Here are some very popular interview questions and some possible ways to answer them. Please remember that there cannot be just one answer to them. Your answers depend a lot on your particular circumstances. For instance, if the interviewer asks you to describe a challenging issue you had to face, your answer would depend on your particular background and experience. Therefore we have attempted to give you strategies to answer such questions, rather than specific answers.
Remember, what you say makes only half of the story. How you say it-how positive and convincing you sound- matter a lot. Do not try to make up stories or exaggerate-it shows. If you are a fresher and cannot tell things from your work experience, you can cite instances of your leadership and skills from appropriate circumstances of your student life. Speak slowly and accompany what you say with moderate gestures. Maintain eye contact (this does not mean that you have to stare!)
Here are the questions.
1. Can you tell us about a challenging situation at work you have encountered so far? How did you tackle it?
Here the interviewer is looking at a number of factors- your problem solving skills, underlying attitudes, how you put across your ideas and how your previous experience may be useful to the present organization. When answering this question, keep the following in mind. What are the requirements of this organization or the job you have applied for? (You should have done some research about this before going to the interview). Now consider a situation, skill or experience from your past that would be relevant to the present company. This acts as a proof of your usefulness. It is a good idea to prepare such a list and have a few small stories ready for the interview. The word ‘story’ does not mean that you have to cook up something- find something genuine from your past. Having such stories helps you in several ways- you have something to talk about, and you feel more confident.
2. What is your way of handling conflicts?
Work related conflicts can be of several sub varieties. This could be conflicts between colleagues, conflicts between senior management and subordinates, conflicts with management rules, systems and procedures, conflicts with clients and customers as well as work versus personal life. The employer obviously expects you to look at things from their point of view. No employer likes an employee for whom they are second priority. You are valued for your ability to solve problems and not for bringing problems to the workplace. Therefore it is important to project a rational and realistic approach. You can say something like “I am aware that conflicts are quite natural things- problems do crop up. My approach would be to look at what is causing the problem. This involves communicating with my team members or the other concerned parties. I will take in as many views as possible and go with the solution that appears to be the most rational to me”. The interviewer is quite likely to ask you for some such instance from your previous work. In fact you can offer some such example even if you are not asked, as long as you keep it brief and relevant. If it illustrates your point, go for it.
3. In what ways do you think you are suited for this job? How can you contribute to this organization?
This again is a question that requires preparation. Before appearing for the interview, assess your own qualification and skills. You should also evaluate the needs of the job and the company. You are qualified for the job to the extent that these two match. What are the most important skills this particular position requires? Make a list and then prepare a list of instances from your previous work experience that match these requirements.
For instance, a customer care executive needs good interpersonal skills, ability to look at problems rationally, and also the ability to deal with difficult people. Once you are clear about this, make a list of such instances where your good interpersonal skills and objectivity helped to solve a difficult problem at work.
The next step is to analyze the specific requirements or problems the company is facing at the moment. Which of these can be helped by you? What is the value that you bring to the company?
Once you have prepared specific answers to these questions, you are in a great position to answer this question. You can now say something like “In my view, good interpersonal skills and objective problem analysis are the most important requirements in a customer care executive. I can tell you a few instances from my previous experience where I had demonstrated these skills and solved problems successfully (Give one or two brief stories here). I also see that you are planning to set up a separate unit to cater to corporate clients. With my previous experience in servicing corporate clients, this is an area I could be of specific use to you…”
Incidentally, this question may be framed in another way. “Why should we hire you?”
4. I would like to hear about some experience from your work life so far.
This is in fact another version of the previous question, but a more open-ended one. The interviewer wants to leave it up to you what part of your personality and work experience you wish to bring forth. However this is not an invitation to share your adventures and tales of heroism. You would do well to tell them some story from everyday work life, but one that shows your problem solving skills- things like how you conduct yourself at work and with difficult situations and people. Here you have more possibilities for showing something that you value in yourself- your resourcefulness, your adherence to the rules or your ability to think out of the box. But do consider the organization you are interviewing for- its requirements as well as work culture. What you say should not give the impression of a misfit.
