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How To Rock (or Bomb) the Top 5 Job Interview Questions


Neville

Job interview stick figure nervous

If you go to a job interview, there's a "gatekeeper" who can either recommend you for a position.....or throw your resume in the trash.

Basically the words that come out of your mouth dictate if you get a dream job or get kicked out the door.  

This is essentially "verbal copywriting!" So we brought in an expert to talk about this:

DeniseRenee has been the "gatekeeper" to thousands of job applicants. She currently helps job seekers land interviews by creating killer resumes for them. With a wave of her magical wand she can push someone into a cushy $120,000/yr job, or send them out the door crying.  Now THAT'S power!

So we got DeniseRenee to tell us the Top 5 Interview Questions for job-seekers, each with:

  • How you should answer the question.
  • How you should not answer the question.
  • What the interviewer want is listening for in your response.

Let's get started, DeniseRenee will take over this post now:

Denise Renee

 


Denise Renee starts writing now:

It’s tough landing an interview so don’t screw it up!

Today’s job market couldn’t be more competitive. Here's what the Human Resources recruiter goes through:

  • Hundreds of resumes flood HR inboxes within hours of posting job openings.
  • Hiring processes are longer because candidates are going through several rounds of interviews.
  • Companies are obsessed with finding the right “fit" and often won't give official offers for several weeks or months.

Modern businesses are hiring for culture, not just skills.  Having a spot-on resume and cover letter is necessary, but it’s only half the battle.   Who you are as a person is just as important to your next employer as what you can do for them.

So don’t be surprised if a personality assessment is a part of your hiring process.  If you feel like you’re undergoing a psychiatric evaluation in your interview, just relax… YOU ARE!

Gone are the days where you could BS your way through a sit-down, pretend like you knew what you were talking about and land the position.  Yesterday’s “right answer” is today’s red flag.

To help you sidestep giving responses that could cause you to bomb your interview, here are five common questions you can expect to be asked, along with the “Cliff Notes®” on how to rock it and earn yourself a job offer!

 

 

Question 1.) "Why did you leave your last job?"

Why did you leave your last job?

This is a straightforward (yet tricky) question.  Expect it to be asked.  If you’re currently working, the question may be phrased as, “Why are you looking for a new opportunity?”

 

How to Bomb:  

“I hated my job/boss/co-workers/environment.”

 

How to Rock:

“I really want to branch out into ____ and there wasn’t an opportunity to grow in that area at my last job.”

 

What the interviewer is listening for:

Being honest and genuine when answering this question is the name of the game.

There are always aspects of a job you won’t like or situations that happened which may have rubbed you the wrong way.

But trashing your former employer and co-workers is not a good look for you, even if you were fired or left on bad terms. Bad-mouthing your former company will make the interviewer think you will trash talk them too, should they hire you.

Find the positive spin in all situations.  If you left on bad terms or were fired, don’t lie about it (a quick phone call can verify or blow up your story).  But you do not need to fill them in on every gory detail.  Keep your answer focused on what you are looking to achieve in your next career opportunity and you’ll ace this question.

(And BTW, if you ever drunk-posted an “I-hate-my-job” rant on Facebook, delete it immediately!)

job interview drunk facebook post

 

 

Question 2.) "What would your former boss/co-workers say is your greatest strength/weakness?"

greatest weakness none

This is a variation on the traditional, “What is your greatest strength/weakness” question… with an extra whammy!

 

How to bomb:  

“I don’t really have any weaknesses.”

-or-

“I don’t know for certain what they would say.”

Similarly, giggling and any other methods of avoiding the question will be grounds for an instant “F.”

 

How to rock:

“One of my co-workers wrote in my LinkedIn recommendation that I _____.”

 

What the interviewer is listening for:

This is question combo is the mother of all trick interview questions.  The double-edged sword in this variation is trying to figuring out what someone else has to say about you.

What is the interviewer after? It’s all about your reputation and what you are known for; your personal brand.  The interviewer is looking for 3rd party validation, not just what you have to say about yourself.

