Interview Questions – Part I

Happy New Year! This year, we’ll start looking at specific interview questions and some good strategies for responding to them. Many of these are actual questions that I have been asked. Although there is never only one right answer to a question, there are effective methods that can help guide you in your response.

Some general principles to keep in mind when answering questions are:

  • Think carefully before you speak – if necessary, ask if you can respond later. But note that the more questions you have practiced your responses to, the less likely you will have to ask for more time.
  • Give short, clear, direct answers; 30-45 seconds is usually enough. Less is often more.
  • Speak slowly and clearly – it’s very easy to talk quickly when you are nervous – remember it’s the not quantity of what you say but the quality.
  • Always be honest – never lie, embellish or distort the facts – eventually it will catch up with you.
  • If you don’t understand the question, say so. Rephrasing the question back to the interviewer is a good way to clarify its meaning.

Now – on to the questions:

Tell me about yourself.
This is probably the world’s most dreaded interview question, because it is so open-ended and vague.

To properly answer it, you have to understand that this question really means: “Tell me about yourself in relation to this job, what is you have done, what you are doing now and what you hope to do in the future, to show me that you would be the best person for this job.”

You need a solid response to this question that nearly sums up your history and abilities, for example:

“I’m a technical writer with six years experience working on a wide variety of projects from user manuals and online help to technical and installation guides. I’ve also been involved in product design and have submitted many valuable product enhancements. I enjoy the whole process of creating documents that are accurate and helpful to the end user. Eventually, I hope to become more involved in the area of content management, which can greatly reduce costs by eliminating the duplicate information within an organization.”

You should also mention the specific tools that you have used, especially if they are the ones required in the job.

Name three things you like about technical writing.
I was once asked this question, and admit I had a tough time answering it! Everyone will have their favourite activities, so practice stating what these are so that you have an eloquent response, in which one activity flows neatly to the next, for example:

“I enjoy the process of gathering the information required to create a document, including meeting with the subject matter experts, reviewing the technical material and using the product itself. Next, I like the process of organizing and “translating” this highly technical information into a comprehensible format. It’s very intellectually satisfying knowing that I have created something orderly and meaningful out of chaos. Finally, I like the process of continually improving the project, both before and after it is complete. I feel that there is always room for improvement and welcome feedback from others.”

This response shows that:

  • you genuinely enjoy what you do
  • you have a sincere desire to make a quality product
  • you are willing to accept suggestions from others and be a team player

Why are you interested in this position?
One of the most important questions you will be asked. You can only answer this question effectively if you have:

  1. Analyzed yourself and thought about your skills and what you like to do.
  2. Carefully studied the duties and responsibilities of the position itself, and studied the company and its “personality”.
  3. Demonstrated how there is match among all these things: you, the job and the company.

In otherwords, you must state how there is a harmony between:

  • yourself, your personality, your skills, the things you enjoy doing
    and
  • the job, the company and the people in it.

The more you can show how similar these things are, the greater your chances of success. You must show how you were “born” to do this job, at this place, at this time, and that it represents a great opportunity for both you and the company.

Here’s a sample response to this question:

“I’m very interested in this position because it would allow me to continue using the skills that I enjoy the most, namely – using FrameMaker to create complex but well-organized documents for a software product, and scheduling and prioritizing a wide variety of projects. Also, this position involves testing the product and giving feedback, areas that I think are particularly important. I’m very much a “user advocate” and in my current position have submitted many suggested changes for screen, field and button names, dialog box messages including error messages, and screen design and layout, all of which made the product easier to understand and use.”

The point you want to make in your response is that you are a professional communicator who brings a unique outside perspective, and who is genuinely enthusiastic about this position because it matches your skills and desires.

We’ll look at more questions over the next few issues.

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