8 Common Interview Questions
Answering them is easier than you think when you know the interviewer’s intentions.
by Shane Christopher
Having been on both sides of more interviews than I care to admit, I’ve compiled a list of the eight most common interview questions I’ve asked and been asked, along with guidance on how to answer them. Note the word “guidance.” There is no right or wrong answer. Rather, I aim to provide insight into why someone may ask these questions and what they’re trying to learn about you.
1) Tell me a little about yourself.
Translation: I don’t know how to start this interview, so I’ll make you work at it.
Guidance: Give them a 2-to-3-minute elevator speech (aptly named for its ability to pitch an elevator partner in a short period of time) that starts with insight into you as a person, then moves into a brief chronological synopsis of your education and professional career. What do you like to do? An interviewer wants the interview to go well. If he or she can strike a common bond with you — be it love of baseball or an affinity for bird-watching — the interview is more fun. Don’t talk politics.
2) What did you do in the military?
Translation: How does being a helicopter mechanic train you to sell IT systems?
Guidance: Tell the interviewer how your military training translates into a civilian job (leadership, teamwork, work ethic, etc.). Sprinkle in some interesting stories from the military. Your interviewer may remember only a few other details from the session, but he or she will recall your stories of teeing off at midnight in Keflavik, Iceland. That will help you stand out from the 12 other interviews that week.
3) Why are you leaving the military?
Translation: Are you a job-hopper?
Guidance: The interviewer really wants to know. Were you a poor performer? Were you a disgruntled employee or did you get out because you didn’t want to leave your family for 12 months at a time? The latter is perfectly understandable. The former indicates someone they don’t want to hire. Is this job a stepping stone to some higher calling or will you be a company man?
Keep in mind that your interviewer may be just as nervous as you. You’ve likely done more interesting things, been exposed to different cultures and had bigger responsibilities in the military than your interviewer has in an entire career. So he or she may be a bit intimidated.
4) Are you willing to relocate?
Translation: Do you plan to grow roots, or will you give us the flexibility to move you where your skills will benefit the company?
Guidance: It’s probably worth finding out in advance if the company requires relocation to promote. In most cases with a big firm, you must relocate to advance. That makes sense because it exposes you to different facets of the business. But many companies may let you stay put if you don’t care to be promoted. Be honest. If you aren’t willing to relocate, not saying so in an interview will cause grief for you and the company down the road.
5) What is your biggest strength?
Translation: Are you confident or cocky? Are you a team player? (And I’m setting you up for No. 6, too.)
Guidance: You have many strengths and the interviewer isn’t looking for a laundry list. Pick the one that would most help the company and illustrate it with an example of how it would help. Talk about how you led a team that accomplished great things. Make it a “we” answer, not a “me” answer. No one person can affect the stock price, and those that are most successful make people around them better. Such leaders are force multipliers in human assets, just the type who companies want to hire.
6) What is your biggest weakness?
Translation: An intelligent person knows what they don’t know. Are you intelligent?
Guidance: Everybody has weaknesses. Those who know their weaknesses are better equipped to manage them. Those who don’t admit to problems are those who shirk responsibility and accountability — traits nobody wants in an employee. Be self-effacing. It shows honesty, humor and confidence. Pick a negative trait and show how you’ve overcome it. Have fun with this one. If you can’t think of a weakness, ask your spouse.
Relax, promote yourself and convert your skills into value for the company. Most of all, let your personality shine through.
7) Why should we hire you?
Translation: I’m feeling pretty good about hiring you. Just give me one last reason to close the deal and send you an offer letter.
Guidance: If you get this question, you’re probably on good footing with the interviewer. Sum up your skills and how they translate into value for the company. Reinforce your reasons for wanting to work for them. Portray yourself as an excited employee who will add value.
8) Do you have any questions for me?
Translation: If you don’t ask any, you may not have a pulse.
Guidance: Absolutely! You should ask more questions than you’re asked. Thinkers and learners ask a ton of questions. How do you think smart people became smart? Your trek towards ignorance starts the day you think you know it all. If this is a first interview, ask questions about the company, the market, the culture, the work, etc. Save the WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) questions for later or final interviews. Asking those in a first interview shows you have more interest in vacation days than your job or the company. No company wants to hire whiners and clock-punchers.
Keep in mind that your interviewer may be just as nervous as you. You’ve likely done more interesting things, been exposed to different cultures and had bigger responsibilities in the military than your interviewer has in an entire career. So he or she may be a bit intimidated. Relax, promote yourself and convert your skills into value for the company. Most of all, let your personality shine through. After all, they have to spend 40 hours a week with you; they better like you.