You’ve spent hours and hours over the course of several weeks sending out the best resume, complete with a personalized cover letter for each job, and you mostly hear nothing. Crickets. No one gets back to you with even a “Thanks for applying but we don’t think you’re the best fit.” Then, after more time and more cover letters, you finally get an email back asking for times that you’d be available for a phone interview!
You think, “Finally, the hard part is over, I’m almost there!” But, while most of the manual labor has been done to get this interview (and this interview only, don’t be overconfident and stop applying), there is still much work to be done. The interactive part of the job hunt is about to begin and you need to be ready to step up to the plate and participate.
One of the best ways you can prep for your interview is to have some rehearsed, but not memorized, answers to some common questions. You want to think critically about each question and find a balance between an honest straightforward answer and an answer that’s going to make you look good. These answers need to be practiced enough that you can easily recall them during the interview, this will give you an opportunity to collect yourself with a well-placed answer if you are nervous, but not so practiced and memorized that you come off as ingenuine or bored. A good rule of thumb is to have a few short bullet points to answer each question, that way you have flexibility in how you answer and can tailor the response to the interviewer.
Below are seven of the most common interview questions you may be asked and suggestions for how to answer them. Remember though that you are talking about yourself, a subject you know very well, so don’t be afraid to be unique and individualize your answer as much as necessary.
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is a tricky question. There’s so much you could say, what direction should you go? Should it be more personal? Or more professional? Should you focus on past experiences? Or what you hope to accomplish in the future? Really, you could do a little bit of all of this. Providing a little bit of personal background is nice so the interviewer can know you a little bit better, but stick to basics that you would provide in a one paragraph bio. You should definitely be discussing your work experiences, your last job - what you liked about it, and what you learned. However, don’t be afraid to also talk about what you hope to learn, what you’d like to be doing in a year or so (keep it professional and realistic), and how you hope to benefit this company
2. What are your strengths/weaknesses?
This is one of the most common interview questions, and it is definitely a struggle to answer. When deciding on what you want to brag about as a strength, think of not only things you are good at, but things that apply to this specific job. Making a list of skills and characteristics you are strong in and comparing it to the list of skills you would need for the job is a good place to start. Ideally, you should only need to talk about skills that are on both lists.
As for your weakness, that can be a bit trickier. When you are interviewing, your gut instinct is to say absolutely nothing negative. So, then you are left trying to pass off a characteristic, like being detail focused, as a weakness. The interviewer can see right through it. Your best bet is to do something similar to the strengths. Make a list of skills you could improve on and compare it to the list of skills desired for the job. Whatever is on your “needs improving” list and is NOT on your “desired skills for the job” list is a good jumping off point. Once you’ve decided on the weakness you are going to focus on, you should also describe how you are working to improve that skill.
3. Why are you interested in this role/company?
This question is more specific to the individual job and company. The answer is likely to change for each interview you do, and that’s okay. It’s actually great! You should re-evaluate each of your answers for each interview so that you are making the most of your time with the interviewer. When answering this question, think about what drew you to this company, what aspects are involved in this job that you haven’t had the opportunity to do before, and what experiences you expect to get from this job. Make sure that you are excited about the opportunities presented by this job and company, and feel free to show that excitement to the interviewer.
4. Why do you want to leave your current role/company?
Stay away from being too negative here. In fact, if you can phrase your entire interview in a way that shows zero negativity, you are doing well. Obviously you want to be straightforward here, but instead of saying “I hate my old boss,” say something more along the lines of “I had a great experience working with many different personality types, but I felt that it was time I grow and learn from a new mentor.” Keep it focused on what things you are excited to accomplish with this job, and remember not to bash on your old job, company, boss, or anything.
5. What is your greatest accomplishment?
This is a fun question, one where you can feel free to get a little nerdy. Talk about something you are excited to do and that you are good at - something you just can’t wait to tell them about. Sometimes this is open to personal and professional topics, but I’d ask what way they want you to take it before you dive into something on the more personal side.
One thing to note here is that this is a great opportunity to engage your interviewer. Tell them the story that goes along with your greatest accomplishment, how it came to be, how you felt about it, and if it inspired you in some way.
6. What would your direct reports/boss/colleagues say about you?
This is your opportunity to bring up something unique about yourself. However, it is not a time to humblebrag. This is your chance to be different and let the interviewer see a side of you they wouldn’t see unless they spent a lot of time with you. Think about all your interactions with coworkers; you talk about personal topics like hobbies and passions as well as work, right? So what a great time to bring up that you are obsessed with water sports! If this feels too informal and not professional enough, you can talk about something about work that really excites you, whether it’s a program you are learning, the goal of the company, or projects you are trying to be involved in. Have fun with this question and show some personality, they don’t want to hire a robot!
7. What questions do you have for me?
If you don’t have questions, you need to do more research. According to Glassdoor, you should have at least five questions to ask the interviewer. This means, you should probably think of about 7-10 questions that you want answered (as some may be answered in the interview process) and you should be writing down questions or at least making mental notes during the interview. To come up with questions, think about what has been important to you during the job search process. Has it been culture? Ask about company extracurricular activities. A good resource for general questions you may not think to ask (but would be nice to know) can be found at The Muse and with a quick Google search. Make sure not to only ask generic questions though, tailor them to the specific job and company, and only ask questions that you are truly interested in knowing the answer to.
Hopefully, after preparing some answers to these common interview questions, you will feel ready and able to rock your interview. When it comes to interview prep, more time and effort is always better. And, if you’re nervous, just remember, this is all about you and your experiences, a topic which you are the expert on. Good luck!
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