How to answer 5 most common questions

Your telephone rings. After a few months of an exhausting job search, you finally hear the best phrase ever: "We would like to invite you for an interview". Well, my congratulations to you! However, the most important part of your adventure has just started – get prepared for the interview. What does it mean?

Generally, in Germany you will get at least two interviews before landing a job: the first one with a recruiter and a second, if you pass the HR barrier – with a hiring manager.

Let's start from the first meeting – talking to a recruiter.

I want to make it clear: every recruiter will talk to you individually using the techniques s/he believes in. There are many types of interviews (structured, behavioral, selection, meal interviews to name a few), and every person has an individual interviewing style. It all matters and definitely affects the process and the outcome of the interview. However, there are some typical questions, which are met in 80% of the first interviews. Therefore, knowing what you are going to talk about and practicing your answers is the key to success.
Here are the 5 most common questions:
Tell me about yourself
Variations of the question: discuss your current position

Why do they ask this:

A recruiter wants to see how you can speak; whether you can clearly articulate the most important aspects of your personality and work you are doing; here you may underline why you are the best choice for the position by showcasing your achievements which are important for the new role you are applying for.

What you can answer:

Don't try to retell your CV: a recruiter reads faster than you speak ;) Tell a STORY of who you are and why you are good for the job. Show your best achievements, illustrating them with numbers. Make sure your counterpart understands everything you are saying (decode acronyms which may be not familiar to the listener, especially if you are talking some specific companies' language).
Why are you interested in the position?
Variations of the question: What do you know about our company? Why do you want to change your current job?

Why do they ask this:

The question intends to check your genuine motivation and enthusiasm about the company and the position. The recruiter wants to understand whether you are looking for a job in general (it doesn't matter for you what to do) or you take the next career move seriously.

What you can answer:

Make your homework: visit the corporate web site of the company, social media accounts, google what the former employees say. Read as much as you can, including what the media publishes about the company or the industry in general (if the company you are applying for is relatively small). Check the social profiles of the people you are going to meet (usually you are given the names and positions of your vis-à-vis). Again, tell a story not just sum of facts.
Why are you looking for a new challenge now?
Variations of the question: why did you leave the previous job?

Why do they ask this:

The interviewer is looking for any red flags in your story. S/he also wants to have a reliable employee on board and to avoid hiring a person who would leave the company in the nearest 1-2 years.

What you can answer:

Explain what you are looking for in your career, especially if you change the job frequently or you have some stations with less than 1 year of experience.

Don't say anything negative about your former or current employer, even if your boss is an absolute Mr. Evil. Concentrate on your future career perspectives, which you are going to pursue at the new company.

If you are unemployed now clarify why you lost the job. If it was a layoff, say it directly, probably showing that the whole department was laid off (which is quite typical today). Show what you are up to during this time (looking for a job does not look very persuasive). Probably you study a new language, or learn to code; help your spouse with his/her business.
What are your strengths / weakness
Why do they ask this:

Surely, these are two separate questions. But usually they go together. So, if the recruiter made one of them, be prepared for the second one. For an HR person it is important to see if the new hire is self-aware and is capable of giving a fair feedback to her/himself.

What you can answer:

Make two lists of your skills, one for strength and one for weaknesses. Choose 3 characteristics in each list: those that sound most authentic for you and suit the job you are applying for. Make sure that you adjust the list for different jobs. It is crucial that you don't have weaknesses that disturb your performance at a particular job. For example, if the position requires details orientation you should avoid saying that you are poorly organized. The same with strengths: chose something, which is important for the job: for a sales position, you may demonstrate your high ability to communicate with strangers and create long-lasting personal relations.
Do you have any questions for me
Why do they ask this:

If a candidate is well prepared s/he will definitely have questions on a position, company culture and career perspectives. This question is also a good test for candidate's genuine motivation.

What you can answer:

Be authentic! Make a question, which you really think to be important. Please, please don't make questions which you have read in a guide, like "what was your best day at this company". It always sounds artificial, especially if it is a third person making the same "smart" question today.

Don't ask about salary increase or holidays during the first meeting, as far as this could be perceived not in your favor. Believe me, this will be definitely discussed in all the details, as far as compensation is good motivation for the majority of candidates.

The article first appeared on my LinkedIn blog.
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