September 6, 2009
Nail the interview: Preparation will help you ace common questions
When it comes to job interviews, are you the rambler, the bore or the one who sweats nervously?
Knowing how you might come across to a prospective employer could mean the difference between advancing to the next round or losing out to someone who’s better prepared. There is a growing field of candidates competing for jobs, so you need to be able to answer questions with confidence and focus.
“The way that you sound spontaneous and conversational is to prepare and practice,” says Rachelle Cantor, president of RJC Associates, a career-counseling firm based in San Francisco.
That means thinking in advance about what your interviewer might ask -- not so you can come up with a scripted answer, but so you won’t be caught off guard. Here are some common questions Cantor says you should be ready to handle.
QUESTION 1: How would you improve on our company or product?
This is one of the trickiest questions a recruiter can pose. After all, you don’t want to criticize an area the hiring manager oversees.
A good rule of thumb is to start by pointing out what you like about the company. Then state your suggestions for improving it in a way that isn’t dismissive or judgmental. Engage the interviewer by asking whether your ideas have already been considered, and if so, why the company rejected them.
Although the question might sound like a trap, don’t be afraid of volunteering constructive ideas. It will show that you did your homework and aren’t afraid to state your opinion.
QUESTION 2: What is your greatest weakness?
One reason hiring managers ask this question is to gauge your self-awareness. “That’s one of the most valued qualities in a leader,” says Bobbie Little, an executive coach at PDI Ninth in San Francisco.
Owning up to a true fault shows you’re honest about yourself and know what you need to improve. Give an example of how the weakness played out in the workplace and what you learned from the experience.
That said, don’t rattle off a list of shortcomings or be overly self-deprecating. And whenever admitting a weakness, be sure to note how you’re working to improve it.
QUESTION 3: What’s the worst boss you had, and how did you deal with him or her?
The real question here is: Just how mature a person are you? People are often surprisingly willing to volunteer the anger they carry around, Little says. “That tells me they weren’t able to work through a situation.”
Complaining that your old boss was out to get you will make you sound paranoid. It will also make the interviewer wonder how you’d get along with future bosses and co-workers.
If you’re faced with this question, tell a story that shows you can handle an uncomfortable situation professionally. Little recalls being impressed by a candidate who made it a ritual to decompress at the gym whenever he found his workday particularly stressful.
QUESTION 4: Why are you the right person for the job?
Give compelling specifics. If you’re applying at a nonprofit, for example, note that you’ve worked at three major nonprofits over your career. Tell how you were able to boost sales by 5 percent at your former job. Or point out that you’re familiar with the newest software in the industry.
These are the types of concrete reasons that will stick with a recruiter. You should volunteer this information even if you’re never directly asked the question.
According to Cantor, here are the answers you should NOT give: You want the job more than anyone else; you have the right skills; you know you’ll do a great job. “If you say something subjective,” she says, “all they have is your word.”
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