Chapter 2a: Interview Questions & Answers

Before we dive into the 8 major interview questions and answers. Let’s talk about how to answer them. These are tough questions to answer for fresh graduates and seasoned managers. I use a very specific methodology.

I use this method to answer almost every interview question.

Two types of interview questions:

  1. Behavioral Questions – These are the “Tell me about a time when” questions. Everything else. These are common during the first phone interviews with HR.
  2. Everything else – I like to make things simple 🙂

Let’s dive into how to answer behavioral questions.

Behavioral Questions

Anytime the questions start off with “Can you tell me about a time when?” these are behavioral questions. They are often awkward, but unavoidable. These are typical examples from my experience:

  • Tell me about a time when you didn’t get along with a manager. How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time where you failed at something.
  • Tell me about a time when you were in a group that wasn’t performing.

So how do you answer these types of questions?

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to provide a specific example that you encountered. It is the absolute kiss of death if you start to talk about what you would do. Don’t talk about what you would do. Nobody cares. They want to know what you did.

If you find yourself giving a general example, stop yourself and think about other examples.

Pro-tip: have about 4-7 situations prepared in your mind already that you can talk about. Then you can take one these situations and customize it for the interview question.

For behavioral questions, I also follow the STAR method religiously.

It’s called the STAR method for a reason.

Situation or Task – The particular situation that you encountered. Usually, this situation involves some drama or something going wrong.
Action – What you did to remedy the situation. Not your group member. You.
Result – What was the outcome.

Seems simple enough, right?

Here’s an example:

Question: Robbie, can you tell me about a time that a project wasn’t going well? I’d like to hear more about how you handle stressful situations.

Answer: Great question Tom!

<SITUATION>
“I was brought in to manage a project that was severely short staffed and had no clear project deadlines. On top of that, there was a lot of turnover at the client, and this made everything that much harder.

<ACTION>
The first thing I did was make sure I understood the scope of the project. I heard many different versions of what was supposed to be the project, but no one gave me a straight answer. I put together a presentation of my findings, and I presented it to the executive board. The board then gave me insight on what the real scope was.

I then took that information and came up with a new project and resource plan. We were severely understaffed, so I let the board know that we couldn’t complete the scope as intended if we didn’t have the right resources. This was an uphill battle, but in the end, I was able to reduce the scope and get a few more functional resources on the team that we desperately needed.

<RESULT>
The result was we went live with the project on-time with the new plan without any turnover during the last four months of the project. It was a success, and the project team and board were happy with the results.”

 

BOOM. DONE. Notice how I never said, “Tom, this is how I would handle a project that wasn’t going well.” It’s all about the specifics. You need details or else you will be crushed in the interview. It’s obvious if someone is talking from experience or guessing.

P.S. It’s a habit of mine to respond twith “Great question.” It’s an ego boost for the interviewer and serves as a good transition to my answer.

EVERYTHING ELSE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Why they ask this question:

The reason they ask this question is very simple. Are you a motivated individual or not? They want to hire someone who is thinking ahead and are interested in your future career path.

My answer:

“I’m a big believer in being challenged in my work. I’m always looking to advance my career and at the same time, I want to be happy in my career. I see myself being challenged, and I see myself in a great work environment. An environment that pushes me to become a better person and to learn great skills.

I don’t know exactly what title I will have in 5 years. I’m always looking to advance, but the main thing for me is that I’m learning new skills and I’m happy with my career path. I strive to create a good working environment for my colleagues and I hope that others do too!”

 

Why I answer like this:

Notice how I didn’t say things like, “I want to be a manager?” or “be promoted to XYZ position”?

I purposely avoid answering with that because we all know it’s next to impossible to figure out what’s going to happen in 5 years. I don’t know what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow, let alone what’s going to happen in 5 years.

The other thing is that it can cause an issue. For example, if you say “I want to be a manager, like you,” then the manager could take that as a signal that you want to replace them. It’s far-fetched, but I’ve learned just to stay away from the specifics. You have no idea what the interviewer is thinking, and you don’t want to fall into any traps.

I stick with “advance my career and be happy,” and it has worked wonders for me.

2. What is your biggest weakness?

Why they ask this question:

I’ll give you a million dollars if you could figure this one out for me. I know the intention is to find out why they shouldn’t hire you, but I’m not sure what answers they are expecting from this answer. However, I do have a firm answer for this question.

My Answer:

“Great question. For me, it’s all about focusing on the strengths. I think that’s where the most value comes from. So, let me rephrase your question slightly. I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t hire me. You shouldn’t hire me if you’re looking for someone to just execute sales deals. you shouldn’t hire me if you’re looking for someone to put quotes together. Could I do that? Of course. But I’m also at a point in my career, where that’s not the best of my time or yours.

You would hire me because my strength is building relationships with executives and helping them create a bigger better solution. That’s what I’ve always been good at and that’s why you should hire me. I’ve also been building my network in this industry for the past 3 years, so I have a headstart.

Why I answer like this:

I immediately reframe the question to “this is why you would hire me” and “this is why you shouldn’t hire me” which they will like. Your ability to tell them straight why they shouldn’t hire you shows them that you know your value and what value you can bring.

