Scared to death of interviews? Who isn’t? Those who’ve adequately prepared and practiced a few times.
Knowing how to answer the toughest interview questions before your interview is the secret to gaining job interview confidence. And guess what. The answers to these tough interview questions are not that hard to develop.
Most hiring managers are lousy interviewers
That’s the reality. It’s not always true, but many times it is. Most who conduct job interviews have had zero formal interview training. Often, the interviewer was told by someone else that a particular interview question was a good one to ask. But, they have no idea what they expect to hear or what they’ll do with your response. I’ve even seen hiring managers find their interview questions by Googling “interview questions.”
But here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter how good an interviewer is or how much training they’ve had. How you should respond to the interview questions is the same.
And despite the interview questions they ask, it helps to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Ask yourself, “Why would they be asking me this question and what are they hoping to hear me say.”
Interview Question 1: “Why are you leaving your current job?”
They may have suspicions that you were fired, didn’t get along well with others, or left for more money. Sometimes, they don’t have any of these concerns, but rather just want to see how you’ll respond.
It’s not what you say, but how you say it.
Remember that why you are leaving your current job isn’t nearly important as how you say why you are leaving your current job.
Fist, never say anything negative about anyone anywhere anytime. Be as positive as possible. Employers want to hire happy people. No one wants to work with someone who has a chip on their shoulder or a bad attitude.
I recommend you keep your response to this interview question and most other interview questions as short as possible. Very briefly describe what the opportunities the last position offered, what it lacked, and what the future position offers. If you take more than 30 seconds to answer a question, you need to ask yourself how much additional value you are providing. You want to cover a lot of ground and impress them with all that you’ve done and what you can do. Don’t spend the entire interview going down a rat hole.
And, never dis your last position or anyone who worked there. It’s bad form and won’t do anything to help you get hired. Instead, be extremely positive about your past experiences and your hopes for the future. Remember, they want to work with a person who has a positive outlook and is not a whiner.
An example response
“My current job is great in many ways. I get to do X and have learned a lot. But, I’m not able to do Y, and I feel I need to do more of that to grow as a person. I am looking forward to doing more Y here, and that is why I’m excited about working here.” You get the idea. Any answer that contains a desire to grow in your career is a good one.
What if you were fired?
First, never use the word “fired” even if they do. Always refer to it as “being let go.” The word “fired” has very negative connotations as I’m sure you understand. Being “let go” is a situation that can happen to someone for many reasons. If you were let go as a result of downsizing, something that is not your fault, make sure you explain that. It’s not the same as being fired.
When you’ve been “let go.” the key is to get past the negative aspects of the issue and get to something positive quickly.
An example response
“In the beginning, I was very excited about working at XYZ. But over time that position became a bad fit because certain opportunities that would contribute to my growth, such as X and Y were possible. All in all, I learned a ton, such as (provide examples), and grew both professionally and personally. But, your position offers me the opportunity to do X…, which is what I was unable to do there. That is why I’m so excited to work here.”
Can you see that it is as much or more how you say what you say and not what you say that matters the most? Don’t avoid the question, but don’t dwell on the negative aspects. Briefly mention them, how much you learned from them, and how you look forward to moving on.
Interview Question 2: “Tell me about yourself.”
I love this interview question and can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked it of job applicants. Again, I was far more interested in how they responded to the question not what specifically they had to say. I was interested in learning about the applicant’s character, verbal skills, and outlook on life. I needed to find out in a very short time, whether they could do the job, fit well with the team and not become a disruption to the organization.
The hiring manager doesn’t care about your personal life
They don’t. Don’t bore them with your likes, dislikes, hobbies, friends, cats, and turn-offs. Any discussion which is not laser-focused on closing the gap between you and getting the job is wasted time. And, typically you don’t have a lot of time to close that gap. Get to what they want to know and get out.
An example response
“Certainly, and thanks for asking. As you can see from my resume, I’ve had the chance to do some pretty amazing things in my career, such as X, Y, and Z (several major achievements from your resume). As I understand it, you’re looking for someone like me who can do A, B and C. I’m confident I’d be a good fit here and with your team. That’s why I am so excited about working here.”
Do you know yourself?
Understanding yourself at a much deeper level can play to your advantage in an interview. The following free resource provides a summary of 11 personality and career assessment tools. All can be taken online in a matter of minutes, and most are free.
Interview Question 3: “What is your biggest weakness?”
This is the classic interview question we all fear. A large percentage of the hiring managers who ask this question in an interview are just asking it because they were told it was a good question to ask. What answer do they expect to hear? It is likely they don’t know. If they were asked this question, chances are they’d struggle as well.
Use a two-part response strategy
Part 1: Pick a weakness (have a backup as they may ask for one more) which is minor.
Part 2: Make sure it can be developed. It’s even better if you have already started that development.
As you can imagine, they don’t want to hear that your weaknesses are that you can’t seem to show up for work on time, often pick fights with your co-workers, and fall asleep on the job. Stay away from those. Pick something not nearly as severe.
Secondly, they don’t want to hear that whatever minor weakness you do have are going to be weaknesses for life because you can’t get past them.
An example response
“In the past, and to a small degree even now (only if true), I had a difficult time providing constructive feedback. But, I have been working on it ever since I became aware of it three years ago by an amazing boss. I am proud that I’ve developed better techniques for delivering tough messages and it has become much easier to do. It will always be tough I am sure, but I’m getting much better at it.”
Do you sense the humility wrapped in this response? Humility is a very good quality to have, and one most hiring managers will want to see. We all appreciate those who are not afraid to be a little vulnerable and real. Believe it or not, this question and how you respond to it gives you a real chance to set yourself apart from others.
By the way, if this is your example, just make sure you can explain those techniques you have developed. The hiring manager will probably want to know for themselves how you have done it.
Remember these six rules
- Always be positive.
- Never say anything negative about anyone in an interview.
- Keep your responses to interview questions short and avoid “rat holes.”
- Don’t discuss your personal life unless the interview specifically asks and then keep it short.
- Remember, it’s how you say what you say that usually matters the most.
- Be prepared, have these responses memorized and imagine what follow-on interview questions they may have.
Take care till next week,
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