It takes less than a minute to Google “Most frequently asked interview questions.” Despite the few seconds that are required to complete this task, many interviewees come to interviews unprepared to answer them and end up underwhelming their interviewers.
When I work with individuals who are prepping for an interview, they usually moan when I advise them to consider answers to these standard questions. The groaning/moaning noise signifies that preparing an answer to these questions is a painful activity for them. Instead of embracing the opportunity to craft an authentic and meaningful reply, I’ve seen clients who would rather make an unscripted or “hail Mary-esque” reply. They would prefer to just throw something out there. My thought: absolutely not the right tactic. These questions should feel like a slow pitch that allows you to make your home run in full view of the interviewer.
Before we address the best way to answer two of these questions, I’d like to offer a word of caution: there are some phrases that have become cliché and, therefore, meaningless in interviews. Please try to omit these terms from your interview responses. Examples of workplace clichés include: team player, multi-tasker, can-do attitude, driven to succeed, people-person, and results oriented. You may have many of the great attributes that these clichés are trying to capture, but your job is to rephrase and package them in a way that sounds exciting and authentic to your interviewer.
How can you turn these dreaded standard questions into your shining, cliché-free, moment during your interview? See below.
What is your greatest strength? To answer this question authentically, you need to think about what trait you seem to get the most compliments on at work and at home. If this trait falls into the realm of a workplace cliché, modify it. Instead of claiming to be a “people person” consider how you have demonstrated your ability to connect with colleagues in the past and the professional outcomes that have resulted from your efforts. Being specific is always better than being vague and general. Explain, for instance, how you quickly recognize the talents of your teammates. Your shining moment comes when you follow-through and expand on how this strength has impacted the business. To construct a great interview response, you need to vividly describe how your strength has positively affected the bottom line or impressed a customer in the past. For example, the interviewee who understands the talents of others needs to explain how she spearheaded a team that was both highly productive and collaborative.
Tell me about yourself. Answering this question with candor and enthusiasm is important. You need to convey that you enjoy being you! You want to be hired and contribute to an organization that values what you bring. To ensure that your answer captures the real you, make a list of 3-5 positive descriptors that explain what you do best. If you have trouble making this list, take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment. The results will be enormously helpful to your interview prep and will establish your “Top 5 Strengths.” Coupling these descriptive words with something you have accomplished in the last 12 months is a great way to tell someone about yourself. Basically, it allows the interviewer to understand what you can contribute in both a general and a specific sense.
For example, someone who has the strengths of Responsibility, Ideation, and Achiever might say “I’m a person who takes ownership of projects and really enjoys using my creative perspective to complete a task. I am most fulfilled when I have a list of activities and I have the resources to get them done. For example, last month I was asked to take over a project that had not been going well. My supervisor gave me free-reign to make choices that were different from how things had been done in the past. I created a completely new way to address the project and constructed a thorough check-list to make sure no step was forgotten. Despite getting brought in late to this project, we ended up making our deadline and our customer was thrilled with the end result.”
Adding something personal to the mix is encouraged! For example, the individual above might say, “I seem to use these same traits at home. For my daughter’s birthday, I built her a dollhouse I was able to personally design. It was a fun to be able to work on it and she has had a ball playing with it.”
Best of luck in your next interview. With a bit of preparation, you will be ready for that next big break.
To learn more about the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment or get some coaching prior to your next interview go to www.freshconceptsonline.com.