I know how you are feeling right now with all the pre-interview jitters. It’s common. But here’s the good news - do you know you can minimise such jitters by learning how to answer some of the most commonly asked questions sensibly?

And it does make sense to prepare yourself adequately for an interview. After all, many others are also vying for that coveted position.

So maximise your chances and up your aces today!

Fresh from teaching an interview skills workshop at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), let us explore how you should be increasing your success at interviews by tackling 7 of the most commonly asked questions.


Q1: Tell Me About Yourself

A1(a): “I live in the West with my father, mother, brother and I have two cats.”


Lionel's suggestion: “I recently graduated with a second class upper honours degree in accountancy. During my final year of school, I interned at a multinational corporation in India for six months. It was a humbling yet enriching experience as I was directly involved in two cost-saving projects, one of which went on to win a gold award at a national convention. During my free time, I volunteer at the Panda Befrienders. This is my fifth year at this organisation and something I see myself doing for many more years to come.”


The “tell me about yourself” question is like the curtain-raiser. It is also the most difficult question to answer for most students.

You need to showcase your strongest act in front. Remember, first impressions matter huge.

Learn to utilise the power of three when answering this evergreen question.

Share something interesting about yourself. It could be your part-time job, your (local or overseas) internship experience, what you do in your free time etc.

Just don’t mention how many cats, dogs, rabbits or fishes you keep. Nobody is interested in that (unless of course you are applying for a job at the pet shop).


Q2: What Are Your Strengths?

A2(ai): “I have a loud voice and I am pretty smart.”

A2(aii): “I don’t know what my strengths are.”


Lionel's suggestion: “I can analyse situations from different perspectives while communicating my ideas to the various parties involved so as to achieve the intended outcomes. For example, during my summer internship at ABC Corporation, I played an important role in my capacity as customer service executive to placate unhappy customers while convincing them that the company was doing its best to resolve the issue.”


As Asians, we tend to be rather shy and play down our strengths. But this is not the time to be humble. Eat humble pie and you jeopardise your own chances at the interview.

What you should do is to identify your top strengths, especially those that are aligned to the job scope requirements. Then use the STAR technique to story tell how each strength helped you out of that particular challenging incident. This is precisely why participants attending my interview skills workshop benefit immensely as I show them a step-by-step proven system to boost their confidence.


Q3: What Are Your Weaknesses?

A3(ai): “I have too many weaknesses…”

A3(aii): “I like to procrastinate. I hope to work on it.”


Lionel's suggestion: “If I really have to choose, my greatest weakness has to be the fact that I like to procrastinate. This has cost me a lot of opportunities and unnecessary stress. I have since realised this and have been more proactive in getting things started and then making adaptations from there. Sometimes it’s about seeing perfection in moments of imperfection and growing through each experience.”


Be upfront and admit you have a weakness. You are only human. Admitting and sharing your weakness is only half the battle. The other half is to show how you have taken concrete steps to mitigate or even overcome this weakness. Think of it like a movie plot twist. You don’t want to leave the weakness hanging in the air as it forms an impression that you are still struggling with it.


Q4: Why Should We Hire You?

A4(ai): “I desperately need the money. Plus the location is great as I can walk from my house to your company”.

A4(aii): “I feel I am the best candidate of choice”.


Lionel's suggestion: “I believe my past experience and potentialities can add massive value to your company/organisation. Being one of the top graduates in my cohort, it has always been my aspiration to work in a company that is widely regarded as the top leader in the industry.”


This is where your previous research comes in handy (if you did your homework to research the company/organisation). It’s the time to show how much you know about them and this job in particular.


Q5: What Are Your Hobbies? / What Sports Do You Play?

A5(ai): “I like to sleep”.

A5(aii): “I like swimming”.

A5(aiii): “I go clubbing twice a week and drink as well”.


Lionel's suggestion: “I’ve been playing soccer since my polytechnic days. To me, it’s not only a sport but also allows me to learn good teambuilding skills.”


There is nothing wrong with mentioning swimming. But it’s better to mention team sports than solo sports. 

Team sports or team-based activities demonstrate your ability to work well in a team. They also reflect well on you for keeping fit and healthy. Compare this with a sedentary activity like watching K-drama. Remember, teamwork is one of the top valued skills in any organisation.


Q6: Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years’ Time?

A6(ai): “I don’t think I’ll stay that long. I’ll probably move on to my second job by then”.

A6(aii): “I want to get promoted to director”.


Lionel's suggestion: “I see myself learning, growing and building a career in this company. In five years’ time, with my proven work performance, I hope to get promoted to a senior position so that I can shoulder greater responsibilities.”


As an ex-panel interviewer, I could sniff insincerity instantly, especially those who are treating this job as a springboard to another opportunity. When we hire, we are looking for employees who are going to stay for the mid to long term.

Imagine you hire someone and he/she leaves even before the year is up – that is detrimental and costly to the organisation – all the monies spent on grooming you flushed down the drain.

And never mention you want to get promoted to Director! Imagine if the director was interviewing you, he/she would feel intimidated that you are eyeing the position.

