By Amy Klimek
The purpose of this article is to investigate five of the most common interview questions so that you can prepare to effectively answer them in your next interview. While the terminology or the nature of the question may be a bit different depending on the circumstances (or the particular job's details and responsibilities), you can generally expect to be asked some variation of these five questions:
1. Where do you see yourself in ___ years?
The most dangerous aspect of this question is the ambiguity with which it is asked. This question is so open ended that you can be tempted to answer about anything from your personal life to your professional progress. It's extremely important to be prepared for this question so that you do not find yourself rambling without a particular direction. While you can't prepare for the length of time given, have some general, flexible ideas in place so that you can show you are an individual with a plan and action steps to achieving that plan.
If the question is under two years, provide an example of a professional skill you hope to improve upon (preferably one you plan to be tasked with in this position). If it is two-to-five years, address your desire to take on additional responsibilities past the ones currently listed for this job. Anything over five years you should answer carefully. Don't disclose too lofty of expectations but also don't short-change yourself, either.
2. Why did you decide to apply for _____ position?
Also asked as, "Why do you want to work at our company?" This question is your opportunity to show you've done your research on the company, the position, and the ways in which you are trained to succeed. While providing a few statements that show your familiarity with the company's history, sprinkle in a few previous responsibilities or tasks you have had that seem to be a logical preparation for the current position you're applying for.
3. What is one of your greatest weaknesses?
What may appear to be a trap question is, often times, a very insightful question which says a lot about you as a potential employee. Avoid the cliché, overplayed strategy of listing a weakness such as "too hard working" or "over committed to my job" as employers have heard this far too many times. Use this as an opportunity to prove that you have a high level of self-awareness and can be insightful enough to recognize areas you would like to improve. No one wants to hire someone who thinks they're already perfect and the better a supervisor knows their subordinates strengths and weaknesses, the better they can provide opportunities for success while avoiding opportunities for failure.
It is important, however, to make sure the "weakness" you choose to disclose is professionally viable. Weaknesses such as always being late, lack of attention to detail, and rudeness are hard to play off as professional shortcomings that can be tempered with others for success. Aim for weaknesses such as having trouble being micromanaged where the trait you struggle with is also a trait which should be avoided by others. Few employers will identify themselves with these negative traits which makes the idea of it being an issue, in their eyes, less likely.
4. Why are you looking to leave your current job?
This one can be tricky. You may be looking to leave because you hate your boss or you're tired of being underpaid/under-appreciated, but providing these as reasons you're looking for something new could potentially backfire. Your potential new employer may wonder why you have such a bad relationship with your current boss or if you find yourself to be more valuable to your current company than you already are.
Aim for more positive rationales such as looking to take on new and additional responsibilities. Professional growth should be admired and shows that you have a plan and want to take on the necessary work to achieve it. Other reasons such as changes in your home life (a spouse losing their job, kids heading to college, etc.), while accurate, can also have the potential of backfiring. Make your search for a new position a positive exploration, not the result of unfortunate circumstances.
5. What is one of your greatest accomplishments?
Much like Question #1, the ambiguity here can tempt you to reach into your personal life to respond, but resist doing so. Provide a professional example where you overcame adversity and, especially if your position will involve supervising others, be sure to explain how you involved others in reaching this common achievement. Highlighting your ability to be a quality coworker who is goal-driven and can use appropriate resources to get results paints you as a great hire.
Amy Klimek is an experienced HR recruiter and VP of Human Resources for ZipRecruiter, a company that simplifies the hiring process for small to medium size businesses. Prior to that Amy has held similar roles at Rent.com, eBay and US Interactive.
For Amy, corporate culture isn't about dogs and free lunches, it's about empowering employees and creating an enriching environment for people to excel.