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Top five interview questions to master


A client recently asked me: “What are the questions I really need to be able to answer in a job interview?” I hadn't thought about it in those exact terms, but I think it’s a terrific question and I certainly have an opinion.

Here are five questions (really question “areas”) that you need to be prepared to answer in your job interview. Notice the word “prepared”…

  1. Why should we hire you? This may not be the exact question asked of you, but it could be. It’s a scary question but a good one, and it’s important that you respond clearly, concisely and confidently. Before the interview, be clear about what the employer is looking for and the specific skills, qualifications and experience you have that fit his need.
  2. Tell me about… (fill in your dreaded topic). Each of us has at least one dreaded topic: the one we hope the interviewer will not ask. That might be a gap in employment: “Tell me about this two-year period when you weren't working?” Other dreaded topics might be age (too young, too old), you’re over/under qualified, whatever. Identify the topic you want to avoid and prepare your response. I often recommend that my clients raise the topic even if the employer doesn't. If you think it’s an issue, the interviewer likely will as well. Be proactive, discuss it, clear the air. It will make you feel better and it might resolve any qualms the employer had about hiring you.
  3. Tell me about yourself? This is a perfectly legitimate question for an interviewer to ask, but so open-ended it can leave you speechless. Employers want to see how well you think on your feet and how you weave in some of your life story into what makes you a strong candidate for this job. They do not want to hear about your childhood or how many siblings you have. They also don’t want you to go on for more than a minute. Write out your answer and practice your response before your interview.
  4. Give me some examples of your work… If you are applying say, for a customer service job, it’s reasonable for the interviewer to ask you about specific customer service experience or examples of how you handled conflicts with a customer. Come prepared with examples that highlight your competence and experience in this area..
  5. What are you passionate about? If you haven’t thought about this and your response is a blank stare, that doesn't look so good. Think about your interests, your community service – do you have a passion about something? Passion may seem like a strong word - and it is - but it’s important to be able to speak about your interests whether they are fly fishing, volunteering in an orphanage, or participating in triathlons. Employers want to know a little about the person they are hiring. Be yourself, show who you are. Just remember to keep it to a minute.

You may have noticed a common theme in each of these questions: your answers will be better if you've prepared your response in advance. That doesn't mean reading your answer during the interview - but think about each of the above questions, jot down some notes and practice your response. What are your specific skills and experience that make you qualified for this job? Why do you want it so much? What are your interests?

Winging an interview is a waste of everyone’s time, mainly because you’ll likely not get hired. But even when you prepare and still don’t get hired, you’ll be ready to shine in your next interview. Preparation is worth every minute you invest!

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Gale Dunlap

Gale Dunlap is President of Standout Strategies, a company that helps senior managers and professionals market themselves more effectively to get promoted or change careers. Her career focus has been in marketing strategy and executive education for companies such as Amoco, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, the Kauffman Foundation, and many startups and nonprofits. For more detail visit www.standout-strategies.com, call 303-250-8039 and connect with Gale on LinkedIn

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