Your 10 common job interview questions, answered
MANILA, Philippines – A job interview isn’t just about a set of questions and a perfect set of answers. Nerves, tension, timing, moods – all of these play a part in how this might turn out. (READ: 5 important tips for a great job interview)
The following are 10 questions tweeted to Rappler during a recent Twitter conversation called #ScaryInterviewQuestions. A few suggestions for answers are also below, particularly from Apprentice Asia winner and Rappler columnist Jonathan Yabut (follow him on Twitter or Facebook), as well as professional coach and HR practitioner LA Cruz.
1. "Tell me about yourself."
Let’s start off nice and easy with this seemingly innocuous question. It’s tricky – be too general and you’ll appear vague or safe, be too detailed and you might throw the interview off-track.
With a question like this, your best bet is to be fully prepared with your answer way before the interview, since you know there’s a good chance it’ll be on the roster of questions. “Highlight your strengths and leadership attributes and value you can bring to the company,” says Coach LA.
- Prepare your elevator pitch: In about 30 seconds, who you are, what you’re passionate about, what kind of role you’re seeking. “This should be about you and highlights of your career or student life and interests,” says Coach LA. “And it shouldn't be about how old you are and who your parents are, please!”
- Don't stray. HR practitioner John Bondoc says it’s important to keep your answer to that focused on the role. “Discuss info about you that matches the post you are being considered,” he suggests.
- Here’s an example from Jonathan to consider. "Im a passionate go-getter who wants to make a dent on the universe. I hope to achieve that through this company, and I do (state your role).”
2. "What's your greatest weakness?"
This was one of the more popular questions raised real-time. Talking about a weakness is tricky. The safe route might be to go with something completely inoffensive – like the cliche “I’m a perfectionist, I have to get it right all the time!”
Recruiters know when you answer the question by picking a strength and downplaying it into a weakness, or picking a textbook "weakness." Call a spade a spade, and describe a true opportunity area.
Sincerity plays a key role here. Really think about what you need to improve on, identify how you’re getting over it, and if that paved the way for some other skill to be developed.
One might say, for example, that he isn’t a great listener – but discovering that led him to be more conscientious asking for feedback.
“Be honest, not generic, to stand out,” says Kash Shaikh, founder of the Be Somebody movement, a call to action to go out and chase your passion.
- Be honest. A good answer to this question comes from a place of self-awareness. “Specify an event that happens consistently. For example, too emotional, unable to meet deadlines,” suggests Jonathan. “But also say you have resolved it. You realized the impact and have recognized the problem.”
- No humblebrags (“I’m tired of winning all the time”)! It doesn’t work.
3. "Why should we NOT hire you?"
Jonathan, LA, and I were surprised that this was one of the most common questions that popped up in this conversation. It’s likely an attempt to gauge how well you react to an unforeseen question.
“We usually ask ‘Why we should hire you?’ and not the other way around,” says Coach LA. “Maybe the interviewer just wants to see how quickly the candidate can think on his feet.”
- Do not allow questions like these to throw you off – that’s what they’re designed to do. Here are two strategies to attack this question:
- Answer the question. Coach LA says you can bring up a few things that might cause employers to think twice, like lack of experience – then countering that with a good quality, like being willing to learn. OR:
- Challenge and counter. “I would challenge him and say “I prefer to talk about positive things such as my strengths and how they can add value to the company,” says Jonathan. Said nicely, this might express that you aren’t easily intimidated and are focused and engaged.
4. "What's your impression of me?"
This does feel like another question designed to rattle, doesn’t it? Don’t shrink away. Understand – this isn’t personal. It's not the best question to ask a prospect, either, but again, they might be looking to observe your reaction.
- Stick to observations. Instead of going for adjectives, opt for objective things that you observed instead. “Talk about impressions on confidence, choice of words of the boss,” writes Jonathan on Twitter. “Be constructive and not judgmental in tone.”
- Take a moment. Caught off guard by this or any other question? Resist the urge to speak first, thinking as you talk. Take a few seconds to compose yourself – you may come up with a passable answer in that time.
5. "What will you do if you don't get this job?"
This was another question that popped up during the conversation, and I imagine it would be quite intimidating to answer this, almost as if one were already anticipating a rejection. Just as in the last two questions, remain unfazed – this isn't personal, and it's unlikely to be an indication that you won't get it. (READ: Georgina Wilson to fresh grads: Set yourselves apart, give it your all)
"Show that you have a plan B and that you will continue to pursue other opportunities for growth," writes Coach LA on Twitter.
The key here seems to be to show both passion and persistence – that you know that you are interested in the field and the industry (not just in that particular company) and that you will keep trying even if you aren't selected the first time.
6. "How long do you intend to stay?"
Don’t be pressured into giving an exact time period. You aren’t getting any assurances or signed deals immediately in this interview – its very nature is exploratory! So don’t feel like you need to commit a hard answer.
Here’s a great answer from Jonathan, tweeted during the conversation: “I intend to stay as long as I’m engaged and productive with my job, boss and company.”
Short and sweet. Direct, confident, and thorough.
7. "What can you offer as a fresh grad?"
You may not have much experience, but it doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. “The youth are energetic, more optimistic, more tech-savvy and creative. They will do beyond ordinary means to get something done. These are qualities that make fresh grads an important asset for the company. You cant easily get that from other generations,” says Jonathan.