5. Give us an instance when you failed in spite of your best efforts?
This is a very common situation for many people, but nevertheless a tricky question. You are likely to be embarrassed or worried that talking about a previous failure hampers your job prospects. This need not be the case. No one can be perfect. The employer here is most probably looking at your ability to deal with failure, learn from mistakes and also deal with other people’s mistakes. If you have such experiences, be prepared with one. Make sure that it is something that took place sometime back, was not too gigantic or drastic and something that offered you a chance to learn from and apply that learning thereafter. The net result should be to show you in a better light.
6. How would you evaluate your analytical skills?
This is a fairly easy question if you have done your homework. It is important to be realistic about what skills you have and how you can substantiate your claims. You have to be prepared to talk about where or how you learned the skill and how you have applied it. However your inventory should be in tune with what the current job requires. This way the employer gets to know about the specific skills you can bring to the table. You can also take into account skills you learned from extracurricular activities, as these can also teach you great skills like teamwork.
7. Tell us about what you consider as your weak area- things you find difficult to manage.
This is a multi-purpose question again. The interviewer wants to see how you react to tricky questions. They are also assessing your awareness of yourself and how you approach difficult situations and tasks. The trick is again being prepared with a story or two. It could be about addressing a meeting, voicing your disagreement about an important issue or being put in a situation you had no skills to handle. The story should show something valuable you have learned from the experience. It could also show a difficulty that you are preparing yourself to handle. “I find that it is difficult for me to make a presentation to my seniors without adequate preparation. I usually have to prepare all the details and rehearse in advance. For example, there was this instance with my previous company where the project had to be temporarily discontinued due to some problems with the supplies. The company was very concerned, as this project was strategically very important to them. I was asked to brief the top management immediately. I was handling all the details, so I simply put together all the facts and brought them up in the meeting. It was easier than I thought, but whenever possible I still would like some time to prepare”.
8. Tell us about your goals- both short term and long term.
This is a very you-specific question. It all depends on you. In answering this question, you have to assess where you are at the moment in your career and where you want to go from there. Many people switch careers five or six times and some have two careers going on simultaneously. Be sure to connect your answer to the job you are interviewing for. It makes sense to steer clear of aims that cannot be achieved with this organization. For example, you may like a stint abroad but the organization has no overseas connections. It is better not to mention this in the interview. This does not mean that you have to come up with things that you have no interest in. Research into the organization and the possibilities it offers and also consider your wishes. There is a good chance that you come up with something that connects the two.
9. Where do you see yourself in the next two/five/ten years?
This is another version of the previous question. The interviewer is here assessing how realistic and adept you are in making short term and long term plans. They also want to see if your aims are in sync with the organization’s. A sensible way to answer this is to relate it to your progress so far. “I started working five years back as a customer care executive while I was still pursuing my graduate studies. Once my graduation was done, I went ahead for a part-time MBA. Meanwhile I was promoted on the job to the level of a team leader in the next company that I worked for. This was in recognition of my experience and added qualification. . I am a fairly quick learner on the job and I have also continued with my learning through training programs and workshops. I am not really looking at titles, but overall growth in tandem with my learning and contribution to the organization. Therefore I could say that at the end of this period I will have learned more and assumed a role of more responsibility where I can make more significant contributions to the organization.”
10. Is there anything that would make us want to hire you, apart from what we have already asked you?
This is your chance for you to present your key selling points. Remember that many qualified people would have interviewed for this job. What makes you stand out? What are your strengths that this organization may want to hire you? Perhaps you are good at making stories sound interesting? Maybe you genuinely enjoy helping people. Or you have a knack of holding kids’ attention to what you are saying. Think of which of these are useful in the job you are applying for. Also be prepared to substantiate your claims. A class’ overall scores went up at the end of the term you took over as teacher- a difficult child was integrated into the class- or some such evidence. Be sure to plan this out well in advance. You can also include this in your thank you letter after the interview. That would help to sum up your key skills in your request for the job.
