‘Never overlook these 7 classic job interview questions,’ says CEO and hiring expert of 22 years
by Gary Burnison
You can’t possibly know all the questions you’ll be asked in a job interview. They could be zingers out of the blue (“If you were an animal, what would you be?”) or total brainteasers (“Can you estimate the number of panes of glass in the city of Seattle?”).
But no matter how much the hiring process has evolved, it’s the simplest interview questions that will always remain the same. And yet, I see very few people prepare for them these days.
As the CEO of the world’s largest recruiting firm, I’ve been hiring candidates for more than 22 years — and my advice is to never overlook these seven classic interview questions:
1. “Tell me about yourself.”
Too many people respond by regurgitating their resume. That’s not what your interviewer wants to hear.
The best — and most memorable — answer I have ever received to this question was: “I’ve climbed the highest mountains on every continent, including Everest.”
This candidate showed who she really was beyond a piece of paper: an adventurous, curious, goal-oriented and disciplined person.
Talk for about 30 seconds, then let the interviewer respond. The goal is to make it conversational.
When I asked the climber about the first thought that ran through her head upon reaching the summit, she didn’t go off about how she’d done something most of us can’t even contemplate.
Instead, she laughed and said, “How the heck am I going to get down?” This showed her ability to engage others with humor and humility.
2. “Can you describe a situation in which you took initiative to accomplish a goal?”
Your interviewer is listening for examples of how you’ve been proactive and results-driven. Describe your motivation and how you used your creativity to solve a problem or identify an opportunity.
3. “What value do you bring?”
This can be a tough one because it’s so vague. But the key is to pick two or three main qualifications for the job and explain how you meet them.
For more junior positions, you’ll want to spend more time talking about the technical skills. But if you’re further in your career, then focus on highlighting how you manage, work with, motivate and engage with others.
4. “What is your greatest career accomplishment?”
This is one of the most important questions to prepare for. Giving a great answer can land you the job.
Just don’t drag on for too long; tell a quick story with specific details. Get comfortable with bragging and using the word “I.” Choose an accomplishment that is most relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.
Lastly, quantify the accomplishment: Did you reduce expenses? Increase productivity or revenue? Even something that gave the company high recognition in its industry counts.
5. “What are your weaknesses?”
By now, the interviewer already has an idea of what your strengths are, so they will be much more curious about what you can improve on. And telling them that you “work too hard” or you “care too much” won’t cut it.
Companies want a real answer from you, and they want to know that you are self-aware. Prepare a couple examples of areas that you’re working on — maybe something you highlighted in your last job performance review. Or, reach out to a former boss and ask for their honest opinion.
Here’s an example of an excellent answer:
“While my campaign ideas have helped grow and diversify our client base, I’ve had to lean on my co-workers when it comes to managing social media campaigns and designing graphics.
These are two areas I really want to improve on. I’ve started working very closely with my colleagues in these areas to absorb their knowledge and gain experience. I also signed up for some graphic design courses that I’m super excited about.”
6. “What major problem, challenge or failure have you had to overcome? How did you do it?”
In addition to highlighting your skills and competencies, you can showcase your goal orientation, work ethic, personal commitment and integrity.
Overcoming numerous or significant difficulties to succeed requires these qualities. Demonstrate your resilience by getting real about the challenges you’ve overcome.
7. “Why do you want to work here?”
What do you know about the company? This is an opportunity for you to discuss the “fit factor”: What you admire about the company, its mission and purpose, products and services, and culture.
If you want to go the extra mile, do some research about the person you’ll be reporting to and share what you’d like to learn from them. What have they accomplished throughout their career that you aspire to achieve, too?
Gary Burnison is a best-selling author and the CEO of Korn Ferry, the world’s largest organizational consulting firm. His books include “The 5 Graces of Life and Leadership,” “Leadership U: Accelerating through the Crisis Curve,” “Advance: The Ultimate How-to Guide for your Career,” and “Lose the Resume, Land the Job.” Follow Gary on LinkedIn.