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It’s no wonder most of us dread the very thought of an interview. Facing judgment by an employer is sure to get our nerves working. Worst of all, we usually only get one chance at it. This means no stumbling with awkward questions – and yes, there will be awkward questions.

“The Dirty Dozen” is a list of the most commonly asked, commonly dreaded interview questions. During my CMNS 200 class with Silva Tenenbein, we had the opportunity to go through each of them. “The Dirty Dozen” can be also be found online on many university/college and career web sites to help job-seekers everywhere get through those terrifying interviews. From my own personal experience, knowing how to answer these questions can help get you through some sticky situations. Thus, I’ve compiled them here for you, in a format similar to that found in our interview question database, with helpful points to help you answer them. So without further anticipation, “The Dirty Dozen”:

1. Tell me about yourself.

Question Intent
When the interviewer asks this question, he or she is testing your ability to think on your feet, and to hear what you believe to be your most valuable assets and qualities. Maximize the opportunity to sell yourself. Also remember that there are no “free” questions, and this is a way for employers to see if you can relate your interests and experience to the job you’ve applied to.

Answer Tips
This might sound intimidating, but it is actually an excellent opportunity to sell yourself and your skills and abilities - maximize on it! You might explain to your employer how you have deep roots in athletics or sports medicine, if you're being interviewed for a position in Kinesiology. A good rule of thumb is to typically limit this to a one-minute explanation, including some personal details, but ones your employer will be able to relate to within the organization.

2. What are your greatest strengths/weaknesses?

Question Intent
The interviewer is looking to see how honest you are with yourself, with him/her, and how you deal with your weaknesses. It always helps if you can back up your answers by stating, “based on feedback I’ve received from….” as this identifies you accept feedback, etc, etc, etc…

Answer Tips
This is the easy part. It’s recommended that you list three points for this question. If you’ve read the job description, try to list skills/qualities the employer is looking for. Don't undersell yourself, but make sure what you say is true. Lying won’t get you anywhere if you do receive the job in the future. 
Be honest. We all have weaknesses, so be sure to identify them. Most employers have heard the "I'm a perfectionist/workaholic answer" too many times.  Try to be original. Perhaps you overbook yourself, or you tend to arrive a few minutes late for work. These are realistic weaknesses, and stating them will probably not make or break your interview. When you think about it, it's better that the employer finds them out in the interview than later on the job, where they could cause problems. When explaining your weaknesses, try to turn them into strengths. For example, you might say, “Sometimes it takes me a while to do a task, because I like to make sure it’s done right.” Also indicate that you’re attempting to improve upon your weaknesses. For example, you might state that you've started to keep a detailed schedule for task completion to help with your habit of overbooking yourself.

3. Why did you leave your old job? Or, why do you want to leave your current job?

Question Intent
The employer may be looking to see if there are any "red flag" (e.g., being fired) reasons you are leaving your job. Asking this question is also a good indicator of where you want to go with the job you're applying for.

Answer Tips
Again, try to make this answer reflect positively on you. If you left due to personal conflict with your boss, you might point out that your values were not in line with his or hers. Reflect upon the decision you made and ensure you’re able to justify it properly. Remember, only state the truth. Other positive and acceptable reasons for leaving include: changes in the industry or organization (caused by technology, changing markets, downsizing), a desire to move to a new location, and professional development. Take care with how you position the last option. "I had learned all that I could in that role" may suggest to the interviewer that you get bored easily. An alternative way to phrase it is to say "I had progressed as far as I could within the organization. My manager is settled in her job and there's no path for me to develop further." This is a particularly strong response if you have been working for a family run company. Luckily, co-op students rarely have to deal with this question, since our work terms are limited in nature, but it is still a good idea to have answers on hand for the future.

4. Why do you want to work for us?

Question Intent
The interviewer is testing your research and knowledge of the company, and whether or not you're prepared to give what it takes to contribute to the company. This question also alludes to your understanding of the organization’s culture and how well you will fit in.

Answer Tips
We don’t recommend that you state, “Because my rent is too high,” regardless of how true this may be! Instead, do some research on the company, so you can inform the employer as to why working for his/her organization is particularly of interest to you. Use this question to highlight the aspects of the company that you are most interested in and the qualities that you will bring to the firm. For example, you might respond by stating that you are interested in working for the company because it is an industry leader and you are passionate about working with and learning from the best in your particular field.

Beyond the Blog

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Aug 12, 2012

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