Pretty impressing, the commander Dick Winters. Not that the others in the team are ignored -- wonderful as well.
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I recently had an interesting discussion with a colleague. We were recounting our job histories and how our, shall we say colorful personalities, could have negatively impacted us long term. The truth is, I was kind of an asshole coming out of college (some would argue I’m still kind of an asshole, but that’s beside the point). I was arrogant and bitingly sarcastic, a generally irreverent character. I thought I knew it all and was quite proud of myself for it.
The Top 10 Job Interview Questions and How to Answer Them Correctly
No matter what kind of job interview you have coming up, it’s likely
they will ask
you several of these questions, if not all of them. So I want to share with you my
best tips for answering these top 10 interview questions.
These are the 10 most common questions a hiring manager, recruiter, or
interviewer will most likely ask you on a first, second, or even third job interview.
To make answering these top 10 questions easy for you, I’m going to break down
each question in to all the Do’s and Don’ts so it will be blatantly obvious how to
answer them, and as equally important, how NOT to answer them.
Since these are the most popular interview questions, you’ve probably
heard of them before, and you may think you know how to answer them. These
questions have been around for a long time and interviewers have been asking
them since people started interviewing for jobs. Even though they are old
questions, one thing has changed: The best way to answer them for the current
times. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, your answer to any of these top 10 questions
would have been different than the way you would answer it today in 20xx. And
I’m going to show you how to answer these questions for current times.
No doubt, there are many other questions you will be asked on your
but these are the root questions. You need to know these. Once I show you how
to answer these top 10 questions, I’ll show you where you can a complete list of
other common interview questions and answers with a break‐down on the best
way to answer each one.
So let’s get started.
I had a habit of telling more experienced engineers that they were doing things wrong, and despite being right most of the time, I didn’t have the personality to make it effective. During one particularly engaging conversation, one of the senior engineers stopped and said, in these exact words, “I’m going to f***en beat the shit out of you if you don’t shut up.” I laughed it off because I knew he wouldn’t dare, and only years later did I realize the relevance of that statement: it was actually what he wanted to do.
What makes a good leader
1. Tell Me About Yourself.
This is probably one of the oldest interview questions ever, but I
guarantee it will
come up at every interview you have for the rest of your career. Plus, it’s not just
for job interviews either. I’ve been asked this question in sales meetings,
luncheons, and even while shopping for a new car. How you answer it depends on
the context in which the question is asked.
Obviously, I’m going to cover it from the job interview point of view. Don’t just
think you know how to answer this because your answer could negatively affect
whether or not you get the job. You want to take your time and practice what
you’ll say when answering this Top 10 question. Even seasoned professionals who
have been interviewing for 20+ years still fumble their answer to this question
which is why you want to be prepared.
Since that time I’ve grown up a lot, learned to watch what I say, and treat people with respect regardless of defining characteristics. The sarcasm stays in check while in a professional environment; I let it out to play when I’m with good friends. This self-control, along with a lot of other invaluable lessons, came to me not of my own accord, but through the careful guidance of the mentors I’ve had along the way. If not for them, who knows if my interpersonal relationships would have short-circuited my career.
- Never, ever, let your negative emotions affect others. On the contrary, share your possitive emotions to others around you. Even more, understand others' negative emotions;
- Not too much bullshit like the abovementioned 2 points.
DO THIS when answering: Tell me about yourself.
- Keep your answer brief and related to your career and the position.
- Keep your answer on topic and work related while talking about
Tell your interviewer how you got started in your profession, perhaps
went to school or what got you interested in your profession in the first place,
and then gloss over a few jobs and tell them what you like about your profession
and where you see yourself heading. Tell them of a few things you learned along
the way and how those things have strengthened you.
- Before your interview, and even during the interview, find out what
are looking for in the ideal candidate for this position. This could be
experience, leadership capabilities, management qualities, technical skills,
etc. Find out what is important to them and weave those things into the
fabric of your answer. That way, you sound exactly like the person they are
looking to hire.
