1. What is your biggest weakness?
This is the one we’ve all heard in a million TV shows and movies (and maybe in our nightmares), but it is certainly a commonly asked question. The old trope is to pick a “fake weakness” (“I just work too darn hard, boss, and I never quit no matter what the odds are.”) The only problem with this approach is that we’ve all heard it, and interviewers aren’t robots; they can tell when someone’s being disingenuous. They also aren’t trying to trick you. Think about how you’d answer this question if someone you’ve known and respected for a long time asked you: you’d answer honestly, and you’d focus on how you’re trying to grow and overcome these shortcomings instead of harping on how they’ve burdened you for your whole professional career. We all have the areas that need work, but we certainly don’t want to sell them as our defining characteristic to a potential boss.
2. What are your biggest strengths?
The flip side of question 1, and maybe it isn’t as straightforwardly devious, but many people have trouble maximizing the potential of this answer to demonstrate their potential value to a company. Two common mistakes are being either too vague (“I’m a great leader”) or too specific (“I’m excellent at Pivot Tables on excel.”) Remember, companies want to hire achievers, so the key to this answer isn’t just stating a skill, but explaining how you’ve used that skill to accomplish specific goals. If you’re a great leader, great, let your interviewer know about a time you lead a team to finish a project when the odds were stacked against you. If you’re great at pivot tables, awesome, please tell me about a scenario in which you managed to divine conclusions from raw data that no one else in your office could discern. Brag on yourself! It’s a job interview! But always be specific.
3. What are your plans for the next few years?
This can be a tough one. The urge is usually to swear your undying allegiance to this particular company. If this is your dream job, or your dream position, great, go for it. But remember, interviewers don’t want to hire somebody disingenuous. If this is just a transitional job for you, or if you’re working here while you finish up a degree so you can go into another field, go ahead and say that. Is it possible this could cost you the job? Sure, but if you aren’t willing to commit to the extent that the hiring team deems necessary, it probably wasn’t going to be a great fit anyway.
4. Do you have any questions for me?
This is the one that trips me up the most. Do I strain to ask something even if it’s been covered? Won’t that make me seem nosey? Do I say “no” or “I’ll email you if I think of something.”? I don’t think so, since those answers sound incurious and presumptuous, respectively. A solid strategy, I think, is to always do some research on what the company’s been up to recently, even if it falls outside the position for which you’re applying. With a little honest curiosity, you’ll find something to be interesting enough to ask a question about. And the best way to be interesting is to be interested.