1. Tell me about yourself. Most people hate this question. By preparing for it, however, and knowing what a wonderful opportunity it is to sell yourself, you should look forward to it. It is the most frequently asked question in interviewing. It usually serves as a bridge to go from small talk to the real interview.

Briefly describing your education or your work history are appropriate responses to this question. Even though the employer has your resume at hand, describing interesting aspects of each job can add a nice touch. Expand briefly on some of your results. This will likely cause the interviewer to select an accomplishment and ask you to tell more about it. That is exactly what you want; you score points every time you discuss results. After bringing the employer up to the present, you could describe one of your top strengths. You might summarize your strength by saying:

Basically I’m an analytical person. For example, at Dependable Services, no one really knew how much our services were costing the company. I had taken courses in cost accounting in college, so I figured out the actual costs, taking depreciation of our equipment into consideration. I discovered that one of our services actually cost us 7% more than we charged for it. We raised our fees immediately. That alone earned an additional $17,000.

You could wrap up by asking, “Could I provide more detail on some of this?” A well-thought-out answer will usually require two to four minutes.

2. What is your greatest strength? The question asks for your number-one strength, skill, or asset and requires you to analyze yourself. Going into the interview you should have several strengths in mind. Share the strength you feel will score the most points. Begin with a brief statement and provide a clear example. A person interviewing for a management position might respond:

I would say it’s my ability to train and motivate people. At XYZ there was a severe turnover problem among our first-line supervisors. Even without the benefit of a pay increase, which they deserved, I reduced the turnover from 20% to 7% in just six months and to 5% by the end of the year. My analysis indicated that our leads were receiving inadequate training when they were promoted to supervisors. Most were unsure of their authority and how to use it. Many quit out of frustration. I developed a training program which really gave them confidence. Once we got the supervisors trained, productivity in the plant rose substantially.

3. What can you offer us that someone else can’t? Since you can’t possibly know what backgrounds the other candidates have, you must respond by describing your known strengths. If you feel certain that you have some valuable or unique experience, you would certainly want to use that as an example.

4. What are your three most important career accomplishments? Choose accomplishments that are related to the job you are interviewing for, and ones which your interviewer can relate to. Avoid unnecessary detail. A question like this gives you a fantastic opportunity to sell yourself. Take full advantage of it. Allow 45–60 seconds for each accomplishment.

5. How would you describe yourself? Discuss only positive attributes and then describe them or give examples to show how you typically demonstrate those attributes. Emphasize your personality skills. See pages 69-71 for more on personality skills.

6. Why should I hire you? This question is often asked at the end of an interview and allows you to summarize your strengths. Since this is a summary, you can discuss points that you’ve already covered and mention new points as well. Sell yourself. This may be one of your best opportunities. Be prepared to take up to four minutes. Try to focus on everything you have learned about the job, your future boss, and the needs of the company. With such limited time, you must cover only those points which will have the greatest impact. You can create that impact by describing a combination of personality skills, transferable skills, and technical skills.

7. Describe the biggest crisis in your life [career]. Describe a genuine crisis or difficult situation, not necessarily the biggest crisis you’ve faced. While the wording of the question will help you determine whether to mention a personal crisis or a work-related crisis, be prepared to describe either. Select an example that will demonstrate positive qualities and one in which you ultimately came out on top. Tell it concisely yet vividly to reveal as many qualities as possible. This is an opportunity to sell qualities such as maturity, perseverance, emotional stability, effectiveness under stress, and sound judgment. If you don’t feel you’ve ever faced a true crisis you might say, “I don’t think I’ve ever faced a true crisis, but I’ve certainly dealt with difficult situations. One that comes to mind would be…”

8. What is unique about you? In essence the interviewer is asking what is special about you. The interviewer is not asking what is absolutely unique about you. You are being given an opportunity to discuss some of your best qualities. So, reach into your mental check list and pull out some of your strengths. You might say, “Well, there are very few people who have the combination of experience that I have. I have experience in _________, _________, _________, and _________ which some others may have, but I’ve also done ____________, ____________, and ___________. I’m sure that very few will have experience in all those areas. With that breadth of experience I can help you improve productivity and quality.”

9. How would your supervisor describe you? This is an opportunity to mention positive statements that you know or assume would be made about you. Discuss the qualities that you received high ratings on during reviews. Also give quick examples that demonstrate why your boss would see such qualities in you. Quote from your reviews or things bosses have said about you in the past.

10. Rate yourself on a scale of 1–10. To succeed with this question you must demonstrate that you like yourself, but not too much. The employer is testing your self-esteem. With this in mind you should rate yourself an eight or nine. A seven would be too low and a ten would indicate you are egotistical. High-caliber people never think they are tens because they are so aware of how they can get better. Explain why you feel you are a nine (or eight), stressing your strengths. Then indicate what you expect to do to move up a notch or two. That will demonstrate a strong desire for personal growth.

11. Tell me a story. With a question like this you have an option—you can simply share an interesting experience or you can ask for clarification. You would seek clarification by asking, “Are you looking for something in particular, perhaps from my personal life or my work life?” The interviewer may answer one of two ways. One response is, “Just tell me any story you like.” In this instance the interviewer is testing your ability to handle ambiguity. Or the response could indicate that the story should have a certain theme. Interviewers who ask such an ambiguous question usually do it with a purpose and are testing you. My recommendation is to treat this question the same as you would, “Describe an experience which reveals a key strength of yours.”

12. How have you benefited from disappointments? The key word is disappointments. Notice it does not ask how you have benefited from failures, which would be different. In life some disappointments are bitter experiences and remain bitter for years, while others quickly have a happy ending. It may be that the disappointment led directly to a major accomplishment or a peak experience. If you have such an experience, use it. If not, think of an experience in which you truly learned a great lesson. Perhaps the disappointment prepared you later to take full advantage of an opportunity which presented itself.

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