The truth is that I have been incredibly blessed in my career because of the people I’ve come into contact with. My managers along the way molded a really rough-around-the-edges character into someone I’m proud to be. More than that, because of their influence, I’m not just a good programmer – I’m a good teammate and a good person. So impactful were these people on my life that I frequently recount their advice to the colleagues that I now mentor.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t give them your life story ‐ this is of no interest to them.
Doing so will
derail your interview faster than you can “Next…”
- Don’t bring up un‐related experience when changing careers, it’s
unless you are tying in transferable experience.
- Don’t end your answer with a question back to the interviewer.
people think this makes the applicant look smarter when they ask a follow‐
up question after delivering their answer, but for the most part, I think it’s a
poor strategy unless a follow‐up question presents itself naturally.
I also find their advice to be universally applicable, so I’d like to share the things I was told that helped me along the way. Of course, some of these are paraphrased since my memory for exact phrases isn’t all that great, but I believe I’ve captured the important parts correctly.
Episode 5, <Band of brothers>:
Don’s advice for you:
Practice your answer to this top 10 interview question in
front of a video camera without a script. Cover the three main points:
- 1.) Talk about your journey and how you got started
- 2.) Talk about what you learned along the way
- 3.) Talk about what you are looking for and where you see your career heading.
Get your answer down to 30‐45 seconds at the most. Keep watching your
and polishing your answer until you can deliver it flawlessly. And when I say
flawlessly, I don’t mean from memory, but deliver it naturally, and it should
sound slightly different each time you say it.
TIP: These answers are very short and meant to get you started with your story.
Don’t make your story fit these answers. Write your own answer and then
Don’t be a short-order cook
"If you're a leader, you lead the way, not just on easy....."; "Understand othes' needs, disires, know what they think..."
Sample Answers to: Tell Me About Yourself:
- I graduated from Harvard with a business degree and currently work
intern at Hearst publishing company. What I enjoy most about my work
with them is the fast paced environment, which is something that appeals
to me about the idea of working here.
- I grew up in a small town and always dreamed of ‘making it’ in the
big city. I
graduated at the top of my class and worked my way through a few years
of entry‐level jobs to gain the necessary skills to qualify me for thismarketing position. I would say my work ethic and determination are what
have gotten me to this point and will help me be successful here.
Serving other people has always come naturally to me. Even as a child I was
very protective of my friends and volunteered when they needed help. This
is my dream to work for a non‐profit that helps feed the world and provide
shelter to those in desperate need of it.
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
Unless you’re still working, you are going to get asked this question.
Even if you
are working, they will ask you why you want to leave. But more often than not, if
you are not working, chances are that you were laid off, terminated, or quit. You
just have to let them know the reasoning behind why you are not working at your
most recent job.
If you left of your own free will, then explain why you left and what your plans
were in doing so. If you were fired for performance reasons, a simple explanation
is all that is needed, but make sure this will not affect the requirements for this
new job. If you were laid off, let them know several members of your team were
laid off due to the economy and slowing product sales. But warm that up a bit and
put it into your own words so it makes sense.
My very first job lasted 8 months because the company shut down. As I was talking with my manager about what I would do next, he gave me this advice:
DO THIS when answering: Why did you leave your last job?
- If you left of your own free will, tell them why you left and
on your former employer. Tell them it was a hard decision to make but you
felt it was the right choice for you.
- If you were fired, be as brief as possible in your explanation and
responsibility for what happened.
- If you were laid off due to downsizing or the economy then tell them
long as it’s true.
Nicholas, you’re worth more than your code. Whatever your next gig is, make sure that you’re not a short-order cook. Don’t accept a job where you’re told exactly what to build and how to build it. You need to work somewhere that appreciates your insights into the product as well as your ability to build it.
Dick Winters, what he calls “Leadership at the Point of the Bayonet - Ten Principles for Success”.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t bad mouth your past company, boss or co‐workers
- Don’t say that the pay was bad and you wanted more money.
- Don’t say that the hours were terrible.
- Don’t say that you could not get along with your manager.
- Don’t lie if you were terminated.
