How to Answer the Most Common Job Interview Questions, with Madeline Mann

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 346:

How to Answer the Most Common Job Interview Questions, with Madeline Mann 

Airdate: May 4, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. 

Go to macslist.org/topresume. 

Last week, we discussed how to prepare for a job interview. 

But what do you do when the interview starts? 

Madeline Mann is here to talk about how to answer the most common interview questions. 

She’s an HR and recruiting leader whose career coaching programs have helped thousands. 

Madeline also hosts the award-winning YouTube channel, Self Made Millennial. 

She joins us from Los Angeles, California.

Well, let’s get started Madeline. What’s the most common mistake you see candidates make when answering questions in a job interview? 

Madeline Mann:

Well, one of the things that I notice is that they go in with this idea of, okay, whatever questions I am asked, I’m going to do the best possible answer I can give. And what’s wrong with that approach is it doesn’t come into the interview with a strategy, with a purpose, with a message. You’re not going to leave that interview without making sure that they know the right things about you. 

Because so often, we might get through an entire interview, and I’m sure so many of your listeners have thought, man, they didn’t really get to know me. They didn’t really get to understand what’s great about me, and when you go into an interview with more of a game plan, it’s amazing how you are actually able to subtly steer the interview in the right direction. 

Mac Prichard:

How do you create a game plan, Madeline? What does that look like for an interview? 

Madeline Mann:

Well, you really have to think about what is this role looking for? And also, any hesitations that company might have about you. So really understanding, not just, you know, telling the company all the wonderful things about you, but telling them specifically the stories and the anecdotes and the accomplishments that are completely relevant to that role. 

Because one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of these interviewers do not prepare well for the interview. A lot of them are winging it; a lot of them just asked around for, hey, what questions should I ask this person? They ask those questions, and they don’t actually even have a decent rubric of what a bad, okay, and great answer looks like. And so, you cannot depend on these interviewers to ask you these great questions and the wonderful follow-up questions. You have to, instead, make sure that you are understanding the role and you’re driving the conversation in that direction. 

Mac Prichard:

I think that will surprise a lot of listeners because they walk into the room thinking that the hiring manager has been trained and knows what to do and how to evaluate the answers that candidates give. How does that happen, Madeline, that hiring managers don’t have that training and are just grabbing questions off the internet a few minutes before the conversation? 

Madeline Mann:

I think it’s this unconscious incompetence we have, of, I know what the role is, and I’ll know the person when I see them. Which, Mac, you and I both know that going with a gut reaction when hiring someone is not a great way to assess someone’s skill set, and it’s just absolutely completely overrun with bias. 

And I’ll give you an example: one of my clients, I helped her land a job at Toyota and it was her dream job and because she did so well in the interview process and then had all this confidence going into the role, within three months, she was then on one of the hiring panels to interview other people. 

So she asked me, she said, Madeline, I’m about to interview people. I’m so excited. They just, you know, they threw me into an interview, and what questions should I ask? And I’m thinking, she’s working at, you know, a Fortune 500 company, and all they told her was, “Interview them on leadership.” 

Okay, we don’t know how they define leadership; what are the other people in the interviews asking. Like she basically came to me, someone who does not work at Toyota, to help her to decide what to ask. 

And that is the level of preparation that so many companies are giving interviewers. There’s not help; there’s not assistance; there’s not really this deep preparation and these deep scorecards. Sometimes there are, oftentimes there are not, and so that is what you’re walking into, someone who is given one word of what to evaluate, and they have to just pull questions out of nowhere, and they aren’t sure if your answers are great or not, they’re just going off of a gut reaction, often. 

Mac Prichard:

So we’re gonna walk through some of the most common interview questions. But what I’m hearing is that you have to begin with that game plan. It has to be informed by strategy, and it has to have a purpose. Can you walk us through briefly, Madeline, how you coach people to put together that plan so that when they hear these common questions that we’re gonna walk through, they’re ready and can actually take the initiative in the conversation? 

Madeline Mann:

Right, so one of the things I work with my clients to kind of coach them out of is what I call autobiography syndrome. Which is where we make both our resumes and our interview answers more of a Wikipedia page, where we talk about all the wonderful things about our past. When really our resume should be a sales page. It should be just the highlights that are most appropriate to that role. And what’s really interesting is that, basically, the way I coach people is the way you build out your resume will play immensely into your interview. 

