Writing Winning Cover Letters by l7b8J4

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									Common Interview
With detailed descriptions on how to answer
COMMON INTERVIEW QUESTIONS –a detailed description of how to

   1. Tell Me About Yourself

The interviewer wants to know if you will fit in with the rest of the team, the department and the

The interviewer is also trying to find out what motivates you and whether it is consistent with what
the job and the employer offer.

Refer to your background research and review the job requirements, focus on how you specifically
meet these needs.

For example, if the job requires you to work as part of a team, tell the interviewer about the projects
you have undertaken as a team-member.

Most jobs require an element of team work, so this is a good aspect to focus on when thinking about
answers to this interview question

Use this sample answer to help prepare your own good interview answer to this question:

"In my previous 2 positions I worked as part of a team on a number of projects. A big project I was
involved with at ABC company was writing a new safety policy.

It was a really in-depth project so I put together a safety review committee. We worked together for
a month to identify the safety needs of the various departments and what procedures would meet
those needs.

Our policy has been well accepted and safety problems have decreased in all areas"

By pointing out to the Interviewer the specific benefits of hiring you for this job, rather than giving
a rambling autobiography, you will be positively remembered and set yourself apart from the other

The interviewer has probably already read your Resume or CV, so avoid just repeating that
information during the interview questions and answers.

For example, when talking about your sales experience, rather than telling the interviewer

"I spent three years in sales at XYZ Company"

Draw attention to your success during that time.

"When working at XYZ I focused on growing the customer base in the Northeast and increased
sales by 50% over a three year period"

It is impressive to quantify your success wherever possible.
Use your research on the company to emphasize how you fit in. For example your information
indicates that the company has a strong responsibility to the community, you can point out why you
value that, discuss any volunteer work you have done, underline why it is one of the things that
attracts you to them.

“I know that this company sponsors some of the local youth football teams. This is a particular
interest of mine, last year I got involved in coaching. It is important to me that the company holds
the same values"

If you do not have enough information about the position to prepare adequately for this question
beforehand, ask the interviewer "What areas would you like me to focus on?" and go from there.

   2. How do you define success in your job?

The best way to handle this job interview question is to provide an accepted definition of success
and then support this with good examples of your success. One of the well-accepted definitions of
success is goal attainment. Achieving a challenging goal or set of goals would be considered
success by most people.

It is important to relate your job interview answer in some way to the position you are interviewing
for. Measurable and specific examples of success are more convincing.

You can use this sample answer to help prepare your own interview answer for this question.

"Success means the achievement of a challenging and measurable goal that I have set for myself or
that has been delegated to me. In my previous position I had specific sales targets to meet every
quarter. I set myself the goal of been up on my monthly targets by 5 percent. I managed to exceed
my quarterly targets by 8 percent on average. That, for me, was success!"

   3. How would your co-workers describe you?

The interviewer wants to find out if you have a good understanding of how you are perceived and
how your behavior impacts on others. Your answer should demonstrate an objective view of your
strengths and areas for improvement in terms of teamwork and your interpersonal skills.

In your job interview answer describe the good points and perceptions but also discuss one or two
areas that you are aware need attention.

Emphasize what you have done to improve on these areas. This makes your answer both real and

When you refer to the positive characteristics, support your answer with a quote or paraphrase from
one or two of your colleagues. For example, "I know they considered me to be hard working. In
fact, the other team members often thanked me for the extra hours I put in."

Then move on to the areas for improvement.
"I know that I was initially considered intolerant if I felt they were not putting in the same amount
of effort as I was. I realized it was better to encourage them to meet our deadlines by offering help
where needed. This has worked much better for all of us."

Use work-relevant words like good communicator, reliable, decisive, resilient, energetic, team
member when answering top interview questions like this.

   4. What motivates you in your job?

This is a personal trait, there is no right or wrong answer.

However, you need to prepare for this job interview question and note down some specific
examples. It is often difficult to verbalize your motivation properly in the stressful context of a job

Other interview questions will determine whether you have the skills for the job - can you do the
job. With this question the interviewer is exploring whether you will be a good motivational fit with
the job opportunity - will you want to do this job?

What does motivate you will depend on your background and work experiences, but try to make
your motivation relevant to what this job can provide. For example if the job is a fairly isolated one
do not give "working with other people" as a motivation! You can use this preparation as an
opportunity to think about whether this position is really suitable for you in terms of motivational

Here are some sample answers to top interview questions about your motivation to help you prepare
your own answers:

"I am motivated by the challenge of difficult tasks and projects. My previous manager gave me
more and more responsibility as I proved myself, I found this very motivating."

"It is important for me to meet the customers needs. I give them the best service and when I exceed
their expectations or get positive feedback it motivates me."

   5. How do you handle conflict?

The interviewer wants to know how you react to conflict and how you manage it. Try to focus your
job interview answer on the behavioral process that you use to resolve the conflict. Don't direct your
answer at how difficult you boss or co-workers are and how hard it is to work with them. This
portrays you as someone who does not get on easily with other people and employers want someone
who gets on well with others.

Use your interview answer to highlight your interpersonal skills, your maturity and your ability to
stay calm in the face of difficulty.

