Interview Questions: A Greatest Hits List

interview questionsThere are countless questions you could be asked in a job interview, ranging from the general (tell me about yourself) to the panic raisers (what kitchen appliance are you?). The thing they have in common is that for the most part they focus on a subject on which you're an expert: you. So if you do your homework about the company and the opportunity, you should be able to provide impressive answers.

While preparing for an interview, it pays to think about some of the more popular questions. I've asked my network of career coaches to share some of their favorites, along with advice for how to tackle them. Preparing for these classic questions will also help you to address others that might come up.

The Difficult-Situation Question

Career strategist Kristen Jacoway told me her favorite interview question is that oldie but goody, describe a difficult situation/project and how you overcame it.

The answer lies in knowing your achievements. In this situation, when you are talking about an achievement, be sure to provide the context. Explain the challenge, the action you took, any extenuating circumstance (say, a recession), and then provide the result. Having a collection of achievement stories will help you to answer many of the questions that start with "Describe a situation when..." or "Tell me about a time when..."

The What's-Your-Weakness Question

Kristi Daeda, a personal marketing strategist for Twin Sparks Consulting, likes this challenging question: Tell me about a time where you fell short of expectations. How did it happen? What was the result?

As she tells it, smart professionals are aware of their own performance shortfalls and how to correct them. An effective answer shows both humility and self-awareness, and conveys that you are not one to let a problem get out of hand. But remember, it should have an acceptable outcome; if you lost money, a customer or your job, pick a different story.

The Icebreaker

Dorothy Dalton, a career transition consultant in Belgium, said she is very attentive to the way a candidate opens the interview and answers the so-called interview icebreaker, tell me about yourself?

Many candidates see this as a chance to relax before their big moments rather than understanding that it is their big moment. Others ramble through off the cuff and go on for too long.Rather than your life story, you should offer a concise and thoughtful statement filled with what she calls "elevator sound bites." In Dorothy's view, a good candidate answers the question in a way that provides the following:

  • Self Insight: You should demonstrate that you've done some self-evaluating and relate your career highlights and unique selling points instead of giving a simple career chronology.
  • Research and preparation: Do your company research and tie your descriptions of past work to the skills and experience the company is looking for.
  • Presentation and delivery skills:Being able to reel off your achievements in a concise, well-thought out way takes practice, so practice your elevator pitch as often as you can in as many different settings as you can.

The Question That It All Boils Down To

Coach Phyllis Mufson said the classic question, why should we hire you?is her favorite because it's the foundation question. Whether or not an interviewer actually asks it, it's the overarching question that the interview is meant to answer. When she works with clients to prepare for an interview this is a question she always goes over.

Luckily, if you've prepared for Dorothy's question you've done the groundwork you need to answer this one. Make the case that you have the combination of skills essential for doing the job well. And point out how your personal attributes and work style mesh well with the company's culture.

The Favorite-Boss Question

Meghan M. Biro, a consultant and coach, favors the question, who was your favorite boss and why? She told me there are different ways to prepare for this question. The first is to go with your heart: Think about the person you most enjoyed working for and enumerate the qualities that set her apart. Think about the lessons you learned, the challenges you were allowed to take on, the ways in which this person coached you through difficulties and disappointments. Tell the story and be sure to have a good answer for why you left the job.

A second, more calculated approach is to research the hiring manager before the interview. Scour LinkedIn and other online sources for people who you know who know him and make a few calls to get the background on his or her management style. Then consider your previous managers and select the person with the most in common with him. Again, list the qualities that made that person a favorite, describe what you learned through successes and failures and mention some ways in which the experience changed your perspectives and made you a better employee.

The Trick Question

Meg Guiseppi,an executive branding and job search strategist likes a telling question that you don't hear very often: How did you prepare for this interview?

The answer, of course, is that you spent time researching the company and trying to find out more about the job, the company and the interviewer. Relate something you learned that's relevant to the job at hand and point out how you can add value in that area, It doesn't hurt to note a bit of company news that you came across in the past few days, so that you appear very on top of your game.

As you can see, prepping or the interview sets the stage for success. Being able to share stories that relate your achievements in unique situations can set you apart from the other candidates who have similar knowledge and skills. After all, often it's the little things that make or break an interview.

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