These common interview questions can trip up the most accomplished executives. In my years as a recruiter, I have watched many candidates stumble with the following questions and as a result, they were not hired. 

Tell me about yourself?

So. . . is the interviewer really wanting to know about my employment history or something more personally memorable – like when I went skydiving? The answer: it depends!

Depending on the decision maker, they may want to know different things. Some may place a stronger focus on wanting to know about your experience and accomplishments to understand how you can affect their bottom line. They might want to know you’re a “hands-on manager,” the “go-to financial reporting expert,” etc.

Others may want to know about you personally to determine if you “fit” with the company’s culture. In this case, you will want to show more of your personality. Showing personality doesn’t mean you should give testimony of what happened in your life since birth! It could be sharing something about your hobbies, interests or goals.

The best way to answer is to ask, “personally or professionally? Where would you like to start?” Let the employer guide your response.

Either way, you need to think of the answer as your introduction or “elevator pitch.”  

  • Give yourself about 30 seconds to talk about who you are.
  • Craft an elevator pitch for both a personal and professional response.
  • It should be a very concise presentation of the personal and professional “you.”
  • The ideal response might be a short blend of the two.
  • Be careful not to be long-winded.
  • It’s important to show you can deliver a succinct message.
  • If you do not have a lot of experience, such as a new grad, talk about an academic accomplishment or an important internship project.

Take time to think about how you will answer this question the next time an interviewer asks you to talk about yourself – ensure your first impression is personable and professional.

What are your weaknesses?

I have heard an accountant answer this question by saying he was not detail oriented, an operations manager answer that she lacked strong communication skills and an information technology professional answer that he is not good at being a team player.

Let’s face it. We all have weaknesses and we have to answer this question with some transparency. If you don’t, the interviewer will feel like you are just trying to say what you think that they want to hear and they won’t trust you.

The best approach is to give a transparent answer that is honest. However, do not choose a weakness that is a "must have" quality for the position. Mention an area that you have not been as successful as you would like and how you have improved or are improving in this area. They want to see that you are going to be honest with them, you are self-aware and you are taking steps to improve in your areas of weakness. 

Want more? Read "Interview Tips for the Candidate" for some more tips to sell yourself.

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