This question can also be asked in its straightforward version. So let’s strategize the best way to answer both parts.  First up, the 3rd party validation.

The best way to know what a former co-worker or supervisor would say about you is to ask.  NEVER try to make up something.  Start by recalling previous performance reviews and the feedback your supervisors or co-workers have given you; often you are given a written summary which goes in your file.  Dust it off and research yourself.

If you already have one or more reference letters lined up (and you should), pull quotes from it.  Even better: pull quotes from your LinkedIn recommendations.  In either scenario, what you say can be easily proven.

Pick out the strength and/or weakness (see below) that best fits the skills required for the job you are applying for and marry it with your 3rd party validation for a complete answer to this combo question.

Ok, now let’s tackle the strengths and weakness portion.

To ace this question, you must keep your answer work related; don’t start talking about your knack for origami or nerd out about the amateur sci-fi film festival you won!  You also don’t want to come across too cocky or too perfect.  That will set the interviewer’s BS meter off the charts!

A winning answer will highlight your personal strengths that complement the job’s required skills.  Hit a home-run by sharing a brief work related story where your strength(s) saved the day or had a positive outcome.

If you’re having trouble thinking up some examples, maybe one or more of these are true for you.  Some good work related strengths include:

  • Being a good mentor to new co-workers or team members you manage.
  • Liking challenges or problem solving; friendly competition.
  • Having above and beyond customer service skills or work ethics.
  • Able to generate creative ideas and campaigns that positively impact the bottom line.
  • Organizing events that boosts team spirit or being a great motivator.
  • Having excellent negotiation and financial skills; able to save the company significant dollars.

For the weakness, don’t try to pretend you don’t have any; no one is perfect. Also, don’t try to be self deprecating and turn a potential strength into a weakness (“I work too many hours,” or “I care too much about my job”).  Remember the BS meter!

Think along the lines of an area that you know you need to improve in as it relates to work.  Some examples might be:

  • Setting work-load boundaries and asking for help/delegating when needed.
  • Making more time for professional development/taking courses or certifications.
  • Avoiding confrontations with team members/communicating your needs.
  • Giving raw or destructive criticisms instead of giving constructive feedback.

Tell a brief story to illustrate how or why this has been a problem in the past. Be sure to highlight what you are currently doing to continually improve yourself in this area.

A final word of caution: make sure what you cite as a weakness is NOT a skill or competency that is required for you to do the job you’re applying for well!

 

 

Question 3.) "Tell me about a project you worked on that had a successful outcome."

profit chalkboard

This question is attempting to get to the truth behind your resume. They will be looking for holes in your story, so don't lie.

 

How to Bomb:  

Telling a long, rambling, and/or non-work related story.

 

How to Rock:

Giving a brief “behind the scenes” synopsis of your top accomplishment on your resume.

 

What the interviewer is listening for:

First things first… the success you talk about MUST be work related… not about the time you scored a trip back stage at a Sting concert!

That being said, this question (or any variation of it) is the friendliest question your interviewer will ask you.  It's an open initiation for you to humbly "get your brag on!"  It’s where you get to prove all the impressive things you’ve listed on your resume.

To prevent word-vomiting all over your interviewer, prepare yourself by answering each of the following four questions with one complete sentence each:

  1. What was the work related challenge and what did it threaten? (Customer service, profit loss, client loss, etc.)
  2. What was your recommended solution?
  3. How did you (and your team) execute the solution? (Describe your process.)
  4. What were the results?

Commit those four sentences to memory and you will be hitting all the major points the interviewer will be looking for.  They essentially want to know if you can do their job.  They are trying to get a picture of how you think and handle problems.  You may be asked follow up questions so be prepared to share more details.

 

 

Question 4.) "What role do you normally play when working in a team setting?" -or- "Do you like working in teams?"

I don't do teams

This is the, “Are-you-a-team-player?” question.

 

How to Bomb:  

“I hate working in teams; no one ever recognizes my contributions.”

or

“I always wind up taking over and leading my team projects.”

