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Secrets to answering two tough interview questions


Interviewers are looking for sharp workers who can represent the company or organization well. You only have one chance to make a great first impression, and that first impression lasts a long time. Even with this knowledge, many job candidates still fail to make a great first impression and destroy their chances for a productive business relationship by failing to properly answer the most common interview questions.{{more}}

You should have done your homework and found out as much information about the company and the type of work they perform. Among typical interview questions, there are two that seem to stump many people.

“Tell me about yourself.”

Many interviewees lose their composure with this question, and the variety of their answers range from nonsense to silly to mind-boggling. Before we explore what you should say, let’s look at what you should not say. This is not the time, for example, to say something along the lines of, “Well, my name is Jane Doe. I am graduating in the spring. I live with my parents, and really want this job.” That is all wrong! First, the interviewer already knows your name. Second, in an interview, you should never mention your marital situation or your family status. Use this question as an opportunity to tell the interviewer who you are professionally and sell them on how your knowledge and experience can help their organization. Sell your skills, your potential, your enthusiasm. Answer the question as if you are playing a game in which the person who can sell himself or herself best is the winner that gets the job, not the most qualified candidate. It’s a game you need to know how to play well.

Another common answer invokes a laundry list of adjectives to describe oneself. That is boring and does a great disservice to your chances. For example, do not say, “Well, I am hardworking, dependable and prompt, and I work well with people.” Okay, so what is the interviewer to do if she interviews 10 people and they all give a similar, almost generic and predictable, description of who they are. This just does not work.

Interviewers have one job: to look at your résumé to evaluate your skills and talents, and to figure out if you would fit into their company’s organizational culture and get a specific job done. Again, sell yourself—and be memorable! Be strategic; be on the offensive and plan ahead. Before you go into the interview, review the job description and decide what—exactly what—it is that you have in your background that makes you the best candidate for that description. If the job ad or overview says an applicant “must be able to work in a fast-paced environment,” then think of examples to illustrate when you worked in such a job and mention them in your answer to that question. If you tell the interviewer you pride yourself on your problem-solving abilities, have a really good, quick example of a problem you’ve solved. Describe your attributes and back up what you say with examples and vignettes that make your claims believable and real.

“What are your weaknesses?”

This one is tough. Don’t put yourself down and never say “I don’t have any weaknesses.” Primarily, what the interviewer is looking to see is how conscious you are of professional areas in which you might need to improve or grow in. If you say you have “no” weaknesses, you will appear to be an arrogant perfectionist—a red flag to most interviewers. Of course, this is not the time to be an open book and reveal every bit of knowledge that you don’t know, either! Both extremes could eliminate you from the interview process altogether. So, what can you say? Be truthful; but the key is not to ignore or discount a potential weakness. Instead, state the problem, then let the interviewer know you are actively working to improve and state what you are doing to overcome and rectify it. For example, instead of saying “I am always late getting work done,” say (if it’s true) “I am a perfectionist and sometimes need more time to complete the work.”

A Hidden Secret

Answering interview questions in the right way is critical, but doing so with obvious enthusiasm for the job and the company can further cement your chances of getting the job. This is not the time to be shy or reserved, as you are basically trying to convince this potential employer that you are the best choice for the available position. When you walk into that interview, your attitude and appearance should convince the interviewer that, regardless of who interviews after, you are the best qualified.

Karen Hinds is “The Workplace Success Expert.” For a FREE SPECIAL REPORT on Avoiding Career Killers in the Workplace, send an email to

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