And here you are. All dressed up in your professional finest. Portfolio in-hand. Well prepared. Feeling good.
After two previous phone-screens, and a group interview, you’re finally sitting in a mid-sized corner office, in a glamorous building downtown with a killer view of Mt. Hood, a well-known and brand-recognized organization, walking distance from public transportation, food-carts, a gym (by which one of the company’s perks is a free membership to said gym), sitting across from the final decision-maker before you expect to hear an offer one way or another.
You are about to close the deal and capitalize on this killer opportunity. You know, the kind of opportunity you picture in your mind’s eye when you think of a “kick-ass job.”
Okay…Let’s get back to the interview
“So <your name here>, your resume looks pretty sharp, your letters of recommendation are stellar and we’ve already gone over your portfolio materials, so why don’t you take a moment to tell me about your greatest weakness…”
Ah ha! An interview question you have already prepared for.
“I’m going to kick this one out of the park,” says your internal dialogue. “I am gonna turn what would normally be a negative into a fantastic win for myself and this interview. God, I am so thankful I have been reading PDXSX for the last year. Those contributing writers are so smart (and, by extension, must be absurdly handsome and incredibly witty).”
“Well, Simon, may I call you Simon? A weakness for me was I used to try and take on too many tasks at one time. I would agree to everything that came my way. Unfortunately, I would lose track of my deadlines, deliverables and find myself really embarrassed because I couldn’t hit the targets I would set for myself.”
“Uh-huh,” says Simon. “Okay.”
“But, I’ve learned to correct that weakness by always making sure I keep a personal organizer on me at all times.” *<You whip out your notebook for added emphasis>* “I really like the Moleskine® college-ruled notebooks for this and, if I do say so myself, Simon, they’re as every bit as legendary as the motto says. Since I started using this baby, I’ve never missed a deadline or a project’s requirements.”
“Ha!” your brain thinks to itself. “That was a pretty ninja misdirection. I thumped that sucker and this job is mine. Hell, I’m gonna ask for 15% more than they offer me. I’m just that good.”
And so the interview will conclude, with you telling yourself, your friends, your QFC cashier and your parents that you would be surprised, nay, shocked if you didn’t receive a phat offer from them in the next 48 hours.
But the call never comes. Your email goes unanswered. Your voicemails never reach Simon. You start to get depressed. You go back to your current gig as yet another over-educated barista. And it is all because you prepared yourself for the most basic, most common, most anticipated “tough” interview question out there without any thought on how to handle some of the really tough questions.
That is to say, the self-described “my greatest weakness” question, is a frickin’ joke and about as Candyland or vanilla as you can get. If you get this question you can bet the interviewer is a newb, has never made a hiring decision in their career or they are just filling in for the real decision-maker.
You know what the problem is? Everyone seeking employment knows how to handle this question and no one is impressed with your “gotcha!” spin-game.
Those who don’t know how to flip this question shouldn’t even have the opportunity to make it to the final interview stage.
Hiring managers and talent scouts know that everyone already knows how to handle this type of question. They also know that you know they know you know and therefore, what you know is not really what they want to know you know. You know?
Really, the only thing your answer tells them is that you probably read <cough> someone’s blog </cough> and, amongst all that advice, they told you how to handle this question.
So, without further ado, here are those questions where you probably actually blew the interview far earlier.
Since I’ve already reviewed your resume and portfolio, why don’t you tell me about yourself, just give me a 60-second self-bio.
This is a classic area for you to blunder. A good interviewer, at least the ones who will have a say in your hire or rejection has already gone over your resume. They’ve made notes in the margins. They can see very clearly exactly what experience you bring to the table (and what you don’t).
According to most hiring managers, young interviewees will generally proceed to do the most peculiar thing…
They will proceed to walk the interviewer step-by-step right through the entire resume. The very same resume the interviewer just told them they have reviewed and are already familiar with. And they will take far more than the allotted 60-seconds.
You aren’t being tricked here. The interviewer is asking you exactly what it sounds like.
They want to know who YOU are. Are you bookish? Are you athletic? Do you enjoy Jenga (avoid telling them about Drinking Jenga)? Do you like to watch The Wire? Perhaps you make Play-Doh dioramas of the Gettysburg Address while listening to Vampire Weekend? Maybe you perfect your own Haggis recipes on cold, rainy Sunday evenings?
Whatever it is, don’t go back over your resume in excruciating step-by-step detail. They really want to know who you are and what you are like.