3. What is your biggest strength?

Why they ask this question:

The interviewer wants to know if your strengths are aligned with the strengths needed for the job. It’s like a cheat question. Instead of asking questions to determine if you’re a fit for the job, they decide to let you determine that for them. Sorry, no more sarcasm for Robbie today.

If you get this question, use your research to tell them exactly what they want to hear. If your strengths don’t fit in perfectly with the job description, you don’t deserve the job.

My Answer:

Ironically, my answer is the same as the biggest weakness question.

“Great question. For me, it’s all about focusing on the strengths. I think that’s where the most value comes from. So, let me rephrase your question slightly. I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t hire me. You shouldn’t hire me if you’re looking for someone to just execute sales deals. You shouldn’t hire me if you’re looking for someone to put quotes together. Could I do that? Of course. But I’m also at a point in my career, where that’s not the best of my time or yours.

You would hire me because my strength is building relationships with executives and helping them create a bigger better solution. That’s what I’ve always been good at, and that’s why you should hire me. I’ve also been building my network in this industry for the past three years, so I have a headstart.

 

Why I answer like this:

The quicker I can tell them I am a fit or not a fit for the job, the faster the process goes.

4. Why did you leave your last job?

I wish “none of your business” was an acceptable answer to this question. However, it is a valid question, and you should have a good answer for it.

Why they ask this question:

There is only one reason why they ask this question. They want to know if you’ll have a similar reason for quitting this job. This is a simple, but effective, due diligence question.

For example, if you say, “I quit my last job because they over-worked me,” their response might be: “Well, just to let you know, we have a “work hard, play hard” type of culture here. Are you sure you can handle that?”

And before you know it, you’re on the defensive. You never want to be on the defensive in an interview.

My answer:

“I left my job for several reasons, but the main reason is that I had a great opportunity to do something different and it was something I couldn’t pass up. I really appreciated everything my last job did for me, and I learned a lot.

It was just time in my career to move on. I still have great relationships from my time at the company, and we catch up for lunch once in awhile. I left amicably and gave a 2 week advance notice. We both agreed that it was a good move for me.”

 

Why I answer like this:

My answers are always positive, and yours should be too.

You know the real reason I left that job?

“I was sold a bag of bad goods. They told me my job would be like X and it turned out to be a complete lie. I was doing a job I hated. I wasn’t learning anything and I did everything in my power to get a new job.”

That’s the real answer, but I’m smart enough not to say that. As soon as you present a negative vibe, your chances of acing the interview are over.

So, I stick with the traditional “I had a really great opportunity, and it was my time to leave,” spiel. It works great and gets them to go to the next question. I also did leave amicably and gave a two weeks notice. I never burn bridges.

5. Do you have any questions for us?

Yes, are you going to hire me, how much will you pay me and when can I start?

That’s how I would like to answer that question. But, again, if you haven’t noticed the theme yet. I stick to the practical, positive answers. Regardless, I always have questions prepared to ask the interviewer.

Why they ask this question:

They ask merely because it’s a formality. However, it is obvious they want you to have some questions. Ask no questions, and you’ll look like an idiot. It’s that simple.

How I answer:

First off, I never wait for this question to be asked before I start asking questions. My #1 goal with any interview is for it to be more like an informal conversation.

So, I ask questions frequently. The better questions you ask, the better off you are.

Here’s an example question I’ll ask:

“First off, thank you so much for this opportunity. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. One thing that caught my attention was when you mentioned that an average project length for your projects are 3 months. In my experience, many of the projects I’ve worked on, were at least 6 months in length. Even the smaller one’s were still 4 months long.

What makes your projects so much different? The reason I ask is I want to understand your delivery process better, and the types of resources needed for your projects.”

 

Why I answer like this:

I asked because I genuinely want to know the answer. Second off, I’m well aware that I am judged by the quality of my questions. I showed that not only am I listening to what my interviewer is saying, I’m also able to ask intelligent questions about why they do the things they do.

The questions I ask are almost always based on something they say, and will always prove that I know what I’m talking about. It’s why I avoid general questions. I’m going to show that I know my topic inside and out and that I’m able to ask deep questions. If something seems off or different in what they are saying versus my experience, I’ll ask them about it directly.

6. Can you tell me about yourself?

If there is one question you need have an excellent answer to, It’s this one.

This question is not: “Can you read off your resume and tell me about every job you’ve ever had in chronological order?”

To succeed at this question, you need to understand why someone would hire you. The message you give during this answer can make or break the response.

My sarcastic answer:

“Hi, my name is George. I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents.” ~George from Seinfield. Sorry, I had to include that.

How I answer:

The goal with this reply is to start off the answer by giving a clear, concise answer to who you are. If you can’t summarize your entire career in 1 to 2 sentences, it’s not clear enough. I’m not saying your whole answer is 1 to 2 sentences, but the first words out of your mouth better be as clear as possible.

“Great question, John. Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working for great firms such as Accenture and Deloitte as a technical lead and project manager. My strength has always been being a strong tech lead, but also be able to communicate with business executives at the client. This is an area I’m strong in, and would like to continue to work in”

BOOM. There you go. Ten years summarized in one short paragraph. Trust me, I can go down the rabbit hole and give more details, but I want to plant the message as early as possible.

