An Entry from the Job Hunter's Journal

Common Job Interview Questions and How to Respond to Them

Another recruiter, Diane Sobota, President of The Plastics Group, and I decided to make a list of commonly asked interview questions we have encountered in our manufacturing and Third Party Recruiting (Headhunting) careers to give to our candidates before their interviews. We thought these interview questions, and our recommendations on how to respond to them, might help other job seekers so we are offering them to anyone who is getting ready for that big interview. This is not an all inclusive list and we plan to add to it as we become aware of additional questions. We hope this helps.

  1. Do you have any weaknesses?Few of us want to admit that we have any weaknesses, except maybe for chocolate candy. I recently had a candidate that answered the question with a strong NO! which did not set well with the hiring manager. The important thing to remember when answering this question is to think of a trait you might have that could be a weakness turned into a positive. Thinking about how you would answer this question ahead of time will allow you to be better prepared and answer this question easily. An example of a weakness that would benefit the employer is, “I am a workaholic who is not happy if I am not at work.” Another good answer might be that you fail to delegate enough because you are something of a perfectionist.
  2. You mentioned that you were the Project Manager on the Widget Project, was the process successful and what did you contribute to the project?First of all, if the project was not a success you should not have listed it on your resume, so the correct answer is: “Very successful.” The project was completed under budget, on time, and greater cost savings were achieved than originally anticipated. Realize that you will be quizzed about achievements on your resume and you had better be prepared to answer them quickly. Bringing along any samples of your work to the interview is also a good idea it confirms the validity of your project and shows the potential employer some examples of your work.

    When answering the “what did you contribute to the project” question, this is no time to get modest. The interviewer wants to know what YOU contributed so don’t give an answer such as; “I had a great team so all I really had to do is act as a conductor”. You have to detail how that on the eleventh hour the project was on the brink of disaster due to no fault of your own (contractor going bankrupt or some such thing) and you stepped in to save it and then provide the details about how you snatched the project from the jaws of disaster. Remember, the company is hiring YOU, not your project team!

  3. Tell Me About Yourself!
    If you are not prepared, this can be a very scary question. Just remember the company wants to hear about you and any experiences or education that will make you an outstanding employee. This is your opportunity to sell yourself to the interviewer/company. Knowing as much about the company as possible is very important because everything you have to say about yourself should relate to the employer and/or the position you want.

    Talk about how your experience as a salt miner will help when you come to work for the company designing salt mines to hold nuclear waste. The answers to this question should be thought out ahead of time and practiced on someone who knows you. If they laugh at you, practice some more until you can answer this question without making them laugh. Remember, “In business sincerity is everything, once you learn how to fake it you have it made”.

  4. Why do you want to leave your current employer?
    An important thing to remember is to always be positive about the companies you have left. No company wants to hire someone who bad mouths a company because they then will worry could this person bad mouth us? In every interview you will have to go through the “why you left” question for every company you worked for in the past. Again, always be honest but it is how you answer this question that can really set the tone of the interview. I always advise my candidates to give short, to the point answers and then move on. Spending time talking to the hiring manager why a company closed or why you left is not necessary and takes away the valuable time needed to really sell your self.

    Unfortunately, some candidates seem to think positive spin equates to a license to lie. Most of the time a quick but honest answer such as, “I am looking for a better opportunity” is adequate. Be as positive as possible without lying or misleading the interviewer.

  5. What is your greatest strength?
    Obviously, the interviewer does not want to know how much you can bench press but what you can bring to employment party. To answer this question correctly you need to know why the company is interviewing you and what you can do to relieve the company’s pain. If the company was not in pain, because some skill set or expertise is missing, they would not be interviewing you. If you are interviewing for a Human Resources position, you best answer is usually your ability to work with and motivate people.

    If you are interviewing for a machine design position and the company is running SolidWorks Cad Software, your greatest strength had better be using SolidWorks Cad Software to design specialty machines. Many candidates cannot think well enough on their feet to figure this out. In other words, look closely at the job description or what your recruiter has told you are the “hot buttons” for the company. Even though you may have a multitude of experiences, you want to highlight the skills you believe are important to the company. If they list something on the job description, assume it is important.

