Key Principles to Answering Interview Questions Every Hiring Manager Asks
Learning how to interview well is a skill, and it takes practice and repetition to get it right. Unfortunately, you do not have the luxury to practice many times before you get in front of the one person standing between you and your dream job.
Luckily, there are many tools at your disposal to get you the interviewing skills needed before the big day. And learning the most commonly made mistakes in answering interview questions can fast-track you into the right job.
Some interview approaches recommend practicing the ‘right answer’ and preparing canned responses for commonly asked interview questions. This is the wrong approach. Instead, you should learn the Six Key Principles that will help you in any interview situation.
Six Key Principles to Answering Interview Questions
1. Answer Directly
Always address the question, then give an example. Never start with the example before you provide the answer. This will ensure you always have an engaged audience. Give an example only after you've answered the question.
2. Give Real Examples
Make sure your answers are real, not what you would do but what you've done. Give context, paint the picture, know your numbers and demonstrate that you know what’s important with real-life examples.
3. Don’t Give the Same Example More than Twice
Experience means you've had failures and successes, and you should have multiple examples for both to share during an interview. If you only have had one win or one loss, this will signal a lack of experience. With experience comes both successes and failures. Be willing to share both with multiple examples.
4. Never Make Assumptions
Ask questions before making an assumption in an interview. If you’re unclear on a question, ask for it to be repeated to get additional clarity before you answer. Assumptions not based on facts or in-depth research will only make you look uninformed.
5. Smile and Have Fun
One of the most potent forms of communication we have is non-verbal. Our body language, our facial expressions, hand gestures and focal attention. This non-verbal form of communication usually is our first impression on whether we're going to connect with someone or not. It’s pretty amazing what a smile can do to help relax you and others in a room. Remember to smile and have fun, and if they're human, they can't help but smile back.
6. Take a deep breath
A piece of advice that has survived thousands of years of human evolution. Intentional breathing can transform your life, make you stronger, wiser, and more courageous. Use this superpower before you answer and ask a question. Stay grounded and attentive to the conversation. Breathing calmly and intentionally will help you stay focused and present to the discussion.
What to Ask:
Just as important as answering questions is what questions you ask. Not having questions is the single worst thing you can do in an interview. I repeat. Not having any questions is the single worst thing you can do in an interview. You should have at least one question. If you don't, this is not the right job for you.
In the past ten years, this rule has never failed me. The best questions come from the best candidates.
- Great questions come from deep research
- Questions are relevant and applicable for your understanding of the job, business, team, and culture
- Questions are thoughtful, creative, personal and genuine
- Questions are prioritized and respectful of time and situation
Never underestimate a great question; I’ve seen people save bad interviews by asking excellent questions to re-engage the audience. Great questions show critical thinking and emotional intelligence.
Ten Commonly Asked Interview Questions
These are some of the most commonly asked interview questions hiring managers will ask during interviews. Some questions will be presented differently, but the outcome (what they want to know) is the same.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
This is how most interviews start. The infamous tell me about yourself question. How you answer this question will set the tone and potentially determine if you'll move to the next stage in the interview process. Tell me about yourself is your "elevator pitch," the why I should hire you and what makes you stand out.
It's a tricky question to answer because we're so much more than a 2-4 minute description. To answer this question, it's essential to keep in mind what the employer wants to know. How you can help them make money, save money, and be more efficient. And will they enjoy working with you.
This is the only part you should practice by getting into more situations to sell your background and experience. Practice at home, in the mirror, with friends, colleagues, and at networking events. Have fun, smile, and by the time you're interviewing, this first question will be a breeze to answer. The goal is for your elevator pitch to feel natural and not like a rehearsed script.
2. What do you know about the job and company?
This question is a test - make no mistake about it. And it's a pass or fail test. You either did your homework, or you did not. And yes, this is homework. Failure is just visiting the website before the interview or only visiting the company's website for research. Everybody visits the website, and if that is all you do, you definitely will not stand out.
Go out of your way to do your homework, get informed, make it a worthwhile meeting by being genuinely interested in the company and the people that work there. This extra step is what separates good from great.
