As we all know, it's the
interview that gets you the job. But for most of us,
interviews are no cakewalk. Goofing up on an interview can not
only cost you a job offer; in the worst-case scenario, it can
also make you feel like a complete idiot.
to know what an interviewer is after when he or she asks you
one of those "interview questions" so that you can be prepared
with a good "interview answer." To help you with this
interview preparedness, I sought the advice of Builder career
columnist Wade Mitchell, who's done more than his fair share
of interviews. I asked him what goes through an interviewer's
mind when asking common interview questions.
Caution: Minefield ahead!
interview, you'll probably be asked quite a few questions
about your character. Mitchell calls character questions
"landmine questions" because "the interviewer just wants to
see if you are dumb enough to step on them." These questions
can take many forms. Here are some examples of landmine
- "Tell me about two of your weaknesses."
- "Name one thing you'd most like to improve about
- "What do you hate most?"
- "If you wore a sign about one aspect of your
personality, what would it say?"
should avoid mentioning anything like tardiness and
absenteeism that might reflect badly on your employability
when answering questions like these. You knew that already,
right? However, even small things like having a hard time with
criticism or not being a morning person could be held against
you and should be avoided as well.
A good, time-honored
strategy for handling questions like these is to pick a
positive character flaw, something like "I tend to be a
perfectionist." If you do share something less flattering
about yourself, Mitchell suggests that you immediately follow
up with something you have learned from your weakness and
explain how you address it. Above all, don't try to be
entertaining with your answers. You never know what the
interviewer might find offensive.
"What is your reason
for leaving your previous job?" is another question Mitchell
labels as a landmine. He says that the interviewer asking any
question like this is looking to discover two things about
- How soon will you leave this job if we hire you?
- How willing are you to air your employer's dirty
If the new job would constitute a step
up the corporate ladder, you can say that here; ambition is
good. Of course, you should handle any question about your
former employer with care and never say anything negative
about it, no matter how funny a story it makes. If you can't
say anything nice, and you left because you simply couldn't
stand another day there, Mitchell said the best answer is
simply, "It was time to move on."
Some of the landmine
questions will appear to be non sequiturs. "What would you do
if you won the lottery?" would be one example. According to
Mitchell, that's about your dedication to your job. Is being a
developer your passion? Would you leave if more money came
along? Even if you would, it could be a bad idea to admit
out about you
At some point, the interview will move
to areas directly related to the job you are interested in,
and you'll be asked questions about your skills and
experience. Being asked to rate yourself on technical skills
is fairly common, and the temptation to exaggerate to make a
good impression can be strong. Don't do it. Nobody wins when
candidates get a job they are not qualified for. Be honest
instead and try to justify your rating so the interviewer can
get a good idea of what you know.
Oddly enough, the
questions that Mitchell said he's seen a lot of developers
trip over are the common ones that are asked during any
interview. The most problematic ones go something like "Tell
me about the nature of your work in your previous position" or
"Tell me about a technical problem you had to solve and how
you solved it."
Mitchell said that you have to use
these questions as opportunities to spell out to the
interviewer why you think you're qualified for the offered job
and distinguish yourself from the other 50 or so candidates on
the interview schedule. Show off a bit and be prepared with
your answer before the interview. An answer like "I
built an app that's a lot like the one you have here. Having
accessed your customer interface via the Web, I can already
see some ways I could improve it, as I had the same issues at
my old job. In fact, I got a commendation letter for my work"
will get you much farther than "Well, I developed a database
for banks to use…so…I think I can do the job.”
similar invitation for you to sell yourself is a question like
"Why are you interested in working here?" This is where you
prove that you've done your homework—and you did, didn't you?
Show the interviewer that you know something about the
organization and relate that to your desire to work
The questions themselves
can tell you a lot
Some questions can give you
useful information about the culture of the organization you
are interviewing with. "How do you feel about ever-changing
priorities and goals?" for example, tips you off that your
responsibilities will often change. That can be a sign that
the department is understaffed, that it's just very busy, or
maybe even that it's a complete madhouse. Whatever the
underlying reason, if you can't cope with that sort of
situation, you should seriously reconsider your desire for the
If the subject of money comes up during your
first interview, it could be a bad sign. Perhaps the company
is desperate to hire staff due to turnovers so it's
accelerating the process—which might mean that the working
environment is bad. It could also be that the interviewer
thinks you're under- or overqualified. At the very least,
Mitchell warned, bringing up salary in the first interview is
a protocol violation and should make you cautious.
number of other questions are inappropriate and should not be
asked during an interview. For instance:
- "Do you have any children?"
- "Tell me about your family background."
- "Are you married?"
Such questions should set
off definite alarm bells for you, Mitchell said. If you are
asked one of these questions, he suggested that you say you
would rather discuss your professional qualifications and
leave it at that.