Practicing long hours in preparation for an interview can be exhausting and often increase stress if that time is spent on questions or issues that never come up.  If you are leading a directed career search looking for specific jobs geared to your skill set, interests, personality and background, you already know the reasons why you want to work in a particular position or field, as well as what you are going to contribute.   If you are spending a significant amount of time preparing for an interview, consider the three questions below and the strategies behind answering them.  The less you prepare, the less you are likely to stress, and the more confident you will likely be when you speak to the company recruiter/hiring manager.  The questions are:

Tell Me About Yourself.

If the question isn’t “tell me about yourself,” it’s a variation such as “walk me through your resume.”  First of all, it’s important to know that the real question they are asking is “why are you sitting across the desk from me right now?”  And just as there are multiple different ways to ask this question, there’s multiple different ways to answer it as well.  My favorite strategy is to tell a story from beginning to middle to end—to provide me with the moment when you realized you wanted to do this particular type of work (beginning), then to delve into the experiences, education and activities you have accomplished to build your experience, knowledge, and/or interest (middle), then finally how it has led to you realizing this is the work you want to do WITH THIS SPECIFIC COMPANY (end).

What are 3 of your greatest strengths and 3 of your greatest weaknesses?

Let me preface my suggested answer to this question by mentioning that should you get this question in an interview, you are being interviewed by a poor recruiter.  Why?  Because this is the oldest question in the book, and with old questions comes old answers.  If the recruiter is truly looking for talent, they should ask more meaningful questions that get to the point of the matter.  This, of course, doesn’t mean you should tell your interviewer that they asked a bad question!

However, you put yourself at a huge advantage if you know the answer to this question.  Spend time thinking not only what those strengths/weaknesses are, but provide evidence of how you know you are good/bad at these particular personality traits.  And if you have the answer to these questions, I guarantee you have the answer to most of the behavioral questions you will be asked…and behavioral questions are the norm in interviews these days.  In that sense, having the answer to this question prepares you for a majority of the other questions you’ll receive.  For example, if one of your strengths is interpersonal skills, then you should easily have an example of a time when you succeeded as part of a team or an example of how you handled a person with a differing point of view than your own.

Another strategy is to think of strengths that are related to the job (hint: look at the job description) and weaknesses that have nothing to do with the job (hint #2: look at the job description).  Seems pretty obvious, right?  You would be amazed how many people shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t reflect on this.

And finally, in terms of weakness, please, please, PLEASE don’t say you are a perfectionist or that you are too organized/creative/adjective-of-the-day.  It’s not a weakness and it’s the oldest strategy in the book.  If anything, recognize what your weakness is and think of ways that you are trying to improve it…THAT’S what hiring managers/recruiters want to hear.  Well, that and what your real weaknesses are…

Why do you want to work for us?

In my various interactions with employers regarding interviews, their #1 complaint is no one has done their research.  The difference between someone who knows both why they want to work in a particular position and why for that company from someone who just knows why they are good in a job is dramatic…and the difference between those results in who get hired and who has to continue to play the field.

The more you know why you want to work for that particular company and how you fit in, the better off you are going to be in the long run (i.e. you’ll get a job offer).  Furthermore, the more you know what the company is looking for, the more you’ll be able to answer not only this question, but multiple other questions, including “why are you the best candidate for this position” “why should I hire you” and “what questions do you have for me?”

At the core of these three questions is the importance of reflection.  Take time to realize who you are, how you fit into a job/company, and what added value you are bringing to the table.  This will be the difference between a job offer and another rejection.