11. What in your view are the key factors in good customer service?
To answer this question, you need to step into the customer’s shoes. Keep aside the specific situation or problem. What do you expect as a customer? Now you are equipped to answer this question. You can say something like “There are two important elements to customer service- respect and prompt action”. You might come up with some other variant of this, so choose whatever sounds the most convincing to you. It would be great if you can cite one or two instances of exceptional customer care behavior where you were involved.
12. Tell us what you know about this organization.
This question is an excellent opportunity to show that you have an active interest in the organization. For this you need to do prior research about the company and also relate it to the field of expertise you are offering the company. For instance, if you are applying for a marketing position, “I am aware that you are one of the top five FMCG companies in India and that you are currently looking to expand your market into the Middle East. This area already has intense competition, however you have certain advantages like…”. This shows several things. For one, you have already gathered relevant information and you appreciate the company’s position. It also shows that you are actively using your expertise to bring in solutions.
13. From your resume, we see that you have been in your current job only for six months. Why do you want to leave it so soon and join us?
This is a tricky question. Be well prepared with a safe answer if you are in this position. The answer has to be closest to the truth while at the same time sounding a safe one. Your reasons could be any of these.
The actual job was very different from how it was described to me while joining.
The company changed its direction/ goals.
My skills and talents were not being put to good use there.
The company management changed and the new management brought in their own staff.
The company went in for downsizing or reorganization.
Whichever answer you might give, be prepared for a few follow up questions. Therefore it is important not to make up stories- who knows what kind of unexpected question the interviewer might throw at you!
The fact is, this is a very common situation. Most interviewers of some experience have heard these stories before. They are not really interested in all your details- what they want to know is how dependable you are. Are you a job hopper? The employer evaluates the circumstances under which you went for this short term job. Did you take it up when you already had a job or did you join the job when you were unemployed?
If you have held on to other jobs for longer and more reasonable durations, it is better to stress on that so that the employer sees this short term job as a one-off incident. You can even omit it from your resume. However you may not be able to omit the job from your resume if you are a young person who doesn’t have much experience and even a six or four month stint makes up a good percent of your total work experience.
14. What are you looking to gain from this organization?
This is another question where research makes all the difference. In other words the interviewer is asking what brings you job satisfaction. Find out some important things about the company, like the corporate structure, product base, recent happenings or current plans and the key figures in the management. Which of these appeal the most to you? “ In the past I have had several opportunities to work with some innovative launches. I understand that you are about to launch an e-learning portal to reach out to more students. I am very excited about this. With my experience in launching student interactive programs, I am positive of brining insights and contributions for this project. I am also very enthusiastic about the team you have already formed for this project. I feel that I have also a lot to learn from them..”. Working on new technology, doing path-breaking work, learning new skills, working with experts the company has on board, these are all sound lines to approach this question.
15. What for you are the most important factors of an employee’s responsibility towards the organization?
These include constantly bringing your best abilities to do the work at hand, putting your time to productive use, being loyal to the company, being a good team player, valuing the work relationship, and being passionate about the products and services the company is offering.
16. Why do you want to leave your current job and join us?
You may have to answer this question either in the company’s application form or at the interview. Be ready with a good answer. You might say something like this: “This company is known all over the country/world and I would like to work for you.” Whenever possible, it is a good idea to come to a consensus with your current employer as to your reasons for leaving, as the new company might approach them to enquire about you. Again put the information you have gathered by research to good use. Your effort should be to show how your skills and talents match with the company. If you can impress on the interviewer that this is just the opportunity you have been looking for, great. Give several points as to how you can add value to the company. Do not give downgrade the previous employer if asked your reasons for leaving the job. This reflects badly on you. You should come across as a positive, and enthusiastic individual who can be of value to the organization for many years to come. Ideally, you should put across a sincere, long-term interest in the company- this creates the impression that you are not just job-hopping.
17. Tell us about what motivates you.
This is something only you can frame an answer to. It is helpful to look into your past. What were the times and occasions when you were highly charged? When was the time when you were not motivated? Looking into these situations helps to bring forth a concrete answer.
