When you sit down for your interview and are asked a broad question like this, it can be hard to know where to start.
Do you start with your family history? Or is the interviewer wanting to know about your current living situation? Perhaps they want to know what you are working on as your career. As these options go through your mind, remember the question is broad on purpose. Your response will indicate what YOU think is important to share. I recommend you focus on the “Why?” question. WHY do you think this job matters in terms of your life experience? Why are you applying for this job at THIS time in your life? So, as you tell the interviewer a little bit more about yourself, make sure you conclude with the reason why it makes sense for you to be in this chair interviewing for this job at this time.
We all know that this question is coming. The cliche answer is to choose a weakness that can be flipped and portrayed as a strength. For example, I tend to work too hard - I’m a bit of a workaholic. Instead, try sharing an actual weakness. We all have them. Perhaps you tend to procrastinate. Explain how you are working on setting deadlines for yourself and finding new ways to organize your calendar with reminders. Or maybe you are someone who avoids conflict. Share an example of some small steps you have taken to be more truthful in your communication instead of spinning things to avoid conflict.
When we hear this question, it can be tempting to respond in great detail. We want to be sure the interviewer remembers the good things about us after all. However, no one likes to hear someone speak highly of THEMSELVES for long - even when asked. Give a short, succinct answer. Then choose one example from your recent experience to back it up. If you mention too many examples or talk at length about your biggest strength, it can come across as if you are trying to persuade yourself of the truth of your own statements.
Five years can seem like a long time from now - especially if you are in your 20’s and 30’s. As the years go by, however, they go by faster. The key to answering this question well is to be honest in your evaluation of yourself. Add 5 years to your current age and state what you would like to be true at that point in your life. Try to find a balance between ambition & humility. You should have some expectation of moving forward as you grow in experience - perhaps even significantly. “I expect we can have a 10% increase in our sales rate over the next 5 years if we focus on…” However, avoid making grandiose statements that are beyond the likely realm of possibility: “We will develop the best selling moisturizer in the world in 5 years”. Statements like this imply you do not know how to create realistic or measurable goals.
This is a tough question to answer. Instead of having to mention just one strength, it is basically a brag or beg for the job. In situations like this, humility and respect for the others who are applying will still be to your benefit. Perhaps you could say that it’s difficult to compare yourself with others you have not met. Mention that it is likely that there are some amazing people applying for the job. Then follow this with the reason you think you are a good fit for the job. Don’t be falsely humble. State what you bring to the job strongly but without too many words. For example: “I know there will be other candidates that deserve your consideration, though I don’t know them personally. I can say with confidence that I am experienced in sales and have the reputation of connecting well with people. My sales rate at my last job was one of the highest in our company. I would love to sell THIS product because it is the product I’ve learned to trust.”
A person typically has many reasons to apply for a job. Sometimes the reasons have to do with the stage of life you are currently in. You can answer this in two parts - the short term reasons as well as the long term. When you address the short term reasons for the job- don’t forget to mention the wonderful opportunities this job brings you currently. Perhaps it’s the ability to be near family or to learn a new skill. When you address the long term reasons, this is where you mention your BIG dreams. Is there a way this job equips you for something you have always wanted to do? A venture you’ve always wanted to be part of? Having a long term vision will add a passion to the work you are doing in the short term.
Perhaps in your life, you have worked in a variety of jobs. Maybe you’ve been trained as an American Sign Language interpreter AND you have worked in an Apple Store selling computers. Choose the professional achievement that is relevant to this new job. Is the job you are looking for in sales? Are you looking for a job with an emphasis in communication? Give an example of an achievement in this area of work. If you have not worked in a similar field to the job you are applying for, choose a professional achievement that shows how you assisted someone on the team. Almost every job you apply for will include working with a team. Don’t underestimate the achievement of being able to work well with others.
Often, when we think back to a time when someone got angry with us, we tend to remember all the things the other person did that were wrong. However, blaming others is a trait that almost always reflects badly on you. Instead, admit to any fault you had in the interaction & take some blame. Be willing to share what you did wrong & then how you fixed it. It’s OK to mention that the other person was at fault as well (if they were) but don’t let this be the focus on your response. Being willing to acknowledge your own faults and find a way forward shows maturity.
There are many reasons that people leave their current job. Sometimes they want to move to a different location that fits their family better. Sometimes the work they are doing doesn’t utilize their skills. Sometimes they just can’t get along with the people they are working with day after day. When asked this question, it isn’t necessary to expound on ALL the reasons that you are wanting to leave. Try to focus on the positive future. You can also use this as a chance to communicate your personal values. This shows that you know what is important to you and that you have a clear vision for how you organize your life. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t stand the people I am working with. They are lazy and bad mouth each other all of the time.” Try: “I value working in an uplifting environment. I have heard some wonderful things about the people that work here and would love to learn from them.” Instead of saying, “I don’t like the overtime hours I had to work when the manager wasn’t willing to help out.” Say, “I value rest and time with those important to me. The hours listed for this job fit the work schedule I prefer.” It’s helpful to the interviewer to know what appeals to you about the proposed job.
Choose a decision to discuss that you won’t get too emotional about as you share the details. It’s OK to translate this question into, ‘... one of the toughest decisions…’ Try to remember what your thought process was. Did you make a pro and con list? Did you gather information and data from friends who had experience with that issue? Did you try to think through who the decision would impact and how they would respond? With this question, the interviewer is wanting to know the ‘how’ of your decision making process. Who matters to you when you make a decision? Do you take the time to consider or are you ‘shooting from the hip’. Difficult decisions come up in every job. The key is to give a concrete example and explain HOW you processed through the different factors that impacted your decision.
Working with other people means it is inevitable that disagreements will arise. Choose a fairly current example, if possible, and show how you responded professionally. You may also want to choose an example that has to do with the actual project you were doing and not some relational or personal disagreement. There’s no need to pretend that you always agreed with your co-workers or even your boss. Having a well informed stance on an issue and being able to articulate it is a sign of healthy communication. However, another important part of responding well is continuing to be respectful and truthful even if you disagree with your boss. Responding professionally means you avoided the temptation of complaining about the decision but instead went directly to the person involved. Choose an example of a time when you responded directly, truthfully and respectfully.
Avoid the temptation to choose something just because you think the interviewer will be impressed with it. Be truthful. If you haven’t found something outside of work that you enjoy, share the steps you intend to take toward finding something. Consider choosing an activity in contrast with your typical work day. For example, if you have an office job where you work alone, find a hobby that involves connecting with other people, being outside, or doing something creative. If you know you have an interview coming up, anticipate this question and try something new. You’ll be able to mention this step you have taken.
How we describe ourselves is often very different from the way others see us. When you respond to this question, try to think of one positive trait OTHERS have mentioned more than once. Then give an example of a time someone saw this trait in you. The interviewer may be asking this question to see how your self-assessment skills are. Does your answer match up with the references that have come in? Keep in mind as well that your answer may give insight into the soft skills you bring to the job. You’ve likely already shared the practical abilities you have. This is your opportunity to highlight how your personality and character will be a benefit in this new job.
No one is strictly a leader or only a follower. Every employer needs people who can take directions as well as those who can motivate and cast vision for a team. When you respond, consider what qualifications this specific job requires and highlight the portions of the job description that fit who you are. For example, “I have found myself in the position of both leader and follower in the past. In my last job, I pulled together a team of volunteers and assigned the different tasks that were needed. It came naturally to me to assess what was needed and connect people with those tasks. I noticed in the job description that we will be working with several different teams of people. I’m excited about that. I look forward to learning from and taking the advice of those who have more experience than I do.”
Your response to a question like this can easily become quite lengthy so be careful not to head down any rabbit trails as you respond. Narrow your thoughts down to 3 things: 1) When did you recognize that person would welcome a mentor? 2) What actions did you take on their behalf? 3) How did that person respond as a result? Make sure to mention what you appreciated about the person you mentored. For example: “I noticed my coworker was struggling to figure out the new database. One day I stopped by her desk over lunch and chatted with her about the questions she had. I asked if it would be helpful to meet for lunch over the next few days to enter our data together to make sure she understood. After about a week - we could both see that she was handling the program with ease. She was quick to learn and willing to take advice - so fun to work with!”
With a little preparation, these interview questions won’t trip you up. Remember to be friendly, truthful, and respectful. Keep your answers clear and concise and offer 1 current example to illustrate your point. Listen well and be prepared with a few questions of your own. Confidence and humility are key - and enjoy your interview!