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13 minute read

How to Tackle 5 Tough Common Interview Questions Effectively

We’ve all been there — thinking we made a good impression so far during the interview when we’re suddenly faced with a question that throws us off completely. Don’t fret; we examine 5 common questions at interviews and how we can answer them successfully.

What are your weaknesses?

During the interview, we often forget as humans, we come with our own flaws, shortcomings, failures and weaknesses. Being self-aware of your weaknesses and acknowledging them shows the interviewer that you know you are not perfect. Knowing what you lack is a good start to improving yourself, showcasing your teachable side to the interviewer.

There are many ways you can increase self-awareness — from gathering opinions from your friends or colleagues to journaling down what you can do and cannot do.

Knowing your weakness is one thing but working on it to improve is another — and the latter is what’s more important. Imagine two interview candidates mentioned their weakness is in public speaking. One of them simply says this is a weakness he is struggling with, while the other mentions how he started to volunteer to do presentations. The second candidate will definitely leave a better and stronger impression.

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The weaknesses you share — and how you are improving on them — add to the assessment of your suitability for the role. Essentially, the interviewer wants to know if you have the ability to take on the job.

How do I answer this question?

To help you remember the best way to tackle this question, here are three key things to take note of, which can be easily remembered as the ABC method:

  • Actions you took to overcome it
  • Be upfront about your weakness
  • Create a plan for further action

Actions that you took

When you talk about your weakness, accompany it with things that you have done to overcome the weakness.

Be upfront about it

State exactly what your weakness is and be upfront about the struggle you have. If there is a reason why you have this weakness, share that honestly with the interviewer as well.

Create a plan for further action

Be forward-looking. Impress your interviewer by telling them what else you plan to do to alleviate your weakness and link it to their company and the job. This shows that you have done your research.

What are the common mistakes to avoid?

1. Turning your weakness into strength

You’ll just come across as complacent or not self-aware enough, so be honest about your weaknesses. Do not give answers like:

  • I am too much of a perfectionist.
  • I work too hard sometimes and don’t know when to stop.
  • I am too passionate about this industry, which takes up a lot of my emotional energy.

2. Focus on what’s vital to the job

Practise selective honesty. Do not talk about weaknesses that touch on traits or skills critical for the job. If you are trying to land a job in sales, don’t say that your weakness is meeting strangers and dealing with rejection.

Why should we hire you? 

While it remains an intimidating question, it’s one of the best opportunities to sell yourself and show that you are the best fit. The interviewer is looking for clear reasons why you are the better choice than other candidates.

If you get called for an interview, chances are you’ve met the basic qualifications for the role. What the interviewer wants to know is if you’ll be a good culture fit.

Most employers want to hire someone who can perform under pressure and think on their feet to adapt to the situation. This question helps them distinguish the good candidates from the excellent ones. The interviewer wants to know who are you beyond your resume — what motivates you, what you’re passionate about and what your personality is like.

There are three key things that you need to know: yourself, the job and the company.

Knowing yourself: Categorising your skills

Take time to refresh yourself with all your achievements and classify them. Think of specific examples that prove you are good at these skills.

You also need to understand your personality and traits. If you are unsure how to start, you can do a simple 16 personalities test to find out more about yourself. It’s a good way to start knowing yourself a bit better.

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Knowing the job: What you can and cannot do (for now)

You’d also need to know what you can bring to the role. Study the job description and note down:

  • What job requirements do you meet
  • What job requirements do you exceed
  • What job requirements do you not meet

This helps you better understand how to value-add to the company. For requirements you don’t meet, use this opportunity to show your willingness to learn, which conveys that you have a growth mindset.

Pay attention to the job responsibilities. Tie your experiences, skills and personality to why you will be able to deliver and thrive in this position. Knowing these will help you manage your expectations for the job when you get it.

Knowing the company: Help them solve their problem

Do your homework on the current problems that the company or industry is facing. Read their websites and annual reports. Check out their social media channels. Run a quick Google search to find media mentions of the company.

Now, the next part is very critical. Think of solutions that can contribute to solving these issues — especially those related to the role you are applying for. This gives them a compelling sneak preview of the value they’ll get from hiring you, and why you are a worthy hire.

Pro Tip: You need to speak with confidence here. Prove to the interviewer that you know what you are saying and you can deliver as expected.

What are the common mistakes to avoid?

1. Listing things from your resume

Interviews are a one-time opportunity to impress, so don’t waste precious time rehashing what’s in your resume.

2. Not tying it back to the job

Remember the goal is to land the job and you should connect it to the job requirements. Relate your experiences to the job you’re interviewing for.

3. Not tying it back to the company

If your answer could have been repeated at an interview with another company, it’s too generic. So focus on and demonstrate why you’re the best hire for this particular employer.

4. Exaggeration or hyperbolic language

Convey a healthy sense of enthusiasm to impress, but don’t exaggerate your ability or come across as “cocky”. Make sure you can back up what you’re saying.

5. Not selling yourself

Another mistake people usually make is the opposite of exaggerating. Lay out exactly why your achievements, experiences, competencies, interests and personality makes you the best person for the job.

6. Giving vague answers

Soft skills should always be backed with metrics or experience. If you want to say that you have leadership skills, don’t just stop there. What you can do instead is letting them know how you led your team to complete a project from scratch with quantifiable measures of success.

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Tell me about a time you failed.

To effectively craft your answer, you have to understand the intention of the question and what the interviewer is looking for.

Everybody makes mistakes, but only a few acknowledge them. Interviewers want to see you take responsibility for your mistakes and acknowledge your weaknesses — both of which reflect a good deal of self-awareness. Interviewers want to know whether you failed smart, and how you used what you learned to improve.

