How to ace an interview

Land your dream job with answers to the top-ten interview questions

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You can’t believe it’s finally happened: you have an interview for your dream job. After your initial jubilation dies down, panic inevitably sets in. What if you don’t have the qualifications they’re looking for, or, worse yet, you fumble when answering their interview questions? No problem! Chatelaine’s Ask an expert career columnist Barbara Quinn, author of Snap, Crackle or Stop: Change Careers and Create Your Own Destiny (Perseus Books) and consultant with 22c Partners Inc. in Vancouver, shows you how to nail the ten most common interview questions to land that job you’ve always wanted.

Tell me about yourself?

“This is still a favourite icebreaker for interviewers,” says Quinn. “The key is to be short and to the point. Droning on is a surefire way to turn off interviewers.” Keep your answer business-like, focusing on years of experience and your positive work attributes, she adds. Then come to a full stop unless they want to know more.

What do you know about this company?

Prospective employers think that the way you do your job hunt is the way you’ll do your job, so be educated about the company you’re interviewing with. “For most large businesses, a simple Internet search yields a trunk full of information: company history, annual reports, strategic plans, values and philosophy,” says Quinn. “Interviewers want to know that you care enough to put in the time, so make sure you do your homework.”

Why are you applying for this job?

Be prepared to demonstrate why you think this job is a great fit for your skills and experience, suggests Quinn. “And unless you’re asked directly, steer clear of mentioning why you’re leaving your current employer,” she cautions. “If you are asked, the only acceptable reason for leaving is a lack of career advancement or knowing it was simply time for a change.”

What can you do for us?

“This is the million-dollar question,” says Quinn. “Getting a gold star on this one involves memorizing the job advertisement and asking detailed questions so you know exactly what they’re looking for. Then highlight relevant examples from your job history to show why you’re the perfect fit.”

What are your major strengths?

Your best bet when answering this tried-and-true favourite is to position your strengths from a third-party perspective. “Talk about the positive feedback you’ve gotten over the years from bosses and colleagues who’ve commended your skill at working under pressure, balancing priorities and doing whatever it takes to get the job done, rather than trying to toot your own horn,” advises Quinn.

What is your greatest weakness?

“My favourite answer – and I laugh silently when I hear it, having used it a few times myself – is: I can get impatient or frustrated when things move too slowly or people don’t have the same sense of urgency I do. What I have learned to do is find a way to work around these problems, or take the time to explain to my co-workers why I think a particular project is a priority,” says Quinn. The only wrong answer to this question is one that focuses on poor time management, trouble getting along with people or difficulty taking direction.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

This is a tricky question because you want to show eagerness for the job you’re interviewing for and still demonstrate that you have a long-term plan. “If you’re on the management track, the right answer is to say you aspire to senior management because of your big-picture vision and drive to make it happen,” suggests Quinn. “If you are not yet in management, you need to say that one day you plan to take on that type of role.”

Tell me about a time when you faced a major obstacle or problem and how you went about solving it.

“Interviewers want to see how people approach problems and determine if they were creative in finding a solution to a tough situation,” says Quinn. So be prepared to talk about a work-related situation that you successfully diffused.

What are your salary expectations?

Although this question makes many people feel uncomfortable, interviewers expect you to have a serious, well-thought out answer. “Be prepared to state a salary that’s a few thousand dollars more than you’re currently making,” advises Quinn. You shouldn’t need to ask what the range is – you should be assertive about what you think you’re worth. “Interviewers will raise the dollars for the right person unless the expectations are right out of the ballpark,” she adds.

What are your interests outside of work? Or, if you were an animal, what would you be?

Interviews often end with friendly or even quirky questions, but remember: your answers here count just as much. “A person without hobbies or interests is not appealing to most employers,” says Quinn. “Make up a hobby if you don’t really have one.” And, if someone asks you what kind of animal you would be, don’t run screaming from the room. “Try playing it straight and say you’d be a strong, but flexible animal, such as a horse or giraffe. Just stay away from obvious bad choices, such as a rat, warthog, lumbering bear or sloth.”