18. What are the essential qualities that make a good team player?
It is better to answer this question taking the work context. What is the overall environment of the organization- what kind of work does it do? Is the organization framework very strong? Is the work atmosphere informal? Are the teams permanent or temporary? A person’s individual idea of a good team member might be different from what the organization needs. Your aim is to present yourself as a good team member who meets the specific parameters of the organization. A lot also depends on where you are in the structure- are you a new member, a team leader or in a support position? Consider all these factors before you answer this question. Also study what are the specific problems the company is facing in its team building and how you can contribute to solve them. You need to make yourself into a good fit into the team and ensure cooperation from others.
19. Why should we hire you for this position?
The answer to this question must be ready in your mind even before you submit your resume and prepare the cover letter. Do your homework by researching into the organization and the job. What are the requirements. Next, take stock of your own skills, experiences and interests. Which of these are matching with what the company needs? In other words, how can you add value to the company? Now form a strategy as to how you will prove that you are suitable for the job. Have concrete examples of your contributions to the previous employers and show enthusiasm for the job you are interviewing for. Remember that you are at the interview to offer solutions to some specific problems/requirements of the organization.
20. What is your salary now?
This is a tricky question. The good side is that you have come to a stage where the company is going to make an offer to you. This is a good opportunity to discuss salary. In case you are pressed to disclose your current salary, it is better to mention ranges or a total package rather than go for an exact figure. You can say something like the current package is on the higher side of five figures. Some employers might ask to see your salary slip or some such proof, therefore be sure not to lie. This punctures your credibility. It is better to show that you are willing to take a step back as an investment in this new career. This is an area where you should market yourself well. It is important to show why you like the job and how you are suited for it- the compensation is important, but not your first consideration.
21. What do you consider as a reasonable starting salary with us?
Ideally you should stay away from talking about compensation till the company makes an offer. However this does not happen in many situations and the company tries to figure out your price tag, so to say. This question might be used as a filter, so you need to give a response. Research can help you here. How is the general pay rate for this job? Have you checked out other ads for similar jobs? Now consider your experience level and see if your experience matches this pay range. This can work as an indicator to calculate how much you can ask for.
It is also important to present your estimate in the right manner. If you don’t have all the relevant information about the job so that you can present a reasonable range, say it and ask for what you need to know. “Before we can talk about salary, I would like to know how many people will be reporting to me and what their experience and skill levels are”. It is also possible to ask in a straightforward manner how other people in the same position are paid in this organization. Try to get as much information as possible, and then present your quote in the form of a range. “Based on the information I have got now, I feel that a range of – to – would be appropriate for this position. However I am quoting this outside of your standard benefits package”. Peg this in such a way that there is some possibility of negotiation.
22. If you got a chance to get into a merry-go-round, what song would you like to play? What animal would you choose?
This is one of those off-the-beaten-track questions. The first step towards answering this is not to feel embarrassed. This means just that the interviewer is creatively oriented. Moreover this question is very much appropriate if you are interviewing for a creatively oriented job like an advertising copy writer. Enjoy the situation and go with the flow. Try to give an answer that comes from within and reflects your real personality. Be ready to explain why you chose a particular song/tune or animal. An anecdote from your experience would be a good idea. If you can’t come up with any such stories, at least give a song you have always liked and held a special meaning for you. A brief and interesting narration is what the interviewer is looking forward to. The same is true for the choice of animal. You can choose an animal you like and tell them why. It does not really matter which song or animal you choose- your explanation of your choice is what makes all the difference.
A Final Round of Tips
Okay, so now we saw some popular interview questions and some ways to tackle them. Let us finish off this session with a few general tips that help you towards success in interviews. Here are the tips.
There are the important aspects you need to research before appearing for an interview. These include the important products and services of the company, size (sales volumes, number of employees and turnover), geographical locations where the company has its presence, the organizational structure and major competitors. It is great if you can get to see the perspectives of the company’s clients, suppliers and competition. Another major area is recent news about the company and news reports about events that affect the company.
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