Age shouldn’t obscure value.
Skills in navigating social media and new apps, for example, may come naturally to the younger set. If this is true for you, take the extra effort to learn a little more, and you’ll have something to bring to a working world that’s evolving daily at an incredible speed. (READ: 10 work resolutions for your career in 2015)
- Reapply. What were your key successes back when you were in school? Did you pull off a big event, use social media to raise money, run an organization? Soft skills learned here hold water in the working world. It’s up to you to draw those parallels and show the interviewer what you might be able to do for the company.
- Specificity is key. When discussing projects you’ve done in the past, make sure you discuss concrete results – pesos earned, followers gained, pageviews racked up. the more specific you are, the more convincing the argument.
8. “Why did you leave your last job? or “Why are you looking for another job?”
Employers ask this question to get a clearer picture of who you might be as an employee and the circumstances of your departure from your last job – but they can always check that with your references.
They’re also asking this to determine if you’re someone who might not stay long enough with the company after you’ve been trained.
If you’ve bounced around from job to job and have yet to demonstrate that you can stick with a company for some time, growing while at the same time contributing growth, you’ll have to work a little harder at the interview. In fact, job-hopping was listed in a recent study by Jobstreet as one of employers’ main pet peeves about fresh grads in the Philippines. (READ: #HowIQuit: Jimmy Fallon reads stories about people quitting their jobs)
Like in the question on weaknesses, sincerity is key. “Nothing wrong with job-hopping if you’re after career growth, new roles that excite you, et cetera,” says Jonathan. “People settle down once they find right company offering the best career path.”
Coach LA has this warning: “If [you’re looking] because of other reasons, be honest. Remember, background checks can be done.”
- Sample answers to ponder. “I want to stretch myself, explore new opportunities for career growth,” was Jonathan’s answer to this question. There are a lot of great answers (and the thinking behind them) in this article by Liz Ryan on Forbes.
- Here’s one of them: “I knew that I was ready for a change, but I didn’t want to take my focus off the job if I were going to keep working there. So I did what I believe was the right thing and left the job, to allow them to get someone who was in it for the long haul and to allow myself some time to ponder my next steps.”
- Keep it clean. Don’t be tricked into trash-talking a former employer or colleague. “If you blame your current employer for your dissatisfaction, it'll send up a red flag, as the hiring manager will assume you wouldn't be discreet about them, either,” says career expert Lynn Taylor, in this article from Business Insider. (READ: 'I hate my boss!': 5 tips to deal)
The key is for it to sound real and personal – not canned. A textbook answer might be expected, but it won't make much of an impact. So practice, but make sure the answer is authentic.
9. “What would make you resign from a company?"
Just say it straight, without the bells and whistles. It’s intimidating to talk about things that will make you leave when you’re interviewing for a job you really want. But being able to do so eloquently shows a company what you really value – and it’s also good for you to know about these dealbreakers yourself. (READ: 4 undeniable signs that it's time to quit your job)
Just a few examples from Jonathan: “A bad boss, a company that doesnt value talent development, and a culture of inciting fear versus rewards to make people work hard.”
Coach LA says, “Limited to no career growth/learning will be factors for me to consider leaving the company. This shows your hunger to continuously grow and develop as a professional."
10. "Do you have any questions for me?"
Before going into how to answer this question, here’s an important fact. Never say “no” when you are asked this question. “There's no doubt candidates who ask questions have a better chance at landing their dream job,” writes Jerome Ternynck, founder and CEO of SmartRecruiters, on Inc.com.
In that article, he shares the best questions he’s heard from prospective employees, including “What role will I fill?” and a follow-up, “Why does this role matter to the growth of the company?”
Don’t ask the question for the sake of filling in that dead air. There must be something you really would like to know. Is this role old or new? What’s the company doing differently than others? What’s the company’s stance on an important issue that directly impacts them?
Here are a few examples from Jonathan:
- ”How big is the team / Who do I report to?” This gives you an idea of your boss's work scope and resources.
- “If I succeed in this role, what is the career path I can take (managerial role, assignment to a different country for international exposure, etc)?
- “What is expected of me in my first 90 days?”
- “Why was this role vacated?”
- “What is the company culture?”
Aside from all this, you should be ready to describe situations in your working or student life, including your proudest achievement, a time you disagreed with your teammates, the biggest challenge you encountered in a project, et cetera. In these cases, establish the necessary backstory, briefly say what you did, and most importantly (linger here) – discuss the results.
Keep the energy up – the interviewer will sense tension and nerves (a wet handshake, a too-soft voice, for example) and that might set the tone.
The conversation should flow between two people, so embrace spontaneous moments – the bits where humor and lightness peek through.
The company is sizing you up – but you are also sizing them up. Twitter user Goldie Manalili (@goldiemiers) puts it succinctly: “Just talk with full sincerity and don't be overconfident.”
So does user Adrienne (@aidz03): “Remember that an interview is still a conversation. It's an opportunity for you to get to know your potential employer.”
Keep this as a guide, but ultimately, your answers to these questions should come from you. Anything else might sound artificial. Your dream job, or even your first job, deserves better, and so do you. – Rappler.com