There’s no way you can know every question you’ll be asked in a job interview. They could come out of the blue (“If you were an animal, what would you be?”) or total brain teasers (“Can you guess the number of panes of glass in the city of Seattle?”).
But no matter how much the hiring process has evolved, it’s the simplest interview questions that will always stay the same. And yet I see very few people preparing for it these days.
As CEO of the world’s largest recruitment consultancy, I’ve been hiring for more than 22 years – and my advice is never to overlook these seven classic interview questions:
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
Too many people respond by regurgitating their resume. Your conversation partner does not want to hear that.
The best — and most memorable — answer I’ve ever received to that question was, “I’ve climbed the tallest mountains on every continent, including Everest.”
This contestant showed who she really is beyond a piece of paper: an adventurous, curious, goal-oriented and disciplined person.
Speak for about 30 seconds, then allow the interviewer to respond. The goal is to make it talkative.
When I asked the mountaineer what was the first thought that went through her mind when she reached the summit, she didn’t take it for granted that she had done something most of us can’t even think of.
Instead, she laughed and said, “How the hell am I supposed to calm down?” This showed her ability to inspire others with humor and humility.
2. “Can you describe a situation in which you took the initiative to achieve a goal?”
Your interviewer listens to examples of how you have been proactive and result-oriented. Describe your motivation and how you used your creativity to solve a problem or spot an opportunity.
3. “What added value do you bring with you?”
This can be difficult because it’s so vague. But the key is to pick two or three core qualifications for the job and explain how you meet them.
For junior positions, you should spend more time talking about the technical skills. But as you progress in your career, focus on highlighting how you lead, collaborate, motivate, and engage with others.
4. “What is your greatest professional achievement?”
This is one of the most important questions you need to prepare for. If you give a good answer, you can get the job.
Just don’t drag yourself out too long; Tell a short story with specific details. Become comfortable showing off and using the word “I”. Choose a benefit that is most relevant to the position you are applying for.
Finally, quantify performance: Have you reduced spending? Increase productivity or sales? Something that has given the company high recognition in its industry also counts.
5. “What are your weaknesses?”
By now, the interviewer already has an idea of what your strengths are, so they’re much more curious about what you can improve on. And telling them that you “work too hard” or “care too much” won’t do it.
Companies want a real answer from you, and they want to know that you are confident. Prepare a few examples of areas you’re working on—perhaps something you highlighted in your last performance review. Or reach out to a former boss and ask them for their honest opinion.
Here’s an example of an excellent answer:
“While my campaign ideas helped grow and diversify our client base, I had to lean on my colleagues when it came to managing social media campaigns and designing graphics.
Those are two areas where I really want to improve. I have started to work very closely with my colleagues in these areas to absorb their knowledge and gain experience. I’ve also signed up for some graphic design courses, which I’m really looking forward to.”
6. “What bigger problem, challenge, or failure did you have to overcome? How did you do it?”
In addition to highlighting your skills and competencies, you can demonstrate your goal orientation, work ethic, personal commitment and integrity.
Successfully overcoming numerous or significant difficulties requires these qualities. Demonstrate your resilience by taking seriously the challenges you have overcome.
7. “Why do you want to work here?”
What do you know about the company? This is an opportunity for you to discuss the “fit factor”: what you admire about the company, its mission and purpose, its products and services, and its culture.
If you want to take it a step further, do some research about the person you are reporting to and share what you would like to learn from them. To have something you have achieved in the course of their career that you also want to achieve?
Gary Burnison is a best-selling author and CEO of grain ferry, the world’s largest organizational consulting firm. His books include “The 5 Graces of Life and Leadership”, “Leadership U: Accelerating through the Crisis Curve”, “Advance: The Ultimate Guide to Your Career”, and “Lose the resume, land the job.” Keep following Gary LinkedIn.
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