Job Interviews

Responding to the Top 7 Interview Questions

On Monday, I posted a list of some of the most common interview questions and asked readers to think about how they’d respond to each one. Today’s post digs in deeper and offers tips on answering these questions.

1. What do you know about our company? Here’s your chance to show off the research you conducted about the organization before the interview. That’s right, you’ll need to find out some basic information about your prospective employer before showing up for the interview. Good things to know include: how long the company has been around, what they do and what’s unique about them. If the company has a website, review the About Us pages. Other ways to get more background include asking friends and family what they know about the company.

2. What are your strengths? When answering this question, think about your strengths which would be most valuable in relation to the job you’re applying for. Sure, being a trivia wiz or a great dancer are fun abilities, but they’re probably not what the interviewer is looking for, unless you’re applying to be the next host of “Jeopardy” or a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

3. What are your weaknesses? This is one of the most dreaded interview questions around. Nobody wants to list off their low points to a potential employer. But don’t despair – answering this question wisely can score major points with an interviewer. Instead of focusing on character weaknesses, like a bad temper or laziness, mention weaknesses that are job specific. Also, be sure to tell the interviewer what you’re doing to remedy the problem.

4. How would your last boss describe you? It’s always a little bit difficult to speak for someone else. In this case, it’s usually best to cite something specific the boss said about you in the past. For example, “My supervisor at Widget Manufacturing frequently praised my ability to work quickly and safely.”

5. Why did you leave your last job? Be careful on this question. You never want to bash your past employer or supervisor. You also don’t want to sound money hungry by listing low compensation as your main reason for leaving. Instead, try to focus on what the job you’re applying for offers that your last job didn’t. For instance, the position you’re interested in might have more opportunities for growth, be closer to your home or offer better hours.

6. Where do you want to be in five years? This is your opportunity to share your goals and interests. But, remember to keep it professional. The interviewer doesn’t need to know that you hope to buy a Harley Davidson or win the lottery. Most interviewers ask this question because they want to know if you’ll stick with them over the long haul. Even if you’re not sure where you’ll be in five years, try to give an answer that shows you’d be open sticking around if things go well.

7. Why do you want to work here? The winning answer for this question is not: “Because I need a job.” While that may be what’s running through your mind, the interviewer is looking for specific reasons their job opening appeals to you. When answering this question, think about how your skills would benefit the company. For example, “I want to work at XYZ company because your need for an energetic office manager is a great fit with my background and personality.”

What interview questions do you have a hard time answering? How do you prepare before an interview?

Top 7 Interview Questions

Do you have an interview coming up and need to get prepared? By reviewing common interview questions and developing your responses, you can make a good impression by appearing well-spoken and thoughtful.

While every interview is a little different, there are some questions that are standard. Since the chances are high that you’ll be asked at least a few of these questions, it’s a good idea to give some thought to what your answers would be. Nothing’s worse than drawing a total blank during an interview, so take a few minutes to think about how you’d respond to these popular interview questions.

1. What do you know about our company?
2. What are your strengths?
3. What are your weaknesses?
4. How would your last boss describe you?
5. Why did you leave your last job?
6. Where do you want to be in five years?
7. Why do you want to work here?

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about some of the better ways to answer these questions.

Making the Connection in a Job Interview

Interviews are more than a series of questions and answers. To make the most out of your interview, make a connection with the interviewer by initiating small talk. This will allow the interviewer to see a little bit more of your personality, establish rapport and leave them feeling as if they know more about you than just what’s on your résumé.

Effective small talk can help you set yourself apart from the competition. To help you get started, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind when engaging in small talk.


Do stick to safe topics. Asking the interviewer if they had a nice weekend or commenting on the weather, is a great opener when beginning the interview. This gets the conversation going and helps the interviewer see that you’re comfortable interacting with others under stressful situations.

Don’t overuse flattery. Most interviewers don’t appreciate false praise. While being positive and friendly are great traits, telling the interviewer that you love their suit or wish you had a haircut just like theirs is a little much. So, try not to over do it on the compliments during an interview.

