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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Plan ahead for tough job interview questions

By Marvin Abbott
USA Today

Even the most qualified job candidates occasionally stumble in the face of a challenging interview question. Preparing answers for these eight tough questions will help you sail through your next interview with confidence:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Most interviewers want a sequential summary of your life and career as it relates to the job. Prepare a brief presentation (about 250 words) that includes an introduction (where you were born and raised, your education and personality strengths), your work history and recent career experience.

Maintain a conversational tone so you don't sound like you've memorized your presentation. When you finish, ask the interviewer if he or she would like you to elaborate on any points.

2. What do you know about our organization?

If you have done your homework, you should be able to discuss the company's products, services, reputation, mission and goals, culture and history. But don't act like you know everything. Make it clear you want to learn more from those who know the most, especially the person across the table from you. Then be prepared to ask questions.

3. Why do you want to work for us?

Indicate that from your research, the business issues they face are the kind that excite you and match up with your skills, abilities and experience. Your answer should reflect a desire to contribute to the company and grow as a professional.

4. Why are you leaving your position, or why did you leave your last position?

Answer this question briefly. If you get defensive or explain too much, you will only stir up questions and concerns. If you were laid off as part of a downsizing or staff reduction, say so. If your move is a voluntary one, state your reasons in terms of the contributions you would like to make to the new company, rather than what you don't like about your current job. If you were terminated, be as honest and positive as you can.

5. Why should we hire you?

Your answer should be tailored to your knowledge of the job and the company. Explain exactly what you have to offer that meets the organization's most immediate concerns. Talk about your record of getting things done in areas that relate directly to the needs of the department and organization. Cite specific accomplishments from your resume. If you have a special skill that sets you apart, now is the time to mention it.

6. What do you look for in a job?

The interviewer is looking to see if you have thought about what you enjoy and do best, and whether your skills and interests fit the position. Give a general breakdown of the types of activities you'd like to engage in and the workplace culture you prefer. Provide examples from past experience, then relate them to your research of the organization and the department.

7. Describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What were the results?

Choose a decision that was challenging but turned out reasonably well. Describe your thought processes, the people you consulted and how you integrated their advice. Explain how you thought out the impact on particular individuals as well as the company as a whole. Emphasize how you worked to maximize the positive results and reduce any negative consequences.

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions. Be sure to relate your answer to the company rather than giving a broad, general answer. Keep your ambitions realistic. It's best to start by saying your immediate goal is to excel in the position at hand, and that you would hope to grow as you prove yourself and as opportunities open up. You might then ask the interviewer, "What kind of career path would be realistic for someone who performs well in this position?"