Interviewing for a new job, no matter what your circumstances are, can seem daunting and intimidating at best. The key to survival and success is preparation. Remember that each company is different, and they may add to the top five interview list or delete from it, depending on what their needs are and how long the interview is scheduled to run.
In addition to rehearsing your answers to the questions, you’ll also want to make sure that you prepare sets of examples to go with each question. An employer will often ask one of the top five interview questions, and after you answer ask you for examples of how you demonstrate that particular quality or ask something specific about what you have referenced.
Below is the list of the top five frequently asked interview questions that is current in the workforce today. The questions are listed in order of importance with an example represented for each one. Please use the examples as a jumping off point, and don’t feel that you have to mimic these examples. The key to having a great interview is allowing your voice to come through, and to represent yourself as yourself, confidently and honestly!
#1 of the top five frequently asked interview questions
Tell me about yourself.
This is not a question at all, but a general statement that often kick-starts the interview. How you answer this question may determine how the rest of the interview will flow. They are not looking for your whole life story, a list of your hobbies, or your troubles at home. They are asking for a general sketch of who you are in the working world. You can approach it best by giving them some general employment history information combined with what you are looking for right now. You’ll want to take at least 2-3 minutes answering this question, and may want to elaborate with topics that relate directly to the position you are applying for. A brief example could be something like this:
“I have a background in education, with 10 years’ experience working various positions in elementary schools. I have worked with special needs kids as well as inner-city youth, and participated on committees to revamp Seattle Public School’s curriculum in Math and Science. My last position was coordinating and executing an afterschool program for inner city kids. I really enjoyed that kind of work because it allowed me be creative and develop more in-depth relationships with the children that attended the program. I would really like the opportunity to continue creating programs, while also developing my teaching skills more fully.”
#2 of the top five frequently asked interview questions
What are your strengths? Sometimes asked as, What are your three biggest strengths?
This is a very straight-forward question. They really are asking you, “Hey, tell me what you are good at, and how does it relate to our open position.” One thing you can do that will make you stand out from other applicants is to draw the line between each of your strengths to how it would relate to this job. One good way to do that is to pull phrases directly from the job duties description and use it when you describe yourself. If they mention repeatedly that multi-tasking is going to be a large part of the job, make sure that multi-tasking comes up in one of your strengths. Here is a brief example:
“I am hardworking and resourceful. I am also very comfortable with technology and I really enjoy/find inspiration and motivation from helping people do their jobs better. In my previous position, I taught computer classes and had to show students how to navigate things they had never seen before. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to see the light bulbs go on and stay on.”
#3 of the top five frquently asked interview questions
What are your weaknesses? Sometimes asked as, What are your three biggest weaknesses?
This is often the dreaded question on the top five interview list. The reason for this is that everyone finds it difficult to talk frankly about what challenges them. The biggest mistake people make in answering this question is that they actually tell the employer about a drastic or horrible downfall they have.
The trick to answering this question is not giving them a true weakness, but in actuality, taking a strength and turning it slightly to make it into a weakness. Your weaknesses must be represented in a positive light. You cannot be successful in an interview by saying something like, “Well I am consistently late and cannot get up on time in the morning because I drink too much at night.” This is definitely not the way to go. Take something positive and make it into a slight negative, and then go one step further and state how you have tackled the issue or how you are currently working on it. For example:
“I am a little overly self-critical so I end up being hard on myself. It’s something I am working on to actively let go of things that are out of my control. With that, I also take work quite seriously, so in the past I have gotten in over my head by taking too much on. I have tackled this by re-prioritizing and also by doing yoga. I let it go at the end of the day. My biggest weakness is the opposite. I hate being bored at work. I don’t cope well in a work environment with too much down time. The only way I have found to cope with this in the past, is by using initiative to find worthwhile projects to put my time into when I experience a down shift.”
#4 of the top five frequently asked interview questions
What are your goals? or Where do you see yourself in five years?
These are basically the same question, asking for the same information. A prospective employer wants to see that you have a plan and a vision for yourself. After all, if you don’t have a plan for yourself, how will you be able to plan for and with them? So, be honest. Highlight education or professional development goals as well as personal goals that are applicable to the position. You’ll want to avoid getting too personal or discussing outlandish goals. Be pragmatic, and speak candidly. Here is a brief example:
“I am finishing up my Master’s this year, and then my hope is to begin working in a position such as this one or perhaps something in Student Affairs. Beyond that, I am also working on getting published in an education journal, and I am planning to begin training to run my first marathon next year. I have a lot of goals both professionally and personally, and I think my goals align perfectly with your company and this position. I hope to find the company that I can grow with and stick with for a long time.”
#5 of the top five frequently asked interview questions
Why should we hire you?
This is another question that many people have a hard time answering, but don’t let that stress you out. Speak to what you really like about the job description and also try to reference items that have been brought up in the interview. Think about what you would contribute to the company and the position, and speak assertively about why you are the best fit. Here is a brief example:
“I believe there are a number of reasons why I am the best fit for this job. You should hire me because I take a lot of pride in my work, I constantly strive to learn and improve my skills. I also work really well as a member of a team, but can also take the reigns independently when needed. I am reliable, flexible and I learn fast. Above that, I will give you 110% each and every day.”
Once you have gone through each of these 5 frequently asked questions, go back and practice your answers so that your delivery is succinct and authentic sounding. The last thing you want to do appear overprepared or sound as if all of your answers are”canned” versions. Remember to present yourself in the best and most authentic way possible.