What is the hardest interview question?

InterviewWhat do you think is the hardest interview question? Attendees of my interview preparation workshops cringe when asked any of these:
• Tell me about yourself.
• Why should we hire you?
• What is your biggest weakness?

Which one is the one you hate the most? Is it one of these or something entirely different? Please tell me how you really feel!

Write it down
You should thoroughly prepare in advance for an interview. That means writing, yes writing, down answers to questions you may be asked. No, you don’t get to skip these in preparation because they’re difficult. Not having prepared answers just makes it even more difficult to answer them. Conversely, having a clearly thought out answer ready when asked will put you way ahead of the competition.

Tell me about yourself
You wonder, what do they mean? How far back should I go? No, the interviewer does not want to know that you grew up in a small town in Alabama with three sisters and a brother. What they want to know is, what have you done previously that shows me that you will be successful in this job at our organization. In other words, why should we hire you?

Match your strengths to the job
When preparing for an interview, carefully match your achievements and expertise to each of the responsibilities and requirements on the job description. For each item on the job posting, write…yes, there’s that word write again…write one to three complete sentences that describe what you have accomplished that fulfills that specific responsibility or requirement. Make sure your sentences are clear to someone on the outside and not full of insider jargon.

Complete sentences
Make sure that your sentences are complete with the right subjects, verbs, nouns, and adjectives and that they are not just a few bullet points. When you are relating these stories in the actual interview, this trick will keep you from rambling. One of the most common failures in an interview is the tendency to ramble. Not only do you convey that you cannot communicate well, you are also likely to say something you shouldn’t say.

Just like a politician…stay on message!
After completing this exercise, go back through the job responsibilities and review your company research. Then determine what your message needs to be. What are the 3 to 5 characteristics about you and your background that you need to convey in the interview no matter what? Of course, these characteristics should relate directly to the job for which you are interviewing. If you have an achievement that makes you proud but it is in no way relevant to the job, do not include it in your list and do not bring it up in the interview as an important attribute. Stay focused on what the interviewer needs to know about you in order to decide to hire you for this job.

This message is similar to that of a politician. Everyone remembers that President Obama’s campaign message was “change” and specific areas that he would change. That is precisely why he was elected. Change is what the voters wanted. A job interview is your opportunity to convey that you can deliver what the interviewer and/or hiring manager wants.

It’s all up to you
It is your responsibility to ensure that you convey this information during the interview no matter what questions you are asked. You don’t want to leave an interview and realize that you didn’t have a chance to discuss one of your message points just because the interviewer didn’t ask you. You must figure out a way to insert all of your message points into the conversation.

Tell me about yourself
So, back to the initial question. If you are asked this one, what better opportunity could you have for delivering your message? No need to worry if you’ll have a chance to slip them all in one by one. This is the best chance you’ll have to deliver your message.

Why should we hire you?
By now, you understand why these two questions are the same, and you are ready for them, no longer fearing them, but hoping for them.

What is your biggest weakness?
Stay tuned. I’ll address this question in my next post.

Mauri in Orange BlouseHi my name is Mauri, and I am the President of Career Insiders, a career management and talent acquisition consulting firm. I speak frequently at conferences, job fairs, and career panels. I recently was invited to participate on a panel discussion at NCHRA’S Annual HR West Conference. I consult with career centers at universities including UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Tulane University, Mills College, and others, and contribute regularly to publications such as TheLadders RecruitBlog. I am what some might consider a professional “people person.”

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