- In my former life before becoming a motivational speaker, I worked in Human Resources in the aerospace industry in southern California. Below are common questions and suggested responses to help you prepare for a job interview.
Tell me about yourself (a classic opening question.) This is a classic opening question and may just be asked as an ‘easy’ opener to get you relaxed. They are not looking for a long life history. The way you answer will tell them something about how you take a big subject and condense it down into something concise and relevant. They may want to get a bigger picture of you as a person to determine your values, preferences and general lifestyle. They may just want to hear about your work life and how you have progressed through your career. They may be testing honesty, checking what you say against what you have put in your résumé/CV. Generally keep your answer focused on things that are relevant to the target job. Show how your past has led you to this point and made you the ideal candidate. Tell them a coherent story with a conclusion that leads to now. You can ask whether they just want work-related items or want something of your broader life. You can also ask how far back they want you to go. Whatever they say, always keep in mind what they are really seeking. You can use this to show how you are a well-rounded personality with good values. Beware of being so focused on job attributes that you show yourself up as a narrow-minded kook. If you give something of your childhood, show how it was formative and build ideal skills and values for this job. Always be consistent with your résumé/CV, of course.
- Tell me about your last job: Seeking perspective and detail. A summary of the past job is in your résumé/CV — they are not looking for a repeat of this. They may just be looking for more detail about the work that you have done. They may also look at the areas where you focus — and not focus. If they are seeking teamwork and you talk about the things you achieved alone, then you will be marked down. They will notice how positive or negative you are about the company and the people who work there. They will notice how you talk about yourself and other people. And they may draw significant conclusions about who you are as a person and how you might fit into the target job (or not). How to answer… This is an opportunity to highlight the successes you have achieved. You can talk a bit about the company and its goals, but do this only to frame what you have been doing and achieving. Take the requirements of the target job and show how, in the previous job, you demonstrated many of the skills and knowledge that are being sought now. I found that it was very important to work with people not only in the team but across other departments. Tell them about what you did that added value to the job. Explain briefly the needs of the role, in terms of what is required. Then show, with examples, how you fulfilled this. The job was basically to manage the whole acquisition process for facilities areas. The first thing I did to make this happen was agree the process we would use across each key area. Do not go on at length. Keep your answer reasonably short and balanced. You can make your answer seem more balanced and honest by talking about some down-sides. Talk about something that did not work, but make this a relatively minor thing by which they will not mark you down.
- Tell me about your career so far: Seeking patterns and themes. They may be looking for progression and structure — do you have a planned career? Are you on track? This tells them something about your need for structure and also you ability and drive to achieve the things you set out to achieve. Across a career you can see themes and patterns of change and evolution. They may look for what is driving you to leave one job or to move to others. Do you get bored? Do you start to fail and then jump ship? Are you fast-tracking your career? How to answer… Career questions ask you about general or specific elements of your career. General questions are such as ‘Tell me about your career’ — and then give you space to ramble on. Specific questions may probe into a particular area. This may be derived from the conversation and it may have come from looking at your resumé/CV. First, when asked about your career, do not launch into your life story. Think first about what will be your overall story, such as ‘progression up the company ladder’ or ‘problem-solving that evolves from technology to organization problems’, then tell a concise story about how you got to where you are now. They may be interested in only the last few years or may want longer — if in doubt, ask ‘Where would you like me to start?’ Do not be afraid to tell about difficulties, but do tell about how you learned and grew as a result. Many powerful stories are about overcoming problems; let your indomitable and positive character shine through.
- What interests you most about this job? Why have you applied for this position? The things that attracted you to the job will tell them something about how you are motivated. If they know what drives you, they can then decide whether these motivations are what they are seeking. How to answer... First of all, be interested. Nothing turns an interviewer off faster than a casual interviewee who does not seem to really want the job. Do not state interests in terms of financial reward. Saying you are there just for the money will also turn off the interviewers. Align the interests that you talk about to the key attributes that they are likely to be seeking (check the job description). Things to talk about include:
- Contributing / making a difference: I love education and want to make a difference to as many people as I can — and working in change at a national level would give me that opportunity.
- Self-development / learning: I have worked in smaller projects before — this work would give me experience in larger, more complex environments.
- Achieving goals: I always wanted to manage people and have recently gained a Certificate in Management. This position would give me the opportunity to put that learning into practice.
- What are your strengths? With this question the interviewer is seeking to discover both your actual strengths and also what you believe to be your strengths.
- When they talk about strengths, they may be seeking any combination of knowledge, skills and personal attributes. They may also be checking what they think are your strengths with what you think. If you tell of strengths without giving evidence, then if they think they are not strengths. On the other hand, this is an opportunity to change minds. How to answer… This is not a time to be shy, you should generally avoid excessive bragging. A neat way of answering this without appearing arrogant is to tell them in terms of what other people have told you.I have been told several times that I am very good at influencing senior managers to get resources we need for projects.
At my last personal review, my manager told me that my written work is amongst the best in the company.
Where you can, link the strength to actual things you have done and the value that you have created. You can thus link strengths to successes.
I have been consistently successful at delivering projects on time. I believe that a key element of this is my attention to detail.
You can also focus on the prioritizing element of the question, talking about ‘greatest’. In doing, so, of course, you can also talk about other strengths you have.
I have consistently out-sold the national sales benchmark and led my team to the President’s award five times, but I think that my greatest strength is that I care about my customers. This is something that I believe you cannot fake and which is at the root of consistent success.
Some of the strengths that you might show include determination, pride in a job well done, teamwork, leadership, expert knowledge, working to deadlines, etc.
- What are your weaknesses? Where are the areas where you will find difficulty? Where do you find you are most challenged? Tell me two thing about yourself that you’d like to change. They will also be interested in your knowledge of your weaknesses. Many people either lack self-confidence and over-estimate weaknesses or are over-confident. A self-aware person knows their weakesses. An arrogant person may well believe they have none. This can also be a test of self-knowledge and honesty. How to answer... Do not say you have none. Be prepared with a good answer for this. You do not want to admit to serious incompetence in the key skills required for the job, you do want to show that you are aware of your weaknesses and can own up to them.Sometimes I get forgetful about names. You know, when you meet someone and forget their name immediately.
A neat trick is to follow up the admission of weakness with a description of how you neutralize it, thus showing strength in managing weaknesses.
I have managed to largely overcome this now. I did a really good business memory training course and now I can retain most names. I also use contact software to keep details of people, and review this regularly.
Another trick with this is to admit to a weakness in a way that they conclude that it is actually a strength.
I do get rather impatient at times. I cannot abide unnecessary delay and waste. I don’t mind mistakes, as long as they are not repeated.