You could of course also mention your desire to be rotated to another position within the company (if the company has a job rotation policy) so that you can learn different aspects of the how this industry operates.


Q7: Do You Have Any Questions For Us?

A7(ai): “How Much Is The Pay” / “What Is The Pay Like” / Is There A Lot of Over-Time?”

A7(aii): “When Will I Know If I Am Hired”?


Lionel's suggestion: “Could you share what’s a typical week like? /Are there any opportunities for job rotation?”


This is much dreaded final question that either helps you nail the job interview or nails the coffin of your death. You decide. If you are wise, you will leave these three words - “pay”, “salary” and “renumeration” out.

Instead, take this opportunity to find out more about the job and company. Demonstrate your genuine interest and excitement for the job.


Interview skills is all about practice. The more your practise, the better you become. If you find this blog useful, please share it.

And if you would like to attend the next run of interview skills workshop that I conduct, simply email me here.



One of the biggest challenges secondary school students face when applying for the Early Admissions Exercise (EAE) is the application write-up.

I always tell my students that they have to submit a good write-up. After all, polytechnics receive thousands of EAE applications a year. If your write-up is shoddy or unimpressive, then chances are you are not going to make it to the interviews. What’s more, they are going to base their selection solely on your application (after all, they don’t even know you in person so you can’t really blame them). This is sad but true.

Welcome to harsh reality.

In this second-parter to the EAE (click here for the first-parter which amassed an impressive 15,770 hits as at today), I’m going to discuss how you can perfect the EAE application write-up and secure your place at the interview.


#Tip 1: Share Your Passion

Almost everyone will claim they are interested in the course. Therefore, be a maverick and write something different. This is a powerful strategy that I find lacking in most of the EAE application write-ups I have seen.

Share how you discovered your passion for that particular field or industry. For example, if you are going to apply for the Diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management, then you could share how you were impressed by the warmth and service extended to you during your oversea hotel stays on family vacations…letting you have a feeling of a home away from home. And in turn, you want to be able to do this similarly for others to brighten their days.

If you are applying for the Diploma in Early Childhood Education, then share how you helped to babysit young pre-schoolers or toddlers (they could be your own little brother/sister or your neighbour’s kid)…and by doing so, how you learnt about the different behaviours that children exhibit and the basic skills needed to handle them competently.

If you applying for the Diploma in Aviation Management, then write something along the lines of how passionate you are about flying an aeroplane as you always marvel at the fact that aeroplanes take off and land smoothly. Perhaps also include the fact that you play the flight and air traffic control simulator as your hobby and see yourself as a future pilot sending passengers safely to and from the arms of their loved ones.

Vis-a-vis my three samples on how passion guided my choice of polytechnic course, I hope you are able to see how crucial it is to include this in the EAE application write-up.

The bottom line is to choose only courses that you are truly passionate and not because you have to fill up the three options. It is perfectly fine to list only one course if that’s what you really like.


#Tip 2: List Your Accomplishments That Are Relevant

Besides sharing your passion, you should also list your accomplishment(s) that are relevant to the course so to demonstrate your enthusiasm and interest.

For example, if you are applying for the Diploma in Information Technology, show how you dabble with codes, the number of downloads you have on GitHub, the actual websites that you've built.

If you are applying for the Diploma in Media and Communication, then you should showcase your Youtube video productions, the number of followers you have on social media platforms such as your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc.

Remember, the accomplishment(s) has to be relevant to the course.


#Tip 3: Show Your Aptitude For Applied Learning

The focus in polytechnic is all about applied learning. Have you attended any activities or courses that show your aptitude for this?

For example, if you have attended Advanced Elective Modules (AEM) or entered competitions, it would be great to list them to demonstrate your flair.


#Tip 4: Include CCAs That Are Relevant

Co-curricular activities (CCAs) are there for a reason. The worst scenario is to join a CCA just to collect CCA points. If you belong to this category, then I really don’t know what to say.

Students join CCAs because they are interested in a sport, club or uniformed group. Make full use of your participation in your CCA to show relevance and connection to the course you are interested in.

For example, if you are applying for the Diploma in Mass Communications, then you should mention you were the school’s newsletter club editor and your actual contributions.

It is better to join one CCA and run for a leadership position (e.g. president, treasurer, secretary etc) instead of joining a bunch of CCAs and become a sleeping member.


#Tip 5: Keep To The Character Count

As painful as it is, you have to keep to the 600 character count. This means that every alphabet, punctuation and spacing is just as important.

With a limited number of characters, don’t waste them. Therefore don’t include generic stuff like “I love this course very much” or “please accept me”.

It is best to start drafting your write-up on Microsoft Word and then do a character count before copying and pasting it into the online EAE application form.

With a 600 character limit, it is good to go way past the 500 character limit. This will be a safe range. Consider elaborating if you fall short of the character count. If you have exceeded, then you have to be more terse in your language.


The EAE application write-up is a good gauge of one’s maturity in summing up the last sixteen years of your life. Therefore you have to be succinct yet impressive. If you start thinking, researching and preparing early, I believe you will be successful in your EAE application write-up. All the best!


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