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QUESTION: I’m embarking on a job search. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to
interview. What are the five most asked questions in interviews? How should I prepare for
I’LL GO YOU ONE BETTER THAN FIVE: I’ll give you the six most asked and also tell you
about a type of question that’s increasingly asked in interviews, why it’s a good type of
question to ask and how to respond.
According to our research, the six most frequently asked questions are:
1. Tell me about yourself.
2. What can you do for us?/What skills do you bring to the table for us?
3. Why are/did you leave your last employer?
4. What are your strengths and weaknesses?
5. Why should we hire you?
6. What are your 5-10 year goals?
How to prepare for them? Research the big three: the job, the company and the people.
Based on what you know about them, their needs and their requirements, WRITE OUT your
answers for the firm or organization where you are interviewing to each of the six questions.
If there are a series of interviews, do this for each interview since your responses may
modify to better respond to needs and requirements you learned about in earlier interviews,
and subsequent research you’ve done on them (e.g. reading annual reports, sales and
service literature; speaking with others who know the organization, its people and needs).
A few tips on answers:
• Essentially, questions 1, 2, 4, and 5 are the same question. Your answers focus on
the key skills and abilities you want to communicate built around their job
requirements. Caveat: the essence of these questions and your answers is the same,
but the wording of your answers should be conversational and not static.
• To respond to the “weakness” question, you might say, “I prefer to do x than to do
y,” or “colleagues say I’m better at x than y.” You might also talk about something
that has been a problem for you and what you’ve done to overcome it (e.g. “I used
to have a difficult time addressing a group of people, so I joined Toastmasters and
now I know how to prepare and deliver a talk to a group.”) Don’t take this question
lightly or answer frivolously. Give thought and write out your answer. (Interviewers
ask this question to gauge how good an understanding you have of yourself and your
• The goals question can be answered in two parts: career goals and life goals. (What
are your 10-year goals? Why not write them down right now?)
The type of question being more frequently asked is the behavior-based question; how did
you perform in a past situation that would be similar to requirements of the position for
which you are being interviewed?
Behavior Based questions (let’s call them BBQs for simplicity) ask about an applicant’s past
behavior in areas needed in the new job.
Typically they begin, “Could you tell me about a time when you . . . ?” or “Could you give
me an example of when you . . . ?” They can also be a simple follow up to something you
said you did, either in the interview or on your resume: “Why and how did you do that?”
BBQs are about past behavior, “How did you do . . . ?” not about the future, “How would
you do . . . ?”
Many interviewers are trained to ask these questions since they can uncover a wealth of
information quickly about an applicant’s experience, not only what they did but also why
and how. Moreover a good interviewer can probe for several skills sought.
For example, an interviewer might ask how and when the applicant organized their work for
the day and get a sense of organizational skills, prioritizing, decision making, multitasking
ability and how the person responds to interruptions and urgent (but unscheduled) requests
– all from listening and probing about one BBQ.
To prepare for these types of questions, list what you understand or anticipate will be core
competencies and essential functions of the job you’re interviewing for, then think of things
you’ve done that demonstrate those skills and abilities. Write out your responses using an
Situation: Why did you do what you did? What level were you working at?
Actions: A series of I statements that show your work or management style.
I (verb) . . . .
I (verb) . . . .
I (verb) . . . .
I (verb) . . . .
Results: Quantify whenever possible: How long did it take to do this? How many people
benefited? How much did you save (or make) the organization? How many pages were in
the report? What was the size of staff and budget you managed? How many was the report
distributed to? What percentage increase or decrease (in time, money or performance rate)
did your behavior result in?
To recap, to prepare for interviews, research as much as you can about the organization,
the people and the job; write out your answers to the six most frequently asked questions;
and prepare proactive Situation-Action-Results examples that demonstrate skills and
qualities sought by the hiring organization.
© 2011 MORRIS • ASSOCIATES INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED