The winning interview is only the tip of the iceberg. Why? Because you have only bagged the job and you’re yet to start at it. But why the emphasis on “winning interview?” Because the job market in most industries is immensely competitive, prompting hiring managers to do their best in squeezing aspirants, with only a select few ending up with the coveted post. You are pitted against many other qualified aspirants, and as this article shall show you, you are also pitted against yourself.
For you to have a competitive edge, you must arm yourself with knowledge so as to satisfactorily answer the questions asked by the hiring manager. First things first: you do not want to over-prepare for questions that are not likely to be asked; a vast majority of hiring managers continually rely on a set of tried and tested interview questions that enables them to reach the core of your personality and easily determine what you can bring to the table. While these common interview questions may sound ubiquitous and at times boring, you might have a hard time answering them due to their layered nature.
Yes, your resume plays a huge factor, but it’s not the sole clincher. It doesn't matter if you wrote a killer research paper back in high school or made a breakthrough career decision in your previous job if you don't know how to answer common interview questions, so take these to heart to guarantee a winning interview.
1. Could you please tell me a few things about yourself?
Sounds so common and cliché, doesn’t it? But for a winning interview, mastery in answering this question is essential. You must not, in any way, focus so much on your liking for old vinyl records and cute beagles; neither should you elaborate in keen detail your previous jobs and scholastic achievements. Employment experts strongly recommend a resume that underscores your four to five most significant accomplishments to catch the attention of hiring managers. These accomplishments should also serve as a cue for you to talk about them in a more in-depth manner.
You want to let your potential employer know about how you were an asset in your previous companies (i.e. when you saved them money, came up with a key strategy). In a concise way, express how you were able to accomplish those. Afterward, use this opportunity to transition into how these experiences make you qualified for the post. A winning interview involves a profound yet concise elaboration of how you can become an asset.
2. How did you hear about the opening?
Most employers (understandably) think that referrals are the best finds, so you will be asked this question, which will inevitably veer towards finding who your connection to the company is. Surveys conducted by employment authorities in 2019 reveal that 70 percent of human resources professionals expressed that referrals were the safest and best way to land deserving candidates. Your decision to give the referral from a friend a chance speaks volumes about your willingness to expand your network, which, in turn, sends the message to the hiring manager that you possess the necessary social skills to succeed and be productive.
In order to succeed not only at your job but also in life in general, soft skills are absolutely necessary. Strong work ethic, fluid communication skills, confidence, time management are character-defining. Hiring managers know that skills can always be learned, but the character is something you have or don’t have.
If it was through an online advertisement or article that you learned about the job post, thoroughly explain what it was about the position that grabbed your attention and spurred your intent to apply. After this, elaborate on why you are confident that you’re the candidate the company is looking for.
3. How familiar are you with the company?
Do your homework, so to speak. At its barest, your work will inevitably become like a second “home,” so it is imperative to research about your potential employers and colleagues. Failure to do so guarantees a less than smooth transition, should you land the position. Prior to the interview, equip yourself with information about the company but do not be content with general information. Check reputable business publications, websites, news articles, and SEC filings (if your target company is public) to be updated about how the company has been faring recently. Your research should give you a good glimpse of the company’s strategies, values, and most importantly, culture. The company culture should be a major concern in order to gauge whether your personality and career trajectory match well with your potential employer and colleagues.
Researching about your desired company automatically gives you an edge over other aspirants because it signals to the hiring manager that you are aware of the company’s standing and where it is headed. More importantly, all the preparation shall amount to nothing without research, because after all, your research shall serve as the anchor of how and what your answers will be. After you have done your research, you must then polish your responses to ensure they are coherent and understandable.
4. What are your strengths?
Again, one of those tricky yet common interview questions, which when answered correctly, almost always guarantees a winning interview. When hiring managers throw this question, they are trying to discern whether or not your strengths are a good fit for the company, or how you can fill current gaps. Avoid giving uninspired and generic answers like “I am hardworking,” “I am a good team player,” or worse, “I can be an asset to the company.” Those answers will devastate your chances. When asked about your strengths, use it as an opportunity to drive home your skills, accomplishments, and experience. Craft your answers to what you see as responsibilities intrinsic to the position, and not just to what you think the hiring manager wants to hear.
5. What about your weaknesses?
Yes, you’ve guessed it. Yet another one of those complex but common interview questions. A winning interview is not complete without knowing how to hit this ball out of the park. “I find it hard to work in teams,” “I’m often late” are answers that, no matter how honest, are sure to shatter your chance of bagging the job. Answering “I do not have weaknesses that I know of” is also a surefire way to show yourself out while scratching your head; not only is it pretentious and conceited, but it shows that you do not possess the necessary self-awareness. The most advisable answer is one that exhibits self-awareness and understanding that there is something that you are struggling at, as long as you add that you are doing your best to turn that weakness into a strength. For instance, you’re aware that preparing speeches are not your forte, but you’re currently attending seminars and classes to enhance your speech writing skills. When you say that, the hiring manager will not only admire your honesty and self-awareness but will also recognize that you are one to take criticism well, thus making you even more of a potential asset.