  6. Do you have any questions?
    Before you leave the house you should have a list of questions prepared. This is probably the easiest question to answer but it is probably the most often missed and it is a great opportunity to set you apart from the competition. Weak answers such as; “Not really, you have answered them already” are a major mistake. Not only have you missed an opportunity to set yourself apart from the competition, you are telling the interviewer that you are not really that interested in the position or the company. Obvious questions are better than no questions because they show you care enough about being hired that you are willing to put forth a minimal effort. One of my favorite questions is “assuming I get the job, how can I prepare before reporting to work to be able to hit the ground running when I get here?” Not only does this question show that you are a go getter, the answer should give you more insight into what is expected when you start work.

    When you leave that interview, you also want to know that this is the right company for you. When making your list of questions, not only do you want to learn about the position and company, but think about what it is that is important to you to see in a company or position for you to make a move or relocate your family.

    Depending on the position and the rapport that you have developed with the interviewer, don’t be afraid to tell them that you are very interested in the position and why, and then sometimes you might want to ask them if there are any concerns or questions that they may still have about your background. I said that in an interview once and the interviewer was quite surprised. I continued with a statement such as “I am very interested in this position and when I leave here I want to make sure that if you have any concerns about my background that we take the opportunity to discuss them now”, or something like that. Well, the interviewer did ask me something again about a relocation issue and turns out that he was not convinced about my original answer on my ability or desire to relocate. If I had not asked that I would have never have gotten the job and never known why. He still had some unanswered questions about me. I was able to re-state my situation and overcome that objection, and I did end up getting the job.

  7. Do you know how to listen?
    This question is rarely directly asked but answering it correctly is very important. An interviewer can usually tell a lot about the candidate’s ability to listen by how well their questions are answered, body language, and to what extent the candidate tries to monopolize the interview process. Short, well thought out answers are best, long diatribes are not.

    Many years ago, I was being interviewed for a Maintenance Manager position in a large plant. I was interviewed by several people including the Plant Manager who was formerly the Director of Human Resources for the entire Division of this Fortune 100 Company. He was increasing his value to the company by taking a tour as the Plant Manager. The Plant Manager told me to take a seat and began a monologue as he turned to look out his office window without looking at me. He talked for the solid hour about his management philosophies and how he expected his management staff to conduct themselves. I did not say a word. At the end of the hour he stood up shook my hand and told me that I was the kind of person the company needed. I got the job and for years was very confused by the interview. I can only assume this was his way of determining if the interviewer can listen.

  8. Where do you want to be 3 to 5 years from now?
    If you are interviewing for a Supervisor position at General Electric, stating that you want to be the CEO of GE in 3 to 5 years brings your reasoning process into question. However, saying that you want to move into a manger position is quite acceptable and demonstrates that you are motivated and that’s a good thing.
  9. Have you ever managed anyone?
    This is usually only asked if you are interviewing for a management role or if the company is planning on promoting you into a management role shortly after hiring you. If you have managed others, elaborate on how many people and the type of reporting relationship. If you have not managed anyone in a corporate setting, answer the question by showing that you have managed others in a volunteer setting (even managing cub scouts counts, believe me). I got my first management position by showing that I had managed several engineering projects without having direct reports, ergo managing without authority, and by demonstrating that managing without authority is actually harder than managing with authority.
  10. Of the jobs listed on your resume, which one did you like the best and why?
    The interviewer is asking this question to determine how well you will really like the position that is being offered. If you favorite past position has little to do with the position being offered, the interviewer is going to be concerned especially if he or she perceives you are desperate. It is also in your best interest to accept a position you will be happy or content filling.
  11. How would your direct reports (or peers) describe you?
    This is the type of question that the interviewer learns more from the body language and time it takes you to formulate an answer than the actual answer. Answers such as; decisive, team player, born leader, great mentor, etc. are solid answers that you should be able to give almost immediately after being asked the question.