ Company, and had seven different positions in the sixteen years I worked there. The first job I had was.... (The interviewer is now either asleep or is waiting for an opportunity to show this person the door!)
Good answer: "I have more than 15 years of accounting experience, and am proficient with several different software programs. I have previous experience in this industry working for the XYZ Company, which is about the same size as your organization. There, I supervised a staff of five employees and streamlined the accounts payable process, reducing the paperwork and staff time required by about 20%. I have a strong work ethic, am detailed-oriented and skilled at finding ways to improve efficiency."
-- What are your greatest strengths? Be prepared to talk about at least three strengths you have that relate to the job. Develop an example for each area of strength. These responses are from a person interviewing for a copy editor position:
"That's a tough question. I'm not really sure."
"I have a lot of strengths that people compliment me on and I know I could do this job well."
"I have strong skills in using proper grammar and punctuation. In my previous position, my manager asked me to edit the departmental policy manual, even though it wasn't part of my job description. He said he recognized that I was very good in making sure writing was correct.
I also have strong attention to detail and a commitment to doing a project well. I consistently receive recognition from my superiors for the quality of my work.
Lastly, I take initiative, when appropriate. When working on the departmental manual, for example, I noticed that it was missing information on working with certain vendors. I pointed this out to my manager. He said it was a major oversight, and was very glad I had said something."
-- What are your greatest areas of weaknesses? The strategy in answering this question is to think of job-related weaknesses that are genuine, but that will not eliminate you as a candidate. Weaknesses can be in terms of skills, knowledge areas or personal qualities. Always talk about how you are working on this weakness. Be prepared with at least two or three examples. If you only prepare one example, you might be caught off-guard in an interview if you are asked to give "a couple of examples of weaknesses."
"I really don't think I have any!" (No one is perfect- this answer shows either a lack of self-knowledge or a lack of humility!)
"I'm short-tempered with my kids and my house is usually a mess!" (Talk only about work-related weaknesses; do not talk about personal shortcomings!)
"I resent having to be at work right at 9:00 a.m. I'm usually at least 10-15 minutes late." (If this has been true in past positions, the job candidate definitely needs to correct this attitude and behavior! And, even if true, this would not be something to share in an interview unless the person did not want the job!)
(Weakness in skill area): "I have not worked on this type of phone system before, but I have used several other systems and am confident that I could quickly get up to speed."
(Weakness in knowledge area): "I am not yet very familiar with your product line, but I have been studying your catalog so that I would be able to talk intelligently with your customers."
(Weakness in personal skill area): "Paper work and record keeping are weaker areas for me, but I understand that I must keep accurate records of my billable hours. I would make it a priority to set aside time during each day to keep my records current."
The Winning Edge
In a job search, there are often only slight differences between the candidate who is hired for the position, and those who are not. Sometimes they are factors that are outside of your control. There are, however, many factors you can control, including the amount of research and preparation you do for each interview.
Many people have found that professional job search and career coaching provides the winning edge in obtaining their next job. If you would like to discuss how professional career coaching can help you conduct a more successful job search, sign up for a free consultation session today!