“I can go over my Resume if you want, but I don’t want to ramble on. Is there anything in particular that you want me to go over in more detail? I’ll be more than happy to spend more time discussing it.”

Notice, how quickly I asked a question to the interviewer? This was intentional because every interviewer is different. I don’t want to waste their time, and I don’t want to talk about something that they don’t want to hear about in the first place.

This is a fantastic way to lead the conversation to be more productive and you’ll also get a better sense for how the interview is going.

 

Common Mistakes:

The most common mistakes is for candidates are to go over everything in chronological order and to make the answer a 10-minute long answer instead of a 1-minute answer. Resist the urge to tell them everything. Trust me; they don’t care.

It can only hurt you.

7. What is your greatest achievement?

They ask this question because they want to understand what you consider to be a great achievement. They need a benchmark. This is not about what they would consider a great success. This question is especially prevalent for managerial or executive positions.

How I answer:

“There are a lot of achievements I’ve had in my career. The one achievement I consider to be the greatest that is most relevant to this job and happens to have had happened recently.

I moved an IT department that was failing in every sense of the word, and made it a more nimble and customer focused organization. I brought on a new team and implemented many of the standards that are used today.

The reason it was a big achievement was because there was a lot of resistance internally about making this happen. This type of project had never been done in the company before, so there were concerns about whether or not I could make it happen.

After the transformation was complete, our IT team was able to fix our downtime issues and respond back to IT support tickets three times as faster as were able to before.

I lead the charge on getting executive approval and I managed the project from start to finish. It was a mentally grueling and time consuming exercise, but we were able to make it happen. The team is in a much better place now.”

 

Why I answer like this:

I followed the STAR method, mentioned in the first part of this article, to the tee. I gave a very specific accurate answer, and I spoke about the results.

I can’t recommend enough to have a very detailed answer ready. We want to hear about your successes.

8. Why do you want to work here?

Because I like money, and the word on the street is you would pay me more of it than others. Is this true?

I don’t really like this question, but it’s a necessary evil. Let’s be real. If you didn’t think the company would pay you more money than you make at your current job, you would never be in the interview in the first place.

Of course, money isn’t everything, but c’mon. It’s enough to get you to move from one company to another.

How I answer this question:

I like to keep the answer as real as possible while still being politically correct.

“Three reasons I want to work here. The first reason is that my good friend highly recommended this company. I don’t take those types of recommendations lightly and I respect his thoughts. That’s #1.

#2 – I did a lot of due diligence. I asked former employees and I looked on the website, social media and news. One thing that is apparent is that this company is focused on growth. I’m at the point in my career where I would like to continue growing my career, and that is only going to happen at a company that also wants to grow and make investments.

#3 – Culture is important to me. The one thing I’ve noticed during these interviews is that many of the people I interview with all have the same positive attitude. I didn’t hear any bad-mouthing or people complaining. I’m always focused on the positive and this was a great thing for me to experience.”

Those are the three big reasons why I would like to join.

 

Why I answer like this:

I like clear and succinct answers. I usually break it down into a small list, up to 3 reasons.

Common mistakes:

Don’t mention money. Even though that is 95% the answer. Don’t mention it. It won’t get you anywhere.

Don’t ramble on. Be succinct.

Make it genuine. Show them that you did the research.

Compliment them! Did you notice how every single one of my points I was complimenting them? Make them blush.

In Conclusion

With proper research, you can answer these questions very powerfully. Spend a significant time coming up with different stories from your career that you can use during the interview.

I would love your feedback on this post. Answer the following questions in the comment section below:

  • What part was your favorite?
  • What part was your least favorite or least helpful?
  • What part was missing or do you want me to expand on?
  • Pingback: Chapter 2: Ultimate Guide to Interviewing – Flip the Script Approach | Fire Me I Beg You - Career Advancement for the Truly Miserable()

  • Lisa Dibble

    Ha, ha! You DID answer the awful question of “Tell me about yourself”. I wanted to know how to field that one and said so in my comments on Part 1 of this post. I like what you have suggested here for the answers to the typical questions. You are right that these are the questions most-often asked. I see now why I didn’t get a couple of jobs I applied for. I made some of the mistakes you mention here!

  • MrDee

    Trying to find a positive way to answer ‘why did you leave your last job’ when the answer so often is ‘the company went broke / decided to offshore workers / shut down our office”

    • That’s a good question @disqus_8agnUgLtNA:disqus . The quick answer to that is to tell the truth, but never make it seem like your just trying to find a replacement job even though that’s probably the case.

      I would say something like “I left my last job because the office was shut down due to internal restructuring. My entire division got laid off and I was part of the mix. In the end, it was a great thing to happen to me personally because I’m always looking to challenge myself and move my career forward. This new position allows me to do that.”

      • MrDee

        i love it. I have always answered truthfully as many interviewers understand this is business not personal. adding the positive comment at the end is a great improvement, avoids leaving an awkward gap

  • Sabina Mohan

    Thank you for this article-will be using all these suggestions for my next interview