Don’t be negative. If the interviewer asks how your drive in was this morning, avoid negative remarks such as: “The traffic was horrendous, the lights took too long, and there wasn’t a parking spot close to the building.” Instead, focus on positive thoughts – your excitement for the interview, pleasant songs you heard on the radio or how peaceful the drive in was this morning. Overwhelming negativity can end your interview before it even starts. Interviewers want positive people working in their company, not negative individuals who will constantly complain.

Do open up when appropriate. If the interviewer mentions that he enjoys the same hobbies as you or attended the same college, take a moment to comment on the topic. This demonstrates your interest and connects you with the interviewer.

By making a connection with the interviewer, you can increase your odds of getting the job because now you’re more than just a piece of paper – you’re a real person with a story to tell.

Do you have any tips on how to initiate small talk in an interview?

Job Offer: When Can You Start?

Start a New JobYou’ve applied, interviewed and are waiting for the job offer that you hope is coming. Then, the offer is made and you accept it, but even though the interview is over, one more question for you awaits.

“When can you start?”

How you answer that question depends on your current situation.

No ladder. If you aren’t currently working, tell your new employer you could start tomorrow. If that isn’t possible because of child care or prior plans, ask the manager when they’d like you to start. They might want you to start the next day, or they might prefer to wait until the start of a work week or pay period. Of course, if you want a paycheck as soon as possible, starting tomorrow is your best bet.

Middle rungs. Giving two weeks’ notice is pretty standard if you are already employed. This provides you with ample time to complete or reassign any current projects. When some people turn in their notice, they are told to immediately clear out their workstations and are shown the door. If you think that might happen, tell your future boss. Explain that you are going to turn in your two week’s notice but mention the possibility that you might be available sooner.

Top of the ladder. If you are a manager or have an upper-level position, giving three weeks’ notice is a safe bet. Given your position in the company, two weeks might not be long enough to make a clean break. It’s important to never burn bridges with former employers, and this is especially tricky for those in high-level positions.

Pack up the ladder. If you are relocating to a new city or state, starting in four weeks or a month is reasonable. If your new employer balks at your timeframe, try and work out a financial arrangement where you can start earlier while not being burdened with bills from two residences for an extended period of time. You’ll have the stress of leaving a job, packing up your worldly possessions, finding somewhere to live and moving. Not to mention dealing with packing and unpacking, change of address notification and all the other headaches associated with a move.

What did you do the last time you changed jobs? Did you give your notice in person, electronically or in writing?

Employee Fraud: Investigate Before You Hire

fraud in your companyOn Monday night, I watched the Dateline episode, “Tangled Web,” about a woman named Sandra Bridewell who was recently arrested on fraud charges.

In 1985, Sandra was also the prime suspect in her husband’s death. The Dateline story details how after his death she traveled the country for 20 years using a number of different names.

At one point, she worked as a caregiver for an elderly woman. The woman’s family claims Sandra embezzled their mother’s social security checks and nearly had the mother’s home put into foreclosure for failure to pay the mortgage. Throughout the story, several individuals from Sandra’s past are interviewed, claiming they were conned for thousands of dollars.

What surprised me was how easy it seemed Sandra was able to gain access to personal information and large amounts of money, even though she had a questionable history and most likely very few solid personal or professional references.

Like the individuals in the Dateline story, businesses are often too quick to give an untested employee control of highly sensitive information. According to a 2002 study, published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, occupational fraud costs organizations $600 billion a year.

How often could these devastating fraud cases have been avoided by performing background checks and asking more in-depth interview questions?

An applicant may sound great on paper and may even be charming in person, but what do their references have to say about them? Has a background check been performed? What about a simple Google search?

I’m not saying people should hire a private investigator to snoop out every new acquaintance, but it just makes good sense to perform due diligence before giving a perfect stranger access to things like social security numbers, company checks, banking information or other sensitive information.

What steps does your company go through before hiring new employees? Do you feel these are sufficient? Have you or your organization ever been a victim of fraud?

