5 interview questions you should always be prepared to answer

by Ask a Manager on March 6, 2013

featured-on-usnWhile you can never predict with certainty exactly what questions you’ll be asked in a job interview, some questions get asked so frequently that you’d be foolish not to prepare answers for them in advance. Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about five of the questions that you’ll most likely be asked — and why. You can read it here.

(And speaking of acing interviews, you might also check out my “how to get a job” ebook for way more on this.)

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Arci March 6, 2013 at 9:39 am

I will never forget the time I had an interview (of all places) at a college career center and was highly unprepared! I cringe thinking about it. Lesson learned. Thanks for the tips.

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Victoria Nonprofit March 6, 2013 at 10:26 am

Does it matter when your biggest achievement happened?

I’ve always felt as though I should share something from my most recent position – and for the most part, because I have had positions of increasing authority and scope, my biggest achievement has naturally come from my immediate past role.

But I wonder about my next interview, whenever that is. The role I’m in now is exciting and challenging and I have no doubt that I’ll be able to accomplish a lot. But, given the nature of my work now and my work in the past, I would be frankly hard pressed to do something “bigger” than what I did in my last role. In my most recent job I had a narrow scope of work (one very large project, with a very high profile and visible culmination) and achieved something that feels like a once-in-a-lifetime coup. Do I just milk that forever?

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Ask a Manager March 6, 2013 at 10:41 am

Yeah, if your biggest achievement is really old, your interviewer is likely to wonder why there hasn’t been one since then. But one way around that is to say something like, “My biggest achievement is probably X. (Details.) But more recently, I’m really proud of Y.”

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Victoria Nonprofit March 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Perfect. Thank you!

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TL March 6, 2013 at 6:12 pm

The achievement question always throws me for a loop, because: a) I’ve been unemployed for a year, so no recent work achievements, and b) most of my recent past jobs were entry-level contract work. It’s hard for me to nail down specifics, since there often wasn’t a clear beginning or end to a project; the work generally flowed together. (I didn’t keep many notes for myself at the time, so I don’t have a folder of Awesome Stuff I Did to refer back to. Lesson learned.) Still, I need to sit down and come up with a better answer before my next interview. I’ve been using an example from school (something with a measurable goal that I *did* feel proud of achieving), but I don’t think it’s gone over well, since that was so long ago.

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jesicka309 March 6, 2013 at 8:46 pm

What if you’re in a role, like many entry level jobs, where achieving anything beyond minimum is impossible? For example, data entry. There’s no real ‘measurable’ achievement aside from “got my data entry work processed early every single day, leaving me loads of time to twiddle my thumbs as no one would give me extra work”. And sometimes, being ahead is almost a negative, as you end up redoing your own work as the requirements change closer to deadlines. And in a role where you are tied to your desk, you can’t be going around ‘looking’ for ways to help the department.

How do you address achievements in roles that just don’t seem to have any scope for that kind of thing? Other roles I’ve had I can list stuff like “I coordinated the Senior’s Week event, which ran smoothly and without a hitch.” or “I successfully trained two other crew trainers, one of which went on to become a senior manager after I left.” This role is very much about doing the work correctly, and any more than that is almost negligible. Ugh data entry.

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Ask a Manager March 6, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Sometimes you really can’t, but it’s worth trying to. For instance:

- Consistently processed all data ahead of deadlines, with lowest error rate in the department

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