Stand Out in Standard Interview Questions

If you are an active job seeker or currently in the market for a new career, you’ve probably had dozens of interviews and phone screens in a short amount of time. Most interview questions are pretty standard, so standard in fact, that you could probably recall enough to conduct an interview of yourself, without the middle man of the hiring manager and interview panel to regurgitate them.

When it comes to interviews, job seekers have been taught to rehearse, role-play, research, and reinvent, as if it would be absurd to simply be yourself.

Honesty is still the best policy, and in interviews, a good screening tool for the interviewer and interviewee. So here are some common interview questions, and answers if you introduced yourself.

Interview question #1: Tell me about yourself.

Treat this as the ice-breaker. Tell the recruiter something about you that cannot be found on your resume, cover letter or social media page. They see more than their share of these a week, but may only get one shot at getting to know you. The resume highlights your qualifications, the cover letter summarizes it, and the social media page may show what you had for dinner. However, a couple of sheets and a website won’t replace a candid and profound discussion of you. Stop repeating generic information of yourself that’s readily available if the recruiter is functionally literate or can perform a people search.

Personally, I would begin: “Well, I hate interviews… but this position is something I really enjoy doing, so it’s worth the sacrifice, yada, yada.” Yep, it’s sarcastic, amusing, and honest which describes me.

Interview question #2: Why do you want to work for this company?

Let’s hope you don’t want to work for a low-paying company that treats their employees like jerks, their customers as cash cows, and the community like a dumping ground. We all have a set of values, and birds of a feather truly do flock together. Access what your own values are and what you can offer, and how much you want to take away. Simply, what can you give to the company, and how much do you want to gain.

Interview question #3: Where do you see yourself in five years?

No one knows where they’re going to be in five years! Hopefully not dead, and life has probably already taught you that few things go as planned. So the five-year question is one question I wouldn’t stress about too much, when things could change in the blink of an eye today. If you were offered the job you were interviewing for at the moment, did you really foresee that five years ago? Responding to this question by focusing on yourself as a person first will allow you to stay focused and give the interviewer some valuable insight on your motivations. Start by telling where you see yourself in life, and how a wiser, better you could pay significant dividends in your career. Address the question in simpler terms by considering where you currently are, and how you plan to evolve over time with the industry. Even if you kept the same job, you would be very proficient in five years, which would make you a valuable employee to train new hires. As you evolve from learning how the wheels of your company operate, in five years, you would have learned key strategies and hopefully implemented new processes to prevent others from reinventing it.

What is your greatest weakness?

In reality, the strength and weakness questions should be the easiest to answer and the heart of the interview. People/employees have to deal with their strengths and weaknesses every day. How well you deal with both will determine how well you perform, interact with others, represent the company, and ultimately affect the bottom line. This question and its opposite will clarify for the interviewer if the company wants to ultimately invest in people or decide that it’s more profitable not to. Forget about turning a strength into a weakness. Whose idea was that anyway? If a company is looking for employees without weaknesses, they should invest in fully automated processes. This is one question that only experience teaches you, and experience is what most companies are looking for. Personally, desserts are my biggest weakness, and I would need plenty of them if I was working with someone not as driven as I. My weakness is that I refuse to accept mediocracy when that is becoming the status quo. Accepting anything less is not only my biggest weakness but one of my biggest annoyances. It has to be right the first time or it’s just a waste of time. If you’ve ever worked in a culture of entitlement, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

What is your greatest strength?

Considering this question is the opposite of the greatest weakness inquiry, as redundant as it sounds, I would reiterate my drive, my enthusiasm about my work, and pursuit for perfection because it’s all true. How I deal with mediocracy running amuck could be my greatest weakness or strength. To highlight my strength, I would demonstrate how I lead by example. Every candidate should emphasize what drives them, and why settling for less than perfection is unacceptable.

Do you have any questions?

Whoever said there was no such thing as a stupid question, was clearly not a recruiter. I personally hate it when I’m asked, ‘What’s your web address?’ As if typing the name of my company in a search bar would produce zero results. Make sure your questions demonstrate your initiative and interest – not lack of. Treat this question the way you would respond if being asked about you. Inquire about something not readily available on the company’s website, especially the homepage. Ask questions that are important to you and the advancement of your career. For instance, if you currently hold professional certifications in your field, it would be important to know if and how the company would support you in maintaining them. This could be significant in negotiating salary. If work culture means as much or more to you than compensation, by all means, ask. The priority of your questions are important in ascertaining the nitty-gritty by taking the top-down approach. As in the previous example, by knowing how the company will support you, if any, by maintaining your professional certifications, you can define the nitty gritty of the salary question later. If you have no questions, that could mean you are either not interested in working for the company or you could be on your third interview after two initial phone screens. In which case, the only questions that are probably left if any are the nitty gritties like where’s the best place to park. If you’ve just endured a grueling session of revealing every precise detail of your working life, and all you can think of is how close you are to lunch, by all means, get a business card, and let the recruiter know that after you satisfy your immediate hunger need, you will fulfill your higher level inquisitive need when your blood sugar levels are up.

There will always be more standard interview questions than actual vacancies, so ask me any that need a response as unique as you.