- Don’t defend yourself or place blame on the employer.
This is something I’ve kept in mind throughout my career. Simply being an implementer isn’t good enough – you need to be involved in the process that leads up to implementation. Good engineers don’t just follow orders, they give feedback to and work with product owners to make the product better. Fortunately, I’ve chosen my jobs wisely and never ended up in a situation where people didn’t respect or value my insights.
1 ) Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.
Don’s advice for you:
Remember, you are not there to defend why you were
fired. You are there talk about what you can do for them, so it’s very important
to keep your answer brief when answering this question. If they want to know
more, they will ask you, but don’t volunteer too much information because it
will make them more cautious about you. More than anything, if you were fired,
accept responsibility for what happened because this shows courage and then
explain that they were right and you were wrong, but that you learned from this
experience and are a better person because of it.
2 ) Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.
Sample answers to: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
- The position I held previously was stagnant and there weren’t any
opportunities for growth within the company. I strive for continuous
improvement and career growth, so it’s important to me that I find that in
my next position.
- Print media across the country is turning to digital so the company
downsize, which resulted in my entire team being laid off. I really enjoyed
my time there and hope to find a similar work environment here.
I’m generally very punctual, but I was let go from my previous job because I
arrived late to work a few too many times because I had a sick family
member to care for. But my now my mom has passed away and I don’t
have any other morning commitments, so my tardiness will no longer be an
issue for my employer. This experience has opened my eyes to the
importance of making the most of your time and respecting others by
showing up on time.
Describe a Difficult Problem You Were
Faced With in Your Career and What You
Did to Overcome it…
Although the interviewer asked how “you” dealt with or solved the problem, he
really wants to hear how you worked with a team of people to tackle the issue.
This is a problem solving question that tests your critical thinking skills in two
ways: Your definition of difficult and how you handled the situation.
This is a great question to show that you are a creative and capable problem
solver. You should have at least one of these stories ready to go all the time.
My second manager at Yahoo pulled me aside one day to give me some advice. He had been watching my work and felt like I was hiding a bit:
3 ) Stay in top physical shape – physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.
DO THIS when answering: Describe a difficult problem and how you dealt with it.
- Prove you are capable of handling any problem that may arise in your
- Your story should be one in which you were put in a tough position
analyzed and discussed the problem, reached a conclusion, and came out
- Be concise.
- Talk about the people you had to work with, what was expected of
and how you tied it all together to reach your goal.
- Your best selling point in answering this question is a success
story you tell should demonstrate that you have everything required to
excel at this job.
You do great work. I mean really great work. I like how your code looks and that it rarely breaks. The problem is that others don’t see it. In order for you to get credit for the work you’re doing, you have to let people know. You need to do a bit of self-promotion to get noticed.
4 ) Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t say bad things about past colleagues, managers, or your company.
- Don’t tell them a rambling story that jumps from one story to the next.
- Don’t tell them how you fixed a light bulb or un‐jammed the copy machine.
- Avoid telling a personal story, unless you have nothing else.
It took me a little while to digest what he was saying, but I finally figured it out. If you do good work, but no one knows that you did good work, then it doesn’t really help you. Your manager canback you upbut can’t make your case for you. People within the organization need to understand your value, and the best way to do that is to tell people what you did.
5 ) Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination or your creativity.
Don’s advice for you:
The best way to answer this top 10 question is by using a
good team player example. Maybe you had to work with some very difficult
people to accomplish a project or task that no one else wanted to work with,
but you were able to get everyone working together to complete the project
with a tight deadline while keeping everyone in line and getting the whole
project completed on‐time and under budget. You want to setup your answer
using the S.T.A.R. behavioral method where you talk about the Situation, the
Action you took, and the Results you achieved.
This is advice I give to many of my colleagues now. Self-promoting doesn’t mean, “look at me, I’m awesome.” It means letting people know when you’ve hit major milestones, or when you’ve learned something new. It means showing people the work that you’re proud of. It means celebrating your accomplishments and the accomplishments of others. It means being visible within the organization. The engineer who sits quietly in a corner and just codes away is always a bit mysterious – don’t be like that. A quick email to say, “hey, I finished the new email layout. Let me know what you think” goes a long way.