3. Why did you leave your last job?
The truth will set you free. Yes, it will! Always be truthful in your meetings; never lie or intentionally mislead. Be honest, direct and emotionally self-aware, and you'll win people over with your character and maturing.
Answering this question should be short, concise and to the point. Remember the 6 Key Principles to answering interview questions; principle 1 - answer directly. It should take less than 2 minutes to answer this question. If you're spending more time explaining why you left a job than what you accomplished at a job, it's likely because you've been unclear or misleading.
4. What is your most recent professional accomplishment?
This is a great question, and you should have multiple examples to share. Accomplishments are measurable, challenging, and achieve a specific goal, priority or purpose. A company wants to know how you can help them make money, save money, and be more efficient.
It's hard to remember all of your accomplishments and achievements, mainly because we rarely celebrate our small wins. A great strategy is to track your professional successes in a calendar, journal or personal diary. Even Twitter or social media can help track, celebrate and memorialize your accomplishments.
Keep a list of your successes, and celebrate them often, so you know precisely what to share during an interview.
5. What is your most recent professional failure?
This is another excellent question. I say this because successful people learn from thier failures which leads to thier success. Learning from your failure can fast-track you to success in life and business.
The most accomplished people learn from the failures of others. Learning from your failure takes self-awareness, compassion and empathy. Your ability to learn quickly, adapt, and continue this loop until you've reached your goals will determine how successful you'll be.
Failure is a scary word for many people. We avoid it to protect our egos and self-identity. If you look at any successful person, they've had a failure but always learn, adapt, and continue.
Fall seven times, stand up eight.
6. Why Do You Want to Work Here?
I want to work here because I believe in the products and services. I align with the values, and I can help deliver on the goals and objectives for this role. I want to work here because my whole career has led to this point. An accumulation of experience, skills, and accomplishments well suited to contribute as a valuable team member.
A company wants to hear that you've done your homework and connected how your experience and background directly relate to what the company cares about. Customers. Revenue. Savings.
7. What do you bring to a new role?
Translation. What makes you unique. Assume everyone the company is interviewing has similar skills and experience; what separates you from the others is your soft skills, character, personality, and perspective. There is only one you. We all have a superpower and great strength in how we do what we do so uniquely. You'll know it's a superpower because it exposes a weakness. Be vulnerable, authentic and genuine when answering this question. This is the human question looking for a human response.
8. How do you influence others?
We're all influencers, and we influence those around us. What influence are you on others, good or bad? What influence do others have on you? Are you intentional with your influence and how you use it, gain it and maintain it? The higher you progress in your career, the more you'll cultivate this skill to influence others and decisions. The power of influence cannot be overstated; it's immense and can leapfrog your career and earning potential.
This is a perfect question for a real-world example. First, answer your method of influence directly and then give an example to illustrate your influence and impact.
Nail this question, and you nail the interview.
9. How would your colleagues describe you?
Don't guess; go and ask them. No, seriously. Stop reading and go and ask your colleagues how they would describe you to others. Please do your best to get them to answer direct and honestly. Tell them you're starting a personal discovery journey and want to work only on the essential aspects of individual self-development and value their feedback and suggestion.
If your colleagues are honest, you'll have a list of things that you do well, some things you should work on and others you should stay away from or stop doing. Ask a few current colleagues and former, and don't take the feedback personally. Embrace the feedback knowing if someone was to do an 'off the record' reference you now know what people will say.
Ask for feedback often and be willing to learn, adapt and improve just as often.
10. Where would you like to be in the next 5-10 years
Rarely do people plan their careers that far ahead. Most don't know what they'll be doing in 12 months or 24 months. This question exposes how committed someone is to thier long-term goals and vision for thier life. Answering is easy. Explaining how you'll get there is the actual test. It's a compelling demonstration of goal-setting, strategic planning, and patience when someone can clearly outline what they want to do in the next 5-10 years and reverse engineer how they'll get there.
This question is similar to the "how many tennis balls fit in a school bus or how many donuts does Tim Horton's sell (Dunkin Donuts for Canadians)?". The correct answer is how you arrived at the solution, not the answer.