Common Sense Interviewing

As the former Manager of Staffing for a Fortune 500 company and a career coach, I have counseled thousands of people about how to ace a job interview. Here’s some advice for preparing for the interview and for responding to typical  interview questions.

Do your homework. Learn about the job, the company and the person interviewing you. Be prepared to intelligently answer the question, “What do you know about our company?” Study what the company does, the number of people it employs, how long it has been in business, its mission statement, and where the company is headed. The Internet and LinkedIn are great places to do research. Determine, ahead of time, the highest salary you believe you should make and back it up with what you bring to the table and market data from websites like Also, determine the lowest salary you are willing to take.

Bring your best self. I have given many training workshops to hiring managers about how to interview job candidates. The complaints I hear most are that job candidates arrive late, answer their cell phones during interviews, chew gum, and, the number one complaint, that job candidates look sloppy. Make sure that you look professional and put together.

Identify job skills. Decide what job skills are most important for the job. Then, come up with S.O.A.R. stories to show that you what it takes for each key job skill. S.O.A.R. stands for Situation, Obstacles, Actions and Results. For example, if time management is an important skill for the job, be prepared to tell about a Situation you had in which you had to manage your time well, the Obstacles you needed to overcome, the Actions you took, and the Results you obtained. In my experience, people often forget to tell about the results … remember to do that.

Have answers ready for typical interview questions.

  • “Tell me about yourself.” This is not an invitation to talk about your childhood, your family or your hobbies. Instead, it’s a chance for you to describe what you can offer the company. Focus on your key accomplishments at previous jobs, the strengths demonstrated by those accomplishments, how these relate to the job for which you’re applying and why you are the perfect candidate.
  • “Why did you leave your last job?” Here are some pointers for answering this question, depending on your circumstances:

If you were fired, be honest, but quick about explaining it. Don’t say anything derogatory; rather, explain what you learned from the experience and how it makes you an even stronger employee today. Never lie. When the interviewer calls your references, he or she may learn that you were fired.

If you were laid off, don’t apologize or act defeated. Simply say something like: “Because of the economy, the company decided to eliminate several departments, including mine.”

If you quit, be honest and positive. You might explain that your previous job wasn’t challenging, that you are seeking higher levels of responsibility or that you are ready to make the next step on your career ladder – and that the job for which you are interviewing is the ideal next step.

  • “What’s your biggest weakness?” The “weakness” question is popular because interviewers want to know how you tackle challenges. Pick a weakness that is real and work-related and discuss what you have done to overcome it. For example, “I used to have a hard time staying organized. Now, I carry a schedule book everywhere and use my Blackberry to keep me on track.” Don’t pick a weakness that will torpedo your chances such as “I have a hard time getting to work on time.” (No kidding, when I worked as a Staffing Manager, I heard that one way too many times.)
  • “You seem overqualified.” Point out that your traits and skills match the job requirements. If you plan to be with the company for a while, you could offer to sign a contract to stay for a certain period of time.

End Strong. Be prepared for the final question, “Do you have any questions for me?”  You could ask a few questions like, “What do you like best about this company?” or “What is the next step in the interview process?” Don’t ask about salary, vacation days or benefits until you have an offer. Send a thank you letter or email, within 24 hours. Thank each person you interviewed with for the time they spent with you, restate your interest in the job, and restate what you can do for them.

If you accept an offer, find out how much notice you need to give your current employer before letting your future employer know when you can start.

To recap, common sense interviewing means thinking ahead and being yourself. What common sense tips do you have to share?

About the Author

Judith Lindenberger

Judith Lindenberger is President of The Lindenberger Group, an award-winning HR consulting agency. She has over 30 years of experience helping clients create effective human resource management strategies to drive success for their organization and their employees. Lindenberger Group’s seasoned team of consultants offer expert guidance on all aspects of HR from recruitment and staffing to training and development to payroll and compliance. For more information, email


Krista Francis

I work mostly with entry level hourly workers so my tips might be on the basic side, with suggestions like clear out your cell phone messages so you can accept calls, check your outgoing message and make sure it’s professional, and make sure you HAVE an outgoing message so the employer isn’t left wondering if the correct person was reached. Like I said, basic stuff but it comes up everyday.

From a practical standpoint, I’m not sure I agree with “Don’t ask about salary, vacation days or benefits until you have an offer.” Of course, applicants can get fairly detailed benefit info from most organization’s websites, but why take the chance that an obvious deal-breaker on pay or benefits is going to arise after the offer?


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