6 ) Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge then make up your mind.
Sample answers to: Describe a Difficult Problem You Faced…,
- As a new team lead with my previous company I made the sad
that several workers were being dishonest in their communications with
our clients. I took the information I had to my superior and worked with
him to develop a fair consequence for those involved. I lost a few friends
but gained the respect of my team.
- During the summer I volunteered as a teacher assistant and had a
write offensive notes while peer editing another student’s essay. I took the
matter to the teacher and we met with the student after class to address
the deeper issue behind his notes.
At the last minute my coworker quit, leaving a huge project for me to do on
my own. There wasn’t time to postpone the event so I had to buckle down
and finish the preparations on my own.
What Are Your Greatest Strengths?
They are asking you this in a broad sense. So ask yourself: What are you
- Are you a good leader?
- Are you a skilled time manager?
- Are you a great communicator?
- Are you a detailed planner?- Are you good at convincing others?
Whatever you are best at doing, give the interviewer the top 2 or 3 things you
It’s about people
7 ) Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.
DO THIS when answering: What are your greatest strengths?
- Research the job description to find out what they are looking for
leverage your strengths to match.
- If leadership is something they are looking for talk about your
a leader and projects you have successfully led.
- Your strengths should be aligned with the requirements of the
are applying for.
- Talk about your strengths as a solution to their problems.
I was very title-driven earlier in my career. I always wanted to know what I had to do to be promoted. During my first one-on-one with my new manager on the Yahoo homepage, I asked what it would take for me to get promoted. His words still ring in my ears:
8 ) Take a moment for self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t rattle of a list of strengths that are out of context with the job.
- Don’t list personal strengths, like that you’re a good parent.
- Don’t list strengths that you are unable to articulate through
- Don’t say you’re not sure.
- Don’t tell them you don’t have any.
- Don’t be modest when you answer because this is an opportunity to
At a certain point, you stop being judged on your technical knowledge and start being judged on the way you interact with people.
9 ) True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. The key to a successful leader is to earn respect – not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.
Sample answers to: What Are Your Greatest Strengths?
- I always begin with the end in mind. When given a task I start by
the long‐term goals and then work backwards to establish what my daily
routine should be in order to accomplish the task. This has allowed me to
be a very successful leader in previous roles.
- I take punctuality very seriously, I make it a habit to arrive 10
to every appointment. Another strength I possess is making the most of my
time. I dedicate every minute of my work day to accomplishing my responsibilities in order to be the most effective employee I can be.
I’m a naturally outgoing person and genuinely care about other people’s
lives. As a software sales rep in elementary education, this helps me to
create a genuine relationship with my customers in elementary schools,
and as a result, they keep coming back to me.
Why Do You Want to Work Here?
This is a genuine question and all they want to know is what you like
company, it’s products or services. What is driving you to want to work for them?
Have you always had a lifelong goal of working at Google, or Goldman Sachs?
This is your chance to express why you want to be a member of their team and
most importantly the contributions you feel you’ll make as a loyal employee.
This question helps weed‐out desperate job seekers who are just looking for a
job, not a lifelong career.
I’m not sure I’ve ever received a better insight into the software engineering profession since that time. He was exactly right. At that point, no one was questioning my technical ability. I was known as a guy who wrote good, high-quality code that rarely had bugs. What I lacked was leadership skill.
10 ) Hang tough! – Never, ever, give up.
DO THIS when answering: Why do you want to work here?
- Tell them what you like about their business. Is it their
reputation, services? Whatever it is, express your genuine interest.
- This is a great time to compliment them on their products or reputation.
- Dig deep to find out what it is that attracts you to them and express this.
Since that time, I’ve seen countless engineers get stuck at one level in their career. Smart people, good code, but the inability to work effectively with others keeps them where they are. Anytime someone feels stuck in their software engineering career, I recount this advice and it has always been right on the money.
Major Dick Winters
Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Div.
“The Band of Brothers”
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t tell them you like their location.