So that’s how you’re gonna be focusing in on exactly the right points. Your resume will be completely aligned with the role you’re going for, and then, people often underestimate how much your resume actually influences the interview. Your interviewer is walking into that interview already with a first impression of you based on your resume. The questions they ask are often influenced by your resume. 

And so, I have a proprietary formula called the glory formula, which is quite different than what a lot of resume writers or career coaches do because I don’t start with your background, your experience, your autobiography syndrome of what makes you amazing. I start with the company in mind. I start with their goals, I start with what are the things that they’re asking for, and then you build all of your interview answers back from that. You build your resume back from that, and that is a key mindset shift that so few job seekers have made. 

Mac Prichard:

That’s the strategy that drives your game plan when you’re getting ready to walk into that interview. You also talked about purpose, Madeline; tell us more about how having a sense of purpose will drive not only the conversation but your answers to the common interview questions we’re gonna walk through. 

Madeline Mann:

Yeah, I would say that being extremely clear about what you bring to the table, and also being very unwavering that this is the right next step for you. 

Working in human resources for years, one thing I’ve definitely seen is that companies are so afraid to make the wrong hire. That is why they drag their feet to get back to you; that is why their hiring processes take a while; that is why their job descriptions keep changing and evolving, and that is why they often hire people who have done the exact same role before, even though someone with a different skillset or different background could actually jump into the role and bring something so fresh and so wonderful to it. 

They’re just so afraid of the risk and the amount of money and time and effort and morale that could be impacted from this person being a wrong hire, and so, the more you are sure about your next career step, you’re articulating that in the interview, and you are drawing all of your experience, very specifically, to show how your experience lines up with this specific role, not just that you’re great, in general, or that you could do lots of different things, but this specific role. 

That is what puts an employer at ease, even if you’re an unconventional candidate. I mean, I’ve had candidates who have gone from being, you know, a professor at a university to then being a product manager, you know. I have clients like that where, even though that’s such a big shift, they are able to put the hiring manager at ease.  

Mac Prichard:

And they’re able to do that because they’re clear about their purpose, and why this job makes sense for them. Is that the main point here? 

Madeline Mann:

Exactly, they’re not viewing this job as a career experiment, where they’re gonna take this job and see if they like it. No. Yeah, exactly, like my clients have thought about it; they’ve made sure they’ve taken the steps; they know that this is their next step, and they are clearly articulating how and why in that interview. 

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so you’ve got a game plan, it’s driven by a strategy that drives not only the answers that you’re gonna give in the interview, but informs your resume, and you’re clear about your purpose, and it all flows from the position that you’re applying for, and then you’re ready to talk about – and that’s what drives your answers to these common interview questions. 

So what I’d like to do is take a quick break here, Madeline. When we come back, I’d like to walk through five of the most common interview questions that come up. 

So stay with us, and when we come back, Madeline Mann will continue to share her advice on how to answer the most common job interview questions. 

Here’s a question that comes up in every job search: 

What’s the best way to update a resume? 

Talk to the experts at TopResume. 

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

TopResume will review your resume for free. 

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You’ll get specific tips you can use to fix your resume yourself.

Or you can hire TopResume to do it for you. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Madeline Mann.

She’s an HR and recruiting leader whose career coaching programs have helped thousands. 

Madeline also hosts the award-winning YouTube channel, Self Made Millennial. 

She joins us from Los Angeles, California.

Madeline, before the break, you walked us through the steps someone should take before walking into an interview room, and now they’re gonna start answering questions, and there are common interview questions that come up again and again. Let’s go through a list of your top five questions that you tell your candidates to be ready for. 

Number one is, what are your weaknesses? Why do employers ask this question? 

Madeline Mann:

So, I really think that most employers understand that everyone has weaknesses, and it’s not that they’re looking for candidates who don’t have weaknesses. They’re just trying to figure out what would be the best way to manage this person? How would I best work with this person? And is this person self-aware? 

Mac Prichard:

And, in your experience, do you find candidates are uncomfortable answering this question? 

Madeline Mann:

Oh, definitely. Yes. I think I remember the first time I answered this question, I was so incredibly uncomfortable. I went silent for about sixty seconds and then finally I said, “Well, I’d say I have a bad memory,” and it was the worst because I didn’t want to say anything that would disqualify me. Yes, I think that that is a feeling that so many people have. 

Mac Prichard:

So what’s your best advice about how to answer this question? What should you say?