7 Questions to Ask an Interviewer

Asking questions is a vital step for any job-seeker in an interview. You may think that asking questions makes you look unprepared, but the opposite is usually true (unless you are unprepared!) Having several specific questions in mind before you go to your interview can ensure that you end the interview giving a good impression. If things brought up during the interview intrigue you, ask about them. If you feel like you have a good grasp on things, ask questions anyway. Even if you land the job – and even once you’ve been on assignment – you won’t know all there is to know about it.

With that in mind, here are seven basic questions to pick from for your next interview. Asking two or three questions like these can set you apart from the pack and get you one step closer to getting the job.

1. What does a normal workday for this position look like? This question can reveal a lot about the job that’s not listed in the job description. It can also demonstrate to you the level of knowledge the interviewer has about the job itself. And, asking it shows that you’re interested in more than a paycheck and benefits.

2. What does your typical day at work consist of? People love talking about themselves. Asking this question not only gives the interviewer a chance to share about themselves, their answer can show you how much someone in the position you’re interviewing for would interact with you on a daily basis.

3. What is the biggest challenge someone in this position typically faces? This is one of the tougher, more insightful questions you can ask. It may put the interviewer on the spot, but it also shows that you are thinking critically about the job. The fact is, there are challenges in any job, and showing that you know that and are willing to face them is a great trait for any job seeker to demonstrate.

4. What are the opportunities for career growth in this organization? You probably don’t want to tell the interviewer that you want their job in the next two years. Believe me. I’ve sat in interviews where job candidates said that, flat out. (They didn’t get the job.) But demonstrating that you’re interested in career growth shows you’re committed to your field and the organization. And, the interviewer’s answer can also tell you a lot about whether this is an organization you really want to join.

5. What is the growth plan for this company in the next five years? Asking this question shows that you can think beyond yourself and your job. Managers are held accountable for their department’s contribution to the company’s goals and bottom line, so asking the interviewer about the company’s plan for growth not only shows your business acumen, it can tell you a lot about the stability of the organization you’re considering tying yourself to.
 

6. Why is there a vacancy for this position? This can be a tough question, but it’s often worth asking. If there are personality conflicts or management issues in a department, and someone left for those reasons, this is a great time to find out. Sometimes, a position has been created because you’re joining a growing team or a person left because they were promoted. Both are answers you deserve to know.

7. When can I expect to hear back from you? If you don’t ask this, you might never know. You can end up spending a lot of time waiting by the phone if you don’t know the interviewer’s schedule for filling the position you’re seeking. It can also help you know when to follow up or send a thank you note. For example, if they’re planning to make the hiring decision that day, you’ll want to send an e-mail or leave a note at the front desk as opposed to mailing it.

Remember, the interview is also your chance to find out about your potential employer. If you land the job, you’ll spend a lot of time and energy working for the company. That’s why you need to make sure you want the job, fit with the organization’s culture, believe in its mission and understand its goals. So, on your next interview, take the opportunity to ask meaningful questions.

What questions have you asked in past job interviews? Were they a hit or a flop?

Ace the Interview by Asking Great Questions

So you’re at the point in the interview where you’ve given your background and qualifications. You’ve demonstrated your people, problem-solving and follow-through skills. The interviewer has asked their questions, and hopefully, you’ve answered their unasked ones. But now, they toss things your way and ask if you have any questions.

If you’re like many job seekers, you will say simply, “No,” or “I  don’t think so,” or “Not at this time,” take this as your cue the interview is over and exit, leaving opportunities – and often a chance at the job – behind.

What you may not know is the question-asking time can be one that sets you apart from other candidates. Interviewers are paying careful attention to what you say during this part of the interview. They want to know that you have thought about the job beyond the description you read when you applied. You can use this as an opportunity to show your thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and self-confidence. Asking well-thought-out questions can demonstrate:

  • Your knowledge of the company.
  • Your passion for the job.
  • Your curiosity about the industry.
  • Your ability to take charge.
  • Your desire to stand apart.

Check back tomorrow to learn what questions you should ask when you’re on a job interview.