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Putting a positive spin on the interview

Published February 06. 2010 09:00AM

In my non-writing life, working with high school students is a big part of my day job. Among other things, I visit the schools and do mock job interviews with the kids. It's a learning experience for both of us. It gives the kids a taste of what to expect once they walk out the front doors of high school, and it gives me a chance to help them prepare for what's next. I like to think I'm helping them, anyway.

It's been interesting to see how they handle the interviews. Some are confident and outgoing, others are shy and self-conscious, others don't take it very seriously, and others are too nervous to even think of answers to the questions. These kids remind me that I had no idea what to expect when I first started applying for jobs, either. And no matter how prepared you think you might be, there is always that one hiring manager who can catch you completely off-guard with some of their questions.

Interviews are nerve-wracking, there's no doubt about it. All hiring managers are different and the questions they ask will no doubt be related to the job you're interested in, but generally, almost everyone asks these few basic questions:

"Tell me about yourself." This would seem easy, right? But this is actually one of the most difficult questions for people. Rather than tell your whole life story, stick to your past work experience, your education, and any skills you may have related to the position you're interviewing for.

"What are some of your strengths?" Again, use examples from past work experiences or qualities you already know about yourself. If you're organized, a good multi-tasker, a natural leader, or creative, this is the time to mention those things.

"What are some of your weaknesses?" The trick here is to put a positive spin on some of those less-than-perfect qualities. Rather than say, "I have a bad temper and don't work well with others," you may want to say, "I've been told that I have a very strong take-charge persona. I'm a perfectionist and like things done a certain way." The next hurdle would be to keep that temper in check if they hire you.

"Where do you see yourself in five years?" Well? If you aren't sure, give it some thought before the interview. Hiring managers want to hear that you have goals.

"Why should I hire you?" This question normally comes near the end of the interview, and it's your last big chance to sell yourself to them. Remember how many other people want the same job. What makes you stand out from the rest?

"Do you have any questions for me?" This is your chance to show what you know about the company, not ask how much money you'll be making. Ask about things like how much advancement comes with the position, what are the average job duties, and what kind of training you would receive. It's important to be familiar with the company before you get there, and to show some genuine interest in the position. Do whatever you can to stand out from the dozens (hundreds?) of other applicants.

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