- Don’t tell them you heard that they pay well and have great benefits.
- Don’t tell them because you heard it’s a great place to work.
- Don’t tell them because your friends work there.
- Don’t tell them you want to work here to get some experience.
None of this matters
From Beyond Band of Brothers, The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, by Dick Winters and Col. Cole C. Kingseed. New York: Berkley Publishing Group, 2006. page 293.
Don’s advice for you:
Try to connect your reason for wanting to work there with
something personal or emotional. Maybe when you were a kid, you saved akitten from harm and it made you feel good and since that moment on you
knew you always wanted to help animals and that’s why you want to be a vet.
I went through a period at Yahoo where I was frustrated. Maybe frustrated isn’t the right word, more like angry. I had angry outbursts and was arguing with people constantly. Things were going wrong and I didn’t like that. During one particularly rough day, I asked one of my mentors how he managed to stay calm when so many things were going wrong. His response:
Sample answers to: Why Do You Want to Work Here:
- I’ve read great things about the work culture here. I live by a
play hard” motto which is something I can see this company embraces and
I’m certain I’ll fit right in.
- I identify with this company on a personal level, using this
has changed my life. I genuinely want to share it with everyone and this
role will allow me to do just that.
It really appeals to me that you run this business with minimal staff because
that means you have the most effective people working for you. I’m the
type of person who enjoys wearing many hats, and working here would suit
my ideal work ethic and allow me to feel like I’m making an impact in this
company with my innovative ideas and creative strategies.
Why Should We Hire You?
This question is your best opportunity to prove you are the best
candidate for the
job. The key is to discover what they are looking for so you can tell them why you
are the best fit. Since you’ll be competing against many other seasoned
professionals, you need to articulate why your qualifications make you the only
person for the job.
Let them know that because you did [blank] in your last job, here is how you can
do [blank] for them in this job. Connect the dots for them and show them why
you are the best choice.
You will need to do some extensive research to know what the company is
looking for. The best place to get this information is the job description because
employers leave all kinds of clues in there. The best way to answer this Top 10interview question is by proving how you can help the company solve their
It’s easy. You see, none of this matters. So some crappy code got checked in, so the site went down. So what? Work can’t be your whole life. These aren’t real problems, they’re work problems. What really matters is what happens outside of work. I go home and my wife is waiting for me. That’s pretty nice.
DO THIS when answering: Why should we hire you?
- Prove that you understand their problems and can help solve them.
- Talk about your understanding of their business, competitors, and
challenges in the industry.
- Tell them how you have been successful before. Let them know that in
last job you were faced with similar problems and you solved them by
doing [blank] and then explain how you can do [blank] for them. When you
connect the dots like this and demonstrate your understanding of their
business problems they will see you as the obvious solution to their
I had moved to California from Massachusetts and had a hard time making friends. Work was my life, it was what kept me sane, so when it wasn’t going that meant my life wasn’t going well. This conversation made me realize I had to have something else going on in my life, something I could go back to and forget about the troubles I had at work.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t give a vague answer.
- Don’t tell them: “Because I’m the best.”
- Don’t’ tell them: “Because you’re hiring.”
- Don’t answer their question with a question.
- Don’t be arrogant with your answer.
He was right, once I shifted my mindset and recategorized the annoying things at work as “work things,” I was able to think more clearly. I was able to calm down at work and have much more pleasant interactions with people.
Don’s advice for you:
This is a great opportunity for you to sell yourself and why
you are the best person for the job. Get your resume and put it next to the job
description and draw lines from the job description duties and requirements to
your resume and then talk about your experience as a solution to their
problems. And that’s why they should hire you.
Authority, your way
Sample answers to: Why Should We Hire You?
I know that reaching your audience in this industry can be challenging.
What I bring to the table is the youth to reach the younger audiences and
the knowledge and experience to impress the more mature customers.2. From what I understand, this role is very time consuming. I am more than
willing to put in long hours to get the job done. At my last job I was known
for being the first one in the office and the last one to leave.
