1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What’s your greatest weakness?
3. What do you know about our company?
4. Where do you want to be in 5 years?
5. How do you respond to challenging situations?
Let’s go through each briefly and talk about how to craft your best responses.
In the next two weeks, we’ll also discuss unusual, curve ball interview questions designed to catch you off-guard, plus questions that employers can’t legally ask.
Tell me about yourself.
This is code for: Tell me about your experience and accomplishments that qualify you for this job. PS, I also want to see if you can structure and communicate your thoughts concisely.
Your answer is worth rehearsing so you keep on point. Let’s say you’re interviewing for a business development job. Your response might be something like this:
“I’ve spent the past four years in new business for a top-ranked digital marketing agency. Under my leadership, we grew revenues by double digits in all four years.
I was responsible for identifying a target list of prospects, getting invited to the pitch and assembling the presentations.
I’ve won 15 out of the 17 pitches the agency was involved in during the past year… The secret to my success is that I’m a good listener. I ask questions to get at the real objectives and pain points of a client prospect, then I make sure our pitch responds to those…”
Your greatest weakness.
Try to be genuine and specific rather than generic here, but don’t describe a weakness that will cost you the job. For example, saying you have trouble letting go will freak out employers looking to hire a strong manager. Instead, you might want to say: “In the past, I’ve found it challenging to delegate high-priority/mission-critical tasks. However, I’m enrolled in a team leadership workshop that’s helping me become a better manager of staff.”
The real purpose of this question is to test your aptitude for self-assessment: Whether you have an accurate and realistic read on your shortfalls and are motivated to improve those skills.
What do you know about our company?
A.K.A: Do you care enough about the opportunity to do research and prepare for the interview? Why do you want to work here? It can also be a launching pad for the employer to give an overview of the company and job.
As such, the best answers are short and sweet: Intended to demonstrate knowledge and enthusiasm but also to give your interviewer a platform for discussing his/her most pressing needs for this hire.
Try this formula: Reference recent press release or achievements, then follow up with a question about the job opportunity.
E.g. “Well, I know you recently voted Healthcare Agency of the Year and just won some Merck and BI business. What are the specific reasons for this new hire?”
Your 5-year plan.
This is an attempt to measure how rigorous and motivated you are in the goals you set for yourself, PLUS how long you intend to stay with the company. In other words, can your goals be achieved within this role so you’ll feel satisfied and stay? Is it truly what you want to do with your life?
However, the way the question is phrased connotes more of a genie asking for your three wishes. Resist the urge to answer what you really feel: Weaving baskets on a beach in Tahiti or to be the CEO of your own company.
Your answer should demonstrate that you’re invested in this job and can envision the growth potential.
“I love the thrill of hunting new business, and I’m good at it. I’d like to teach that skill to others. My short-term plans include bringing on enough new business to support the growth of this department, so that ultimately I’d have a staff to mentor.”
How do you respond to challenging situations?
Your future employer wants to make sure you can handle stressful scenarios without melting down, shutting down, or being abusive to co-workers. Can you creatively and calmly offer solutions? The best answer gives a recent, real-life example of how you resolved a high-pressure situation.
“We had a small client that was problematic in every way: He had unreasonable expectations, demanded impossible deadlines on shoestring budgets, was nasty to agency teams, etc. In fact, the problem was so pervasive that we consistently had high turnover on the account.
I sat down with the CFO, ran the numbers, and we ultimately decided the right solution was to resign the business. We didn’t come to this conclusion without an eye to the new business pipeline and have already brought on an account twice as valuable… with pleasant clients.”
In summary, the common theme for these five questions – and every question you’re asked on an interview – is to always be selling your strengths. Tell an engaging story, provide detailed examples and results, be decisive and confident. If you fumble these basic questions, you give the impression that you don’t really know yourself or can’t express yourself. These are questions every employer will ask, so prepare the best answers possible.
Next week we’ll deal with the kind of questions that are hard to prepare for and test your ability to think on your feet.