10 Most common interview questions and how to answer them
Job interview? Or interrogation? Judging by the response, it may as well be the same thing.
A Monster poll conducted recently across India, the Gulf and South East Asia reveals that fear of being interviewed tops the list of reasons why employees find it hard to change jobs. Candidates dread this stage in the recruitment process primarily because there is no way to predict what they will be asked.
But what if there was a way to foresee the queries? Hiring experts claim there are certain standard questions put to candidates during the interview process. All you have to do is prepare for them to (hopefully!) land the job.
Q1: What are your strengths?
With this query, interviewers attempt to assess whether you have the qualities needed for the job. They also want to see how well you understand yourself.
Your strategy: This is your chance to sell yourself. Pick three or four of your strengths that are relevant to the job and illustrate them with examples, if necessary.
Sample answer: If you are interviewing for a marketing job, say something like, "One of my strengths is persuasion. I am a keen observer of people and quick to discern personalities. It helps me understand people and those insights help me convert them to my point of view."
Q2: What are your weaknesses?
Interviewers want to assess your character with this question. Also, check whether you have any flaws that will hinder the discharge of your duties in case you are hired. It's also a good way for them to see how you deal with your weaknesses.
Your strategy: Don't pick any weakness that is a fundamental flaw in your personality as an answer. Instead, choose those that are significant but not enough to lead the interviewers to form a negative opinion of you. State your weaknesses and proceed to explain how you've been working to address them. Or you could choose a weakness that is not directly relevant to the job profile you are interviewing for.
Sample answer: If you are interviewing for the post of an accountant, it is okay to say that your language skills are not very good. Though they do not hamper the discharge of your duties in any significant manner, add that you are working to address this weakness because you realize that good language skills are necessary at work.
Q3: Why are you interested in working for [insert company name here]?
The objective of this question is to assess how serious the candidate is about seeking employment with the company. The interviewer also wants to know how familiar you are with the company’s mission, culture and values and whether you believe you will be a good fit in the organization.
Your strategy: What you say will tell the interviewer how the job fits in with your long-term career plans.
Sample answer: You could answer, "I have wanted to work in this organization for a long time now, so when I heard about a vacancy in your company that fit my profile, I immediately applied for it. I admire the way you successfully combine commerce with socially responsible business and would love to be a part of an organization that looks at business in a holistic manner."
Q4: Where do you see yourself in five years?
The interviewer wants to know about your career goals and where this position figures in it. Hiring a new employee is costly, so he/she wants to be sure you are coming on board for the long haul. Your answer will also tell the interviewer how realistic you are with regard to career prospects.
Your strategy: It is best to answer this question generically without getting into too much detail. Reiterate what the job will do for your career and why you are interested in working with this organization in particular. And of course, don’t be naive enough to say, "In your position!"
Sample answer: "I see myself having grown both with regard to expertise in my field as well as within the company set-up. I picture myself in a leadership role contributing more to the growth of the organization. At the same time, I also see a tremendous growth in my own skills and capabilities," is a good way to go.
Q5. Why do you want to leave your current company?
The interviewer is certain to ask this question, so prepare for it. The answer will tell him several things about your attitude, career goals, professional values and sense of maturity and judgment.
Your strategy: The best way to tackle this question is to say that you are looking for better opportunities. If you've been laid off, tell the truth, and explain how you've been unlucky. It is better to be honest and explain your position than be caught lying about your circumstances.
Sample answer: Try, "I have put in a number of years in my current organization, performed well and risen through the ranks, but I would now like something more challenging. I believe this job will provide me with exactly such an opportunity."
Q6: Why was there a gap in your employment between [insert date] and [insert date]?
Your strategy: While short gaps in employment may go unnoticed, a gap of two months or more requires an explanation. It's wise to stick with the truth. If you were fired, you ought to have a good explanation that doesn't veer very far from the truth, but does not paint you in bad light either. If you had to leave, you will have to explain why things got so bad that you had to resign without finding another job.
In any case, highlight what you've done in the interim like freelancing, consulting or volunteering. This will tell the interviewer that you've been productive during this period and broadened your skill-base.
Sample answer: In case you left because of a conflict with your boss, say differences did not allow you to work well together. Don’t forget to add what you realized in hindsight to show how the incident has helped you grow. Never badmouth your boss; act mature and accept the fact that both of you were responsible for the situation spinning out of control.
Q7: What can you offer us that someone else cannot?
This is an extension of the earlier question on your strengths. If the interviewer has already asked you about your strengths, then asking this question means he/she would like an answer that is more specific to your job. A variant of this question could be, "Why should we hire you?" The answer will help the interviewer compare what you bring to the table vis-a-vis the others.
Your strategy: Prepare for this by referring closely to the job description. List out your other strengths and connect them to the requirements mentioned in the job advert.
Sample answer: You could say, "I have already mentioned my strengths, but if you were to ask me about something unique which I bring, I would say it's my attention to detail. Though it can be annoying for others, this trait of mine has saved several situations from turning into disasters in the past."
Q8: What are three things your former manager would like you to improve on?
This is a variant of the weakness question. If the interviewer has asked you this question in addition to the one on weakness, it means he/she wants to know what others think of you.
Your strategy: Try and recollect your performance reviews, mention what they said, and talk about the steps you’ve taken to address those weaknesses. Keep it real, but refrain from mentioning any serious flaw that could jeopardize your chances of making it through the interview round.
Sample answer: "Amongst the feedback I received, I was told that I wasn’t assertive enough. Though I was performing well at my job and meeting targets, my boss once told me that I would do even better if I was more assertive at the workplace," is a good way to position a weakness in a constructive manner.
Q9: Tell us about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
The answer to this question will tell the interviewer what drives you, your professional values, suitability for the job and how you can make yourself useful to the organization.
Your strategy: It is best to stick to a professional example. Provide numbers where possible -- this is a language that interviewers love and understand.
Sample answer: Go with, "I am extremely proud of the time we worked on a project with XXX company. The selection was a gruelling process, but we managed to land the deal. The company needed services that were of the highest standards and I am proud to say that we surpassed their expectations. In fact, we succeeded in converting them into our regular clients. As project leader, I was extremely proud of this achievement."
Q10: Tell us about a time you made a mistake.
This is amongst the toughest questions because you are being asked to cite a specific instance of failure. It is a behavior-based question that will give the interviewer insight into your personality and the kind of mistakes you are prone to making. It will reveal how you handle failure and whether you are capable of learning from it.
Your strategy: Again, be candid but refrain from citing an ugly truth. Be sure to talk about what you learned from the experience.
Sample answer: "While working for one of my previous employers, there was something I required from another department. Instead of speaking to the department head, I told a member of the team who was my friend. I expected him to go and tell his boss about it, but he didn’t. As a result, the goods weren't delivered and we missed our target date. There was a great deal of confusion over the episode but thankfully it was all sorted out. From that day on, in all professional matters, I make it a point to communicate directly with the department head," is a good response.
It's difficult to determine what questions you'll be asked in an interview. But you can check with others who may have interviewed/already work with the organization to gauge what your interviewer could want to know. Or cross-reference the job ad with your resume and work out a possible list of questions. The one thing you can be certain of is that if you go in prepared, you are sure to impress an interviewer.