Answering common interview questions

So many interviews follow the same format... how do you stand out from the crowd?

This little piglet has been to a lot of interviews and it can be boring responding to the same questions over and over. Job seeking piggy also remembers time spent as a recruiter and the boredom that comes from asking repetitive questions. For both sides it can be a long and tedious tennis rally where everything sounds the same.

Answering Interview Questions

So what is a job seeker to do when you walk into an interview and see the interviewer with pen poised over the dreaded form with standard questions on it?

The job seeking piglet resorts to playing mind games (mostly with itself) which keeps things interesting. 

Imagine that for each formulaic question there exists a perfect formulaic answer. The interview process is a showcase for your perfect response. Best of all you can prepare beforehand!

For example if they ask

"What is your greatest weakness?"

You can say

"I am a perfectionist and get totally absorbed into my work" and stop right there. If it is a question you are uncomfortable with then don't give too much detail. It is said that the best way to get out of a hole is to stop digging.

Of course most interviewers know the game well and will prompt for more information. So you can qualify your answer.

"I have had to learn to step back and focus on the big picture to make sure I'm going to meet my deadlines."

This shows that you are aware of your weakness and modify your behaviour to change it. Have an example ready if you need to go further and make sure it makes you look good!

"There was a huge backlog of work after the floods and my natural instinct was to just get stuck into it. But I realised we had a major deadlines that we would miss so we restructured our process to balance the load."

And so a negative is actually a positive :)

But what about the all time classic

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

(aka What do you want to be when you grow up?)

Here are some prospective answers:

"I haven't really thought about it"

- Perhaps for an interview at 7-Eleven, but not good when going for a career defining role

"Retired on a beach in Baha"

- This might work in the startup industry... but not many other places.

"I want to be part of a great team atmosphere, be considered essential within my role and know that I am making a difference. If there are opportunities within the next 5 years (or longer" to grow - then that is icing on the cake"

- Great answer if you aren't sure of the promotion prospects.

"I want to be considered a leading expert in , to be in a position of seniority and be helping to shape the strategic direction of the firm within ."

- Good answer for technical specialists in a consulting or services company.

"I would like to advance and take on more responsibility. I expect that if I do a great job and am flexible to the needs of the organisation - even if it means changing roles - that opportunities will come up in that timeframe."

- This is the most balanced answer

Now you can see 3 answers here which would meet the bill. What happened to the perfect formulaic answer mentioned beforehand? As with most things in life you should tailor your response based on the situation. Hopefully you have some ideas from above on how to find the answers that work best for you. Of course you could also politely suggest that behavioural interviewing is a more enjoyable and productive process :)

Best of luck!