You’re probably answering these 5 common interview questions wrong

Some of the simplest interview questions are the trickiest.

No matter what sorts of jobs you applied for, you can expect certain interview questions to pop up again and again. But just because you’ve answered these questions before doesn’t mean you should skip the prep work. In fact, some of these super-common questions are the hardest ones to get right.

So get your pen out, and don’t even think about heading in for an interview until you’ve written out talking points for the following questions:

1. Can you tell me about yourself?

This question is often answered with a meandering narrative, instead of using the opportunity to present a clear, impactful story about yourself.

Such an open-ended question makes it easy to go on too long and fill in a lot of details about your education, previous jobs, like and dislikes, or interests. But no one wants to hear a dissertation on your life. It makes you sound unfocused and aimless.

Instead, think of one clear message you want to deliver about yourself, and then pitch that idea in your answer. For example, you might say “I’m a person who has performed well in a series of communications roles,” or “If there’s one thing that defines me it’s my passion for leading people.” And make sure the one idea you’re putting forward about yourself fits with what the interviewer is looking for in a candidate. Once you have the key descriptor, expand upon it. You’ll sound focused and career-savvy.

2. What interests you about this job?

This question is tricky because it’s easy to give an answer that has little to do with the job itself. For example, you may say you’ve applied for this job in retail because you’ve always wanted to be in fashion, or you are a designer and you want to be in advertising. Or perhaps you have a friend who told you about the job, so you’ve applied because your friend likes that company. Or you may be interested simply because you’re ready to move on from your current gig. These are all true answers, but they’re hardly inspiring.

Instead, use this answer to show you know what is expected, what the challenges of the job are, and why you believe your talents will allow you to achieve what is expected. Dig deep and explain why exactly you feel you can deliver in the role.

 3. What is your greatest weakness?

It’s tantalizing to come up with a deeply honest answer. After all, you’ve been asked for one, and we all have weaknesses. But if you’re not prepared with a better answer, you might reply, “My weakness is that I don’t respond well to tight deadlines,” or “I don’t like situations where the team is not working well together.” These may in fact be true, but such an answer is risky.

Don’t lie, but instead prepare to answer with a “weakness” that’s actually a strength. Say, “I am a perfectionist who is always striving for excellence, even when it means I push myself too hard on a project.” Or “I’m driven to make my team the best, most successful sales team. This means the people working for me need to have aspirational goals as well.”

These behaviors are ones that will be perceived as strengths, assuming they are what’s needed in the role you will be playing.

4. Why are you leaving your current job?

You’re probably answering these 5 common interview questions wrong[Photo: Kritchanut/iStock]

Here, again, there’s a wrong answer, and a right one.

The wrong answer is to share anything negative that might be propelling you out of your existing role. If you say you’re leaving your current job because you dislike your boss, or you don’t get along with your colleagues, you’ll be giving your interviewer a reason to dump you. And the same goes for answers that have even a tinge of negativity (“I find the commute is just too long,” or, “The job is too demanding, given my growing family.”) These may be true, but they won’t help.

Instead, paint a picture of yourself as an aspirational employee who has been fulfilled in your current role, but is ready to take the next step in building your career. Talk about your accomplishments, your game plan for moving to the next level in your career, and how the job you’re applying for will require the skills you have already developed.

It’s good, too, to express regret that you are leaving a great group of colleagues, or a boss who has inspired you, but say, “It’s time to make this next move.”

5. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

This is another question that comes with a catch. If you say you’d like to be in the role of your interviewer–say, a VP or director–you will be in quicksand territory. Your interviewer may be offended that you are putting yourself in her shoes.

The answer is to simply express a 10-year goal, without attaching it to a specific individual. If you have a career goal in mind, you’ll be perceived as someone with a vision and drive. Just remember that in today’s marketplace, nothing is certain, so you’ll need to reflect that in your answer.

There’s enough stress in job interviews without making things more difficult by having to come up with answers to these common questions on the spot. So before you go into your next job interview, master these five answers. The better prepared you are, the more success you’ll have.

Thank you,
Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors
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