For example: "Everyone has to deal with conflict at some point. I have found that when there is
conflict it helps to try and put yourself in the other person's shoes and understand their perspective.
It is important to ask questions and listen to their point of view. If you know what their
interpretation of the situation is, then it is easier to work out a solution. For example.... ( give a
specific example of a conflict situation and how you dealt with it)."

Emphasize the techniques you use to diffuse conflict such understanding the other person's position,
asking questions to find out the cause of the conflict, not conveying blame and not becoming too
emotional. Demonstrate your ability to work collaboratively to reach an acceptable resolution.

Here is another of those standard interview questions that is exploring a number of aspects at once.

    6. What has been the most difficult situation you have had to face?

This job interview question is trying to determine two things - what your definition of difficult is
and how you approach challenges and problems. Avoid discussing difficult situations that were
directly caused by you. Make sure it is a situation that most people would consider difficult or

Think of specific problems that tested your skills and abilities and had positive outcomes. Highlight
the way you analyzed the situation, the skills you used to professionally deal with it and what your
particular contribution to resolving it was. Always try to end on a positive note.

Examples of difficult situations include having to discipline an employee, unreasonable goals and
deadlines, unreasonable customers and clients, adapting to change and facing unethical work

Job skills that should be highlighted include common sense, perseverance, diplomacy, maturity,
stress management and assessment skills.

For example: "I have faced a number of difficult situations, but the one that comes to mind now is
...... ( describe the situation). I was able to deal with it by assessing the situation, determining the
possible different approaches and deciding on the most effective one. I had to remain unemotional
and objective and focused on a solution."

    7. What do you like most about your current or last job?

The interviewer wants to evaluate your compatibility with the position you are interviewing for.
Make your answer relevant to the job requirements. General reasons such as new challenges,
interacting with people, growth and learning opportunities, using your initiative, working as part of
a team and meeting set objectives and goals are usually applicable to most job opportunities.

Highlight the reason and make it more specific by quoting an example. "I enjoyed having to use my
initiative. I have implemented and improved a number of the systems including the order processing

    8. What do you like least about your current or last job?

With typical interview questions like this be careful that the dislikes you talk about do not refer to
specific characteristics of the job opportunity you are interviewing for. Stay away from reasons such
as overtime and salary. Avoid criticism of your boss, management or co-workers. Be general and
refer to the lack of or absence of what you seek in a job or work environment.

For example, "There was very little opportunity for me to use my initiative. I regard this as one of
my strengths and found it frustrating that I was unable to get past the bureaucracy of such a big
company to implement any improvements. That is why I am enthusiastic about working for a
smaller company like this which I know encourages employees to use their initiative."

Or "There was a lack of growth opportunities in such as small company. One of the reasons I am so
interested in your company is that it is a much larger organization with formal career planning
structures in place."

This way you emphasize why you are a suitable candidate for this job and company as well as
turning it into a compliment to the company you are interviewing with.

   9. How would you describe your previous manager/boss/supervisor

When answering typical interview questions about previous managers avoid saying anything that
can be interpreted as negative. It sends up a red flag about your attitude to authority and
supervision. Even if there is something truly negative about your boss rather try to find something
positive to focus on. The answer you give should be fact-based and not just your opinion.

For example: "My manager was very experienced, he had managed a number of big call centers
over the past 12 years. He liked his staff to be able to work independently and I had to learn quickly
to become independent about analyzing problems and finding solutions."

In this answer you are stating a positive fact about your boss, his amount of experience. You are
also turning a possible negative about your boss, his lack of support, into a positive about you. You
have not criticized your boss and you have taken the opportunity to highlight your ability to be
proactive and deal with a situation.

   10. "Why should we hire you?"

Review the job description and note down the job requirements.

Refer to your skills and experience relevant to the job requirements and the company's needs. What
benefits are you bringing to this job?

Mention your previous successes and your goals for the future. Be straightforward and confident
about your abilities.

" I have the right combination of skills and experience for this job. I also bring the additional quality
of strong analytical and problem solving ability as shown by my introduction of a more efficient
work flow system at ABC Company.

My commitment to excellent work standards will add value to the team.
I am a fast learner, I had to learn a totally new operating system in my last job and I was up and
running within a couple of weeks.

One of the reasons I want to work for this company is your reputation for staff development,
learning and growth are important values to me. I sincerely believe I am the right person for this job
and for this company"

When answering interview questions like this, don't try to say that you are the best qualified
candidate, you are not familiar with the other candidates' skills and experience. Rather highlight the
reasons why you are the right candidate for this job.

"My abilities in sales really seem to fit this job. My success at ABC in achieving an annual growth
rate of 25% support this.

I have worked with a similar product line and have an in-depth understanding of the technical

My experience as a member of a large team will contribute to your department and I am enthusiastic
about the new challenges involved in this position"

Be enthusiastic about why you want this job.

"I really would like this job selling gift items and I strongly believe I will be good at it. I enjoy
talking to customers and helping them find what they are looking for. I am meticulous about
handling cash. I look forward to having regular hours and I am very reliable. In fact, my reference
emphasizes that as one of my strong points"

   11. "Why do you want to work for this company?"

