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Interview & Workplace Tips

Common Interview Questions

You can never be sure exactly what will happen at an interview, but you can be prepared for common interview questions. Take time to think about your answers now. You might even write them down to clarify your thinking. The key to all interview questions is to be honest, and to be positive. Focus your answers on skills and abilities that apply to the job you are seeking. Practice answering the following questions with a friend.

"Tell me about yourself."
"Why do you want to work at this company?"
"What did you like/dislike about your last job?"
"What is your biggest accomplishment?"
"What is your greatest strength?"
"What is your greatest weakness?"
"Do you prefer to work with others or on your own?"
"What are your career goals?"or "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
"Tell me about a time that you had a lot of work to do in a short time. How did you manage the situation?"
"Have you ever had to work closely with a person you didn't get along with? How did you handle the situation?"

"Tell me about yourself."
Sounds simple, doesn't it? On the other hand, where do you start? The interviewer is looking for a quick overview of your career and your academics. What the interviewer doesn't want to hear is about your family, pets, hobbies, boyfriend/girlfriend, or the funny thing that happened to you yesterday. What they're really asking is, "Tell me about your professional self." The best way to answer this is to give a brief summary of your career so far, focusing on specific accomplishments. Try something like this: "My first job was as a receptionist at XYZ Corporation, but I was promoted after just three months. I worked my way up to sales manager for the Northeast. I doubled sales in the Northeast, and brought in ten new clients in my first quarter."

Finally, explain why you're looking for a job. But don't bad-mouth your current job or your boss; it will reflect poorly on you. Say something like: "Now I'm looking for a new challenge." This is also a good time to throw in some of the information you've learned in your research about the company: "I'm looking for a company with a dedication to preserving the environment and I believe your company offers that."

"Why do you want to work at this company?"
This is where you get to show that you have researched the company and you are more than just an average applicant. Relate something you learned about the company and explain why this attracted you to them. If the company has a commitment to the community, you might say you appreciate their commitment and that is what draws you to them. Or you understand that they are in a competitive battle with another major company and you relish the challenge of helping them carve out a bigger market share. If you heard about the job from a friend of family member, you could mention that person. But don't forget to include something that shows that they should want to hire you. "My friend has worked here for years and says it's a great company to work for with great people to work with. I think I could really contribute to your team."

"What did you like/dislike about your last job?"
This is a tricky one, because you don't want to come off as overly critical, petty, or a problem employee. If you say you hated dealing with the general public, you can be assured you won't be hired in retail sales or customer service. If you say you hated your boss, the interviewer will worry about you hating them someday. Keep your answer positive. If you mention something you disliked about the company, pair it with something you liked. Let's say that you worked as a receptionist, and your boss was condescending to you and never gave you anything interesting to do. You could say, "I enjoyed greeting the public, and I liked knowing that I could make a difference by giving people a great first impression of the company, but I felt that there wasn't room for me to contribute my organizational and teamwork skills. I'm ready for a position that offers more responsibility and more challenge."

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"What is your biggest accomplishment?"
Be specific. Tell about one thing that you did really well. Preferably, talk about something that was recognized and rewarded by your boss. You could say something like, "I created a system to organize my boss's projects and deadlines, which often overlapped. He was so impressed, he told other managers in the group, and I ended up training the other secretaries to create similar systems for their bosses." If you are applying for a position that involves being part of a team, recount something you did as a member of a team, and talk about the teamwork and cooperation that was required.

"What is your greatest strength?"
Even if your greatest strength isn't business-related, find a way to relate it to work. Your greatest strength may be your ability to memorize lyrics to pop songs, but if you're applying for a job as a sales trainee, they won't really care. They will care that you have a great memory and are good at keeping information organized. If you're a great basketball player, talk about how well you deal with pressure and work as part of a team.

"What is your greatest weakness?"
The interviewer who asks this question is looking to see how honest you are with yourself, and how well you deal with your own shortcomings. Don't pretend you don't have weaknesses, and don't avoid answering the question. This is your chance to show that you are honest and take responsibility for your actions. A good way to answer this question is to mention your weakness, then tell what you have done to overcome that weakness. If you have been disorganized in the past, you could say, "I used to be very disorganized, always forgetting assignments and birthdays. But I managed to work out a computerized system of to-do lists and reminders that keeps me on top of everything."

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"Do you prefer to work with others or on your own?"
This is a question you should have asked yourself before you applied for the job. The interviewer wants to make sure that you are appropriate for the job for which you are applying. If you're going to be part of a team, you should enjoy working with others. On the other hand, if you're going to be doing data entry, it might be a good idea if you enjoy working on your own. Remember, however, that companies don't want to hire workers who need constant handholding. A good answer might be, "I enjoy being part of a team and cooperating with others, but I also enjoy working on my own. At my last job, our team would meet to discuss our goals, then each work on our part of the project individually. There was a lot of communication and cooperation among the group, but I was responsible for completing part of the project on my own."

"What are your career goals?" or "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
The interviewer is wondering how dedicated you will be to the job and the company. If they are going to train you, they want to know that you aren't going to take the next job that comes along. On the other hand, most companies don't want to hire people who have no ambition at all. Even if you have no idea where you want to be in five years, don't say, "I don't know." Be positive. Say something like, "I hope to be in a position that continues to challenge me, and that allows me to use my skills and abilities to help the company reach its goals." Ideally, the job you're applying for is a step on your career ladder, so you can talk about the career ladder you've envisioned for yourself. Employers like to hear that you are interested in staying and growing with their company.

"Tell me about a time that you had a lot of work to do in a short time. How did you manage the situation?"
Here, the interviewer is looking for specific strategies that you use to manage pressure situations. Talk about prioritizing your work, cooperating with others, making to-do lists, breaking large projects into small batches, and taking care of your health so you could maintain your concentration.

"Have you ever had to work closely with a person you didn't get along with? How did you handle the situation?"
The interviewer wants to hear that you were able to put aside your differences and get the work done. They also want to hear that you are flexible, and can be sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. If you don't have a work-related example, talk about a school project, or about being part of a club and learning to get along with the various people in the club.

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