Prep for your interview From your weaknesses and strengths to salary expectations and future plans-what interviews want to know when ask these common questions 

Pooja Chaturvedi

“Tell us about yourself” is a crucial interview question. 

It shapes the rest of the interview, and is also key to getting people across the table interested in you. “Many candidates start by rambling, recapitulating their life story, narrating their ancient work history,” says Sunil Goel, managing director (MD) and chief executive officer (CEO) of GlobalHunt India Pvt. Ltd, a New Delhi-headquartered executive recruitment and selection services company. What the interviewer wants to know is how real you are and how well suited you are for the job, since they already know your academic qualifications and professional achievements, along with your personal interests, through your résumé. “So if you say your biggest weakness is that you are a perfectionist, the interviewer won’t learn anything about the real you,” adds Goel. 

Jamaluddin Khilji, director of people services, Kempinski Ambience Hotel, New Delhi, agrees. “Instead of mentioning facts about your love for travel and photography, the interviewee should ideally answer with a specific achievement or professional trait that justifies his or her candidature for the job,” he says. An average interview lasts 15 minutes.

The trick to crack it is to “not take these commonly asked questions lightly. Anticipate and prepare for them before going for the interview,” says New Delhi-based Geeta Bector, marketing director of Cremica, the Ludhiana, Punjab, headquartered packaged-food maker. In the spirit of preparation then, here are some of the more commonly asked interview questions, and tips from human resource (HR) managers and top bosses on how you should answer them. 

Why do you want this job? 

 The question might sound inane—if you didn’t want the job, you wouldn’t be sitting there—but it isn’t that simple. “The reasons for which you left your previous job are of the utmost importance for an employer. By asking this question, he wants to understand the change the candidate is looking for,” says Gurgaon-based Sandeep Tyagi, vice-president, HR, at Videocon Industries Ltd. Instead of answering with vague and generic explanations about how great you think the company is, research the role you are being interviewed for. “Build a strong case by demonstrating sufficient research into the requirements of the role, and add how your previous experience could help you in this role,” says Bector.

 How do you think you perform under pressure? 

Deadline pressures often bring out the worst in people. 

The interviewers know and understand this. So when they ask this questions, they don’t expect you to tell them how you didn’t get angry with a colleague who came to office late on a presentation day, but rather how you managed to get him to come on time for the next one. “The interviewer wants to know about your analytical and situation-handling abilities and how organized and respectful you are to other people while dealing with a stressful situation,” says Khilji. In answering this question, nothing works better than substantiating with a past experience.

What is your greatest strength and weakness?

 You may be the most loving spouse but the answer to this question should not stray from your professional strong and weak points. “The interviewer wants to know whether your strengths are an exact match to his requirements and if your weakness could be a hindrance in executing his deliverables,” says Bector. Says Khilji: “The thumb rule is mention strengths which are directly related to the nature of the job, like time management or even good communication skills, and conversely, your weaknesses should not be the ones which will make you seem unfit for the job.”

Are you applying somewhere else too? 

 This question is sometimes asked to assess the market value of the interviewee. “Be transparent and reveal if you have applied elsewhere,” says Tyagi. While being honest would show your confidence and maturity level, boasting about other offers might lead the interviewer to conclude that you might as well join one of those other companies. 

Why should we hire you? 

“Here, the interviewer wants a candidate to highlight...the value addition which they can do on the job,” says Goel.

However, nobody is expecting an Oscar acceptance speech. “Keep it simple and short, while appearing passionate and wanting the job,” says Khilji. 

What are your salary expectations? Depending on how you answer this question, the interviewer could get to know whether you have done enough research on the industry standard. “It’s better to peg your expectations as per company standards or reasonable market standards, provide a range to the interviewer, check about extra benefits and accordingly place a figure,” says Bector. 

Do you have any questions for us? By asking this question, an interviewer might want to judge your eagerness to know about your role and company policies. However, here too, being tactful is the key. “It’s about doing your homework and asking the right questions. 

If the interviewer is the HR representative, do ask him about the perks and benefits and the work culture. If the interviewer is the department head, ask him more about the job profile, and if the interviewer is the MD or CEO, ask him about the future plans of the organization,” says Tyagi. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

What the interviewer wants to know is how clear and focused you are when it comes to your future plans, and assess whether the company would be able to match your aspirations. “Being clear and realistic is the way to answer this question, rather than bluffing about goals which you yourself know you can’t achieve,” says Goel. If you see yourself growing into another role at the organization, this may be a good time to make that point as well, he adds.