Though not always built into an interview question, interviewers commonly expect or want to hear you apply your experience, skills and abilities in your responses to questions. Therefore, it is generally a good idea to approach many standard interview questions as though they end with "and please provide an example."
Describe a Time
"Describe a time when..." is a common start to interview questions where the hiring manager wants a specific example to show what you know. "Describe a time when you had to help an unruly customer" is common in a customer service job interview, for instance. Pick a good, thorough example like "I had a customer who was livid about how a product wouldn't work. After listening calmly, I said 'I understand your frustration and I'll do what it takes to get this worked out for you.' It turned out she simply didn't know how to turn it on. She was embarrassed, but I told her I've had many similar experiences in my life."
Some form of the "What are your strengths?" question is a virtual given in a job interview. You should always prepare three or four strengths ahead of time that align well with the job and desired qualities of candidates. For each one, give an example to show you have the skill. In a sales job interview, you might say "I enjoy helping people and have a strong ability to quickly build rapport and earn trust from prospects. This is evidenced by my 35 percent conversion rate in an industry that averages 20 percent."
In some cases, you can respond to this question with anecdotes or data that back up your points. Sometimes, though, you might have to rely on the "what others have said about you" approach. Manager evaluations are useful for this. In trying to emphasize leadership abilities for an entry-level management position, you might say "My manager has always emphasized my strong leadership abilities in evaluations and he is the one who prompted me to think about pursuing a career in management with the company."
In some instances, it is important to show that you not only have certain strengths, but have a desire to learn and grow. This particular attribute is universally sought by managers. You can even apply this tactic in responding to the challenging question "What are your weaknesses?" You could say "I have struggled with keeping a to-do list in the past, but I went to some workshops on effective organizational skills to improve in this area." This particular response works best if organizational skills aren't a major factor in the job. This type of response shows that you work to improve on areas of weakness, which is a desirable quality.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images