Answering Typical Interview Questions

By Fred Coon

Much as it might seem that way, those posers that the interviewer provides are not really Trick Questions. They can however be tricky if you don’t know how to answer them. Take that first one that they always seem to start with:

Tell me about yourself.

SC&C Typical Interview QuestionsTrust me—this is not an open invitation to tell your life story. Does the interviewer want to know that you just moved here from Ohio where you’ve lived since you were nine years old, but prior to that you were from Minnesota?

Your task here is to show the interviewer why you are the perfect hire for this particular job. Relate everything to the job at hand. Let’s look at some clever answers to these sorts of questions:

“I’d be delighted! I just picked up my MBA because I was looking to expand my horizons. I’m good at A, B, C, D, and E which all ties in intimately to the work you do here at XYZZY Corp. Add just little over five years’ experience doing very similar work for ABBAC where I developed a process for {accomplishment}.

Unfortunately their development work ended, and there wasn’t any challenge left. I believe I have a lot to offer in terms of creativity and believe I can expand XYZZY’s bottom line by a good 10 to 15% this year.”

Why did you apply for this position?

“XYZZY is the young ambitious company in our field. ABBAC seemed content with where they were, and reluctant to move forward into new exploitable areas that promise significant revenue streams.

With a good team and proper support I foresee immense profits within the next 12 months. I love the corporate culture of XYZZY; it is the visionary in this field. XYZZY will get there, no doubt, but working together, I think we can get there faster.”

Why are you looking to leave your current position?

“To me it looks like they’re not willing to take risks right now. ABBAC just had a major period of growth and the feeling seems to be that they are going to spend some time consolidating rather than advancing. That struck me as an unambitious choice when there are so many possibilities available right now in our field. XYZZY is far more forward looking.”

Where Do you see yourself in five years?

SC&C Where do you see yourself in five years“Right here, preferably with a higher salary and a better parking spot! Of course, ideally, by that time I’ll have my own carefully crafted team, and may even be heading up my own division. XYZZY is known for hiring the best and I’m perfectly capable of working cooperatively or competitively depending on need and circumstance.

I love to teach, and mentor, and expect I’ll have a significant impact for XYZZY by taking the opportunity to pass on my knowledge to newer members of the team. Team building is one of my greatest strengths.”

What can you tell me about a time that you failed?

This one takes a little more thought. Don’t trivialize it; this needs to be a real circumstance with a real failure. The interviewer is wise enough to recognize that people do make mistakes. What they’re looking for is not how you failed but rather how you dealt with the consequences.

“Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?” Thomas John Watson Sr., first CEO at IBM

Faced with a failure did you seek help and feedback? Did you consult and learn from your mistakes? Did you bounce back, recover, and get back to work productively? Tell the interviewer what lessons you learned as a result of the experience.

“I had been taking care of the ordering on one of our projects, and when I needed to go out of town to visit one of our plants I sent a memo to my second-in-command and said “You know what I usually order here. Make sure the order is placed by Thursday, and give me a call if there are any problems.”

My mistake was in not getting a confirmation of the memo delivery. It wasn’t received, and consequently the order wasn’t placed. This caused significant repercussions down the road.

I became pointedly aware that it was essential to maintain clear communications among the team members. All instructions must be acknowledged. I will never let something like that happen again.”

What is your greatest weakness?

Don’t say “I’m a perfectionist” or “I am a workaholic.” Pardon the colloquialism but that is so lame! Do not say that, even if it is true. It has become so cliché it’s like saying to the interviewer, “Please don’t give me this job.”

Instead, pick an irrelevant weakness. Tell them the impact it has had on your life. In the next breath explain to them how you’ve learned to cope with it.

“I have become obsessed with being connected all the time. Whether it’s my computer, my laptop, tablet, my smartphone, or even my watch, I start to feel uncomfortable if I haven’t updated for a while. It was starting to take a toll on my real life.

I finally realized the damage I was doing to my social life and how much actual time I was wasting. I recently came to the conclusion that a lot of this connectivity we strive for is actually unnecessary. Nowadays I restrict myself to being up-to-date with my business connections, and don’t even look at the social networking sites unless I have a specific purpose.”

What salary do you want?

SC&C What salary do you wantIf you are halfway intelligent you have done your research and know what the market will bear. This question usually arises when the interviewer starts to see you as a serious contender for the position and wants to know if you are affordable.

It’s probably not a good idea to answer this question directly. You don’t need to equivocate precisely; it’s probably best to say something similar to “I would need to know more about the job before I could name a figure; it might be easier if you were to tell me what you typically pay for someone with my experience and education in this position.”

Some interviewers might actually press you for a figure, and you can give them a range if you like. Conversely, you still have the opportunity to put the ball back in their court with a statement to the effect that “I don’t have a deep enough understanding of your salary structures, your review processes and frequencies, or your employee benefit plans. Do you think you could provide me with additional details before we discuss the subject?”

Some might ask how much money you made in your last job. Your response might be “These jobs aren’t directly comparable since my bonus structure was unique, I held a partial ownership in the company, and my stock options were significant. I would be quite interested in hearing more about the package you are offering so we can both perform a more comprehensive comparison.”

There are innumerable lists on the web to give you a good idea of the sorts of questions that interviewers ask. Understand the nature of the questions and have a reasonably good idea of what you are going to say when you hear them.

There’s no harm in practicing with a friend, so that you sound smooth and confident. Don’t over-practice until you sound like an automaton reciting a script, though.

Take your LinkedIn profile to the next level and improve your job search on LinkedIn with Fred’s powerful new book, Leveraging LinkedIn for Job Search Success 2015. Order it on Amazon today!