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Interview Question Translations


By Bonnie Johnson, Marketing Associate


What kind of responses are employers REALLY looking for when they ask interview questions?! Some questions may stump you, or leave you scratching your head, wondering, “What does this have to do with the job?” 


We hope to provide some translations and suggestions so you can eloquently answer those common and tricky questions.


Tell me a little about yourself.

Many employers start with this question and your answer can dictate how the rest of the interview will go. Debbie Tabor, Manager of Recruitment & Retention, MacDon Industries, encourages interviewees to “Focus on your skills, experience and training and how they relate to the job you are interviewing for.” Be wary of turning this into a 20-minute speech on your full history; keep it to a quick two-minute overview as it relates to the job. “Take anything too personal out of the answer – it can make everyone at the interview very uncomfortable,” shared Laurie Lemanski, Human Resources Generalist, Univar. “I don’t need to know that you have a sick dog, or you love dirt biking; win this job because of the skills and abilities you bring to the table, not your circumstances or hobbies,” added Lemanski. 


What is your biggest weakness?

Interviews are a time to shine and highlight your strengths, so should you really admit your weaknesses? Yes, as it is important to be honest and show a little humility. Of course you don’t want to bring up weaknesses on your own, but if you are asked, be ready with an example. “Your answers can show that you are self-aware; you know what you are good at and what you need to work on” added Tabor.


Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.

Let’s face it, we’ve all made mistakes. “Prepare an answer with details on what lead up to the mistake, how you discovered it, who was involved, how you fixed it and what the result was,” shared Lemanski. Use a specific example that demonstrates to the interviewer that you can apply what you’ve learned from past mistakes to be a better employee. “Answers to this question can tell me about your character and what you’ve learned,” added Tabor. Admitting your mistakes in an interview also illustrates that you’ll be willing to admit your mistakes on the job.


Where do you see yourself in five years?

This can be a loaded question. Are you aiming for the interviewer’s job? It is probably not a good time to say, “I want your job!” Likewise a standard bad example is “in management” – can you follow that up with the reasons why? 


“I ask this question to see if you’ve spent time preparing an answer and if there is ambition to move forward,” said Lemanski. Be honest with your ambitions, even if you don’t want to become a VP or manager, as “stable, reliable employees are the bases that weather the storms,” added Lemanski. 


You will be tempted to say what you think the employer wants to hear, but all types of employees are needed to make the organization run. “Be straight-forward about your ambitions, because if our goals don’t match, neither of us will be happy,” said Tabor. 


Do research on the company and know the career path. “Understand that you need to have time to learn your new job well and learn the business, before moving up,” added Lemanski.


What are you most proud of?

Okay, now it is your time to gloat a bit! Your answer to this question gives you an opportunity to show a sense of accomplishment. For students, accomplishments can involve class projects or volunteer activities that can be meaningful in a work situation. 


When answering this question make sure to put it into context, “Talk about how many people were involved, your role, why it was important to you, factors like how much money or time saved, donations received, process you created and if that process is still in use today,” shared Lemanski. 


Why do you want to work for our company?

This question also takes some research on the company to answer effectively. “Research the organization’s culture, values, products, structure. Take the details you find compelling and relate this to why you want to work for the organization,” said Lemanski. “Show how your goals line up with the organization’s mission statement,” added Tabor. You want this to be a memorable answer!



What is your favorite Taylor Swift song, and why? “We’ll ask students this question to break the ice,” said Tabor. 


Brainteasers, like “Would you rather be a zebra or a lion, and why?” really test your ability to think outside the box. If one of these questions is posed to you, show your sense of humor, note the novelty of the question, add a smile and do your best to relate it to the position. Keep in mind your answer to a brainteaser is probably not a make or break component of your interview!


“Overall though, our goal is to make people as comfortable as possible in the interview by asking straight-forward questions so we can assess the fit, for both the individual and the organization,” shared Tabor. 


It’s in the details

To be prepared, both Lemanski and Tabor stress the importance of researching the company thoroughly before the interview. Walk through your answers to some of these common questions.


No matter what the question, you should take the interviewer through specific, detailed examples if you want to be a successful candidate. As a college student or recent grad, you may think you don’t have experience. However, your examples can be from school, part-time jobs, internships, hobbies or volunteer experiences. Remember you are selling your “story” in the interview, and you are the author and expert!