The most common interview questions and how to answer them

While I was a recruiter I was always surprised by the number of candidates who looked great on paper but they fell apart when we got on the phone. They had years of experience and all of the right certifications, but it’s like they didn’t know what I was asking them. 

 

In a prior blog post, I shared my standard list of interview questions and then I explained what they mean. This post will explain how to answer those questions and I’ll give a few examples of great answers I’ve heard.

 

Answering the questions well requires a little preparation.  

Before the interview, you should write a list of all the places that you’ve worked in the last 10-15 years and include the dates. (You’ll need it for the application anyway.) Once you have the list, think about the times when you did a really good job. Take a few minutes to make a list of 3-5 times when you were at your best and jot down a few details. Then write summaries of those good moments and have them ready for the interview. 

 

Here is a simple script to write the summaries. 

 

  1. Give a little background. When I worked at ______________ I was responsible for _________________ .
  2. Then share the problem. One day __________________ happened and it ____________.
  3. How did you step in and solve the problem? I ______________ and the result was ___________

 

This is an example from my time in the military, 

 

“ When I was in the Army I was an Assault Company Platoon Leader and I was responsible for 28 soldiers and 4 Black Hawk helicopters. One day during a routine inspection one of the mechanics noticed a potential issue with one of the helicopters but he wanted a second opinion. I reviewed the equipment with him and after further consideration, we decided that a small tweak would return the helicopter to peak performance. “

 

It’s important to have these stories because every interview is a little different. The questions below are my standard questions but I may ask for more specifics about a skill or an experience. Thanks to your preparation before the interview, you will already have the answer to most questions and a script to give good answers on the fly when you need to. 

 

Question 1: Tell me about yourself.

The best interviews become a conversation and this question is an icebreaker. The best way to answer is with a quick summary of your background. I was recently interviewing for a master electrician and the candidate I spoke with said,

 

 “ I joined the Army after high school and when I came home I went to work for my uncle who was a master electrician. The army taught me how to be a professional and my uncle taught me how to be an electrician. I’ve been an electrician for 10 years and I like it because every day is a new challenge.

 

That answer confirmed his experience, showed me a little of his background and helped us connect since I also served in the Army. 

 

Question 2: Have you ever dealt with an equipment failure? 

Equipment fails on every worksite and employers want to hire people who quickly handle the situation. Are you experienced at quickly assessing the situation? Were you the person responsible for maintenance on the site? 

 

Recently I was interviewing for a manufacturing role and I spoke with a candidate who was responsible for operating a piece of equipment and its maintenance. When I asked him about an equipment failure, instead of complaining about the need for new equipment or having to hold two roles, he said, 

 

After the first year on the job I took over maintenance. I don’t always enjoy doing it but I’m very good at it, and the crew trusted me. Last week one of the machines broke down and I found the issue in 10 mins. I was able to make the repair in about a half-hour so we didn’t miss too much time. We met our goals for the day and everyone was still able to go home on time.

 

Question 3: Are you familiar with a specific piece of equipment?

Always be honest when answering this question. If you don’t have the experience on that particular piece of equipment, tell the interviewer. Then tell him about how quickly you are able to learn how to operate new pieces of equipment and give him an example to prove your point. 

 

You may have experience on a similar piece of equipment so tell the interviewer about that experience and how you got it. Remember 70% of the skills required in blue-collar jobs are learned on the job. You are building the airplane as you fly it! When you can pick up things quickly that’s a huge asset for your job search and to your employer.

 

Question 4: How did you get along with your old team?

Another question where you should be honest. If you struggled to get along with your co-workers or your boss take responsibility for your part in the issue. Then talk about what you learned about dealing with your co-workers. Describe what you would do differently and how you have matured since then. 

 

Question 5: Have you ever spoken up about a safety issue?

Safety issues are always tricky. On one hand, you don’t want to slow down the work and you may cause some friction with a really experienced team member. On the other hand, ignoring workplace safety issues can have serious consequences. 

 

The most senior people on a worksite may also be the most careless because of their experience. It’s easy to be forgetful when you’ve done the same type of work for years. When I was in the Army I commanded a team of chopper mechanics and the crews we worried about the most had the two most experienced pilots flying together. 

 

This is a great question to practice your answer using the script above. 

 

Question 6: Why did you leave your previous jobs?

There are a lot of reasons why you may have left a job. This is not the time to bad mouth a former employer or supervisor. And, if you got fired be honest about it. This is the time to show growth in your career. If you left for a better job with more pay and responsibility then you should highlight that.

 

Earlier this month I interviewed a candidate and she had been working as a cook in a restaurant. Here was her answer, 

 

“ I’ve been a cook for 2 years and the restaurant where I was working closed because of Corona. I enjoy being a cook and I like the place where I work, but I’m ready to move on to a job with more opportunities and healthcare benefits.”

 

Question 7: Can you confirm that all your certifications are current?

This is pretty straightforward. Plainly state if your certifications or licenses are or aren’t current. If you need to update something tell the interviewer when you will have it squared away. (And meet that deadline!)

 

Time for a little coaching.

Remember every recruiter wants you to do well. It makes his job easier! Take your time and you’ll be fine. In an interview, you are talking about a subject that you are the world’s leading expert on...you!

 

Now you have a list of standard interview questions and a formula to answer other questions as they come up. It’s kind of like having the answers to the test the night before you take it. 

 

Good luck with your interview. Be sure to check out our blog posts on thank you notes or how to have a great phone interview as you get ready. And, if you haven’t already, please register as a Job Seeker on BlueRecruit so we can help you find the right opportunity.