That last interview was awesome! Never mind the interviewer’s bad poker face, or the manager making “cut my throat” gestures from across the room. Heck, you were knocking those questions down like intensive care patients in a boxing ring right? How hard can it be, when local companies keep asking the same questions? Well, don’t count on that next pay cheque yet. Because according to the HR managers I spoke to, there are some common questions that applicants keep messing up, and don’t even know it:
The seven questions you’ve probably messed up are:
- Tell us about yourself
- Why did you leave your last company?
- Can you meet deadlines?
- Do you know what we sell?
- Where do you see yourself in X years?
- Are you fine with long work hours?
- Why should we hire you?
Pretty common right? But if you think you handled them well, think again. It’s possible your response sent your resume to the trash.
1. Tell Us About Yourself
This question is not an opportunity to go Hunter S. Thompson. Don’t talk about meditating in Tibet, or riding camels in Egypt, or any of the emotional upheavals in your life story. Never mind if your life has been the basis of four Indiana Jones movies, leave it out.
The interviewer is evaluating two important things here: whether you fit their corporate culture, and whether you lack confidence. It’s true that insecure people tend to “waffle” more, and throw in lots of irrelevant anecdotes. You don’t want to be seen as one of them.
Answer this question directly, by stating what you’re doing now. As in, “I’m a student,” or “I spend all day captioning stock photos”. From there, move on to what your job entails, your educational background, and what your core competencies are. Express personal opinions (e.g. you think all managers should wear ties) only when asked.
2. Why Did You Leave Your Last Company?
Don’t break into a synopsis worthy of a Channel 8 soap opera. If you were fired or retrenched, then simply say so and explain the reason. Don’t start blaming or bad-mouthing people. And don’t degenerate into a tirade about “this economy” or “the market”.
Other well received reasons are:
- I want to move into a line of work that better matches what I studied
- My financial needs have changed
- I want to do a job that I have a personal interest in
- I want a work environment with more emphasis on personal initiative
Whatever the case, the first words out of your mouth better not be: “Actually, hor, it’s not my fault, it’s because…etc.”
3. Can You Meet Deadlines?
This is a trap question. If you immediately say yes, your interviewer will decide you’re either thoughtless, or contain more horse manure than a turf club stable.
Do you usually agree to deadlines you don’t even know yet? What if I ask you to launch a new global telecommunications network by Thursday?
The appropriate response to this question is another question. You could ask: “Well, what are these deadlines, and what is the nature of the project?” Then based on their response, tell them if their expectations are realistic. Throw in your own opinion of how long it will take.
4. Do You Know What We Sell?
This question tests your grasp of branding, and sales people get it all the time. Say you walk into McDoogle’s Fast Food for an interview, and you’re asked “Do you know what McDoogle’s sells?”
If your response is “Hamburgers, duh”, then you’re basically saying “I have a keen grasp of the obvious. The only position I’m qualified for is fry cook.” If you want a sales or marketing position, your answer should be: “McDoogle’s sells a culture and a lifestyle. As suggested by our company motto…etc.”
The interviewer is checking whether you know how to sell. Also, that you’re aware of the company’s branding and image.
5. Where Do You See Yourself in X Years?
When the interviewer asks this, they’re looking at confidence and ambition. A common error is to go “off the job track”, and give personal goals. Were those mentioned anywhere in the question?
Pay attention: the interviewer wants to know what sort of job advancement you expect. And if you haven’t thought about that, then “Maybe,” thinks the interviewer, ” this guy has all the ambition of a garden slug”. That’s not a flattering trait. So please, have a specific answer prepared. You could say you expect to be a supervisor in three years, or to be heading your own ad campaigns by following June.
6. Are You Fine With Working Long Work Hours?
As with point 3, they’re checking to see if your brain goes into gear before your mouth. Before swearing to work like a nine year old in a Chinese sportswear factory, stop and think about the question.
The sensible response is to ask: “What do these long work hours entail ?” Just a long work day? Or does it mean unpaid overtime? Perhaps the company expects you to work a six day week?
Employees with stable families usually mention work-life balance. They can work overtime now and again, but the husband and children are a priority. Or there’s an aged parent who needs tending to. Far from discrediting them, many employers prefer this response; it means the applicant isn’t a stressed time bomb, or an inconsiderate jerk.
7. Why Should We Hire You?
This question tests whether you understand the job description. Also, the interviewer is checking how you respond to “big picture” questions.
The most common error is to get all flustered, and not know where to begin. The next most common error is to resort to personal traits. For example, saying they should hire you because you’re hard working, you’re a good person, you never forget to change the toilet paper, etc.
The appropriate response is to explain how your qualifications match the job. So go through the points in the job description, and state how you fulfil each one. You can end by proposing some ideas that might be good for them. For example, “I think if your website were more interactive, you’d have a higher conversion rate. Now I can do that for you by…etc.”
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