Ace Your Next Interview: 16 Practice Question & Answer Strategies

The interview process should begin well before arrival to an employer’s office.  If you’ve recently been invited to interview for a position, you can boost your chances of success by diligently preparing unique responses to common questions. While you won’t have access to the hiring manager’s exact questions in advance, you can be sure that at least some of the typical questions will be asked during your interview. Several of these questions are listed below along with corresponding approaches for effective answers.  To best facilitate your preparation, the questions are categorized according to type:
  • Personality
  • Professional accomplishments
  • Weaknesses and obstacles
  • Career objectives 
Before your next interview, take some time to jot down what you’d say in response to the following questions, and consider vocalizing your answers to yourself in the mirror or to a friend for maximum readiness.  By doing so, you’ll automatically gain an advantage over the other job seekers – before you even walk in the door.

PERSONALITY
1.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Surprisingly, this “easy” question often stumps candidates, and since it will likely be asked early in the interview, you can’t risk fumbling through it. Provide the interviewer with a brief employment history, beginning with your earliest relevant role. Supplement this information with corresponding details, such as the reasons for your initial interest in the field, your future goals and how your experience relates to the position for which you are interviewing. Omit personal details unless instructed.

2. What adjectives would you use to describe yourself?
You can really provide any combination of numerous positive descriptors, as long as they relate to the nature of the position. The challenge is to supplement your choices with detailed examples. If you call yourself “diligent,” back yourself up with an actual professional experience, i.e., “In my position as a software developer, I compensated for my teammate’s temporary leave by taking on extra responsibilities, while conforming to management’s deadlines.” This is an especially helpful example if the position for which you are interviewing requires regular overtime. Going for a position that
requires a significant amount of client engagement? Describe yourself as “personable.” Were you told that the role won’t stick to a particular routine? Use the word “adaptable” to characterize yourself. 

3. How would your co-workers describe you?
For maximum effect in your response, try to quote or paraphrase things that specific colleagues have actually once said about you, including their names and positions in relation to you.   While the descriptions need not be entirely positive, those that are negative should be complimented by your personal efforts to mitigate weaknesses. The priority is to use your responses to demonstrate your abilities to develop meaningful connections with colleagues, and appreciate their feedback about your performance.

4. What motivates you to be successful?
There are several possible acceptable answers, so feel free to provide more than one to enhance your credibility. You can say that you are motivated by recognition of your accomplishments, or by being part of a hard-working, synergetic team in which everyone contributes to some desired end. You could also say the opportunity to become a leader in the organization, industry or field is a motivator for you. Or you could cite that constantly being challenged is your biggest source of inspiration on the job. 

PROFESSIONAL ACCOMPLISHMENTS

5. What is your greatest professional strength?

It’s helpful to have a few responses planned here, as the employer may be looking for multiple answers. Similar to Question 2, the strengths you provide should be relevant to the role with supporting evidence.  Unlike that question, though, this query allows for greater ease in explaining to the interviewer exactly what it is that you do well; you aren’t confined to describing yourself using just a few adjectives.  This is a great opportunity to boast about your technical skills.  

6. What are the most important skills you developed in your previous role?
Surely, several of the skills utilized in your past role are transferrable to the new position.  Select two or three of these capabilities and explain the processes through which you developed them and apply their usefulness to the new role’s responsibilities. If you do this effectively, you’ll position yourself as a candidate with relevant qualifications that are directly applicable to the organization and the role you are interviewing for. 

7. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The achievement you select should be professional, relevant, and fairly recent. Ideally, it should pertain to the responsibilities in the position you’re interviewing for, and should be supported by measurable improvements to your former team, department and/or organization.  For additional credibility, highlight the extensive effort you put forth in order to achieve the desired goal. 

8. Do you consider yourself successful and why?
No matter what your level of experience is at this point, the correct answer in this instance is always “yes”.  Don’t sell yourself short; this is your chance to tactically brag about everything you’ve done to become qualified for the position you now seek.  The best way to do this is to talk about past goals that you have set, and how you consider yourself successful for having achieved them.

WEAKNESSES AND OBSTACLES

9. What is your biggest professional weakness?
Be careful with this question, as you do not want to expose a weakness that would hurt your  qualification for the position, nor do you want to give a generic answer that is actually a strength,
i.e., “I work too hard.” Your best bet is to discuss a skill that you haven’t had an opportunity to fully develop, or you are actively trying to improve. You could say, for example, “In my last position, I didn’t
have much exposure to public speaking, but I look forward to the opportunity to give presentations in this role as needed” or “As a manager, I’ve realized I don’t always efficiently delegate work to my
staff members and take on too much work of my own, so I’m currently working to reevaluate their duties based on individual performance.” 

10. Describe a past conflict with a colleague, manager or client. How did you resolve it?
It’s important to demonstrate your ability to work well with others.  As such, you should focus on your ability to proactively initiate resolution with others based on the conflict described.  Choose a minor issue, and then explain how you addressed the other individual to resolve it, thereby bringing about a
more positive work environment.

11. How do you respond to intense pressure at work?
Every position is going to entail some level of pressure, so it’s in your best interest to respond as contently as possible, rather than to suggest that you crumble under stress. You could tell the hiring manager that you perform well under periods of intense pressure or that you operate best in a fast-paced environment.  A different approach is to explain how you combat stress, i.e. developing better prioritization techniques, etc. 

12. What is the biggest mistake you have made at work? 
Be honest, but don’t reveal a mistake that was seriously detrimental to your past organization or your career. The objective here is to concentrate on what you learned from the error to prove that you are
capable of self-improvement. Therefore, briefly discuss a small, well-intentioned mistake, and then elaborate on how it was rectified and what you have gained as a result. 

CAREER OBJECTIVES

13. Why did you leave / why are you looking to leave your last position?
There are two possible approaches, depending on your situation. If the position you are interviewing for is significantly different than your past experience, you should explain why you are looking to make a career shift. For example, “Coming from public accounting, I have worked with several clients in the financial services industry. Through this exposure, I’ve developed a strong interest in the industry because of reasons A, B and C.” Or, if the position is a continuation of your current line of work, explain that your last role provided inadequate opportunities for professional growth. No matter what, do not talk negatively about your past responsibilities, supervisor or compensation. 

14. Why do you want to work here?
Your answer should reflect both your knowledge of the organization and your qualifications for the position. For example, you could explain that the company’s industry leadership and innovation are desirable, while adding that the position’s responsibilities align with your past experience. If part of your motivation includes a salary increase or mere desperation for a job, leave it out! Instead, be as specific as possible about what aspects of the opportunity encouraged you to apply. 

15. Describe your ideal work environment. 
Align your answer to reflect the nature of the organization. If it’s a Fortune 100 company, explain why you enjoy large corporate environments; likewise, if a boutique firm, emphasize your ability to thrive in an intimate work setting.  Another way to tailor your answer to the specific company is to talk about the level of interaction with various departments and levels of management.  This is perfect if you’re in the earlier stages of your career and the position; you can discuss that you prefer gain exposure to all facets of an organization. Or, if you know the position entails extensive teamwork, you can describe your ideal environment as one that is very collaborative. 

16. What are your salary expectations for this position?
Be very careful not to fall into a trap here. Rather than providing a specific dollar or range, your best response is that you will consider any reasonable salary offer. This answer demonstrates that your priority is the job opportunity itself, rather than compensation or benefits. 

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