20 Questions

20 answers to help you master even the most grueling employment interview

Most people make two devastating mistakes when they are being questioned in an interview. First, they fail to listen to the question. They proceed to annoy the interviewer either by answering a question that wasn't asked or by giving out a lot of superfluous information.

Second and more important, they attempt to answer questions with virtually no preparation. The most glib person on earth, even the most skilled debater, cannot answer questions off the cuff without damaging the changes for success.

What follows are twenty questions that various surveys have indicated are asked most often, regardless of the job classification. Study them carefully, develop strong responses and remember that how you say it, is equally important, as what you say.

1. Why do you want to work here?

Because you have done your homework on the company, you know exactly why you want to work there. Just organize your reasons into several short, hard-hitting sentences like "You make the best product on the market today. Your management is farsighted enough to reinvest the company's profits so that you will soon be the leader in this category."

2. Why should I hire you?

The interviewer does not want a lengthy regurgitation of your resume. They do not want a barrage of facts and figures. They are interested in testing your poise and confidence. So give a short, generalized summary like "I have the qualifications to do the job that needs to be done, and my track record proves it."

3. What interests you the most about the position?

Give a truthful, but brief answer like "the challenge", "the future", "the environment" or "the competitiveness". This response will force the interviewer to ask you to explain, giving you yet another opportunity to demonstrate your profound knowledge of the company.

4. Would you like to have your boss' job?

By all means - "YES!" Ambitious, hungry people are always preferred over those who would settle for a safe routine. If you sense that this answer may threaten your interview security, you might add, "When I am judged qualified" or "Should an opening develop in several years."

5. Are you willing to go where the company sends you?

This is probably being asked because they intend to ship you off. If you answer "NO", you may not be hired. If you answer "YES", understand that once you are a trusted employee, you may not be able to exert any leverage to avoid those less than desirable out-of-town assignments.

6. What kind of decisions are most difficult for you?

Be human and admit that not everything comes easily. But be careful about what you do admit. "I find it difficult to decide which of two good employees must be let go" or "It is difficult for me to tell a client when he is running his business badly."

7. How do you feel about your progress to date?

Never apologize for yourself. "I think I have done well, but I need new challenges and opportunities." This is a good time to drop hero stories. "No one in my company has advanced as fast as I have. I think you will agree that I have accomplished quite a bit in the last five years."

8. What would you like to be doing in five years?

To answer this question, make sure you know exactly what can or cannot be accomplished by the ideal candidate in your shoes. Too many job hunters butcher this question because they have not done their homework and have no idea where their career will lead them. If you see yourself at another company, or in another department of the company you are interviewing with, then tread lightly. You cannot afford to tell your interviewer that you think you will be more successful than they.

9. What training/qualifications do you have for a job like this?

Deliver a short, fact-filled summary of your two or three most important qualifications. "I have a background in Accounting. I have demonstrated proven selling skills. I am capable of handling several projects simultaneously."

10. Why do you want to change jobs?

This is one of the first questions interviewers ask. Be sure you are ready to answer it satisfactorily. If you are currently in a dead-end position, locked out of advancement opportunities, explain this. The interview will understand. If your job has become routine - void of learning experiences - say so. If you feel your present employer is losing ground to competition through no fault of yours, the interviewer will also accept that. If you say that you salary is too low, you will become suspect. If you say that you hate your boss, you might also end up hating the interviewer. If you say you are bored, they will view you as just another job-hopper. Be careful!

11. Why have you changed jobs so frequently?

This question is crucial. In fact, an unsatisfactory answer to this one is among the top reasons why candidates fail to get jobs they want. Convince the interviewer that your job-hopping days are over. If you feel it was a mistake leaving so soon, say so. At the same time, remind the interviewer that your performance was never in question. Honesty is appreciated. If something in your personal or business life has recently changed and would affect your future stability, come right out with the facts.

12. Why were you out of work so long?

If there is a single gap in your resume, be prepared to explain what you were doing during that time. If you don't satisfy the interviewer's curiosity, you will not get hired. Try to explain very positively what you learned or accomplished during the hiatus, and the interviewer will warm to your candidacy. For example, "I took several courses to strengthen my skills in ..." or "I used this time to re-examine my goals and reached this conclusion..." The interviewer must have a positive explanation.

13. Have you ever hired or fired anyone?

You are being asked this question for two very important reasons: First, to determine whether you are capable of performing these duties. Second, to determine if your previous experience was at a high enough level to include hiring/firing responsibilities. If you have no experience, you must convince the interviewer that you can perform in these areas.

14. How have you helped sales/profits/cost reduction?

Have your hero stories ready and be willing to prove that you have made significant contributions in one or more of these basic areas. Keep your explanations short and try to include specific dollar amounts.

15. Why aren't you earning more at your age?

This is a current favorite which can frighten the wits out of an unsuspecting candidate. One of the following responses should cover your situation: "I have been willing to sacrifice short-term earnings in order to gain valuable experience" or "I have received (been promised) company stock (or other benefits) in lieu of a salary increase" or "I was reluctant to gain a reputation as a job-hopper, preferring instead to build my career on solid, long-term achievement". These work!

16. How many people have you supervised?

Similar to the "hired/fired" question. The interviewer is trying to determine the depth of your experience. Do not exaggerate!

17. What are the reasons for your success?

It is best to keep this answer very general, permitting the interviewer to probe more deeply. Offer a short list of positive character traits that describe YOU. "I like to work hard", I get along with all kinds of people, and I know how to listen" or "I pay close attention to details. I know how to watch costs, and I can keep difficult customers smiling."

18. What kind of experience do you have for this job?

Summarize four or five key areas of experience which you know you can bring to your new job. Demonstrate how each one will help the interviewer's company solve their problems. For example, "My experience in new product introductions will be very helpful to your entire marketing effort" or "My industrial design background will strengthen your sales force capability in dealing with large clients."

19. What is your Weakness?

What ever your response, Try to turn your weakness into a positive statement which reflects traits that the company is looking for. For Example: I am a committed hard working individual that gives 110% of whatever I undertake. and when I see other employees that are lazy or just trying to get by, it sometime effects me more than it should.

20. What is a negative that you saw in your last company?

Again, whatever your answer, try to turn it into a positive answer.