6. What do you consider to be your best professional achievement?
This is a common interview question that requires the utmost tact. It is an opportunity for you to expound on a previous accomplishment. Your best professional achievement should not only serve as an ornament on your resume; you should be able to back the assertion with information. If you think your memory cannot be relied on anymore, get in touch with your previous company and ask them about the benefits that your accomplishment generated (i.e. time, financial gain, and savings). Your word is not enough, so there is a need to present hard data. Without evidence, your assertion would be useless.
7. Tell us about a conflict you encountered at your previous work, and how you resolved it.
Any workplace, however warm and harmonious its culture is, has conflicts due to clashing personalities and inevitable issues. Your hiring manager is eager to know the course of action you took because it will reflect how you will resolve a potential challenge or conflict, should you get hired. The ideal answer to this question is to picture the situation in a manner that resembles storytelling, then describe how you responded, and more importantly, how the conflict was settled.
8. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Up until this moment, you probably have always underestimated the essence of this very common interview question. Irrelevant, you might think. The truth is this is a dual-purpose question, which serves you and the company. The first purpose is your potential employer wishes to know if your planned career trajectory can be part of the company’s strategies moving forward. The second reason is they want to know if your goals are parallel with the responsibilities relevant to the job.
Employers are aware that if employees do not have a clear path in mind with respect to their career, they will begin to look for an escape, and in the process, this stagnancy will be detrimental to both the employee and the company. The company owes it to itself to protect its employees’ skills, interests, growth, and development, and equally important, each employee’s cultural fit should be a priority. The skills, strengths, and personalities of employees should match their respective positions, and to a greater extent, the company culture.
In the same manner, if a company already has brilliant and dependable employees, it must take it upon itself to continually cultivate a harmonious atmosphere so as to keep the employees long-term. Brilliant employees are extremely hard to find. Mediocre ones, a dime a dozen.
9. Why are planning to leave your current job?
Answering this question makes a winning interview seem like a tall order. Clue: be honest, positive, and don’t speak ill of your past companies. Preferably, your response should express that you are enthused about new opportunities that this new post offers. Expound on why you think this post is a much better for you personally and professionally than your previous jobs.
Honesty will do you good. Even if you were laid off or fired, do not hesitate to tell the hiring manager the truth. More often than not, this will yield positive dividends in the future.
10. Why were you fired?
If the termination of your previous employment was not so pleasant, this question can be very difficult. But this is where positive attitude matters most; do not speak ill of your previous company, and keep in mind that being fired is not the end of the world. Share with the hiring manager the valuable life lesson that you learned from that setback, and how you plan to use it to be a better employee and further your career advancement, in the possibility that you get hired.
11. Can you tell me about this employment gap?
In the eyes of hiring managers, any gap in employment is a red flag, and an indication of loss of will to be productive unless the reason is explicitly stated. Again, be honest. Let your potential employer know what you did during the gap, whatever it may be – studying, writing, freelance employment, blogging, traveling, attending seminars – and transition into how these activities can boost your qualifications.
12. Why did you change career paths?
The answer to this question should demonstrate self-awareness and readiness to face new challenges. Explain the reason behind the career change and why you think a new path is better for you in the long run. It is also advisable to underscore why your experience in a different field can translate into a plus as you tread a new career path. Doing so can convince the hiring manager that you are versatile and capable of providing a fresher perspective.
13. Can you tell me about your salary expectations?
You have every right to answer this question. The thing is, this question might no longer be asked in the future as it could be criminalized to curb the rampancy of pay inequality, especially against women and minorities. The trick is to educate yourself. Do your homework on websites like Payscale and Glassdoor to be aware of the salary range that you are entitled to, given your experience, educational attainment, and skill set. The more educated you are about your corporate worth, the lesser the likelihood of getting exploited by unethical employers. So, again, remember the importance of research.
14. Are you planning to start your own family and have children?
Questions pertaining to your marital status, sexual orientation, nationality, beliefs, or age are illegal – but many employers are sadly unaware of this. The question might well-meaning and innocuous, but this is because it is only fairly recently when questions like these were considered unethical. To add to the problem, many employers are "products of their time." It is not uncommon to have hiring managers who are Baby Boomers or part of Generation X. The good thing is this is no longer the dominant trend. But should the hiring manager insist, be ready to carefully steer away from the topic and go back to professional matters? Here is a sample response: “I haven’t yet reached the state in which these things are of utmost importance, but I am intent in learning the career growth waiting for me. Could you please elaborate on that?”
15. Do you have any questions about the position?
Yes, another one of those common interview questions that you should take advantage of. An interview does not necessarily require you to only answer questions. Ideally, a winning interview should have a semblance of a purposeful conversation. If this question gets asked, grab the opportunity to ask back questions to further determine if the post is indeed a perfect fit for you. Do you wish to know more about the ad hoc responsibilities of the position? What about company culture? While it is possible that these questions will be answered during the interview, prepare some questions that can further boost your value in the eyes of your potential employer, like, “Can you tell me the best thing about being part of this company?” “Have you been here long already?” Better yet, ask about the company’s new plans and strategies that you’ve read when you researched. This is a character-building gesture that exponentially boosts your chances of landing that job.
If you already have the necessary skills, landing that dream job should not be that hard. It should be within reach if you master the common interview questions. Now, ready yourself and look forward to that winning interview.
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