Madeline Mann:

So, I do think you should say a real weakness. I don’t want to hear you say, “Oh, I work too hard, I care too much, I’m a perfectionist,” whatnot. Those are all of the classic answers that you know every hiring manager’s heard a million times. What you do want to say is, pick out something that you’re actually working on. 

So, a skill that you’re working on that is ideally not a core skill that could be detrimental to the job. So, a skill you’re working on, and then talk about how you’re working on it, and then finish your answer, if there’s been any results as to the work you’ve done on that. Like, if you’ve seen any progress or if you’ve kind of noticed yourself getting better at all, and when you use this formula, essentially what it shows is, it shows that you are self-aware, but also shows that you have a growth mindset. That you’re working towards things and it really shows that aspect of your character. 

Mac Prichard:

Here’s another question that is often paired with the one about your weaknesses. What are your strengths? What do you recommend emphasizing when you answer this? 

Madeline Mann:

So, this is a softball question, Mac, that we need to knock out of the park, and I think that that’s the thing that people get wrong is they let this question kind of go by without wowing them in this moment. 

So, what I would say is make sure you have studied the job description and you choose one of your strengths because I’m sure you have many strengths. But you choose one of the strengths that is highly relevant to this role, and what is best is to name that strength, but then tell a story of how you’ve exemplified that strength. 

And let me tell you why that’s so important. That aspect of telling the story, you just saying that you’re good at something, no one’s really going to believe you, until, you start describing a situation where we can see your character, we can see your strengths, and when you do that, that will really help the interviewer to remember you better. Because we remember stories twenty times more, according to Jerome Bruner, American psychiatrist, and really, it’s all about also helping them to picture themselves working with you. 

Mac Prichard:

And how does a story help the interviewer picture a candidate as a colleague? Why does that happen? 

Madeline Mann:

So, let’s say that I, you know, I just say that I am someone who, I’ll do anything it takes. Right? And that’s nice, it’s kind of fluffy. But what if I told you a story about how I was once working on a commercial set, and we really like, Kanye West was there and he had sneakers, and his sneakers got spilled on with juice, and I said, “Don’t worry, like I saw a mall down the road. I’m gonna go do it.” And so I jump in the car and I park in the emergency zone, and I jump out, and I, you know, I use my own money, and I’m just like, “I’m just gonna do it.” Anyways, this is an actual story I think someone once told in an interview, which is what reminded me of it. 

But I remember her telling this story and I was just thinking, wow, okay. She’s someone who, no one even had to point to her and tell her to do this, she just had a problem to solve. I’m going to do it, and she had all these really colorful details, and that made me so excited in the interview to talk to her because I really did believe that she had that character. That she was going to make it happen, and so really just telling those stories helps people to truly, it’s just so much more vivid and also feels so much more true. 

Mac Prichard:

A third common interview question that you coach your clients to get ready for is, why is this the right role for you? What’s an effective answer look like here, Madeline? 

Madeline Mann:

Yeah, so I typically hear this one as like, why do you want to work here? Why this company? Why this role? And typically, when you get these why questions, companies are asking this because, what people don’t realize is companies want people to want them. They want people who are going to be intrinsically motivated to take the job, and so they want to hear, truly, that you want the job. 

If ever there has been a debate between two candidates when I’ve worked with hiring managers, the one thing that sets one over the edge than the other, which happens so often, is who wants the job more. And so, that’s why the answer to this question is so important. 

So, there’s three different aspects that you can touch on. I would say, first, the company. What do you know about the company? Do you love the product? Are you inspired by the mission? Do you love that they have such best practices that they do internally in the business? Do you admire some of the leadership? Whatever it is. 

The second thing is the team. So, you can talk about who you’ve met in the hiring process, why you’re excited to work with them, and all of those types of things. 

And then, the third part you can talk about is the role. So specifically, what aspects of the role are you excited to grow into? Which projects are you most interested in pursuing? And really having some specifics around that, so by the time you’re done answering this question, the company has no doubt that you have thoroughly understood what this opportunity is and you are wholeheartedly interested in it. 

Mac Prichard:

When an interviewer is listening to your answer and you touch on all three of those elements, your excitement, say, about the company or working with the team or the job itself, is there one part that is more persuasive to hiring managers than the other? For example, will it carry more weight if you say you’re excited about the job versus your excitement about the company? Or does it not matter? 

Madeline Mann:

I would say that the most common hesitation a lot of companies have, especially if it’s a competitive company to get into, like, let’s say you’re interviewing at Google. Now, you are talking about how much you love Google, they probably hear that all day every day. It’s a very competitive place to work. You specifically saying exactly why this role is the best step is going to be more important in that case.

