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Common interview answers can say a lot about potential employees

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The interview process is stressful for everyone involved. Employers are eager to get candidates through the door and candidates are overwhelmed about giving the perfect interview. Hiring managers should always consider a candidate’s past experience and expertise when looking to fill a position. However, looking closer at the way candidates approach basic interview questions can also provide valuable insight.

Sometimes, answers to the most common interview questions provide recruiters with the knowledge needed to get a clear understanding of who a candidate is. Although simple on the surface, when asking questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “why do you want to work here,” you are gaining important knowledge on how well a candidate will communicate with other employees and clients. It can also reveal their ability to take feedback and apply it, and how prepared they are for the interview.

“Tell me about yourself.”
Although this request is commonly used as an icebreaker, it is crucial to the interview and screening process. This is the candidate’s chance to give you a quick, comprehensive look into who they are as a person and a professional. Since this is such a popular, and expected, question in interviews, candidates should be prepared to provide a memorable, concise answer without feeling the need to ramble.

Look for a healthy blend of information on a candidate’s personal life, professional journey and some background information. Depending on the position and person, a good answer can include whether or not a candidate moved a lot growing up, classes they took in college that are relevant to the job they are applying for, or a little about their work history and personal life. When done correctly, a candidate will leave you with something to remember them by. At the same time, an effective answer also includes a candidate’s motivations and where they see their career long term.

“What is your biggest weakness?”
This question is notorious for prompting insincere and generic responses such as, “I’m always working late,” instead of giving an actual answer. Rather than accepting watered-down responses like these, challenge candidates to elaborate by pushing them out of their comfort zone.

Take the “working late” example – this response could indicate a time management issue, and it gives you an opportunity to question why they were unable to complete tasks during their allotted time. Use this to gauge whether or not the candidate is qualified for a particular position, and allow them to expand on how they plan to keep improving.

When discussing the biggest weakness, look for answers that reveal if they recognize their professional flaws, if they are working to improve and if they can take feedback from managers. It is key to seek out candidates who are willing to improve and achieve continuous growth.

“What would your previous manager say about you?”
An effective answer to this question should always go beyond “they loved me” – it should include a combination of honesty, vulnerability and directness.

If a candidate is having a hard time answering this question, ask them to simply summarize the feedback of their previous manager, which should include both positive and realistic points. For instance, an ideal response explores the areas where the candidate needed additional coaching, where they had the biggest opportunity to learn and what would have made their manager most proud.

“Do you have any questions for me?”
This is a classic interview-closer, but it is also yet another opportunity to see how prepared the candidate is for the interview and how interested they are in the job. Candidates who come prepared with a list of questions show that they have done their homework and have a genuine interest in learning more.

At the same time, you also want someone who has been engaged during the interview and is able to adapt. If they have questions on their list that have been answered during the interview, they should still go through them and refer to the previously discussed answer. Questions referencing specific aspects of the company, such as something they found in their research, also show that a candidate isn’t taking the same questions to every interview.

Although a normal process for most interviews, simple and common questions can tell a lot about a person and how they carry themselves in unique situations. In addition to other attributes (experience, professionalism, etc.), looking at how candidates respond to these go-to questions can give hiring managers great insight into what they can offer to the company.

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