How to Tackle 3 Common Interview Questions

Businesswomen shaking hands
By Arnie Fertig

Do you remember being in college and trying to prepare for the final exam questions beforehand? To do so effectively, you needed to decide which things, of all that your professor talked about over the semester, seemed to be the most important and fundamental to the course.

When you are anticipating an interview, reframe the process you used in college to anticipate the things that are likely to be core to the concerns of the hiring authority. You can bet that the questions he or she thinks to ask are in one way or another related to those core concerns.

With this strategy, you can prepare your responses to some of the most common interview questions in order to make your very best impression. Here are three examples:1. What are your salary expectations? Rare is the candidate who is comfortable naming a number right at the beginning, and even rarer is the candidate who can pick out the absolute highest number that he or she can actually attain. However, the question isn't necessarily about naming a specific number, and when you give a range, you can immediately assume that you'll not likely see an offer above the lowest number in that range.

Employer concern: Do your expectations align with his or her budget and salary scale for comparable current employees?

What to do: Don't lay down a marker number or even a salary range. Instead, you might say: "My current (or recent) salary was as high as X. The responsibilities of this position are different, and, of course, I'd like to see a bump, but this should give you a general sense of where I'm at."

Then, quickly pivot away from salary and back to your value: "What I'm really interested in for the moment is making sure I have a solid understanding of the position and that you have a solid understanding of my abilities. If these line up well, I'm sure we'll both make an effort to be fair to each other when it comes to determining my compensation."

2. What are your strengths? Some people are taken aback by this question or feel that any pretense of modesty must be stripped away. It's easy to fall back on things you think you are expected to say, like "I'm a strong communicator." However, none of these statements are really helpful answers for yourself or your interviewer.

Employer concern: The employer likely wants to make sure your strengths align with tasks that the successful candidate will need to fulfill as core job functions.

What to do: Carefully review the responsibilities section of the job description. Look at what the work will be, and come up with specific examples of things you excel at that mirror those responsibilities. For example, if the job lists "good communications skills," you might say something like: "I excel at gathering the relevant information from my co-workers, assessing and organizing it and then writing concise reports to convey relevant information for our department and division leadership team."

3. How did you hear about this job? This is a straightforward, commonly asked interview question. However, depending on how you answer, it you can provide a compelling answer to a different concern of employers, namely: What's your motivation in seeking this job as opposed to any other job at some other company.

Employer concern: The cost of workforce recruitment is immense. Employers constantly have to evaluate the relative effectiveness of higher- versus lower-cost methods of obtaining pools of quality talent. For example, ads at different sites have different rates. How can they maximize the effectiveness of their advertising budget? How well are employee referral programs working at attracting quality talent and so on?

What to do: There is no reason not to give an honest, specific and full answer, like: "I saw your posting on such-and-such website." Or: "My friend Jane Doe works here in the X department, and she thought this position would be a good fit for your company and me."

However, if you simply stop there, you loose an opportunity to explain why this particular opportunity resonates with you. Continue your answer with one of these statements: "Before I applied, I checked out your company and was particularly impressed by ..." Or: "I was excited by this opportunity, because it will enable me to bring to bear my experience doing ..." Or: "This job mirrors what I've already been doing well at [name of employer], while offering the the prospect of continuing to enhance my A, B or C skills."

Each of these answers in some way demonstrates your ability to show your value and explain why you would be a good fit for the position.

Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic "I'll apply to anything" searches into focused hunts for "great fit" opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
Read Full Story