The interview 10

Master these questions and you're on your way to landing the job

Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2006

Can you tell me a little about yourself?

Designed as a bit of an icebreaker, this question is often the opening inquiry, says Allyson Morehead, president of Professional Diva, an employment services company based in Long Beach, Calif. Respond by covering four aspects of your background - early years, education, work history and recent career experience.

"Be extra careful that you don't run off at the mouth," she adds. "Sell yourself, be honest, and be brief! Keep your answer to a minute or two at most."

What are five adjectives that describe you?

This one goes along with "what are your strengths?" and gives you a chance to tell the interviewer more about yourself.

"The purpose of this question, first, is to see how well the candidate knows themselves," says Dale Austin, director of career services at Hope College in Holland, Mich. "Second, the candidate, before the interview, should develop a list of 10 to 12 qualities, and then identify the six that relate most to the role for which they are interviewing."

What is your greatest weakness?

This is a very difficult question to answer for many job seekers. Morehead advises candidates to think of this as identifying areas where you need more training or guidance.

She suggests an answer, such as, "I would say my greatest weakness has been my lack of proper planning in the past. I would over-commit myself with too many variant tasks, then not be able to fully accomplish each as I would like. However, since I've come to recognize that weakness, I've taken steps to correct it."

What can you do for the company?

"Here, you have every right, and perhaps an obligation, to toot your own horn and be a bit egotistical," says Morehead. "Talk about your record of getting things done, and mention specifics from your resume or list of career accomplishments. Say that your skills and interests, combined with this history of getting results, make you valuable. Mention your ability to set priorities, identify problems and use your experience and energy to solve them."

What do you see as the biggest challenge in this role during your first six months on the job?

An interviewer who asks this question is most likely looking for how you can handle new situations while also looking for any red flags you may unknowingly disclose.

"You should definitely give some concrete examples that accentuate the positive attributes that you have and how you've contributed as a new team member," says Jean Branan, director of career services at The Art Institute of California - San Diego. "It's great to be able to share examples of some challenge that you may have faced being the newbie and how your conquered those challenges. You wouldn't want to mention to an employer that you were slow to catch on or didn't have any challenges."

Why did you leave your last job?

This question is not an opportunity to disparage your former employer. In fact, that is a big turnoff. Instead, saying something like, "I'm always looking for new challenges. Computer programming at a company like yours is a goal I've been working toward."

Phrasing your reply in such a way that it does not sound negative, but rather highlights that job position as a part of your career path can also result in a conversation about how the prospective employer fits into your aspirations and vice versa.

Where do you see yourself in the next five or 10 years?

By saying, "Although it's certainly difficult to predict things far into the future, I know what direction I want to develop toward. Within five years, I want to become the very best (fill in the blank) your company has. I would like to become the expert that others rely on, and, in doing so, I feel I will be fully prepared to take on any greater responsibilities that might be presented in the long term," creates an open-ended discussion for advancement at the company, suggests Morehead.

What is the most significant challenge you have faced in the last year?

A strong answer to this question would include giving a clear understanding of the situation that you faced.

"Focus on the given challenge, and then, three or four specific steps or actions that you took to address the challenge," says Austin.

Tell me about a decision you made in the last year that you feel good about?

Your response to this question helps the interviewer look at how you make decisions.

"Do you use a logical and understandable approach that reflects clear goal orientation, or is your decision-making more random and capricious?" says Austin. "What is the topic choice for your decision and what will it reveal about your values?"

Do you have any questions?

Usually asked toward the end of an interview, this gives the candidate a chance to obtain some information.

"Try to create a course of action," says Seth Wulsin, a career services adviser at The Art Institute of California - San Diego. "This might be your one opportunity to find out where you stand within the overall hiring process by the employer. Ask them, 'when are you looking to bring someone in for this position?' You'll know if the employer intends to make phone calls and when."

- Lisa Radke and Rob Kallick

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