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How to Handle the Most Common Interview Questions

Interviews are scary.  However, if you prepare effectively you can reduce your nerves and position yourself to perform well.  Since most interviewers ask a lot of the same questions, a good place to start is to practice the common ones.  Here are a few questions that you will almost always be asked:

Tell me about yourself.  This is probably the most common interview question.  Interviewers love it because it provides them with an overview and it gets you talking.  The problem is that because it is so general, it is easy to mess it up.  A good approach is to respond to the question as if they had asked, "Why would you be a good fit for this job?"  Focus your description of your skills and experience on areas that would be of interest to this particular employer for this particular position.     

What do you know about our organization?  This question provides you with an opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competition by doing more research.  Spend the time reading everything you can about the company and the industry.  When you come across as knowledgeable, the employer will feel like you actually understand and are equipped to handle the challenges that you would face in this job.  Also, when you know a lot about the company, the employer will perceive that you are genuinely interested in working there which will make you a more attractive candidate.  

What are your strengths and weaknesses?  The strengths part of this question is easy; just pick a few of your strengths that are relevant to the job and provide specific examples of your accomplishments in these areas.  For example, you could say, "I am detail oriented.  Once I started proofreading the reports for our team, the number of errors decreased by 20%."  The 'weakness' part is a little more tricky.  You can't identify a weakness that is relevant to the job and you can't claim to have no weaknesses.  The best approach is to pick a weakness that will not inhibit your ability to do the job and outline what you are doing to overcome it.  For example, if you are looking for a job in customer service you could say that you wish that you were stronger with technology and that you are taking a course to improve your computer skills.    

Where do you see yourself in five years?  The purpose of this question is to understand your career goals as they relate to the position at the company.  The employer wants to see that the job fits in with your career goals so that you will be committed to it and won't leave quickly.  Also, if the employer is aware of your career goals, they are able to give you projects that would interest you.  When answering this question, make sure that there is a correlation between the job that you are interviewing for and your five year career goal.    

Tell me about a time when you had to deal with competing priorities. This question is common because in most jobs there are more things to do than there is time to do it.  The employer wants to see that you are able to manage a variety of tasks effectively and that you will be able to meet your deadlines.  The best way to approach this question is to provide examples of you multitasking and outlining some strategies that you use.  

Even if the interviewer doesn't ask these specific questions, practicing them will put you in a position where you will do well.  Now all you have to do is come up with some stories that outline your quantifiable accomplishments and you'll be ready to wow them!

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image by