In the November 5, 2013 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader asks about “sample” inteview questions and answers:
I am preparing for an interview with one of the big consulting firms, and I thought I would send you some sample interview questions that I retrieved from the Internet. (The article provided answers, too, but I thought they were ridiculous.) How would you advise answering these questions? Any help is appreciated. Here goes:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why did you leave your last job? (Or, Why do you want to leave your current company?)
- What are your best skills?
- What is your major weakness?
- Do you prefer to work by yourself or with others?
- What are your career goals? (Or, What are your future plans?)
- What are your hobbies? (Or, Do you play any sports?)
- What salary are you expecting?
- What have I forgotten to ask?
Ah, yet another version of The Top 10 Stupid Interview Questions! I’m sorry you didn’t share the suggested answers, because whoever wrote this is ushering you toward your interview demise.
Are there really stupid questions? Of course — they’re questions that are old, loaded, and worn out. They are not worth asking because any fool can find dozens of clever rejoinders in books and articles (like this one) and regurgitate them with a smile. Interviews shouldn’t be about questions — they should be about two-way discussion.
But let’s get back to what you asked. There used to be a book titled The Top 2800 Interview Questions… And Answers. I have this fantasy: You walk into an employer’s office, shake hands, and say, “I know you have a lot of questions for me. So let’s save us both a lot of time.” You slide that baby across the desk toward the manager… “So here they are, along with all the answers. Now can we cut the crap and talk about the job and how I’ll do it for you, okay?”
Most interviewers are clueless about how to interview and hire good people. Like most job hunters, they’re brainwashed by the employment industry to focus on everything but the one thing that really matters:
How are you going to do this job profitably for my company?
Your challenge is to turn the interview around to a discussion based on that one question. But, here’s how I’d handle those Top Ten questions, because interviewers do ask them. Heads up: If you use my suggested answers, you’re a dope. Don’t be a dope! Use what follows as a first step to re-thinking how you manage your interviews. Turn them into discussions or working meetings.
1. Tell me about yourself.
Before you start talking, think about how people nuke their own job interviews: Don’t Compete With Yourself.
You’ll note that I’ve abbreviated that article because it’s now part of Book Six, The Interview: Be The Profitable Hire in the Fearless Job Hunting collection. But here’s a tip from it:
“Most job candidates sit like cornered mice, waiting for the interviewer to start the action. Don’t wait for the employer to ask you the first question— the question that will bring your anxiety to a head. Speak first. Get the ball rolling on a topic your scared self can’t interfere with. Talk about something you know absolutely nothing about, and which your scared self can’t screw up.
“Start an unexpected conversation. Ask the manager about himself, about his successes, or about the state of the industry. There’s nothing to be nervous about, because you are letting the manager perform. You’ve immediately handed him the ball while you acclimate yourself. In the process, you are learning something that might help you with this interview.” (pp. 2-3)
(Hint: You should ask the interviewer about this before he asks you.)
2. Why do you want to work here?
“You are one of only three companies I want to work for. The others are A and B. I believe your business model makes it possible for individual employees to make a clear impact on the bottom line. With your permission, I’d like to go up to your whiteboard and outline how I think I could do that.”
(You’d best have done your homework and know for a fact that what you’re saying about this company is accurate. Otherwise, why interview?)
3. Why did you leave your last job?
If you can answer question #2, all you have to say is that your last employer didn’t view each job in terms of how it contributed to the company’s success. “A job was a job unto itself. I believe all jobs are interconnected, and how I do my work affects how effectively others can do theirs. I left that employer because I want a job where I can contribute to the business.”
4. What are your best skills?
“My most important skill is that I can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. Every job is different and requires new skills, new approaches and new ideas. I’m a quick study, and I can break down a task so I can get it done. In fact, if you’d lay out a live problem you’re facing right now, something you’d want me to handle if you hired me, I’d like to roll up my sleeves and show you how I’d apply the necessary skills to tackle it.”
(This requires lots of preparation in advance. If you’re not willing to do it, then you have no business interviewing with this company.)
5. What is your major weakness?
(Smile when you say this.) “That’s one of those Stupid Interview Questions Nick Corcodilos talks about on Ask The Headhunter. By the time I’m done showing you how I would do this job profitably for you, my weaknesses won’t matter. If you think I have critical weaknesses when we’re done with this interview, then you shouldn’t hire me. (Smile again.) Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really believe that one thing matters above all: You should evaluate me based on what I show you I can do, not on some clever answer I found in a book.”
Next week, we’ll cover Stupid Interview Questions #6 – #10. I’ve already got them worked up, but if you offer different questions that are better qualified for this notorious list, I’ll substitute your choices for the ones in this reader’s list.
Of course, if you’ve got better suggestions than mine above, I expect to see them posted below as comments. Remember: This is about having a discussion with an employer. Not about clever answers to stupid questions.
What’s the most ridiculous “serious” question an employer has asked you? Are canned questions really useful for assessing job applicants? What do you do when such questions come up in interviews? Join us on the blog!