Use your background research to prepare for this question, this way you will differentiate yourself
from the other candidates.

"I understand this company is expanding, your website indicates that you are about to launch a
number of new products. I would like to be a part of this exciting growth"

"I have always wanted an opportunity to work with a company that provides such an important
service to the community"

"You are a small company with great opportunity for staff development"

"Your company has a reputation for being innovative and open to new ideas"

Find something specific about the company to hook into. Look at the company values, mission,
vision and successes. How do you complement and contribute to these?

"I know that your goal is to become the biggest provider of office supplies in the area. My
knowledge and experience of the customer base can make a big contribution to this. I would really
enjoy the challenge of growing this business"
   12. Where do you see yourself in 3 – 5 years?

One cannot accurately predict what the job or the company will look like in 3 - 5 years time. You
can answer in general terms about the type of situation you would like to be in and the way you
want to have grown and developed. Avoid giving specific time frames or job titles.

Focus on realistic career opportunities you could expect in your industry and what you hope to have
gained from these opportunities.

"It is an uncertain world and one can't predict what is going to happen. However, my hope is that I
will have contributed to the success of the company and grown both personally and professionally
within my position"

Your interview answer should relate to the job you are being interviewed for in some way. The
interviewer does not want to hear that you hope to have published your first novel or be running
your own business.

This interview question is designed to assess a number of things.

■How long are you likely to stay with the company?

■What is your motivation in applying for this position?

■Do you look ahead and set goals for yourself?

Combine your personal growth strategies and goals with commitment to the job and the employer.

For example:

"I want to have developed new skills and abilities and to have made the most of my opportunities.
This position will give me the opportunity to learn more about managing a work team, this is a goal
of mine. I would like to be recognized as an individual who has really added value to the company"

When faced with this job interview question and answer, avoid making over-ambitious predictions
about your future potential. This indicates a lack of insight and maturity. Broadly discuss your work
values and goals, not focusing on a specific career plan.

"I want to have learned and grown within my work, to have increased my responsibilities and skills.
I enjoy a challenge and would like to know that I am constantly meeting new challenges. My goal is
to be the best at whatever level I am working at within the company"

Demonstrate that you understand that reward (salary, promotion, responsibility) will be based on the
quality and value of your contribution.

"I want to make the most of my abilities and potential. By always doing my best I can ensure that
there will be opportunities to increase my value and to grow in ways that benefit both the company
and me"
Align your success with the company's success.

"I want to continue to gain experience and be a top -performing employee in a big company such as
this one. I want to contribute as much as possible to the company's expansion and success"

The interviewer will respond positively if you present yourself, in this job interview question and
answer, as a mature, insightful and self-motivated candidate who wants to make an important and
constructive contribution to the company.

    13. What has been your greatest achievement to date?"

Choose an achievement that is related to the position and is fairly recent. Review the job
description, if you have it, or the job posting or ad. What skills are listed as necessary for the job?.
This will guide you to the most relevant answer for this employment interview question.

Does the position need superior sales ability, someone with keen attention to detail, strong
management skills or excellent problem-solving ability?

Reflect upon achievements that demonstrated this skill. Describe your accomplishment and
highlight the job-related skills you used. Point out how the results benefited the company.

If a requirement is problem-solving skills:

"Recently I was asked to implement a new system to reduce our debtors days.

I analyzed the problems with the current system, got input from all the stakeholders, and developed
a faster way of getting the accounts out and monitoring follow up.

Our debtors days reduced significantly and we are currently on target for collections"

If a requirement is attention to detail:

"I am responsible for taking the customer orders by phone.

I listen carefully, ask for clarification and always confirm the order to make sure I have everything
correct. In this past year I am the only person in my department who has not made an error on the

Errors are often costly and frustrate customers. It was really satisfying receiving that recognition
and I was given a bonus by my supervisor"

When asking employer interview questions about this, Interviewers particularly want to know about
achievements that increased revenues, decreased expenses, solved problems, were innovative or
improved a company's reputation.

"My department manager asked me to investigate a bottleneck in the production line. I did some
research and suggested a redesign of the department layout so that the production units were in a
more efficient sequence.
It worked so well, increasing production by up to 20 percent, that my layout design has been
adopted by all our branches"

If you have little or no work experience, refer to an accomplishment at school or in an outside
activity. Just remember to relate the skills you used to the job in question.

"I was part of the rowing team that recently won the championships. It was a particularly satisfying
win as we had trained very hard, requiring a lot of discipline and perseverance, to come up from the
bottom of the league.

We also really had to work together as a team and keep each other motivated"

It is often difficult to single out one achievement when answering this question.

"I believe I have had a number of successes to date. It is difficult to say which I think has been my
greatest accomplishment as they were all important. I am going to focus on my recent achievements
as being the most pertinent..." and go on to describe your relevant, recent accomplishments.

Review your company background research to also highlight how your accomplishments fit in with
the company mission, vision, goals and values.

Aligning your achievements with the job and company needs, when answering employer interview
questions like this, will emphasize why you are the right candidate for the job.

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