While each interview situation is unique, there are certain interview questions that are de rigeur. As a candidate, it’s just as important to prepare for the common questions as the unexpected. Your ability to provide artful answers to the most basic questions will set you apart from the crowd. Once you master the basics— the most common interview questions—you’ll be better able to focus on the more difficult ones. I’ve outlined several common questions below and have provided responses to each, detailing how I would approach them from my role as an executive search consultant.
“Tell me about yourself.” Interviewers ask this question almost without fail. But don’t be lulled into thinking they want a personal narrative. This question is intended to reveal relevant work-related information, not your life story. According to Forbes, “The best way to approach this is to only discuss what your interests are relating to the job and why your background makes you a great candidate.” That said, the ability to demonstrate a healthy balance between work and life while interjecting a bit of your personality will only add to your appeal. Consider the following as one possible approach to answering the question:
“Some of my passions away from work include music, outdoor activities, traveling and spending time with my children. For me, these things help me maintain a healthy balance and ultimately a better focus on what is important. What stands out most in my professional life are the accomplishments that I’ve achieved in my career. I’ve been in the executive recruiting industry for 17 years and have had many successes, including one I’d like to highlight. One particular client was very pleased with my background and what I had done for their company, and I was asked to work for them. Ultimately, I joined their team and started a recruitment firm, writing the business plan, meeting with their board and demonstrating to them how they could turn expenses into a profit center. In the first year, we billed $1.5 million in sales and hired 10 recruiters to work for the company, 80% of whom added revenue to the company.”
“Tell me about a time when you’ve been the most satisfied in your life.” Here employers are looking for an example of a time when you have been truly satisfied in your career and what enabled that satisfaction. This is an opportunity to reveal what motivates you as an employee, whether it be winning a deal, solving a problem, or earning a promotion. An effective response might look something like this:
“As a sales manager, one of my greatest satisfactions is watching people on my team succeed and achieve their goals. Last year, one of my team members received the highest-level recruiter designation when she became a Senior Partner at Lucas Group. In addition, another individual on my team is well on the way to achieving this same goal by December 2013. As a leader, I feel most satisfied in my work when my team is happy and motivated toward success.
“What questions do you have for me?” This is a particularly popular wrap-up question, and saying that you don’t have any questions is never the right response. Instead, ask the hiring manager one or two strategic questions that will provide you with more information about his or her ideal candidate Then, you can use this description to wrap up the interview by briefly describing why you fit this profile and how you can achieve their goals. For example, you could ask: What are the 3-4 key objectives you see me accomplishing within my first 90 days in this position?”
By being prepared for all of these key interview questions, you will be better equipped to demonstrate your value to a company. The ability to confidently provide strategic, thoughtful responses to the most common interview questions will not only help you shine, but give you a firm foundation on which to stand once the more challenging questions begin.