Ace your next interview


Most job-seekers leave job interviews feeling like they have just endured the working world’s version of enhanced interrogation.

But you can reduce the torture of your next job interview and significantly improve your performance.

Before your next interview, prepare answers to questions that you will probably be asked by interviewers, and role-play your answers with your trusted advisers. You will thereby boost your confidence and increase the wow-power of your interviews.

To help you do so, here are good answers to some common interview questions.

Tell me about yourself.

Unimpressive answer: A rambling autobiography that includes irrelevant professional and personal information.

Impressive answer: A concise, logically structured summary of your most important and recent professional and academic credentials that parallel the demands of the opening. Lead with a powerful opener, such as “I’m passionate about X because…” Then review your best credentials so that you will be sure to have time to describe them even if you’re interrupted before you finish your answer.

Why did you apply for this job?

Unimpressive answer: Any criticism of your current job.

Impressive answer: An explanation of why: 1) you’re qualified for the opening; 2) the opening interests you; 3) and you want to advance your target organization’s mission — incorporating knowledge about the organization. If you would be switching into the public sector, explain why public service inspires you.

What are your weaknesses?

Unimpressive answer: Information that raises doubts about your worthiness; consider yourself Mirandized throughout your interview: Anything you say can and will be held against you.

Also, avoid clichés like : “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I work too hard.”

Impressive answer: An answer that reflects self-awareness, humility and commitment to self-improvement. Options:

1. Describe how you keep current in your field through formal or informal training.

2. Say, “To avoid repeating mistakes, I inventory lessons learned after each project with my staff.” Describe your results.

3. Acknowledge that, as a newcomer to your target organization, you would need to learn a lot about it—and describe how you have previously quickly assimilated into other organizations.

Why should we hire you over other applicants?

Unimpressive answer: A meek, weak answer like, “I don’t know the other applicants so I can’t compare myself to them.”

Impressive answer: Say, “I am qualified for this position because X.” Draw parallels between your achievement(s) and problem-solving skills and the demands of the opening. Describe your work ethic and team-friendly approaches. Show interviewers your success portfolio.

Do you prefer to work independently or in teams?

Unimpressive answer: Information that indicates you have trouble working under any conditions.

Impressive answer: A description of how you thrive in teams, —and enjoy the camaraderie and interaction within them, teams but how you’re also skilled at working independently with minimal supervision. Describe relevant examples and mention that your references would support your answer. Use team awards you have earned as evidence of your team-friendly approaches.

How do you deal with conflict?

Unimpressive answer: “I get along with everyone.” (Sorry, the credibility meter just hit zero.)

Impressive answer: Say, “Disagreements shouldn’t become conflicts. Colleagues should be able to discuss varied points of view amicably. I seek common ground and compromise. But when I get overruled or overrule others, I do it graciously, and move on.” Provide examples of work conflicts that you successfully resolved without rancor.

Also, mention that you understand that if you disagree with your supervisor’s decision, it is your responsibility to carry it out as best as you can. Also, acknowledge the importance of overlooking small differences of opinion.

Can we call your boss?

Unimpressive answer: “I don’t want to use my boss as a reference.”

Impressive answer: Don’t want your interviewers to speak to your boss? Say, “I would prefer not to inform my boss about my job search.” Instead, use other managers, colleagues and previous bosses as references. If possible, include in your success portfolio a recent glowing annual evaluation.


About Author

Lily Whiteman is a federal communications expert and author of “How to Land a Top-paying Federal Job,” and a trainer of career advancement skills and communication skills. Her website is Ask your career questions by email to or by Twitter to @Lilymwhiteman.

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