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Interviewing: Sample Answers for Frequently Asked Questions

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Your answers will be different, depending on your background, but focus on the elements of the answer for clues as to how you might approach the question.

Tell me a little about yourself

This question is part icebreaker, part opportunity for the interviewer to see how you handle yourself and ambiguity. Hidden in this question are questions like "How confident is this individual?" "What does he or she value?" "How does he or she present himself or herself?"

One possible answer might be: I have a degree in accounting and five years experience as a tax preparer with H&R Block. My wife and I have been married for ten years and we are both very active in the community. I have been the chair of the church finance committee for the past two years, and the volunteer coordinator for the Cystic Fibrosis walk for the past three years. We live in Bloomington with our two children.

This answer shows that the respondent is well rounded and contains a combination of information of a personal, professional, and community nature. It also stresses a few positive traits: education, longevity at a place of employment, stability, volunteerism, and leadership. And all in under 30 seconds!

Why should I hire you?

This question gives you the chance to convince the interviewer that you are the person for the job. It also gives a good indication of your self confidence, your understanding of yourself and of the position, and some idea of how much you want the position.

You might respond: I believe that I have a great combination of an excellent education, where I earned outstanding grades, as well as a record of directly related work experience, in which I have received glowing evaluations for working hard and being a constant and eager learner. When you couple these assets with the fact that I have overcome considerable adversity in order to get where I am today, the resident is a can do guy with the tools and the attitude to make a positive impact right from the first day.

This question is almost certain to be asked in one form or another, and usually toward the end of the interview. Answering like this is a great way to present a memorable thirty second commercial for your candidacy. This sample answer spells out some significant strengths and also helps turn a potential perceived negative into a positive.

What kind of leader are you?

What kind of team player are you?

"Yes men" come pretty cheaply, but a more valuable find is a person who can take on a project and see it through to a successful completion. Employers look for signs that you will be able to work in a way that gets results. Sometimes this calls for a person to exert leadership and bring the work of many toward a common goal. Other times it means listening closely to the directions of others, sharing their vision of that common goal.

You might respond: I believe that I am a strong leader, and an excellent follower as well. Perhaps more importantly, I have a good sense of when the situation calls for a leader, and when it calls for a strong team player. A good example of this was when I was working on the Cystic Fibrosis Walk three years ago. My job was to be sure that we had enough supplies at the registration desk. Two hours before the event was to begin, the volunteer coordinator still had not arrived. Rather than bother the overall walk coordinator with this problem, I found someone who could work in my assigned area, which I already had pretty much under control. I then filled in assigning volunteers to projects where there was a staffing shortage. By the time the volunteer coordinator arrived, via a tow truck, the walk had been under way for 20 minutes. I filled her in on what I had done, gave her the list of who was assigned where, and went back to my job stocking supplies. The next year, I was asked to assume the position of volunteer coordinator.

This answer addresses the leader question as well as the team player question. It also shows that you do not seek out leadership roles for the sake of holding them, but that you will not wait around for someone to solve your problems for you.

What is your greatest strength?

This question is a little more straightforward than most. It, along with "Tell me a little about yourself" and "Why should I hire you?", is perhaps one of the most obvious chances you will get to sell yourself. You should be prepared for this opportunity if it presents itself.

You might say: My greatest strength may be my determination to succeed. As you may have noticed, I have a slight hearing impairment. This has made it quite difficult, as you might imagine, to learn to speak clearly. Throughout my school years I went through training with a speech and language pathologist. Although the insurance stopped paying for it when I turned 18,1 used the money I earned at my part time job to pay to continue my training through college. Although I don't have any desire to go to Broadway, one of my proudest moments was when I auditioned for and won the role of Frankie in our college production of Grease. It was then that I realized how long a road it had been, but how great the rewards were.

This is another example of taking something that might be perceived as a weakness and showing how the weakness is not what it might appear to be, and how your strengths have more than made up for it.

What is your biggest weakness?

This question is the one that frightens the most job seekers. It is also the one that has led the most career planning professionals to offer ill founded advice. The suggested answers to this question can range anywhere from total honesty to an attempt at humor to using a strength and talking about it as if it were a weakness. I don't think that this is the time to discuss how lousy your handwriting is, or how you can't hit a nine iron, or how you can sometimes take on multiple projects, thereby working yourself to death.

Chances are, the interviewer has asked this question before. They have heard the sad stories of the perfectionists who are never happy until all the details are taken care of on a project, and of the workaholics who put in endless hours, often forgetting to eat while involved with a project. A decent interviewer will either see right through such a response or will take it at face value. Who hasn't worked with someone who is such a perfectionist that the work piles up while they neurotically triple check every comma? Who hasn't worked with someone who is always talking about how hard they work and how tired they are? It's like those pathetic adolescents who feel the need to tell their peers exactly how many drinks they have consumed. Neither makes for a pleasant coworker, and nobody wants to hire someone who thinks they are smart enough to pull one over on the interviewer.

So what can you do? Well, since the death of Mother Theresa, my guess is that everyone reading this book has a weakness or two. Also, because you spent the time doing your self assessment, you have identified what some of those weaknesses are. Perhaps you have had the opportunity to begin addressing those weaknesses by continuing your education, by reading self help books, or through practice, practice, practice.

First of all, this is a relatively "safe" weakness, because as I mentioned before, most people aren't too crazy about speaking in public. It is also not a weakness that is central to the job the way some other weaknesses might be. Also, by admitting an honest weakness and taking concrete steps to overcome it, you show a maturity that is attractive to an employer. Also, by having already taken steps to address the weakness, it is less a weakness than it had been, and may soon be no weakness at all.
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