By now, almost all of us can easily predict what questions will be asked during the interview. The commonality of these questions has almost become a cliché, as queries about yourself, your past employment, strengths and weaknesses, future plans, and how you handled tough situations are asked every single time. However, prospective employers don’t just want you to spout off every single detail for these questions, and are actually getting a sense of whether or not you’d fit into the office culture. To give you the best chance possible of succeeding, we’ve dug deep and decoded what employers are really asking when they pose the following incredibly common questions to you.
They Ask: “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”
Raise your hand if you’ve been asked this question in an interview before. It’s been queried in interviews so often, there are countless articles discussing the best way to respond. Usually, the most common answer is something along the lines of “being a perfectionist”, but we all know that’s smarmy, self-serving, and a huge lie. Even more than that, your prospective employer knows it, too, and will think very little of you for coming up with such a weak answer. Nobody likes a liar, and nobody wants to give a job to a liar.
What They Really Want to Know: “What’s Your Strategy on Self-Identifying Weak Spots and Improving Them?”
Employers don’t ask this because they want a perfectionist on their team, they ask this to get a sense of your personality. By making it to the interview stage, you can sleep easily knowing you were selected because your baseline skills are better than the majority’s. Now, employers want to know what intangibles you’d bring to the table to make the company better. Whatever answer you provide (e.g. tunnel vision, not seeing the details/big picture as well as the other, etc.), immediately follow it up by saying how you’ve identified this area and taken steps to improve it.
They Ask: “What is Your Greatest Strength?”
If you’re asked this question, the temptation is to pat yourself on the back and respond with how many hours you can log in a week, your dedication or commitment to any task, or any intangible characteristic you’ve cultivated over the years. Sure, all companies love enthusiastic employees willing to go the extra mile, but that’s something you should show, not tell.
What They Really Want to Know: “What Skills and Experience Can You Offer Us?”
In the “real world”, nobody cares that you have a cheerful disposition or can type 80 words per minute. It’s not that these qualities aren’t important, it’s that it’s not what employers want to hear when they ask this question. What they’re really after is the quantification of your skills, or in other words, the tangible qualities you can bring to the company to improve it. Next time you’re asked this question, tell them your strengths are things like increasing sales by X percent on a monthly basis or using your writing or speaking abilities to land new clients.
They Ask: “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
It’s awfully tempting to give prospective employers the real reason behind quitting your last job, such as saying your boss was an impossible idiot to deal with, you were given a workload below your capabilities, the pay potential wasn’t there, or you realized the company had no concrete method of moving forwarding and improving itself. Although these are all valid reasons, you never want to say anything bad about the last place you worked at. Not only does it speak poorly of you that you viewed your last company with negativity — your prospective employer will be wondering if you’ll do the same to them — but you never know who are golfing buddies in this world.
What They Really Want to Know: “Are You Going to Screw Us Over?”
Every company wants to protect its bottom line, even if that means passing up a skilled, competent employee such as yourself. If they get even one whiff of the possibility you’ll pack your bags at the first sign of discontentment, you can be sure you won’t be getting the job. So, instead of answering as honestly as possible, spin your reply so it reflects positively on the job you’re trying to get. Say something like, “I felt as though I’d mastered everything I could at Company X, and know that (the company you’re applying to) offers me the best chance to contribute the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired.”
They Ask: “Why do You Want to Work Here?”
Every prospective employer always seems curious as to why you want to work at Company X, giving the impression they don’t know how awesome their business is. Sometimes it’s not about wanting to work at a great place, but just needing a job so your utilities don’t get shut off. You don’t always have the luxury of being selective about the places you apply at, but saying so is a recipe for disaster.
What They Really Want to Know: “What Can You Offer Us that Other Prospective Employees Can’t?”
We’ve already established that companies don’t care if you’re in dire financial straits and they’re a potential lifeline to you, they want to know that you understand just what the company is about and how you can contribute. Every candidate that’s made it to the interview stage essentially has the technical skills or qualifications to get started, so it’s up to you to show how you can do it better. Answer this question by identifying what areas the company excels at, and what areas you can help it go even further from where it already is. This is a good time to show just how much research you’ve done into the company and how familiar you are with its business philosophy.
They Ask: “What Relevant Experience Do You Have?”
This is a great time to mention the years of experience you’ve racked up in your previous job, as well as the superior education (and amount of education) you’ve received. Employers want to know that you can step in and do the job right away, and won’t be a liability or a fraud. But what if you don’t meet all the qualifications listed on the job ad? What do you do then? You really want the position, but don’t want to admit you’re underqualified.
What They Really Want to Know: “We Can Train You, But Can You Prove You’re Worth the Effort?”
If you don’t have the necessary skills or qualifications — and we mean if you’re off by a little bit, and not doing something like applying for an engineering position without a relevant degree — then this is your time to show your intangibles. Talk about a similar from a previous job and how you managed to advance anyway because your other skills made a huge impact with the company, and how you’re enrolled in a course or seminar that’ll improve your skills for the current job. There are some skills that can be taught, and employers would rather have the right personality who’s a little green behind the ears than a grouch who’ll mess up the office dynamic.