Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part Two
Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part Two
More Answers that Win Job Offers
Would you like to read a true story about an interviewing boo-boo?
The year is 1996. The company is Pizza Hut. The situation: A candidate is applying for a managerial position at the corporate headquarters. This individual is enthusiastic and energetic with excellent experience and seems to be the first choice for the position. But . . . he shoots himself in the foot. It’s a very warm day and the interview has gone very well. Toward the end, the interviewer asks, “Would you like a cold drink . . . ice water, soda?”
Our hero responds: “Thank you. I would like a Coke if you have one.”
The interview ends with no job offer. What went wrong?
The only job where you can start at the top is . . . digging a hole!
The first cardinal rule of job interviewing is research … research … research. If the candidate had performed his due diligence, he would have learned that Pizza Hut at that time was a subsidiary of Pepsico. Asking for a Coke instead of a Pepsi was not only treason but displayed a complete lack of preparation.
In “Answers to Interviewing Questions – Part One,” we explored the “Tell me about yourself” question and the most appropriate way to answer it. Also included were the so-called ’illegal questions’ interviewers should not ask, though some of them do, and how to recognize them. In this article, Part Two , we will look at three questions that are among the most difficult and provoking for job applicants:
"Most people work just hard enough not to get fired. And get paid just enough money not to quit." - George Carlin
• What are your strengths?
• What are your weaknesses?
And the statement,
• You appear to be overqualified.
After more than 20 years in the corporate world, interviewing hundreds of men and women, I’ve asked all the common questions as well as the uncommon. Some of the answers I heard might have been appropriate for applicants who had just arrived from another planet. If you want to read about them for yourself, see “How to Interview – Unsuccessfully.”
Q. How many people work here?
A. About half of them!
What are your strengths?
Now let’s get down to business. If you are asked, ‘what are your strengths?’ what would be the most appropriate answer?
a) I can bench press 342 pounds.
b) I once had to push my car all by myself two blocks to a gas station … uphill.
c) I work out three times a week at the gym. Here go ahead and punch me as hard as you can in the stomach. Go ahead.
d) None of the above.
Of course, (d) is the right answer. The other responses are ridiculous but would you believe, I once heard (c) from an applicant? No, I did not take him up on his offer.
You may be too nervous to realize it during the interview but this ‘strengths’ question provides the perfect opening for you to present a capsule account of how your past experience, education and especially, your accomplishments, have made you the perfect candidate for the job.
Similar to the ‘tell me about yourself’ question which seeks to uncover personal information that the interviewer would like to know but should not ask, you need to prepare a short commercial that emphasizes your sterling qualities and appropriate accomplishments in past positions.
Rehearsal is imperative and brevity is the soul of fit. No one wants to hire a windbag. A 60-second answer is the max. You can always ask questions: “Would you like to know more about my skill in project management?“ (You know from the job description that this is one of the abilities the job requires.)
If you have the skills, the experience, the accomplishments that are needed, say so. This is no time to be self-effacing.
If you are in sales or marketing, make a statement that begins with “My customers/clients tell me …“ and end with a positive description. It will win you points.
When the applicant in an interview says, "That's a good question," you can be sure it's a lot better than the answer you are going to get.
What are your weaknesses?
The ‘weaknesses’ question is more difficult. Job seekers invariably want to know the best way to answer without actually displaying a weakness. And that is a wise road to take. I once asked that question to a young woman who responded, “I am not a morning person. I do my best work in the afternoon.” A wise ‘weakness’ answer? NOT!
Which of these answers would you select?
a) I used to get angry very easily but I have been attending anger management classes regularly … for the last three years.
b) Planning and organizing might be my weakest points so I do use calendars: a large one on the wall of my office, a desk calendar, the one on my computer, my iPad, and my iPhone, and two pocket planners that I carry.
c) I have just enrolled in a computer class … for beginners. (The job requires computer literacy.)
d) I am a perfectionist but I am working on that. Excuse me while I straighten these papers on your desk.
e) None of the above.
