During job interviews, certain questions can pose problems for people, even when expected. Here are some examples, along with recommended approaches to responding.
Tell me about yourself.
This is a “starter” question—often asked at the beginning of the interview. Many people are overwhelmed by this question and answer in a very basic, literal or chronological way. Or they might ask what the interviewer wants to know. For general questions like this, consider what’s relevant and reply with that. Don’t mention where you grew up or where you went to college (unless relevant). Instead, give a summary statement of the skills, experiences and accomplishments you have to offer that directly relate to the job, employer or interviewer. Show that you understand what’s important by responding accordingly. Think of this as a quick summary of your cover letter.
What is your greatest weakness?
For many people, this is the most dreaded question. As with all questions, you want to reply honestly, but you also want to present yourself as strongly as possible. Pick a weakness that is really a strength, is irrelevant to the position or shows you have learned something in the past and demonstrates your growth; then talk about how you are addressing it. Do not present a weakness that would have any impact on your qualification for the role.
Why does an interviewer ask this question? Sometimes because it’s expected, or she or he was asked it during an interview. More often, the interviewer wants to see if you are self-aware and have prepared thoroughly for the interview, or if you’re arrogant (“I don’t have any weaknesses”). Of course, some interviewees might reply with information that provides real insight into their candidacy.
Where do you see yourself in five years? … in 10 years?
This can be a tough question if you haven’t done your research. Many people automatically think they have to answer with a specific position. You can, but you can also reply in other ways. You can talk about advancing in the organization or overall field or taking on leadership roles at the organizational or industry level. Of course, your answer needs to be logical for you and for the job, organization or field in question.
Do you have any questions for me?
If you haven’t had the chance to ask questions, now is the time. If you haven’t addressed one of the key points you wanted to, now is the time for that too. If you have asked all your questions—and you must have real questions—and don’t have anything else to add, don’t just answer “no.” Instead, you could reply that the interviewer has answered all your questions and you appreciate the opportunity to interview. If you’re still interested in the job, mention you are even more interested in the position now and you hope to be joining the team, getting the job, advancing to the next interview round or moving to whatever the next step may be (which should be one of your questions, if you don’t know already).
Why should I hire you?
This is the “million dollar” question and something to which you must have a ready answer. It’s the wrap-up version of the “Tell me about yourself” query. This is the time when you present a summary statement of what you have to offer the job and organization. The major difference in this answer is that you want to incorporate anything you’ve learned during the interview into your reply.
For example, you started the interview assuming your project management and research skills were the most important. However, during the interview, you realized that communications skills are also essential. In addition to highlighting your communication skills throughout the rest of the interview, make sure you add them to the wrap-up.
It’s also helpful to practice answering out loud, especially for the tough questions. By keeping your responses relevant, concrete, concise and enthusiastic, you can finesse even the most challenging questions and give your best interview ever!
Jennifer L Blanck, DTM is a member of the Conestoga Toastmasters club in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a regular contributor to Toastmaster magazine.