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Job interviews can be scary. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of possible questions an interviewer can throw at you.
How can one possibly prepare for this?
James Reed, author of “101 Job Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again,” and chairman of Reed, a top job site in the UK and Europe, has some good news for overwhelmed job seekers.
He says it’s actually much easier to prepare for a job interview than you think.
He believes that there are really only 15 questions a job interviewer can ask you … and that these are the only queries you need to be ready for.
“Sure, there are hundreds of interview questions you might be asked, but every interview question out there is just a variation of one of fifteen themes,” he explains.
Reed calls these the “Fateful 15.”
In his book, Reed shares the 15 ‘classic’ questions you’re most likely to be asked – in one form or another – along with what the hiring manager is really asking when they pose each of these questions, and some advice on how to answer them.
Here’s an overview of the Fateful 15:
1. Tell me about yourself.
The real question: Who do you think you are? And will you know what to leave in and what to leave out?
Reed says this open-ended question has no obvious answer. “It’s all on you to choose what to say and when to stop saying it,” he explains in the book.
“Break it down, rehearse it, breeze it,” he suggests.
2. Why are you applying?
The real question: What can you do that we need you to do? Do you even know what we need you to do?
He says the only thing the hiring manager really wants to hear is essentially this: “I’m applying because my skills, experience, and motivation are the best fit for the job.”
Reed adds: “Reflect on the job spec in every line of your answer. Talk about their needs before you mention your own.”
3. What are your greatest strengths?
The real question: Do you really know yourself – and do you know what our problem is here?
When answering this one, keep the job description in mind. “Go easy on the adjectives and heavy on the hard data,” Reed suggests.
4. What are your greatest weaknesses?
The real question: Am I right in thinking X about you? And are you going to give me the same evasive and lame answers that everybody else did, or are you going to level with me?
Whatever you do, don’t give a clichéd answer, advises Reed. He says if you’ve been invited in for an interview, there’s a good chance the interviewer is seeking affirmation of predicted weaknesses, not information about new ones.
5. What will your skills and ideas bring to this company?
The real question: What will we be buying from you?
Try not to worry so much about them stealing your ideas without hiring you. Sure, it might happen – but that’s life, says Reed in the book. “You can appear generous or miserly – and no one wants a miser.”
6. What’s your preferred management style?
The real question: Are you and I going to get along?
Reed says bosses want to see “someone who can work under their own steam but who also recognizes that a workplace is hierarchical.”
7. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
The real question: Are you after this job or just any job? How soon will you need a new challenge? Do you have a realistic sense of what we can offer you?
Reed says if you really don’t know where you see yourself in five years, it’s okay to say so.
“Use the opportunity to detail your achievements to date before saying you’d hope to be equally successful at this company,” he writes.
8. How would you approach this job?
The real question: How well do you know us? What’s your take on what we need? What’s your preferred style of working?
He writes: “Talk about diplomacy before talking about your plans.” And be careful, Reed warns. “This question may give you a chance to talk about your experience and skills that are relevant to the role, but you can’t know how a company really functions until you’ve started working there – so don’t be wrong-footed into making sweeping statements.”
9. What have you achieved elsewhere?
The real question: What’s the very best that we can expect from you? Is it what we need?
“Good news, everybody! You’ve just obtained temporary clearance to blow your own trumpet,” Reed says. He suggests focusing on recent achievements that are work-related. “Permit yourself to sound confident – they want you to be.”
10. What did you like and dislike about your last job?
The real question: What do you want from us that the last lot couldn’t give you? Can we give it to you?
Without getting too angry, or completely bashing your current or previous employer, take this opportunity to talk about a few things you genuinely didn’t enjoy. “Just make sure that your answer demonstrates grit and a strong work ethic, one that can power through difficulties.”
But Reed recommends you start with a long list of what makes you happy, and then “let them know that you don’t expect perfection in any job.”
11. Tell me about a time you worked on a team.
The real question: No one achieves anything on their own – and you know that, right?
Reed writes: “Unless you’re applying to be the local hermit or lighthouse keeper, you will be assessed on your ability to work well with others.”
He suggests focusing on recent, real-world examples of times where you “played successfully with others.”
12. What do your coworkers say about you?
The real question: Do you sound calm or wary about this question? Are you self-aware or just self-conscious?
“There’s no question quite like it for destabilizing people who haven’t been telling the whole truth about their talents and their personality,” he writes.
Provide testimonials, not adjectives, suggests Reed.
13. How do you deal with stress and failure?
The real question: When the pressure increases, will you turn into a monster, a useless blob of jelly, or someone who sets a good example?
Every job is at least a little bit stressful, so don’t pretend to live in a stress-free world, Reed points out. “Give concrete examples of the steps you take to handle pressure.”
14. How much money do you want?
The real question: Can we afford you? Are you value for money?
This is always a tough one. Reed suggests avoiding it until as late as possible in the interview process. Read up on how to handle this question before you head into your next job interview, and tread carefully.
15. Show me your creativity.
The real question: No hidden agenda here – are you creative?
“Although you’re unlikely to be asked this question in so many words, you’ll almost certainly be asked one that has creativity as the underlying agenda,” Reed writes.