You should know that there are several other well-qualified candidates who are vying for this position, why should we hire you over them?
Don’t snap to attention, salute and say, “Because I’m the best man for the job, sir!”
Also avoid this answer if your interviewer is named Michelle or you self-identify as a woman.
Further, an answer like this will make you sound just like a 1963 caricature of an IBM applicant in a grainy black and white corporate training video. Don’t do it.
You should, however, frame your answer in a way that will let the interviewer know exactly what skills or talents that you’ll be bringing to the organization. Pick something unique or awesome. Don’t come across as a braggart or a suck-up.
You might try saying something along the lines of, “Well, Michelle, I really can’t speak to the abilities or talents of my competition, but I can tell you that I know XYZ Corporation is looking for someone who has significant experience working with military veterans and I spent the last year volunteering as a Veteran Affairs Liaison for a US Congressman, so I have a pretty good understanding of some of the communication issues and barriers for success which are facing our veterans today.”
Bam! Give an answer like that and you’ve nailed it.
Tell me a little bit about how you might approach your first sixty (60) days of employment with us?
Don’t say: “to fit in,” “to really be a contributor,” “to make an impact,” “to kick some ass,” or “to avoid working like Glen Beck avoids critical thought.”
The interviewer is really trying to see how you would approach working for a company and your answer here will give them insight into what kind of an employee you’ll be.
Are you someone who thrives by building relationships? Do you seek to establish roles and responsibilities for yourself? Are you someone who dives in to a project or someone who asks questions to make sure you understand exactly what is expected?
No one (well, no rational person) expects a new employee to have that big of an impact in their first 60 days. Sure, it’d be nice, but in most cases, employers know there is a learning curve and most employees will take about six (6) months to get fully acclimated to a new organization.
A good answer might be: “Well, knowing that you have a really technical product line, I would really want to spend my first few days reading about all of the products produced here, but off the top of my head: I’d spend some time chatting with the engineers and product managers so I know what differentiates us from our competitors, complete an audit of all of our marketing outreach materials and learn exactly who our ideal publics are. Mostly, though, I would want to help out where I can, while getting a better understanding of exactly where and how I can add value to this organization.”
Hiiiya! See, that’s a black-belt answer to a simple question.
Tell me about <insert company’s name where you are interviewing>.
This is a legitimate question and a pretty common one.
They simply want to know if you have done your research. Period.
By now, you should know that you never go to an interview cold. Nor do you go to an interview without your own questions ready.
You should have spend a couple of hours online, with your ever-present Moleskine® handy, jotting down important notes about an organization’s products, competitors, basic market strategy, perhaps some thoughts on a few of the media released you have already read, what bloggers are saying about the company (especially those dreaded “mommy bloggers”), what sort of feedback customers are posting, etc.
You know, research?
If you just want to sip a cold PBR and take a gander at the company website the night before, you either are dangerously under-qualified for the any role, or you really don’t care about winning the opportunity. In either case, you won’t get the job so you might as well drink six (6) or seven (7) more PBRs and learn how to file for food stamps… At least you’ll be able to rest well that night, self-assured that you have actually learned something.
Say that you have just inherited $10 million from a deceased aunt, what would you do with the money?
Ah, a seemingly simple question, just for fun and kicks.
Think again. There is never anything fun or simple with interview questions. They are all trying to elicit something from you. And this one is the King Cobra of snake-in-the-grass questions.
If we were asking the question and the candidates says, “Wow, great question! I would put $2 million into a mid-yield money-market account; $2 million into tax-free municipal bonds; $500,000 into a mixed mutual fund; $250,000 into an aggressively managed stock portfolio and $250,000 in my local credit union’s CDs. I would then use the remaining $5 million to pay the estate taxes on my windfall.”
If we hear this, we’ll know we just found our employee. You know why? Because they are smart, thoughtful, well-read and have the gift of foresight (we didn’t tell and they didn’t assume if taxes have already been paid on that inheritance).
Any other answer to this question and we’ll be snickering with our other colleagues about how you just told an interviewer you would fly all of your friends to Hawaii and party for an entire month and after that was done, you’d purchase a life-sized, working model of the Boba Fett’s ship Slave-1 (which, to be fair, would be fantastically awesome to own).
So, what is the bottom line to all this advice? It is simply that you’ll never be able to predict every question you’ll get asked in an interview, but if you are quick on your feet, have a sense of the bigger picture and you can figure out they really want to know, you’ll be far better off than 90% of your competition.
Best of luck!