Furthermore, if the failure could have been easily avoided and the result of poor effort on your part, that may be a red flag they want to avoid. Other red flags include poor work ethics, questionable integrity, lack of a growth mindset, lack of specific skills, etc.

Here’s an example of how a good answer looks like:

  • What the failure was
  • How you dealt with the failure and what you did to fix it
  • How you plan to avoid such issues in future
  • What you learnt from this and how you’ve changed
  • How all of it relates to the job you’re interviewing for

Keep your story concise and emphasise the key takeaways. Leverage your failure to accentuate your strengths and let them know how you turned it around in your favour.

Choose your failure based on this

The solution or lesson learnt should show how you demonstrate one or more traits the perfect candidate would have. You will come off as the more suitable candidate, as you’ve learnt an important lesson the hard way.

Don’t sabotage yourself

Practice selective honesty. Do not choose a failure that was easily avoidable, absolutely disastrous, or uncovers serious red flags.

Highlight the takeaways for the interviewer

How does everything you’ve said relate to why you’re the right candidate? What should the interviewer remember about you after the interview? Make it explicit. Always play to your strengths and downplay unnecessary information that may damage your reputation.

Do you have any questions for us? 

However much you want to, do not end the interview without asking a question.

Firstly, the type of questions you ask says a lot about you. Thoughtful questions give you bonus points, and the lack thereof may suggest that you are uninterested or unprepared. Your questions also send a signal of what’s important to you. If you immediately start asking about salary and employee benefits, they’ll take it that that’s top of mind for you.

If you are a worthy candidate, they would want to address any concerns or doubts you may have about taking on the offer. Even for candidates who won’t get the offer, any decent company would respect the candidate’s time in attending the interview and clear up any questions you have. It’s also good for them if you walk away with a good impression and understanding of the company.

“Tell me how I can do better”

From your questions, they learn what jobseekers care about, concern themselves with, get confused about, or get attracted to. It’s useful information that helps them improve their recruitment process.

About the job

This shows the interviewer that you’ve put serious thought into the role. You come across as having a proactive attitude to understand the job and how to best prepare or thrive in it.

This line of questions include:

  • What would a typical workday look like for someone in this role?
  • What are the KPIs or measures of success that this role will be evaluated on?
  • What are some of the key challenges that past individuals in this role faced?
  • Do you expect any changes in the responsibilities of this role in the coming future?

About the company

Use this opportunity to get a sense of the company’s culture before you decide to join them. You also want to understand the company’s strategic direction and performance.

You may ask:

  • What is the company culture like here?
  • Are there certain things that new hires tend to take a while to get used to here?
  • What do employees like most about working here?
  • What are the company’s priorities for the next 12 months?
  • What would be the company’s greatest challenge right now?

About the ideal candidate

This is a good chance to understand what the interviewer thinks of you and how you’ve fared. Most importantly, it allows you to follow up from their answer with your experiences or skillsets that weren’t already mentioned during the interview.

  • What qualities and skills are you looking for in an ideal candidate?
  • What would it take for someone to be really successful in this position?
  • Are there any skills I should work on to be a better fit for the job?
  • Do you have any feedback on my suitability for the role?

Uncover potential challenges

Besides helping you figure out whether or not this company is right for you, this is a good chance to start value-adding to the company. Understand their pain points and follow up by sharing how you can solve their challenges.

  • What are the key challenges you expect someone in this position to encounter in the next six months?
  • What are some common mistakes made by people in this position?
  • If you don’t mind sharing, why did the last person leave the job?

Discuss future & immediate next steps

It re-affirms your interest and shows that you are on top of things. Such questions may sound like this:

  • Are there any other portfolio items or documents I can provide to help you make a better hiring decision?
  • What are the next steps in the hiring process?
  • When might I hear back regarding a decision?

Preparing for the role

You come across as proactive and you’re raring to hit the ground running. Make sure you’ve done your homework. Do not ask anything you should already know the answer to or those that you can find the answer to online. Be mindful of the interviewer’s time as well. If you feel that the interviewer is trying to wrap things up, keep your questions short.

What is your expected salary?

When money is involved, we best exercise caution. The daunting part comes when you have to pull those numbers out of your mouth. There are specific strategies to prepare for this question and you can leverage them to skew the discussion in your favour.

Get a sense of salary expectations

Do your due diligence to figure out the market rate for the job you are applying for.

Always offer a range. This lets them know you are open to negotiation and that you are flexible with your salary. More importantly, prepare reasons to justify why you think you are worth that much. This could be your past experiences, qualifications, aptitude, skillsets, personality and so on. The most attractive angle would be the value you bring to the table.

If you have a competing offer, be open and transparent. Employers almost always want to know what they’re up against. But do this delicately without coming across as arrogant.

What are the common mistakes to avoid?

1. Give a fixed amount

Doing so leaves you very little space for negotiation. The interviewer also now understands what you think of yourself. In short, you lose bargaining power.

2. Sell yourself short

You may think requesting lower pay will put you ahead of your competitors. However, it may seem like a desperate shot at employment and could also raise doubts about your performance.

3. Don’t overprice yourself

You may think that anchoring the employer at a higher expected salary so that by the time you’re done with negotiations, you end up with an amount you’re happy with. If the company cannot afford you or feel that you’re not worth that amount, this high-balling technique will backfire.

4. You don’t have to disclose your current salary

Many employers will peg your salary to your current or last-drawn salary with a small increment. You don’t have to let them be anchored on that. Your current salary is confidential information between you and your employer, and you’re not obligated to share that information with anyone.

This article was contributed by TalentTribe.

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