WITH THE ECONOMY and job market hovering around, well, subterranean, the bar for new employment qualifications is being raised constantly. I wouldn’t be surprised if, soon, you need a doctorate to be the guy who gets to wear the headset at the drive-through window. 
True story: When I was deployed overseas, there was a guy from India that I used to work out with. His name was Anil and he was the desk attendant at the on-post gym. After a few chats about life with Anil (in perfect English), I learned that he was 31 years old and had masters degrees in both economics and mathematics. When I asked him why he wasn’t working at a university, corporation or think tank, he chuckled and hung his head, saying, “Because, man, everybody in India has masters degrees. Even with two, I’m still not competitive.” 
Sound familiar? With the bar being raised daily and “everybody” having the same (or better) qualifications as you, it makes it even more important that you know how to go in and slam-dunk the interview. I can tell you from personal experience that I have hired people with fewer or less-impressive qualifications because, on account of their stellar interview, I felt more comfortable and secure with their ability to perform in my company. We can all agree that the best way to perform in any scenario is to practice and know, ahead of time, what to expect. This way, you can minimize the surprises and keep your stress level down.
Below, you will find a number of typical interview questions that often hem people up, as well as a few other helpful nuggets to place you a cut above the rest. 

“Tell me about yourself.”

Usually the first question, this is not the place to share your entire life story. If you could share the very best things about yourself while keeping it to 500 words or fewer, what would you say? Unless you did something really remarkable as a child or young adult, e.g. cure cancer, get awarded the Nobel Prize, win an Olympic gold medal, teach yourself 20 languages, etc., I would keep it to post-college.  

EBA Suggestion Answer: “Since graduating from college, I have been working in marketing for a firm where my work and contributions has increased their portfolio by 12%. While I enjoyed work with a small firm, I feel like my talents would be better utilized on a larger, corporate scale.”

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I don’t ever condone lying, but answering anything but “still with this company” would not be advantageous for you. While we’re on the what-NOT-to-say topic, I would also leave out that you want to be running the company, married with seven kids someplace else, running your own rival company, or retired. The interviewer wants to know that you’re stable and want to be with their company for a long time, perhaps until retirement (at the normal retirement age).

EBA Suggested Answer: “I would like to secure a position at a company like this one so that I can settle in and grow along with the company.”

“Why did you leave your last job?”

Whatever you do here, do NOT badmouth your former employer or air a bunch of dirty laundry about your last company. Even if you had a major falling-out with your last company and everyone there, do yourself a favor and take the higher road. Instead, take this opportunity to elaborate on your experience and career goals.

EBA Suggested Answer: “The company just wasn’t a good fit for my talents, but I learned that organizations have distinct personalities not unlike their people. I’m grateful for the experience because now, I know where I’ll be a better fit.”

“What are your weaknesses?”      

This one can be tricky. For starters, the interviewer doesn’t care if you’re a terrible singer or can’t make meatloaf without burning it. Nor is he interested in predictable, played-out generalities like you “work too hard” or “have trouble leaving the office on account of how uncontrollably dedicated you are to your work.” Also—and there’s always one—don’t tell the interviewer that your primary weakness is that you’re far too good-looking for one person to be. Answering this question is a good opportunity to talk about all the things you never got to do at your last job and how, in this prospective new one, you’re excited to develop those skills.

EBA Suggested Answer: “At my last job, I wasn’t afforded the opportunity to develop and refine my public-speaking and presentation skills. I would really like to be able work for a company that will help me learn to become more comfortable talking and giving presentations in front of my peers, superiors and clients.”

“If you could work for any company, which one would you choose?”  

Again, lying is wrong, but if you say any other company than the one for which you are applying, you are making a mistake. Talk about the position and company for which you are applying. A good idea, before any interview, is to do some research before you go. Here’s where you can use it.

EBA Suggested Answer: “When I applied for this position with this company, I did so because it was the one I truly wanted.” From there, use your research to demonstrate to your interviewer that you truly care and are interested about the company and position for which you are applying and why you’ll be a good fit there.

“Why were you let go from your last position?”

This question has become more common since the economy has worsened. What often complicates the situation is that a lot of employees aren’t told exactly why they were laid off. In this situation, honesty is the best policy.

EBA Suggested Answer: “As I’m sure you know, the declining economy has affected many companies—my last included. However, I am confident that, as I was part of a large reduction, my performance was not a factor in my release from the company. My accomplishments exemplify this fact.”

“Who was the worst boss you ever had and why?”

The key to remember here is that if your last boss really was the devil himself, even the most empathetic new boss will worry that he may be bashed in the future by you if you say anything specifically unfavorable about the last guy to him. As such, focus on the obvious and do your best to evade the temptation to get specific about your last boss’ shortcomings or complete and utter failures of leadership. Your new boss will silently understand your effort and respect it.

EBA Suggested Answer: “I’ve learned a lot from my past bosses, even if I didn’t always agree with their decisions. I’m grateful for the opportunity as it broadened my understanding of the business world and the types of people I might meet there. As such, I’ve learned what types of management I’m most conducive with and the type I desire to, some day, become myself.”

“How would others describe you?”

If your current company doesn’t do regular progress reports or performance evaluations, plan ahead for this question by keeping tabs on your own performance and how others rate you. This will help you keep track of your strengths and weaknesses and enable you to answer this question honestly.

EBA Suggested Answer: “My former associates and colleagues have said that my performance is admirable and that they really enjoy working with me. I have feedback in writing with me, if you’d like to see it.”

“Why should I hire you and not the next guy?”

This is another opportunity to talk about your accomplishments and your capability to accomplish your tasks and goals. Talk about specifics from your resume and demonstrate your value through examples to your new potential employer.

EBA Suggested Answer: “For starters, I’m the best choice for this position. While others could fill this position, I can assure you that no one will work as hard as I will, nor will they produce results near the level that I will. For example…(refer to accomplishments on resume here)”

“Would you be willing to take a pay cut?”

This is about as tough as the interview questions get. The economy’s tough right now; in the past, interviewers would ask this in order to test allegiance to the organization.  Now, it might mean the black-and-white difference between whether or not the company can actually afford to employ you.

EBA Suggested Answer: “I know that the average salary for this position is between $X and $X. I currently make $X. Understandably, I would like to improve or, at least, break-even on my current salary; however, I know that times are tough and, quite frankly, I’m more interested in the position with this company than the salary. While I would be open to negotiating a lower salary, I would hope that, after I’ve had the opportunity to prove myself in your organization, we could revisit the topic again in the near future.”
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I recommend that you not try to memorize these answers word-for-word. If you understand the question and know the right answer, you should be able to recall the info in an interview, as-needed, and not risk sounding like a robot or B-list actor trying to play a role fit for Anthony Hopkins or Meryl Streep.

It is also a good idea to come up with personal definitions of “leadership,” “success,” “failure,” etc. Interviewers like when applicants can articulate what these broad, but vital, terms mean to them—in their own words.

After the interview, if you’re not immediately told that you have the position, I suggest that you draft a letter (not email—it’s not as personal) thanking the interviewer for his or her time. Any examples that you can subtlely inject into the letter to help the interviewer remember you specifically will help.