Answer (e) is correct. You may have been tempted to use the ‘perfectionist’ answer. If I kept a tally of how many times ‘being a perfectionist’ was named as either a strength or a weakness, it would have to be in the hundreds. I have often thought there must be popular books or training programs somewhere that postulate perfectionism as a praiseworthy, positive, proficient trait. Not so.
Do not say you are a perfectionist. Interviewers are turned off by that answer because it is so common and therefore has little meaning. In addition, employees who persist in being perfect cost the organization money. The secret, No one can be perfect all the time. Just try to be excellent.
The person who knows HOW will often get the job. The person who knows WHY will often be the boss.
Examples of answers you do not want to use:
“I am so detail-oriented I tend to be a perfectionist but I am working on that.” Really???
Or: “I am a workaholic … work is my middle name.” Hard to believe.
Or: “I am so committed to my work that it may make others look bad.” Don’t think so.
These are deceiving answers and any competent interviewer sees right through them. How should you answer this question? First, never indicate you have any weakness per se. Instead focus on statements that may appear to reveal a weakness but in fact indicate a strength – something you are improving or trying to overcome. For example:
“I know that a knowledge of Spanish would be useful so I have begun to study the language online. (Bring your English-Spanish pocket dictionary with you together with your extra resume.)
Or: “I attend every seminar or workshop offered that will enhance my management skills
Remember this - An interviewer’s joke is always funny!
You appear to be over-qualified.
The ‘over-qualified’ statement is one of my all-time favorites. Maybe because I heard it so often since I was always challenging myself with new careers and getting more aged (I like to think of it as maturing) in the process.
You know from your experience with the illegal questions that interviewers are usually careful not to ask, “So, how old are you?” They know if they do and you do not get hired they may be risking an age discrimination charge. So if you are older – and that could be 40 and beyond – you may hear that ‘you appear to be overqualified’ statement. What should you say?
a) Whatddya mean overqualified? I’ll have you know I was doing work like this when you were a whippersnapper, sonny boy, and still running around in diapers.
b) Isn’t that an illegal statement?
c) Are you saying I’m too old?
d) None of the above.
The correct answer is (d). Even if you are tempted, resist the above answers. Instead, if you really are overqualified, try this answer: “Absolutely, and isn’t that to your advantage?” And then list the reasons why.
I can attest to using this answer successfully on more than one occasion. When you answer in that vein, it gives you an opportunity to reiterate the qualities and accomplishments that make you the best fit for the job. It is really an opportunity as long as you do not take umbrage at the question. (umbrage – an old French word meaning where the heck did I leave my old umbrella?)
Sometimes, that ‘overqualified’ statement has nothing to do with your perceived age. It represents instead a polite way of indicating ‘you are too expensive,’ or ‘you have earned more previously so you probably would not stay long.’ But those sentiments are not verbally expressed – they would be considered discriminatory.
More and more as you interview, you will be encountering behavioral questions rather than these subjective questions. In other words, interviewers will be asking what you did do in previous jobs– not what would you do. You might like to read: “99 Typical Behavioral Interview Questions.”
Keep this in mind: When you interview, you want to sedulously avoid all polysyllabic profundity, pompous propensity and platitudinous pontification. Or, as William Safire so succinctly stated, “Use diminutive words.”
Now, go get ‘em, tiger!
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2011. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"
More on Interviewing
- Answers to Interview Questions – Part One
Do you know the best answers to use for both common and uncommon job interviewing questions? Would you like to know the answers that win the most job offers? How should you answer, Tell me about yourself. What are the 'illegal' questions?
- Anger Management Simple Test
Are You Angry? Aggressive? Are You Cynical? Take this very simple test and learn how angry, aggressive or cynical you really are. No matter what anyone says ...
- 99 Typical Behavioral Interview Questions
One way to put yourself at the head of the pack when interviewing is to practice beforehand your answers to behavioral interviewing questions.
- How to Interview (Un) Successfully
The interviewer asked, “Why did you leave your last job?" Do you know what the applicant replied?