 

How to Rock:

“I can work equally well alone or with others as long as I understand what is expected of me.  My preference is to work (alone/in teams) because _____.”

 

What the interviewer is listening for:

With this question, the “right answer” will depend on the culture of the organization.  It is important that you’ve done your homework and you understand their preferred working style, whether it is mostly team based or individually based.

Regardless of their culture, all companies want to hire well-balanced people.  Displaying an extreme rarely works in your favor.  Being too bossy and always taking over isn’t good, but neither is being a doormat. You have to be able to be a valuable contributor to a team.  And if leadership is required, you must be able to lead others with grace and elicit everyone’s participation.

The “politically correct” answer is always that you can do both, so you might as well say that (but only if it’s true for you!). Then follow up by sharing which is your preferred style and why.

This will make you seem real and not as if you’re trying to tell them what they want to hear.  Besides, being honest about your preference will help them (and you) decide if this is the right environment and role for you.

 

Question 5.) "What questions do you have for me/us?"

any questions?

This is the mother of all open-ended interview questions.

 

How to bomb:  

“I have no questions for you.”

 

How to rock:

“What is the company’s road map for the next 5 years and how do you anticipate the person filling this position to contribute to those goals?”

or

“What do you expect the new person in this role to accomplish in their first 90 days?”

 

What the interviewer is listening for:

There are a number of things going on in this question.  First, the interviewer wants to see how much you already know (or don’t know) about their company.

Second, the types of questions you ask can indicate:

  • Your interest level in the position or company (proven by the types of the questions you ask),
  • Your level of understanding of their industry (proven by the depth of the questions you ask), and
  • Your common sense (did you bother doing your research at all?).

Not having any questions is the kiss of death!

Asking questions that are easily answered by the company’s About page on their website is a close second.

Take time to research the company you are interviewing for!  Review their website. Know their mission and vision statements. Stalk them on social media and see what their fans and critics have to say. Google their press.  Learn more about the industry they are in, especially if it is new to you.  Spy on their top two competitors using the same tactics.

Sure, it will take a little time and elbow grease… but you want the job, right?

Come up with at least five to ten intelligent sounding questions you can ask that digs into their culture, their industry, how they plan to edge out their top two competitors (name them!), what their future plans are and how the role you are applying for will help to meet those goals.

They’ll think you’re a rock star!

 

Other questions you might be asked:

There’s no way to know exactly what questions you’ll be asked at an interview.  Neither is it possible to give you a script for every scenario.

For example, some other common questions you can anticipate include:

"Tell me about yourself."

Keep this open ended question focused on work.

"What makes you uniquely qualified for this position?/Why should we hire you?"

Share brief job-related success stories that prove you can do the job or have a unique perspective to bring to the table.

"Describe a problem you had with a former boss/coworker.  How did you resolve it?"

Share a brief story.  Don’t trash-talk anyone; take responsibility for your contribution to the problem. Display your problem solving skills.

"What are you currently reading for enjoyment or personal/professional development?"

DC Comics and Cosmopolitan don’t count! Keep it professional. If you’re not a big book reader, share the industry blogs you follow.  If you don’t do either, start today!

"If you could take a dream vacation, where would it be and why?"

This question is to get insight into your personality. Have a little fun and don’t over think it.  But don’t geek out on them either!

"If you were independently wealthy/retired, what would you do?"

Another question to gain insight into your personality.  Don’t weird them out or try to sound to saintly – there’s only one Mother Teresa!  Be human; be fun.