I always review my work twice before sending it to production. Throughout my
career this has proven to be the key to producing quality work as there have been
several times I have found errors on my second review. I take great pride in producing
Where Do You See Yourself 5 Years From Now?
Many job seekers are afraid to answer this Top 10 question because an
that is inconsistent with the current position could disqualify them. But at the
same time, who wants to be doing the same thing for the next five years? The
best and safest way to answer this question should be based on the logical
progression of the position you are interviewing for. That way you’re showing
them you want to do the current job at hand, but as you get better at it, you
would like to take on more responsibility and grow in that position.
When I was first promoted to principal engineer at Yahoo, I sat down with my director to better understand what the role entailed. I knew I had to be more of a leader, but I was having trouble being authoritative. I asked for help. Here’s what he said:
DO THIS when answer: Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Your answer should reflect commitment to the job.
- Give them a real plan for this position and where you see yourself
- Show them how you’ll do it and the resources you’ll need along the way.
- Prove you have solid plans on how to attain your future goal.
- Since they are looking 5 years in the future, allow them to
visualize you in
this position 5 years from now. Show them a natural progression of you in
- Be realistic with your 5 year plan.
I can’t tell you how to be authoritative, that’s something you need to figure out on your own. Different people have different styles. What you need to do is find a style that you can live with, that makes you comfortable. I can’t tell you what that is, but you do need to find it for this position.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t tell them your plan is to use this position as a stepping
stone in your
career or they will feel like you are using them for your own personal gain.
- Don’t give them an impossible, unrealistic 5 year plan.
- Don’t tell them you want their job – that is far too threatening.
- Don’t tell them you want to work here for a while and then move to
another company that is your dream job.
I spent a lot of time that year observing people of authority and how they interacted with others. I took note as to how they walked, how they talked, how they dealt with problem situations. I tried different styles before I finally came across one that worked for me. My style is uniquely me and anyone learning to be in a position of authority has to go through the same growing pains. My advantage was that my mentor clued me about the process up front.
Don’s advice for you:
Start with your short term career goals or goals for the
position and then move towards the long term and explain WHY that is the
direction you want to move in. If you don’t say why, it’s harder to figure out if
you are just sprouting off a meaningless answer or if your heart is really in it.
“In the short term, I plan to work as a [blank] and focus on [blank]. Then as I
progress in this role, I could see myself working into [blank] area.
Moving from “how?” to “what?”
Sample answers to: Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
- In five years I would expect to have been successful in this
position to the
point that I am able to impact major department decisions. At that time I
would be looking to take my career to the next level and become a team
- Five years from now I hope to have been able to build this position
oversee more clients and to become a senior consultant. I work every day
to become worthy of having my dream job and I would bring that
determination to this team every day.
My plan is to build up this position as much as possible. I value the power of
the individual to grow where they stand. In five years I plan to look back
knowing I did my best to leave this position better than how I came into it.
What is Your Biggest Accomplishment?
Though many believe this is the same as the other Top 10 question, “What
strength?” it’s actually a completely different question. Here’s why: An
accomplishment is a noteworthy high‐profile task or project that you worked on
or completed. Basically, you accomplished something and it may or may not have
played to your strengths.
Your strengths might be in managing people, but your biggest accomplishment
was writing a paper that was published in Scientific America Magazine. Do you
see the difference?
During a conversation with my manager at Yahoo, I asked what the expectations were with my new position. He answered:
DO THIS when answering: What is your biggest accomplishment?
- It is best to talk about a noteworthy accomplishment that is aligned
requirements for the job you are applying to.
- Treat this like a behavioral question and use the STAR Behavioral
answer it. Set up the Situation, then talk about what you did (the Action)
and then about the Results of what you, your project, or team
- It is best to use a work‐related story, but if you’re out of good
consider using a personal accomplishment as a last resort.
To this point in your career, you’ve answered the question, “how?” As in, we tell you what needs to be done and you figure out how to do it. At this point, though, you need to answer the question, “what?” I’m expecting you to come and tell me what needs to be done.
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t think that you need a grand accomplishment where you saved
last company from failure.
