During a job interview, there are five questions you must absolutely be ready to answer.
Why these five? Because old-school recruiters and hiring managers have come to count on them as the best possible way to gauge your confidence, passion, sincerity and knowledge of the role for which you’ve applied as well as the mission of the company.
There’s a down side to this, of course: because these questions are asked of everyone there is almost no such thing as an original answer. While the recruiter is smiling, nodding and exuding professional politeness the chances are good they are really thinking:
“For the love of Pete… Can’t anyone give me a good answer to this question?!”
With that in mind, here’s why a recruiter is really asking these questions, and what they really want learn from your answer:
“Why should we hire you?”
As complicated as this question sounds, it is designed to help the recruiter learn three simple things:
- How well do you know – and how well can you articulate – your strengths, skills and qualifications?
- How much do you know about the mission of this organization and the role for which you applied?
- Have you considered how working here, in this specific role, will help us accomplish the mission?
So when answering this question, don’t dive into your hometown, what you enjoyed most about college, your hobbies or family life. Don’t simply regurgitate the company mission statement. And definitely don’t give some generic “Miss America” contestant answer about wanting to change the world.
Instead, focus on answering the three “real” questions the recruiter is asking. Tell the recruiter about your unique value proposition. State your version of the company mission – and be sure to include “why” the company does what it does. Then, deliberately talk about how you being chosen for the position will help them meet their organizational goals.
That is what the recruiter really cares about. That is what they are really asking!
(By-the-way, this exact same approach can easily be used to answer two other tough job interview questions: “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why do you want to work here?”)
“Describe a problem, then tell me how you solved that problem?”
With this question, interviewers are measuring your ability not just to think critically and develop solutions – but to see if you understand the impact of the solution.
Regardless of the specific issue, phrase your answer in the form of a fairy tale. Specifically, tell the recruiter:
- The beginning: What was the problem? Why was the hero necessary?
- The middle: How did the hero solve the story? Who was helped? Who was impacted? How did lives or business change?
- The quantified end: What was the real impact of the hero’s work? How many dollars were saved? What percentage of operations were impacted? What was the effect on the customer? Who lived happily ever after?
In job interviews, storytellers make the best sellers. This is more than just a good question. This is your opportunity to tell a good story.
“Why did you leave your last job?”
This question is asked for one primary reason: to see of you are going to badmouth your former employer, boss and colleagues. Just don’t. Ever.
There is a second reason this question is asked: let’s call it a “sincerity test.” If you really hated your last job, boss or the work environment – and your body language makes it clear you did – and yet you attempt to talk your way through the question by putting a false-positive spin on the issues… a recruiter will know. Fact is: a recruiter can smell BS a mile away, no matter how well you try cover it up.
The best possible answer to this question comes from creating a concise, well-rehearsed (but not memorized) answer that talks about your need to grow as a professional and why this company is a great match.
“What is your greatest weakness?”
Yes, this question is a cliché. However, you must be ready with a really good answer.
The standard wisdom here is to take what should be a strength (“I care too much” or “I work too hard”) and relate it as a weakness. Recruiters see these generic answers coming… and they are not amused.
To answer this question in a more authentic way, review the job description and find the biggest requirement (usually found in the first few bullets) that you haven’t yet mastered. Then talk – carefully and deliberately – about how you will acquire that skill, and soon.
This answer shows the recruiter you have done your homework; that you are anticipating any possible objections that may stop them from hiring you; and – most important – you are self-aware and humble enough to tackle the hard issues. You lack that skill. You are accountable for gaining that skill. You have a plan.
That is how you turn an unimaginative, cliché question… into an opportunity to impress.
“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”
Ah, the second worst cliché job interview question… yet again, you must be prepared.
Candidates tend to go two ways with this one; either they drone on in some long answer about how they want to move up within the company. Or they go into a diatribe about their personal goals of getting married, starting a family, seeing the world… blah, blah, blah.
Here’s what a recruiter really wants to hear: “Today, I’m focused on convincing you I’m the best person for this job. Over the next 90 days, I’ll prove you right. A year from now, I want you to look back on today as one of the best hiring decisions you ever made. When you feel that way, we’ll talk about my desire to lead a team right here at ABC Company.”
(Or, you could do what I did in my ultra-confident years as an engineer; you could say, “In your chair, after I help you get that promotion to National Field Director.” Yes, it worked.)
When asked these five questions, frame your answers around why the question was asked in the first place – and what the recruiter really wants to hear. Answer confidently and sincerely. And you’ll soon find yourself in the top 5% of all candidates who applied for the position!
About the Author: CEO and Founder of YouTern, Mark Babbitt is a serial mentor who has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable and Forbes regarding job search, career development, internships and higher education’s role in preparing emerging talent for the workforce. A keynote speaker and blogger, Mark’s contributions include Huffington Post, Bloomberg News, Switch and Shift, and Under30CEO.
Mark has been honored to be named to GenJuice’s list of “Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors,” HR Examiner’s “Top 25 Trendspotters in HR” and CareerBliss’ “Top 10 Gen Y Career Experts.” Mark is currently working on two new books: “A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive (AMACOM, August 2014) with Ted Coine and “The Ultimate Guide to Internships (And Making Your College Years Matter Again)” (Allworth, January 2015). Questions? Contact Mark on Twitter.