You probably wonder sometimes when you’re talking to employers, “Why are they asking me that?” Because sometimes the questions seem so, well…canned, or in some cases, disconnected from anything practical.
It’s not done to throw you off. I believe it’s just because some of these questions are the way it’s always been done. And let’s face it, hiring is stressful and time-consuming, and it’s just easier to stick with what you already know.
So, let’s unpack this.
What do employers really mean when they ask certain common questions?
- Why do you want to work here?
Translation: What do you know about us?
They are trying to find out whether you took the time to research what they do and find out why it matters to them. So it’s your job to explain what you know and how you can contribute to helping them reach their goals.
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
Translation: Is this job part of your career plan, or will you bail suddenly if something better pops up?
These days especially, loyalty matters. So many people have quit their jobs, that companies are worried their investment in hiring you won’t pay off. Allay their fear by talking about the work you hope to do, how it connects with what they do, and how you’re excited about the future.
- Tell me about yourself.
Translation: How are you a fit for this job?
It’s so tempting to talk about the place where you grew up and recount your career history. What they really want is for you to connect what you have been doing with what you can do for them. Here’s one way: “I got into this field because of my interest in__________________. I discovered that the aspect I enjoy is _____________(and guess what? It’s an aspect that you know matters to them.) In fact, during my career, I’ve been able to _______________(give a couple of key accomplishments that are on point for the role you are seeking). I look forward to continuing that approach for your company.”
- What is your greatest weakness?
Translation: Are you self-aware and proactive about improving?
Companies want to know you are not a know-it-all who has nowhere to grow. One way to respond is to talk about some feedback you received—something a boss may have told you that you should work on. Presentation skills, perhaps? Stay away from areas that could negatively impact your chances, such as saying you don’t work well with teams or (if you’re a writer) that you’re a horrible speller. And the response that you’re a perfectionist is waaaay overused!
Give the example, and then talk about how you have improved in that area.
- Tell me about a time that you failed.
Translation: Do you learn from mistakes? How do you handle failure?
Let’s face it, we will fail in life, a lot! It’s how we learn. And every day, projects go off the rails somewhere. View this question as a golden opportunity to talk about your resilience. Give an example of something at a previous job that didn’t go according to plan, what happened, how you responded, and how that helped things go better next time.
NOTE: Never blame anyone!
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