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I've interviewed hundreds of people over the years, and when I interview a candidate, I want to hire them. I'm looking for someone who: (1) can do the job, (2) wants to do the job, (3) will fit into the culture, (4) won't quit or be a huge headache.
The smartest answers to commonly asked interview questions are concise, positive, and showcase the candidate's fit with the job. Smart interviewers do their research and tailor their answers to fit the opportunity.
1. Tell me about yourself
Keep your introduction positive, clean and simple. Focus on what is directly relevant. You want to show that you have the ability and desire to do the job, and fit into the company culture. Highlight aspects of your career, college, hobbies, and personal life that match that of the company.
Don't assume that your interviewer has read your resume. However, don't just recite your resume verbatim to your interviewer. The smart answer tells the interviewer why the interviewee is a good fit for the open position. If you are a recent college graduate interviewing for a sales position, highlight that you are a competitive people person who loves a challenge. If you are making a career switch, highlight your transferable skills. If you are keeping in the industry and looking for more responsibility, highlight specific examples of the best work you've done.
2. What are your biggest strengths? What will you bring to the team?
Don't ramble on for minutes reciting every quality you can think of. I once sat through an interview where the candidate spoke for 5 minutes about how they were careful, yet willing to take risks, and that they were independent, but great in teams. It was confusing, and not convincing.
Choose 1-3 strengths that are relevant to predicting your success at the job and company. Carefully read the job posting and talk to current employees. Find out if their are common strengths that lead people to excel in the role.
Stay away from overly generic and lazy answers, like "I'm a people person." Instead, give solid examples of how your relationship building, research. and clear communication brought it and retained top clients at your last job. Highlight common themes in your achievements, and link them to tangible results. This question is basically: Why should we hire you?
3. What is your biggest weakness?
Please don't go with the humble brag, of "I'm such a workaholic, or people say I'm too much of a perfectionist."
Give a weakness that is a genuine, but acceptable for the job you are applying to. For example, if you are interviewing for a programing job, you could say that one of your weaknesses is public speaking, which would have little bearing on doing your job. Similarly, some weaknesses, such as micromanaging or giving feedback too directly can be acceptable in certain positions.
Tell a story where you learned from a mistake. Give an example where something relatively minor went wrong, and what you learned from it. Focus on what you learned, and keep it positive.
4. Where else are you interviewing? What types of roles?
I once interviewed a candidate for a sales role at a early stage start up. I really liked him, and the interview was going well. I wanted to hire him, but when I asked him where else he was interviewing he told me that he was excited about a finance role at Microsoft. Huh? I was confused. We got to talking and it was clear that he didn't know what he wanted.
It's ok if you are interviewing for multiple types of opportunities, however don't tell your interviewer. Keep your answer focused on the opportunity and company that you are interviewing for.
5. Any questions for me?
A good interview is a conversation, where both sides are engaged. The purpose is to discover if the position is a match. If the candidate asks no questions, they are missing an opportunity. It appears that either they aren't interested, or believe they already know everything to know about the position.
Don't ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. It's annoying to me as an interviewer when someone asks a question I've already answered, or is blatantly not relevant, just because they had it prepared. As Benjamin Holder suggests, ask questions that show you are genuinely interested in learning more about the job, the role, and the company. Use the opportunity to end on a high note.