Because they don’t want to necessarily have you join as customer support associate number two if you just took that job so you could transfer within six months to marketing. Because they don’t want to have to retrain someone so quickly and whatnot. So, for you to come in and say, no, I’m not only really into this company, but this is the specific reason why this role is the best next step for my career. That will help to allay any concerns. 

Mac Prichard:

Number four on your list of the five most common interview questions is, why should we hire you? How do you recommend answering this question, Madeline? 

Madeline Mann:

I think this is one that intimidates people quite a bit because it feels like a challenge. Because I’ve heard so many people say, well, you’re the one who asked me to interview here. You invited me to this interview. You know, why should I work here? 

It feels a bit confrontational, but really, what it is is, again, it’s one of these slam dunk questions that if you do not come into the interview already having this answer polished, this is just an opportunity for you to blow the competition out of the water, and this is a softball question. 

So, what you want to do, Mac, is you want to reiterate what you know about the role. So I, again, I’m someone who I don’t say start with yourself, start with the company, start with the role. So you might talk about, so in this role, I understand that you want someone who can execute x; who has driven, like, y type of results, and who is going to manage a, b, and c. And I can see myself managing those things because I have been able to do- and then you go through your experience and see how your experience matches up to what you had just listed. 

And what I recommend in this is to have a conversation, of, okay, like I just summarized the role. Is that what you’re seeing as well? Yes, okay, great. And then you summarize how you think you could fit those pieces, and then you ask them, “Okay, is that how you see me working in this role, or would you articulate it differently?” 

And then this question becomes a conversation about how you’d fit in the organization, and it really helps them to picture you in that role. 

Mac Prichard:

Last but not least on your list of top five common interview questions is, where do you see yourself in five years? Why does a hiring manager care about that, Madeline? 

Madeline Mann:

So, I think this is just such a tough question because we all know in this day and age, five years, oh my gosh, we couldn’t have imagined five years ago that we’d all be where we are today. And really, what they’re asking is, does this role fit your career aspirations? And, Mac, so often, it does not. 

So often, people are hitchhiking through their career, where they’re sticking out their thumb and seeing what opportunity will pick them up. They’re just sending out all these applications, and then whatever company ends up giving them the job offer, they think, okay. Maybe this could be a good move versus doing the roles and pursuing the careers that they’re really excited about. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Madeline. Now, tell us what’s next for you? 

Madeline Mann:

So, I have lots of free classes coming up. Upgrade Your Career is my free five-day class, which I would love to invite your listeners to. I also have a free Tell Me About Yourself worksheet, which is not something we talked about today, but that is on the front page of my website madelinemann.com. 

Super big help. People love that to really help hone in on exactly how to articulate your value in the interview. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. I know that listeners can learn more about your work and other resources that you offer on your website which you mentioned is madelinemann.com, and that you also invite our audience to connect with you on LinkedIn, and if they do so, I sure hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job. 

Now, Madeline, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to answer the most common job interview questions? 

Madeline Mann:

Really, what’s so important is to not just see a question as face value, or exactly where do you see yourself in five years? Like, no. It’s like, really understand the underlying question. What are they trying to get from that? 

And always make sure your answers are showing something about your character. If you just say, oh, I want to get a degree. How does that show anything about your character? Right? So always just thinking about, how am I going to drive this conversation towards the right talking points that are actually going to help them to feel secure in hiring me? 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Esther Leonard. 

She’s a career coach and a talent recruitment professional.  Esther also hosts Beyond Her Grind, a weekly podcast that gets into the root of what motivates women of color to want more in their careers.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be among the record number of people who have changed jobs. And before you made the switch, there were probably periods where you didn’t work. 

Join us next Wednesday when Esther Leonard and I discuss how to talk about COVID career gaps.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week. 

Do you ever leave an interview feeling like the hiring manager knows nothing about you? That’s a response we hear often. How can you answer common interview questions while leaving an impression on the interviewer? Find Your Dream Job guest Madeline Mann says you begin by choosing stories and accomplishments that are relevant to the role you’re interviewing for. Next, Madeline advises showing how this role is perfect for you, based on your experience and purpose. Finally, make sure each of your answers displays your character and your desire to make a difference for this particular company. 

About Our Guest:

Madeline Mann is an HR and recruiting leader whose career coaching programs have helped thousands. Madeline also hosts the award-winning YouTube channel, Self Made Millennial.

Resources in This Episode: