by Sharon Boerbon Hanson
Employers are looking for “must haves.” Present yourself as a “must have” by avoiding the tricks, traps, and pitfalls that trip many people up during interviews. For each question the employer asks, you want to answer in a way that positions you as the most desirable candidate. Read on to see some of the most commonly asked questions. Note: the examples below are from the IT industry—but the general points apply to just about any jobseeker.
QUESTION: Why do you want this position?
“To use my IT skills to their best advantage,” is an okay answer, but it doesn’t give an employer much to go on. They want to find out how well you’ve researched the company and the position. They may also be looking to see whether you understand the company or industry as a whole. IT personnel who understand the business or industry have a much greater chance of beating out another candidate with similar technical skills.
To prepare for this question, be sure to visit the company’s website before the interview. Read the corporate newsletter, look over an annual report to understand the company’s business model, and check out articles about the company in the trade press. This will allow you to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, but beyond that, that you understand the company’s challenges or accomplishments. If you were involved in a successful project that solved problems or dealt with issues similar to the ones facing this company, bring it up to score extra interview points.
QUESTION: What do you consider your area of weakness?
This is an elimination question that helps employers weed out candidates. A typical strategy is to offer a strength as a weakness (“I’m enthusiastic, so I can overwork myself and others, but I’m aware of that tendency and have learned to modify it.”) This may be preferable than admitting a flaw, but an even better tactic is to mention what you least and most like to do. The trick here is to offer a most like to do that matches the most important job qualification, and a least like to do that is outside of the job description.
For instance: “I really enjoy writing elegant and efficient code, and that’s what I like to spend my time doing as opposed to writing documentation. Of course, I know the importance of documentation, so I’ve made it a point to keep documentation current. But I love writing code.” This example, based on a development position, keys the “what I like best” to the most important aspect of the job.
QUESTION: Tell me about a project that failed, or you were disappointed in.
As with weaknesses and faults, it’s crucial that you portray yourself in a positive light. Choose a project that was praised because of your skills or participation and that relates to the type of projects you would be expected to do in this position. Mention that although the project was considered to be highly successful by your boss (and hers), that reflecting on it, you thought of ways it could have been even more successful. This demonstrates a desire to continuously improve.
Sharon Boerbon Hanson is associate executive director of Advance IT Minnesota, a Center of Excellence that promotes awareness of and excellence in IT careers in order to ensure business success. She has over 25 years experience in marketing and brand-building, and has over 15 years as a resume and interview coach.