- Don’t use a personal accomplishment unless absolutely necessary.
- Avoid using an accomplishment that does not cast you as the hero.
- Avoid using an accomplishment that is not related to your career.
This is the part where I see a lot of engineers get tripped up, and I would have as well if not for this piece of advice. Switching from “how?” to “what?” is very hard and takes time to develop. It also takes a bit of maturity to be left to your own desires as to what you focus on. After all, if you can spend your time on anything you want, you are also solely responsible for what you produce.
Don’s advice for you:
Pick something you did in your career that has meaning to
you and helped your last or current employer. Pick something you enjoyed
doing and it made you feel good about doing it. Optimally, pick an example that is related to the job, your career, or the type of company you are interviewing
At Box, we call this “running open loop,” meaning that you do your job with minimal oversight and yet still are making a significant positive impact on the engineering organization and the company as a whole. This is the step where many engineers fail to make the leap, and I still give this advice to anyone who is trying to get to the next level.
Sample answers to: What is Your Biggest Accomplishment?
- In my last position I created a color‐coded system to track our
with each project. After a few months my boss was impressed by the
success of the program and it is now used company‐wide.
- As an entry‐level consultant I was able to land a huge account that
up being a game‐changer for the company. I worked with that client one‐
on‐one for several months, boosting the company’s reputation.
At my previous job I set the record for the number of rewards cards signed
up for by an individual employee. I found that if I could discover a personal
reason for the customer to sign up they almost always did.
What is Your Biggest Weakness?
Most people are afraid of this question because you are being asked to
something you are not good at. But if you’re like everyone else, you have a lot of
weaknesses, even I do, so don’t sweat it.
There are three good ways to answer this Top 10 interview question:
1.) Talk about a weakness and what you have done to overcome it; show them
how you have turned into a strength.
2.) Talk about a weakness that isn’t related to the job, perhaps a personal
3.) Talk about a weakness as it’s a weakness for you, but the interviewer will see it
as a strength. That’s my personal favorite way to answer this question.
Act like you’re in charge
DO THIS when answering: What is your biggest weakness?
- When talking about your weakness, show what you have done to
it so it’s not a weakness anymore.
- Talk about a weakness that is not related to the job.
- Talk about a weakness so that your interviewer sees it as a strength.
I had just sat through a meeting where I had nothing to say. During my one-on-one with my director, I mentioned that I was just in a meeting where I had no idea why I was there and had nothing to contribute. He said:
DON’T DO THIS:
- Don’t say that you don’t have any weaknesses, personal or otherwise.
- Don’t tell your interviewer that you are perfect in your work and
- Don’t tell them a real weakness because chances are it’s not really
weakness at all and you are just being overly critical of yourself. Don’t
worry, we all are.
- Don’t tell them your weakness is a lack of tolerance for people who
stupid questions. One day, I’m going to say that, really
Don’t ever do that again. If you’re in a meeting, it’s because you are there to participate. If you’re not sure why you’re there, stop and ask. If you’re not needed, leave. You’re in a leadership position, act like it. Don’t go quietly into a room. Just act like you’re in charge and people will believe it.
Don’s advice for you:
If you have absolutely no idea what to say, consider
saying something like, “I can get frustrated with people who miss deadlines,
especially when my work depends on them completing theirs.” Don’t say that
you blow up or anything like that, just simple frustration.
In that piece of advice, my mentor had reminded me of a lesson I learned while acting in high school: no one knows when you’re acting. If you’re nervous but act like you’re not, then people won’t know that you’re nervous. The same with leadership. The old phrase fake it til you make it comes to mind. From that point on, I never sat quietly in a meeting. I made sure I only went to meetings that needed me to participate and then I would participate.
Sample answers to: What is Your Biggest Weakness?
- I can be talkative sometimes which, in some cases can be negative,
other situations people appreciate it. I’ve had a few customers who are shy
and don’t want to talk about themselves, so that’s where I come in.
- There have been cases where I have become overly involved because I
too much about a client. I have a hard time leaving work at the door when I
get home but I have found that makes me a more invested employee.
