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Answering Interview Questions 101

Why do you want this job? What is your biggest weakness? How much do you expect to be paid? Chances are, you’ve been subjected to at least one of these questions at a job interview. But what is the right answer, and what happens if you can’t think of any response at all?

Don’t fret. Here is Answering Difficult Interview Questions 101.

First of all, why do recruiters ask these questions? The answer is simple: recruiters want to reduce the number of people competing for the same job. If a candidate gives them a bad answer, they may have enough of a reason to move on to someone else. On the flip side, if a candidate gives them a really good response to a tough question, it could make a lasting impression on the recruiter.

Before going into an interview, it is very helpful and effective to write down some examples and key points that you would mention when asked some common interview questions, including the tough ones. These notes do not need to be fleshed out answers because you don’t want to sound robotic as if you memorized them. You want the interview to be like a normal (though professional) conversation. Have an idea of what you want to say, but don’t script the entire interview.

To help you with that, here are some examples of the typical tough questions and how to answer them. Use these tips but make sure to let your personality shine through with each answer. Remember, authenticity is everything!

  1. Why do you want this job?

This may seem like an easy question at first, but beware: employers don’t want to hear that you want this job because you need the money (even if that’s the case). Think about what entices you about this position (not how much you get paid!). Talk about how passionate you are about the job and what the company stands for. This also shows that you did your homework and learned about the company’s values beforehand. You can also explain how you believe that this company is the right match for you. This is a great transition into explaining how you are a great match for them. Here you can speak about your experience and your specific contributions to projects you’ve been working on.

  1. What is your biggest weakness?

This is a tough interview question that is very common. Many people have a hard time answering this because though we all have our weaknesses, it’s scary telling someone that we want to work for our flaws. But the worst thing that you could do is stumble during this question and say “Hmm, this is a hard question. What am I bad at?”. Everyone is bad at something! The interviewer wants to hear an authentic answer. The key here is to “be honest, but not too honest”, as summed up by Laura McLennan, a GEM mentor who works as a recruiter at fishRecruit Inc., show self-awareness and talk about an actual flaw, but make sure it’s something that won’t “raise red flags.”

Essentially, there are two ways to do this. One is to mention a weakness that could be used as a strength. Siobhan Desroches, GEM mentor and Government Affairs & Stakeholder Relations Manager at Greater Toronto Airports Authority, shared a great example to answer this question: “I typically say that I often take the lead on projects and tend to need to have my hand involved in everything. Maybe I take too much ownership. It’s all because I care about the end result of the project. However, this can sometimes result in me burning out. I’m working on that by learning how to delegate and reminding myself to take a step back when others in the group can handle it.”

Also, note that she mentions how she is working on the flaw. This is the second great way to talk about your weaknesses. You can talk about something that you are not naturally good at, but mention how you are managing or working on it.

  1. How much do you expect to get paid?

For this one, you have to remember: recruiters don’t want to hire someone that has unrealistic salary expectations. However, they also don’t want to hire someone who underestimates themselves. In this case, vagueness is your best friend. Tell them that you would be willing to discuss this once you receive an offer for the position. If they really press the issue, mention a range that would represent the average pay for someone in that position. You could use websites like PayScale to search it up.

What happens when you’re asked a question that you really don’t know the answer to? Don’t panic! Even if you don’t know the answer to something, mention something similar that could relate. Of course, it would be less likely that you are asked a question that you can’t answer if you prepare for the interview. Here are some tips that you can use to prepare:

  • As mentioned before, writing down jot notes for some common questions is very helpful. Articulate the reasons as to why you want the job and what you bring to the table. Know how to explain the relevant experience that you have and always know how you contributed to that project/company.
  • Do research on the company and the industry as a whole. This shows initiative and that you took the time to understand the company and the position.
  • Talk to people who have that job and ask for tips and advice.
  • Speak to your mentors, as they may be able to give you tips and help you calm your nerves.
  • Think of some icebreakers that you could have to make the experience less awkward. Susan Baxter, Vice Chairman for RBC Wealth Management and keynote speaker at GEMinar Four: Getting Your Goals, mentioned that she likes to comment on the weather as soon as she enters the room to break the ice.
  • Practice answering the questions at home so that you sound articulate, but not so much that you sound robotic.

Most importantly, realize that you made to the interview stage. This means that they already know you are qualified. Now you just need to be yourself and let your personality shine. Keep calm and be confident. Believe in yourself! And if you don’t get the job, maybe it just wasn’t the right fit for you, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Learn from your mistakes and try again. I wish you the best of luck with your quest for a job, and I hope that these tips helped you.