Don’t Be Tripped Up By These 5 Common Interview Questions

Asperger’s & NLD Career Letter, June 2019

Over the past 13 years, I have coached individuals seeking all types of jobs. They have ranged from entry-level retail or data entry, to corporate or professional positions requiring a master’s degree or beyond. Despite how varied the jobs are, there are certain interview questions that come up almost every time. They are basic to the evaluation process, which is why any job seeker must be ready with strong responses.

Here are five VERY common questions that can trip up an unprepared job seeker:

  1. Tell Me About Yourself

Often this inquiry begins an interview. It is an opportunity for you to give a summary of your background. This should include why you are interested in the field, basics of your education and/or work experience, and what you can contribute to the employer. Your answer should be five to seven sentences. Here is how recent college graduate Ian summarized his background:

“My interest in physics began when I was 11, and saw an issue of Scientific American at the library. The cover story was about particle accelerators. I was fascinated about what could be discovered. During high school, I entered a contest with an idea to turn rice into fuel. It didn’t completely work out, but I learned a lot and won second place. Recently I earned my degree from MIT, and am excited about this opening because it emphasizes my skill using research and modeling to solve scientific problems.”

  1. Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Interviewers ask this question to see whether you are interested enough in the job to have researched the company. This does not mean delving into the history of a company. It means finding something specific that excites you about the organization.

I suggest to clients that they begin with the company’s Web site. Take a look at press releases, news, product and service information and any descriptions of the culture. What intrigues you? Has the company won awards? Does it support charitable causes that are meaningful to you? Is it expanding into new markets, or launching innovative products or services? Avoid mentioning anything that could easily be gleaned from a quick visit to the home page.

Perhaps you use the company’s product or service, like Elizabeth. She responded to this question by saying, “I’m a long-time supporter of the Sierra Club, and appreciate that you make environmental issues accessible to the general public. The articles in Sierra Magazine are the type of well-researched, in-depth stories that I specialize in writing.”

  1. What is your greatest weakness?

This question usually follows an inquiry about your strengths. Brice interpreted this question very literally, believing that he needed to reveal his most serious difficulty. Unfortunately, telling an employer that his time management skills are poor removed him from the candidate pool.

What an interviewer wants to find out is whether you have insight into your limitations (every human being has them!) and can learn from mistakes. It is imperative that you choose a weakness that will not cause the employer to question your ability to perform the job. Give an example that is a strength for performing job tasks (being very detail-oriented is a plus for an accountant), or a weakness that you have overcome.

Jason says, “When I began college I did not manage time well, and several of my assignments were late. I had to learn to create a schedule of projects based on priority, and break large tasks into smaller pieces. From the second semester onward, my assignments were completed on time.”

  1. Tell me about a time when you dealt with conflict.

This is a behavioral interview question. Behavioral questions are based on the premise that how you handled a situation in the past indicates how you will handle something similar in the future. I recommend the SAR method for preparing answers to these questions. SAR is an acronym that stands for Situation (what happened) … Action (what you did) … and Results (how it turned out).

Interviewers often ask about conflict because it is common for employees to have disagreements from time to time. They want to evaluate whether a job candidate can handle a conflict professionally. Eric’s response shows that he is willing to check his assumptions, can communicate the analyst’s error in a calm, factual way, and collaborates to solve problems:

“I disagreed with a business analyst about whether premium seats were available on airline shuttle flights. She believed that they were; but I believed that they were not due to a bug in our software. I did some research and discovered that premium seats were not available on shuttles. I realized that it appeared that way to the analyst because of the software bug. I explained this, and suggested that we meet with the software developer to fix the issue.”

Sometimes a client tells me that he or she has not had to deal with a conflict. Instead of saying this (which doesn’t answer the question), explain what you would do if such a situation was to come up.

  1. What questions do you have for me?

I have had many clients who were so caught off guard by this question that they simply responded, “None.” This will likely be interpreted as a lack of interest in the job. Be ready with three or four questions that are related to the company and/or the work you will be doing.

Here are some examples of good questions to ask: How would you describe the ideal candidate? What does it take to be successful in this firm? What is the company culture like? Why is this position vacant? What opportunities are there for advancement?

Note that questions about health insurance, vacation time and other benefits should not be asked early in the interview process. Save these questions for when you receive a job offer.

Job seekers need to prepare for more than these five questions, of course. It is useful to create a list of questions that you have been asked on previous interviews, as well as some that are likely to come up. To find out the latter, try Googling “common interview questions for a [JOB].”

Limit you responses to no more than three main points (except for, “Tell me about yourself”). Once you work out the language, practice your responses out loud. Schedule regular practice periods to keep answers fresh in your mind.

Copyright 2019, Barbara Bissonnette, Forward Motion Coaching