 

General rules of thumb for answering interview questions:

From reading this article I hope you noticed a pattern for answering interview questions.  In case you didn’t, let me spell out the general rules of thumb:

  • Modern companies are just as interested in HOW you answer your interview questions as they are in what skills you posses.
  • Ultimately, there are no “wrong” answers. There are just answers that will raise a red flag or signal that you might not be what they are looking for.
  • While you should prepare for the types of questions you may be asked, sounding scripted or too rehearsed could make you seem inauthentic. Be relaxed and conversational.
  • Never give short, yes/no answers without giving more information.
  • Be prepared with stories/anecdotes to prove what’s listed on your resume.  Go in depth.  Set up the scenario by outlining the problem and the process you used to work out a solution.
  • Don’t take hog all the credit – appropriately mention how other team members contributed or how you were able to lead and direct your team to success (as it applies to your position).
  • Be an open book, but be careful of giving unnecessary details that might raise questions or red flags.
  • Don’t lie, BS, or try to say “what they want to hear.” Your interviewer can tell and it could mean your automatic disqualification.
  • Be honest and be yourself; ultimately, interviewers want to hear the truth so they can make an informed decision. And you want to know if the job would be a right fit for you too.

Ok young grasshopper, you’ve been armed… now go out there and crush your interview!

 

Download all these questions as a "Cheat Sheet" to review before your next interview:

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Not getting all the interviews you want because you’re stumped on how to revise your resume?  Grab Denise Renee’s FREE ebook 5 Essential Resume Hacks.  You can also like her Facebook page for daily career and resume tips.

Sincerely,

Denise Renee and Neville Medhora

 

P.S. In the comments, ask any question you want about interview questions, and expert HR recruiter Denise Renee will answer it!

P.P.S. This is your opportunity to ask an expert (aka the Job Gatekeeper) any questions about the interview process, go ask bellow!


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I've been asked 4/5 of these questions in past interviews and had no good responses for them. Thank you for this.
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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hi Noi,

I'm so glad you found this helpful... at least now you're ready for the next time! All the best to you in your career!

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It seems more jobs want senior level experience but offer entry level salaries. How does an applicant navigate?
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Interestingly,

I have just got a headhunter call me today.

The tips will come in handy, especially the one on my weakness.

Thank you!

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This is a fantastic article! not only is it helpful but the way you wrote it is entertaining
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Guest Chung Chin

Posted

Hi Denise, I was wondering how do you handle "What is your expected compensation?" question?
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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hi Fay, thanks for the question. I'm not a career counselor (read: take my advice with a grain of salt!), but my suggestion would be to do one of two things: one is you can accept the job for the experience and see if you can increase your value and make a case for a higher salary.

Your other alternative is to start a freelancing or consulting service alongside your job doing what you love and you can supplement your income. With your own outfit, you have the option to charge what you want, take on the projects you want and either leverage the experience for a company that will pay the big bucks or you can grow your business into a full-time operation where your earning potential is unlimited.

I hope that helps. I wish you all the best in your career!

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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hey there Arijoy, thanks for the compliment :) I'm glad you liked it and found it helpful.
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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hi there Chung!

HR already has a predetermined range that they are prepared to offer so I, frankly, find it insulting when an interviewer asks that question. My suggestion is to do one of two things:

#1 - Flip the question back on them and politely say that you are sure they already have an idea of a range they are prepared to offer, then ask what is the range is.

#2 - Go in armed with salary info from Glassdoor.com or PayScale.com. Know what the national average, as well as the local city/state average is for the position you are looking for. Check out Indeed.com or CareerBuilder.com to see what other jobs in your area are paying. Then let your interviewer know that YOU know what the average range is so you expect that they to will be competitive.

Don't let 'em rattle your cage :)

All the best to you in your career endeavors!

~Denise Renee

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Guest Márcio Guerra

Posted

Hi Denise and Neville.

I just want to thank you both for this post. Second, I would like to say that I follow Neville for a bit now, perhaps a year, or so, and tried to integrate in my CV the thoughts that Neville tells us here in his site. And for the first time now, they helped me land a job. So far it is not as plenty of a job as I would like to, but it is a very close call, specially if things go according to what we've decided. We're already working with me as a freelancer for a company, which is good, specially being unemployed before.

This said, I also believe that one must tell the truth in an interview. I did it. I do it. I try to avoid «red flags» out of the way, but I know I have some. Specially at a political level (I'm... red and with a fist up! «Workers of the world, unite!»).

Anyway, if you'd like to take a look at my CV, I can leave a link, to a proper read, and for some comment on it!

Cheers from Portugal and keep those Kopyright thoughts «komming»!

Márcio Guerra

P.s.- Neville, I believe I've sent you an email several months ago, because I read somewhere that you always read them. And I also understood that you almost always answer them. Could you please check if you got anything from me? I confess that it might not be a life threatning problem, 'cause I'm still here, and as far as I could tell, I'm still alive... But if you could check for some mguerra79@*****.com email in your box, and try to answer it, it would be most appreciated! Thank you!

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Guest Anthony

Posted

Great article Denise!

How can you position yourself as a top candidate when you have no experience with the job applying for?

I've had several interviews with jobs I didn't really have any experience with and I didn't get them. But why they would take a chance on me to interview me, I feel like I missed something.

How can you get them to take a chance on you when your not as qualified experience-wise as the next guy?

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Guest Michael Nzeribe

Posted

I am just 19. I am yet to start working. I learnt a lot from this article.

More grace to you brother.

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Guest Neville

Posted

That's great Noi! I would highly suggest you print out this article and review it before your next interview. I'm sure there's a 90% chance you'll be asked several of these again.
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Guest Jenelle Daniels

Posted

Perfect timing!! And this is why your emails are a MUST read for my week. I've been considering opportunities and this will come in handy.

Question: I've been out of the corporate world 6 yrs, have kept busy with other activities through my small business, local chamber, and marketing industry conferences. If the role I am interviewing for isn't exactly in the industry I've been keeping busy with how best can I share skills that will relate. (i.e., small biz online marketing, interview Exec Admin, or HR)

Question: Companies almost force a salary requirement. Feels uncomfortable especially when only a phone screen. Any ways to manage this gracefully without offending by not giving a #? And if we give a range is a span of 5 k good or 10k? (i.e., "I am open to a range of 10k - 20k for the role")

Thanks!

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Guest Jenelle

Posted

Thanks Denise Renee!! I had a similar question below. Your input was just what I was looking for.
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Guest Neville

Posted

Thank you Michael, I would suggest printing it out and reviewing these questions from time-to-time (especially before an interview)!
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Guest Neville

Posted

Hey Anthony, I think the fundamental problem is you are NOT qualified for the job.

If you do want to get considered for a job position, why not go through some effort and try to BECOME qualified?

For example: If you're trying to become the Instagram manager for a brand, build your own Instagram page and get lots of followers and engagements. Also offer to manage the accounts of others so you can learn more. In a couple of months, you might actually BE qualified for that job despite not having any formal work experience!

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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hi Anthony, glad you found the article useful. Neville is spot on: you want to make sure you are qualified for a position before you apply.

The flip side of that coin, however, might be that you might have experience in a different industry or area that could be applied to a position you're interested in. That is certainly doable and there are ways you can position your resume to highlight transferable skills.

I'm actually writing an article about that on my blog in the next week so feel free to join my email list if you'd like to be notified when it's published. All the best to you!

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Guest Denise Renee

Posted

Hey Janelle, I'm glad this article was right on time for you!

To answer your first question, I actually work with career changers quite a bit and I have a number of tricks up my sleeve for how to best highlight transferrable skills. My best tip is to utilize a skills-based resume because it de-emphasizes a lot of what you don't want hiring managers to pay attention.

To your second question, I answered a similar question for Chung Chin above. I hope all these suggestions help!

All the best to you in your career!

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Guest Neville

Posted

Hey Fay, all jobs generally want RESULTS more than number of years worked (depends sometimes if it's a huge company they may not budge on the "years worked" number).

If you can show you're just plain better than other applicants through your previous results, I think you can jump upwards in salary faster.

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Guest Neville

Posted

Thank you! I hope the dumb drawings made it more entertaining :)
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Guest Neville

Posted

Great advice DR, it's good to hear that coming from your side of the table. I think a lot of people go into interviews woefully unprepared to answer the "salary" question!
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