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Savvy hiring managers have honed their ability to ask the fewest questions yielding the greatest depth of information. One way they do this is by asking seemingly simple questions that get you to reveal information you may have been trying to conceal — queries that break through the traditional interview noise and clutter and get to the raw you.

How to give unique answers to common interview questions

Where do you expect to be in five years

The following answers are best avoided: ‘Doing your job!’ ‘Working somewhere else!’ and ‘No idea – I haven’t thought that far ahead!’ You need to strike a balance between enthusiasm and arrogance. Recruiters will be impressed if you come across as motivated and genuinely interested in the opportunity you’ve applied for. If you tell them you can’t imagine a long-term future in your chosen career, they will conclude you are not committed. Your research into the company’s culture will be helpful, as it will clarify your understanding of the personal qualities the organisation is looking for. You can also use this question to show you understand the key competences needed to be effective in the role you’re applying for and to progress in the organisation. If you are likely to need to undertake a professional qualification to progress, show that you understand the work that will be involved, and how long it will take.

Think about how to tailor your response to reflect the nature of the organisation, the sector, and your own experiences and skills. Specific details will impress. You could refer to the current work of the company, and talk about the roles you would hope to have in similar projects. Your response might be along the following lines, with extra detail to flesh it out: ‘By then, I will have obtained my professional qualification and I hope to be leading a team of colleagues on a major project, and progressing towards a senior project management role.’

You could also give examples of one or two goals that are not directly work-related. For example, if you have taken part in sporting events or charity fundraising while at university, explain that you hope to carry on with similar activities at work, perhaps joining a sports team with fellow employees, or supporting a charity that is backed by the company.


What is your biggest weakness?

The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer so as to give it a positive spin. This question is designed to test analytical abilities and self-awareness, so having a confident answer to this will impress. Avoid taking a self-deprecating approach in an attempt to win the interviewer over.

Avoid: ‘Uh, I don’t know. Um, I guess I have a big weakness for chocolate. No, wait! I get stressed under pressure when up against a tight deadline and tend to procrastinate.’

The problem with this question is that you’re being asked about your shortcomings, when your instinct, in an interview situation, is to keep your flaws as well hidden as possible. What you need to do is to frame your answer so as to give it a positive spin.

This question is designed to test analytical abilities and self-awareness, so having a confident answer to this will impress. Avoid taking a self-deprecating approach in an attempt to win the interviewer over.
The best response, however, is to describe a weakness that could also be viewed as a strength, such as, ‘Because I tend to get very passionate about the work I do, I get frustrated if others don’t share my enthusiasm.’

Most strengths – attention to detail, teamworking and so on – have the potential to shade over into weakness. If you’re a natural teamworker, do you find it difficult to cope with conflict, or to assume leadership responsibilities? If you’re great at the details, do you sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture? Another way to approach this question is to think about how you overcome the potential downside of your biggest strength.


Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?

Avoid: ‘Yes. I had a temp job over the summer and my boss was away a lot, which meant I was basically expected to do her job as well as mine, and I was completely overloaded with really boring, mundane tasks. I posted something about the situation on my Facebook page and got the sack.’

This question is a test of your ability to think on your feet and come up with a diplomatic response.

There are two possible strategies here. You could sidestep the question by saying something like, ‘I’ve always got on well with my employers, as I’m personable and a hard worker, and I’ve gained invaluable experience from part-time jobs and summer vacation work over the years.’ The recruiter may query your response, but that’s just a way of checking how you respond to pressure, so smile, be confident and stand your ground.

Or… you could attempt to answer it, but without incriminating yourself or attacking your previous employer, and in a way that highlights your potential. For example: ‘I wouldn’t describe this as a bad experience, but it was certainly challenging and could have been difficult if I hadn’t been able to cope with it. I did a summer job last year where my employer was suffering from ill health and was under a great deal of personal stress. It actually turned out well for both of us as I was able to step up and take over responsibility for running the café in her absence, and I even increased the weekly take by 5%.’


Why do you think you will be successful in this job?

Avoid: ‘Because I’m great! Seriously, I’m probably going to end up running the company, and everybody thinks I’m excellent.’

You are being asked to match your strengths to the qualities needed to do the job. In order to answer the question well, you need to have prepared by getting to know what the employer wants and analysing how you fit the bill. So you’ll need self-awareness, analytical ability, and the motivation to do a thorough job on your employer research.

As a starting-point, refer to the competences in the job description, and prepare concrete examples that show you have the skills and work experience required. It will help you to answer with more confidence if you’ve also got to grips with the employer’s culture and direction.

‘I have the right combination of skills and experience. For example, the job description says you need people with project management skills who can work well in teams. At university a drama society I was in organised an annual charity fundraiser sit-down dinner. Last year I headed a sub-committee arranging the catering and venue so I’m used to overseeing tasks and working within a team. We also increased the amount of money the event raised for charity – up by a third on the previous year.’

Recruiters don’t just look for evidence of involvement in extracurricular activities – they like to be able to gauge how effective you were. If you can come up with information that helps to quantify your contribution and impact, it will help you convince the employer that you’re the right graduate for their scheme or job opportunity.


Why are you looking for a new job?

Although strained workplace relationships often lead someone to seek a new job, it’s always in poor form to badmouth a current or previous employer. In another Business News Daily article, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of job-listing site FlexJobs, said to reframe negative issues around yourself to avoid speaking badly of your old boss. It’s important to discuss why you are leaving, rather than why you feel the employer is driving you away: Explain that you’re ready to grow and develop your career in new ways, or you feel you’re ready for something fresh, Sutton Fell said.


How would people you have worked with describe you?

This question centers on how well you work with others and your ability to manage relationships with your peers, managers and direct reports. Give examples of situations that illustrate how you work with people across various functions. Answer truthfully, as the hiring manager will reach out to your references at a later point to ensure your perception of yourself is in line with theirs.

Sample Answer:  My managers would describe me as someone who would rather tirelessly overcome obstacles on my own than continuously seek managerial guidance. I make my managers’ lives easier in this way. For example, when I first started working at firm C, I was asked to figure out ways to cut costs. Instead of relying on my manager, who had other projects to oversee, I decided to better understand the transportation logistics behind the wood chips that my employer needed in each facility. After seeing what worked best and what could be improved, I took this information to my manager, who was grateful for the initiative I took.

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