You tell yourself, you got this. But do you? There are no instant replays if you mess up in the interview. The recruiter or hiring manager will select the person who does the best job of marketing themselves when answering their questions. One misstep, and you won’t get hired.
Having taught interview prep classes for years and conducted hundreds of sessions of individual interview coaching, I see so many things that candidates need to correct that cause them to fail and lose the job. These blunders are avoidable once you learn how to answer the question effectively, which will also make you stand out in a positive light.
Having had endless discussions with hiring managers and HR professionals, here are some tough and tricky questions they said people often stumble on when answering them.
What are your salary requirements?
The wrong answer can cost you the job by being too low (they devalue your skills) or too high (out of their pay range). It is better to respond by asking, “What is the salary range for this role?” If you are pressed for a number, give a range. Try responding with, “When I researched what the typical salary for this role was (cite a source like Payscale.com), I found it was between $75,000 and $100,000, and I’m within that range.” Or, you can say, “My current job has three components: base salary, stock options, and a bonus. What does your compensation package include?”
What is your greatest weakness?
Most people say this is the most challenging question that is asked. And it is also tricky. Selecting an answer that demonstrates to the employer how the identified weakness does not impact performing the job is crucial.
Here's a new but quite effective approach. Select something you were not good at because you have not done it before. For example, you have never used Canva, a graphic design platform. Then, explain that your weakness was from having no knowledge or experience using this program. Continue to say, “Knowing that it would be an important skill to acquire, I took classes, watched tutorials, played with it, and worked with a mentor, and I have mastered Canva and used it frequently.” For more specifics and another example answering this question, read the Forbes article: A New Way To Answer The ‘What is Your Greatest Weakness’ Question.
Tell us about a big mistake you made on the job.
This answer requires forethought since most people only state what they did wrong. But that isn’t effective. You need to show this mistake was a learning experience. The employer wants a brief analysis of the error and how you took steps not to repeat it. Did you take a class? Should you have gone to the manager sooner, or should you have asked for help? Outlining this lesson allows the hiring manager to see that you learn from a mistake and take action to ensure you are unlikely to make it again.
Tell us about yourself.
Don’t waste this chance to capture the interviewer’s attention. Forget an autobiography; excellent self-marketing is what is needed here. Your answer should summarize your five top selling points, such as years of experience, relatable skills, accomplishments, and education. Focus on demonstrating your strengths and illustrating how you can meet the employer’s needs. Linking your five points into a few sentences, you create a verbal business card that I call your 60 Second Sell (often called an elevator pitch). Read my article first published in Forbes "Best Way to Open Your Interview to Secure A Job Offer" for a detailed example of what to say.
Tell us about your greatest accomplishment.
This question has caused some job hunters to say they had a “brain freeze” and not offer a solid answer. Others select something that happened ten years ago. You want to discuss something you did in the last few years. Carefully consider what you have achieved on the job. Think about what you’re trying to stress and what is relevant to the job you are trying to land. Ensure that it demonstrates your ability to excel when performing the job you’re interviewing for. Avoid noting personal achievements such as “I lost seventy pounds” or “I ran a marathon.” It is better to illustrate a proud work accomplishment with specific details so the employer will be impressed and reassured that it is the kind of work you will do for them.
Describe a difficult coworker you had to work with.
This one can be a dangerous minefield. It is not a time to try to vindicate yourself by defending your actions or blaming someone else, stating they were the problem. Instead, offer a reply where you are the hero. For example, “I thought the coworker might be such a challenge to work with because he wanted to hide that he didn’t know how to do something. So, instead of confronting and embarrassing him, I said I knew some shortcuts to do that task and asked if he wanted me to show him. Once I did that, he became less defensive and easier to work with.”
What do you know about this job and our company?
Learn as much as possible before your interview. Do your research and visit the company’s website. Scour it to learn as much as you can about what the company does. Search for recent news online, look for new products, expansion, growth, and did they have any recent layoffs. (You’ll want to ask about those.) Read the job description thoroughly, paying close attention to the top duties, which are likely the most important. When you talk to the recruiter, ask questions to understand what the employer thinks are the critical job duties so you can address them when you speak to the hiring manager.