Interview Questions – Part II

This month, we continue our series on interview questions and strategies for dealing with them. And the first question is…

List three of your greatest strengths.
This is a difficult question because many people are quite modest and don’t want to appear boastful. The key here is not simply to list your strengths but to show how they are valid by including specific examples of them.

For example, don’t just say that you write from the end user’s point of view; state how you do this.
You could say that you discuss in detail with business analysts and product managers who your typical users are, their technical abilities, how much training they will have, and ultimately what they will be using the documentation for, and develop your documentation accordingly.

To develop your list of strengths, you need to carefully examine yourself and the projects you have worked on, and derive a list of the positive qualities you have used when managing these projects – these may include qualities such as:

  • the ability to lower costs creating documentation that reduces the number of technical support calls
  • the ability to improve efficiencies by merging duplicate documentation and using conditional text to distinguish multiple versions
  • demonstrating innovation and creativity by taking the initiative to improve the layout and design of documentation templates

What is your greatest weakness?
The antithesis of the previous question, and also a difficult one to answer. Most experts suggest stating a weakness but then giving it a positive spin by indicating how you compensate or learn from it. For example, you may say that you sometimes find it stressful to rush to complete a project when there is not enough time. As a result, you have developed a good system of creating a documentation plan with specific tasks and dates, and ensuring that you and others follow this plan to avoid a last-minute rush.

How would your boss (or co-workers) describe you?
Ouch – a nightmare question. Often we may have no clue what others think of us – we hope they like us, but it is impossible to know for certain, which makes this a very loaded question. Some of the qualities you list may be among your strengths discussed previously, but you should try to state those qualities that emphasize you are a “team player”. For example, you could say that others would describe you as friendly and approachable, and then give an example where you worked with others to solve a problem or meet a deadline.

Tell me about a time you failed.
Another question from hell. Always have one or two stories ready about a project that did not go as well as you’d hoped. Then describe what you learned from the experience. For example, you may talk about having to release a document only to discover later that due to time constraints, certain procedures that should have been documented were missing. As a result, when you had time, you later reviewed the application and included all of the missing procedures in time for the next release.

By the way, this is a great example of a “stress question”. The interviewer is looking not only at the content of your response, but the way in which you respond. It is critical to remain unfazed and to answer the question slowly and clearly. The interviewer is trying to trip you up to see how you respond under pressure – recognize this is part of the game and remain confident.

What do you like about your job? What don’t you like?
Most technical communication jobs involve similar activities, so it should not be to difficult to find tasks and responsibilities that exist in both your current (or former) job, and the one to which you are applying. Therefore, try to list two or three things that you enjoy doing in your job which you know that the job in question also entails.

For example, if the job involves working on a wide variety of projects simultaneously, and that is what you are currently doing, then mention that, and say you enjoy this kind of variety. Other tasks you may list could include working with certain tools, using and testing the application you are documenting, creating indices, and so on.

Describing what you don’t like is a bit tougher. It’s probably not to advisable to say “I don’t like the fact I have to be at work every day!” Recognize this is another form of the question “What is your greatness weakness?”, your weakness being that you do not enjoy putting up with some aspect of your work.

Again, the strategy is to state how you deal with this weakness and learn from it. For example, you may say that it’s frustrating if critical information that could affect the documentation is not being passed on to you. Because of this, you make an extra effort to stay within “the loop” and ensure that you are getting all of the information you need, by keeping in continual contact with your SMEs.

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