I have been known to bring up my personal life at work and get distracted. I
have recently turned to inviting coworkers to get together after hours so
we can chat about our personal lives when we’re not on the clock.
Do You Have Any Question For Us?
This Top 10 question usually hits job seekers like a ton of bricks and
most of them
will simply “No.” That’s the worst response you can give because it signals to the
employer that you are not very interested in this position. Anyone who is
seriously considering making a job commitment to an employer will have many
questions. If they don’t, then they are not serious about the job or are desperate
and willing to take anything.
You should have a handful of questions already planned out before your
interview. You want to ask questions that will help you qualify this company as a
place you want to work. You may not realize this, but you are interviewing them
too and you have the right to tell them “No thanks” just as much as they do.
Let them win
DO THIS when answering: Do you have any questions for us?
- Ask meaningful questions that will help you qualify them as an employer.
- Your questions should reflect what you can do for the company.
- Ask questions about their goals for the position to demonstrate
- Highlight some of the things you discovered about the company
- Ask the hiring manager if they feel you would be a good fit for this position.
I went through a particular period where there were a lot of arguments on the team. I prided myself on ending those arguments with authority. I had a “my ruling is final” mentality, and my manager noticed that and gave me this piece of advice:
DON’T DO THIS:
- Never say NO.
- Don’t ask random questions for the sake of asking questions.
- Don’t ask questions that are unrelated to the position.
- Don’t ask about benefits unless you are wrapping up the interview
you’re on the topic of discussing salary and benefits.
I see a lot of arguing going on, and I see you pushing through to win a lot. I know that most of the time you are right, but every once in a while let them win. Pick the things that really matter to you and push for those but let the other things go. There’s no need to win every argument.
Don’s advice for you:
Create of list of questions before the interview that will
help you qualify this employer. Ask questions that will help you decide if you
want to work there or not. As you are going through your interview, weave in
your questions throughout the interview and get them answered. Because you don’t want to wait until the end to ask all of your questions as you’ll likely be
out of time. As you ask questions throughout the interview, your interview will
be more like a conversation and you will be viewed as a strong and genuine
candidate, one who is truly interested in this job and is doing his/her due
This was one piece of advice I resisted initially. I was right nearly all of the time, why would I ever let someone else win? However, as I had grown to trust his instincts, I gave it a shot. The result: there were less arguments. People didn’t feel like they had to get one over on me, and in turn, I became better at identifying things I really didn’t care that much about. I stuck to my guns on important issues and let the others ones get resolved by the other party. The intensity of all conversations dropped considerably.
Sample answers to: Do You Have Any Questions for Us?
- What would you say is the most important quality an employee of
company should possess?
- In my research of your company, it seems like the future is part of
culture. What would you say is the future of the company and where do
you see this company in the next 5‐10 years? (Only ask questions like this to
newer companies because they have more growth opportunity than older
companies like General Electric)
- What is the day‐to‐day routine like for this position?
Looking back at the brash guy I was when I graduated college, my career could have ended up very different. I was seen as a malcontent, a smart but hard-to-deal-with guy who people dealt with because they had to. If it weren’t for the mentors I had along the way, as well as some humbling failures early in my career, my interpersonal skills (or lack thereof) could have very well done me in. These days, I regularly seek out those who are more experienced than me and ask for advice. I may no longer make big, glaring mistakes, but I also don’t want to wait for one to happen to seek out the experienced insights of someone I trust.
The nearly five years I was at Yahoo were some of the most transformative in my career. I got to work on interesting problems at a large scale, but moreso I was blessed with a series of wonderful managers and other mentors within my organization. I credit those conversations with turning me into a person that I’m proud of today, both at work and outside in “real life.”
If I can leave you with one overriding piece of career advice, it would be this: identify someone at your work that is smarter than you in some way (technically, organizationally, etc.) and attach yourself to them. See if you can regularly have lunch or coffee and pick their brain for the vast amount of knowledge it has. Your career, and maybe even your life, could end up drastically better by doing so.