Out-of-the-box responses to five standard interview questions

By Jennifer Duke

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the interview stage, but now comes the most difficult part of all.

While many hiring managers will ask the standard questions, it doesn’t mean you should provide the same tired old answers. With interesting and imaginative answers, you’ll make a big impression. Here are some of the five most common questions asked at a job interview and how best to answer them.

To make a big impression on an interviewer, it’s important to be prepared, enthusiastic and to have unique and interesting answers. Remember, this is your chance to differentiate yourself from the other candidates.

1. What is your biggest weakness?

This has become a stock-standard question, which often results in a stock-standard answer, such as ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’ or ‘I get too involved in my work’. Avoid these answers and instead present a real weakness that doesn’t impact your job prospects, but also doesn’t come across as staged or unrealistic.

Successful interviewees are honest about their weaker areas, and are able to turn them into a positive by demonstrating how they overcame them.  For example, you might want to explain that in the past you had difficulty with public speaking, but have since taken classes to rectify the problem.

Talking about real-life examples of weaknesses and how you dealt with them shows both honesty and your strengths.

2. Why should I hire you?

This is effectively your ‘elevator pitch’, the short speech you’ve prepared about what makes you ideal for the job. If you reword this question in your mind to: ‘What makes you different?’, then you’ll be in a better mindset to answer it – and outshine your competitors.

Confidence is critical when answering this question, but you want to tiptoe carefully so you don’t come across as too cocky. According to Forbes, the tip to creating the perfect answer to land the job is to tailor your answer – the employer wants to know how you can help them, not vice versa. 

Think about what makes you different from every other job candidate. What extra experience or unique perspective do you have?

3. Where do you see yourself in five years?

This question is best answered with a sense of ambition, but without being too definitive.

It’s worth mentioning you want to be with a company long term, particularly if this is yet to be demonstrated by your resume. It is, however, okay not to be too certain about what and where you want in five years. You could say you are still finding your place in the industry and in the next few years you hope to be in a role that suits you long term. 

4. What achievement are you most proud of?

Your answer to this question needs to be related to your experience and applicable to your job. If this is your first job, it might seem impossible to answer. But this is where you can highlight some personal achievements that can be an asset to your potential new job.

Whether it’s obtaining an award at university or overcoming something you thought was insurmountable, ensure it’s personal to you. Explain what it taught you and how it can benefit your potential employer.

5. Are you married and do you plan on having children?

It’s illegal for an employer to discriminate based on your marital status and plans for children, but this doesn’t stop some interviewers asking the question. While you don’t have to answer it, you also risk upsetting your potential employer by being evasive.

You could either reply that you prefer to keep your personal life private, or you could say your focus is on fostering a strong career. Remind the potential employer you are committed to your professional growth, and then steer the conversation back to a job-related subject.

Job interviews can be stressful situations and to ensure you have a strong chance of snaring the position, preparation is key. Rehearse your answers beforehand, speak clearly and be confident.