How awesome would it be if you knew what was going to be asked, before your job interview? It would save so much preparation time and, for those who are more nervous when it comes to interviews, a lot of worrying too! Sadly, we can’t read minds, and so we will never truly be able to prepare for every possible interview question. But what we can do, is prepare for the most common questions, that are used by many interviewers.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I always hate this question as it is so broad. I honestly believe that most people who ask this question, have not prepared for the interview. The interviewer should have read through your profile and prepared several areas to discuss in advance. But the overall intention of this question is usually to ascertain whether or not your experience is related to the role. If you are asked this, the first thing you should do is ask them to clarify, what specifically they would like to know. More experienced interviewers will be able to give you some direction and ask for you to focus on a specific area, at which point the question is a lot easier to answer.
However, the less experienced interviewers will respond rather vaguely and just ask you to introduce yourself. In this instance, you need to connect the dots for the interviewer. You should explain why you studied, what you studied. Then follow that up with how you moved in to your first job once you finished studying and link the reasons for leaving one firm, with your motivations to take on a new role at the next firm. You should make sure that there is a clear story and logic that links all decisions. If your decisions come across as random and not well thought out, you are going to been seen as impulsive and not career orientated.
What is your biggest weakness?
OK, every single person in the world knows the trick, that you take something that is actually a strength and try to make it sound like a weakness. Something like “oh, I work too hard and end up working late every night”. This is an absolute nonsense answer and everyone in the world knows it. Its not the 1980s anymore when this type of answer was actually good!
In this day and age, you need to deploy self-awareness and actually talk about a legitimate weakness. This shows that you have enough perspective to understand that we are all works in progress, and at the same time, show examples of how you are now getting better at this. For example, I have built my career on delivering change and challenging the status quo. However, in my early career, I would just go up to someone and tell them they are stupid for still doing things a certain way and tell them they should change it immediately as its out of date. I have put in a lot of work, to be more tactful so that I can get more people to buy in to the changes I bring, which has helped me deliver even better results. But I can still on occasion, revert back to being too direct, especially when frustrated. I am significantly better at it than I was, but its something I can still improve.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Another question I hate because if we were being honest, the answer would be “not working here”. As the average tenure in a company is roughly 4 years, a number that holds true across various industry and countries. But you are not going to win any prizes for saying that in an interview. You should also avoid saying either of the two generic answers that every interviewer hears. The most ambitious will say “I want to be in your chair”. The more conservative will say something like “Oh, I just want to do my best and see where that takes me”. Both answers provide absolutely nothing meaningful to the interviewer.
Instead you should talk about your passions and desires and how they correlate to the role and bring value. For example, let’s say you are working in customer service. Your answer should be something like “well, its hard to predict, as 5 years is a long time, but my passion is helping customers and solving problems, so I would like to think that’s what I am going to be doing”.
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