‘What are your weaknesses?’ – and how to answer other common tricky interview questions

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WATCH: According to experts, it’s okay to ask employers to clarify questions or to get more information if the question stumped you – Sep 14, 2017

When preparing for a job interview, many of us already have a pretty good idea of the questions we’re going to be asked. But it doesn’t matter how much we prepare, there are still those few questions we never really know how to answer.

“It’s important to spend time on self-reflection because it will help set you up for success in any interview environment,” Paul Wolfe, senior vice-president of Global HR at says. “Doing this will help you answer everything from an open-ended ‘Tell me about yourself’ question to the more direct ‘What are your weaknesses?’ – questions that are usually aimed at learning how you perceive yourself, what your strengths are and what you want.”

READ MORE: 6 job interview questions potential employers are not allowed to ask – and how to handle them

But don’t get it wrong – preparing beforehand is still very important, you just have to know how to do it.

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“Preparing in advance will help you focus on what you want to get across during your interview,” Wolfe says. “Write down or highlight the skills the job description calls for, taking note of phrases and terms you might want to use in your responses.”

So how do you prepare for those generic, yet still very tricky interview questions you know will come your way – and how can you answer them without sounding cliché?

Wolfe offers some insight on how to answer them.

“What are your weaknesses?”

“This is really a question about self-awareness,” he says. “We all have areas that we can improve upon, and when this question is asked you should be ready to discuss those areas of improvement. “Talk about how you keep them top of mind or how you have already shown improvement by highlighting the specific steps you’ve taken to address those areas.”

“What past accomplishments are you most proud of?”

“When answering this question, pick out accomplishments that are appropriate for the situation and that you’d be comfortable sharing,” Wolfe advises. “Consider how those moments have affected who you are as a professional. Is there a time when you made a choice that had a positive outcome for a group of people? What about a new skill you weren’t sure you could master, but with practice became better at?”

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He adds, “These success stories you choose can become the foundation for your answers to generic questions about your skills, values or aspirations.”

“What skills do you have that you’ve noticed differentiate you from your peers?”

“Try to recall moments when you stood out amongst your peers,” Wolfe says. “Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you realized you were more prepared than anyone else. Maybe you were able to anticipate an outcome before it occurred. You could be very quick and creative, or perhaps you’re thorough and methodical. Everyone has a different style. Find a positive ay to articulate yours so you can share it with interviewers.”

“What would your past or present colleagues say is the best thing about working with you?”

“Think back on any peer feedback you’ve received or try to identify why you have good working relationships with those around you,” Wolfe says. “You may want to reach out to former supervisors, colleagues or classmates to get their opinion. Identify some strong anecdotes to share.”

“Where do you want to be in three years? In five years?”

“This is often a very tricky question to answer,” Wolfe points out. “Interviews aren’t generally looking for a specific plan or timelines, but rather a general idea of your aspirations. To answer this questions, it’s useful to imagine yourself into the future. Look back to the last few years. What’s different about where you are now? Where will you steer yourself next?”

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Should you get stumped on a question

“In this case, you should remember that it’s always OK to pause for a few seconds that think about your answer and say to your interview, ‘That’s a great question, let me take a moment to think about it.’ It’s also OK to ask clarifying questions to get additional information on the question that has stumped you.”

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