Preparing for the interview can be nerve-racking.

Figuring out what to dress and getting the resume spot on are enough to cause a small amount of stress, not to mention prepping and rehearsing potential interview questions.

Below I will go over 5 of the most common interview questions you should be prepared to answer, as well as the answers I used to get the job that landed me in my current career.

Tell me about yourself

Don’t overthink this one. Remember, you’re in a job interview.

There’s no reason to get too personal.

This is about how well you would fit into the company culture and professional climate they’ve established and refined.

The most important thing to remember is: be Honest.

One thing to help navigate this question is to think: what does my current employer know about me?

They probably don’t know where you were born, what you like to do on the weekend, etc, and yet, they’ve seen fit to employ you, so what does your CURRENT employer know about you that has convinced them to give you a chance?

Quick note: you are never required to answer questions such as “Are you married?” “Are you pregnant?” “How many children do you have/are you planning to have?”

While you may disclose personal information like this if you’d like, it is your choice to do so.

Employers are not allowed to discriminate based upon your answers to these questions.

The best answers are things such relating to your academic history, ongoing academic pursuits, volunteer work, military/JROTC experience, valedictorian, which college you attended, if you ever did any study abroad, boy scouts/girl scouts experience, etc.

Things like “I’m currently pursuing my MBA” are excellent answers to these types of questions.

An excellent method to develop an outline for these types of questions is to ask a couple of your co-workers, college professors, or maybe even your supervisor, “how would YOU describe me”.

This is a great way to figure out how you are perceived in a professional environment.

An added advantage is if you ask some of your references how THEY would describe you, then when the prospective employer asks THEM to describe you and it lines up, it’s an added benefit of your answers being verified by a third party.

Also, don’t be afraid to say good things about yourself.

If it’s true and it will help you get the job, say it! Confidence is key in these situations.

My answer: I just graduated college with a major in Chinese & Japanese as well as a minor in German.

I’m a military veteran, having served 3 years in the U.S. Army Infantry as a rifleman and color guardsman in the Presidential Color Guard in Arlington, Virginia, performing missions with President Barack Obama and various Medal of Honor recipients.

Before that, I trained as a firefighter and first responder at the International Air Land Emergency Resource Team Academy in Big Sandy, Texas, where I trained in various disciplines such as high-angle rescue, confined space rescue, police diving and evidence recovery, and urban and wildland firefighting.

During my final year of college I interned with the American Legion National Security Division in Washington, D.C. as a Data & Security Analyst.

What attracted you to this company?

Great question!

Trust me, I’ve been there: applying to various positions and companies, the qualifications of which I qualify for and therefore submit my resume, when suddenly you get a response back asking for a phone-screening when you realize “I know absolutely NOTHING about the company I just applied to!”

It’s okay, take a breath, and do some research.

The obvious answer to “what attracted you to this company?” is “Well, you had an ad online, it paid well, so I applied”.

They already know that part. 

A better way to ask this question, and the question you SHOULD answer, is “why have you taken time out of your day, gotten dressed up, spruced up your resume, and chosen to be here answering our questions when you could have done literally anything else?

Answer THAT question, and you’re off to a good start. 

Money aside, why would you like to work for them?

DO you want to work for them?

Again, always be honest.

What did you see on their website that stuck out to you? Are you familiar with the products or services they deliver? Have you heard good things about them? Why would you like to work for them for the next 5+ years?

Because that’s what they want to know.

My answer: The idea of working as a professional recruiter/headhunter intrigued me.

While I have never worked in that capacity, as an Army Veteran I have had experience with military recruiters, and the idea of helping people find their dream job is something that excites me.

Tell me about your strengths

This is the PERFECT time to ask the people you will be using as references for help, as well as co-workers & supervisors.

Ask people you know “what would you say my greatest strengths are?”

Examples can definitely help, such as “one time when there was W problem, and I used X skills and abilities I’d learned from Y to achieve Z result”.

Honesty is key. 

Again, don’t be afraid to say good things about yourself if they’re true.

Many people struggle with this concept, but make sure you have the ability to discuss what makes you strong, capable, and dependable.

Quick note: avoid using “we” language when relaying previous successes.

Military veterans struggle with this concept. We are trained to rely on the team and often answer with things like “I’m only as strong as the team I’m attached to”, or “WE used X skills and abilities WE’D learned…”, etc.

The company isn’t interviewing your team.

They’re interviewing YOU, and they need to know what YOU can do.

Also, your answer needn’t be long.

My answer: My biggest strength is my ability to ask questions when I don’t know the answer.

What are your weaknesses?

As before, ask your references, co-workers, supervisors “what would you say are some areas I could grow professionally?”

Be honest, because your prospective employer WILL ask this question of your references.

Also, you shouldn’t answer with a veiled strength, i.e. “my biggest weakness is I’m too much of a perfectionist”.

Your answer must relate to an actual weakness you have.

This question is meant to help you, as perhaps your team assignment and/or duties depend on helping you avoid your pitfalls.

Batman: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

Superman: “I’m way too outgoing.”

Batman: “Perfect! Welcome to the Justice League. Here, hold this kryptonite.”

Some of the most common (good) answers I hear are

  • “I need to be more assertive”
  • “I have more to learn about X product and how to do Y”
  • “I lack confidence in my own abilities”
  • “I get nervous during interviews”

My answer: I am bad at prioritizing my time across the most important tasks, trying instead to get everything done equally.

I also need to see how something is done a couple of times before I actually get it.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

There’s no wrong answer as long as you’re honest.

As a full-time recruiter, I’ve heard it all:

  • “Paul, I’m planning to retire in 4-5 years, and I’m looking for one last stop to call home.”
  • “I need to grow, I can’t remain stagnant. My goal is to be a Chief Estimator within 5 years.”
  • “I’m not planning to retire for 20+ years, and I’m just looking to a solid position where I can come to work, do my best, and make ends meet.”

NONE of the above are bad answers, and I’ve placed ALL of these candidates in great jobs.

Don’t answer what you think the interview wants to hear, be honest.

I’ve regularly received job orders from clients saying:

  • “Paul, I need someone who is content to work as a plug-and-play estimator, someone content to be in the same role.”

Just as often as I’ve gotten job orders saying:

  • “Paul, I need someone eager to grow, ready to move up in their career, hungry for advancement and responsibility.”

The worst thing you can do is answer based on what you THINK they want to hear when that’s not what you want at all and be miserable and burnt out in 5 years, either because you said you wanted more responsibility and got it, or because you’re in the same role because you thought they wanted someone like that.

My answer: I hope to be better at whatever I’m doing, making more money, and helping more people advance in their careers.

Conclusion

Practice these questions and prepare for them, because these are the same questions my clients and I use when vetting potential candidates.

Like any other talent, interviewing is a skill that you get better at with time and proper practice.

Try testing yourself in front of a mirror, while driving in the car, or riding the bus.

Going over these questions in your head will also help in your professional and personal development.

Everyone should do their best to answer these questions, even if you have no desire to change careers or companies.

Remain calm, stay confident, be honest, and I wish you the best in all your professional endeavors.

Lastly, be sure to read my article Here where I discuss how to answer 5 more common interview questions.

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