Job Interview Coming Up?
The 5 Things That Matter Most
You may be asked dozens of questions in an interview.
You only need to shine on five answers.
Looking for a new job can be overwhelming. It all starts with the decision to do something different than you're doing today. You have to find a company that's worthy of your talent. You need to stand out from the crowd, securing a company's interest based only on a paper or digital resume. And after all that? You're really just getting started. Next up is the interview. You secretly hope the company falls in love with you, offering the job right on the spot.
Once you have the opportunity to interview, the pressure really kicks in. Allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by the process is definitely not the way to go. Neither is playing the extremes. If you over-prepare, you appear rehearsed. Your tempo is thrown off if you're asked a question you aren't prepared to answer. If, on the other hand, you under-prepare, you risk appearing apathetic or potentially inadequate for the role.
Success in an interview comes from being thoughtful about a few things that matter to a future employer... before you start the discussion. Yes, you need to cover the basics. Dress appropriately, show up on time, and behave respectfully. But to stand apart from the crowd, you should prepare to shine in your response to five specific questions. Even if they aren't asked, you need to answer them.
What are the five questions should you answer well in an interview, even if they aren't asked?
The Top 5 Questions You Should Be Prepared To Answer
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is the most powerful "question" you'll ever be asked in an interview. It generally comes in the first five minutes. Your answer is crucial and sets the tone for all that follows. This is your first impression. If you present yourself without structured thought, and ramble through a response, you risk making a very disappointing first impression.
Imagine the president of the company walking in and asking the question. Imagine anyone you respect walking in and asking the question. This isn't a casual conversation with a friend, regardless of how easygoing and comfortable the interview is at the start. It's an interview, where you're trying to convince someone they should pay you to be a part of their team.
Think of your response as the "pitch" the person you meet with will carry forward to his or her management. This is what tells the company whether they should hire you. Often the decision is made within the first ten minutes of an interview. Having a 2-3 minute story about yourself is important in so many life situations, well beyond an interview. In this case, though, consider what you want the company to know about you and why they should hire you.
Here's what I suggest you prepare:
- "I'm a _______." We all hate labels, but they're very helpful to an interviewer to confirm early on that you're the candidate the company is seeking. Maybe you're a leader of teams or projects, an accomplished sales executive, a marketing professional, or an experienced and diverse software engineer. Start with what you do. What makes you relevant for the job?
- "I have _______." Next, you speak to your experience. Talk about the companies you've worked with, the experience you've gained, or what about your background qualifies you for the role being discussed. You may want to highlight your years of experience, or a very specific area of expertise. What have you done that makes you a good candidate?
- "I consider myself ________." It's important to showcase your core competencies in an interview. This is where you'll say that you're analytical or creative or innovative or a great writer or technically competent. You'll also share specific skills that would be valued in the role, such as proficiency with software, the ability to present to large groups, or other unique capabilities. What skills and talents do you bring to the role?
- "I am here because ________." If you sound fantastic, with a background and experience that makes you perfect for an employer, the interviewer will wonder why you're even considering a change. Don't make the company wonder. Explain exactly why you're there. Start with "I'm very excited about this opportunity." Then add more.
Maybe you weren't looking, but you heard the company was hiring and you've always wanted to work there. Maybe you feel you're ready for a change after x years with your current employer. Or perhaps you were the victim of downsizing and excited to be considering other opportunities. Be honest and express interest.
Some people like to add a personal statement to the end of their profile. I suggest you make the call based on how personable the interview has been at the start. If you feel a connection of some kind with the interviewer, by all means add a very short reference to personal things in the area of marriage, children, community involvement, or hobbies of interest. Don't overdo personal sharing at this stage of the discussion; remember that you're still trying to make a great first impression.
Practice your profile until it feels natural, authentic, and representative of your value. Target only a few minutes in length. This is your trailer, not the full-length movie.
2. What would you say are your strengths?
Sometimes you'll be asked this question directly, other times indirectly. In all cases, have 3-5 specific areas of strength or characteristics to highlight. I've seen people eliminated from consideration because they weren't able to articulate strengths, even when they clearly had valuable competencies. Don't make that mistake.
When developing your list, be honest about what you really do well in the workplace. Are you a great problem solver? Are you good with clients? Are you creative and artistic? Are you a mad crazy numbers cruncher? Are you funny, resilient, organized, fast, articulate... and so on. Be prepared to give examples that demonstrate your strengths if needed.
It's also important to mention why you believe your particular strengths are valuable to this employer. You can do this by saying, "These strengths allow me to..." Note that this needs to be tailored to each interview. Highlight strengths that are applicable and relevant to the job you're discussing.
3. What areas of your performance need improvement?
People struggle with this question more than any other. They fidget, they fuss, and they say things they shouldn't. Or they say they have no weaknesses, which is an even bigger red flag. Prepare for this question. Even if you're not asked directly, you should consider mentioning at least one thing during the interview. Remove any doubt or ambiguity about potential areas for improvement. If you don't tell them something specific yourself, they'll make their own assumptions about areas of weakness. It's better for you to control the perception by being up-front about it.
That said, there is a very specific right way to talk about areas of weakness. We all have areas for improvement. Don't be afraid to talk about them, but be prepared for this critical follow-up: You need to mention what you've done, or continue to do, to mitigate the weakness. What I mean is that you need to tell your potential employer why the weakness won't negatively impact your performance.
If you're intimidated to speak in front of crowds, talk about how you overcome this fear when you need to. If you aren't a details person, highlight the techniques you use to focus, or how you engage others for support as needed. Be honest and self-aware, but be smart. Make any weakness a non-issue by showing that you know how to be successful in spite of it.
4. Why are you interested in this position?
Believe it or not, I've had people unable to answer this question in an interview. One time, I got a response of "More money." Remarkably, I hired him anyway, but only because he came highly recommended. Don't risk missing the opportunity to answer this question well. Provide a memorable response.
As an interviewer, the last thing you want is someone wasting your time just to find a job - any job. It doesn't bode well for your long-term fit or loyalty. Be specific about why the company or position appeals to you vs. other opportunities you might pursue. If it doesn't particularly appeal to you, look elsewhere.
5. Why should we hire you?
Just as important as your first impression is your last impression. Whether you're asked this question or not, answer it toward the end of the interview. Let's be clear on the real question you're answering. Why are you better than anyone else the company might be considering? Be clear and succinct. This is no time to waiver. "I am a strong candidate for this role because a, b, and c. I am very interested in the position." Line up your strengths to the requirements of the job. Close the deal.
Overachievers: Extra Credit
I mentioned earlier that you may be asked dozens of questions during an interview. Think about what you might be asked beyond the five questions I've highlighted here. The list will vary based on the industry and the position you're considering. It's not critical to prepare answers in advance in most cases. Just knowing what questions may come will allow you to provide better answers.
I've had questions absolutely stump me on occasion in the past. Some of them I even knew to expect and I was still unprepared in the moment to answer them. I'm rarely lacking for something to say, <grin>, so I'll share my favorites here.
- What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career? And why?
- Tell me about a failure in your career? What did you learn?
- Have you encountered a difficult situation at work? How did you handle it?
- Tell me about the worst job you've ever had. What made it bad?
- What words would others use to describe you? Your boss? Your peers? Your team?
- Where do you see yourself in five years? What might be your next career position?
Finally, just in case, I always recommend that you be prepared to talk about how you'd handle a situation that challenges your ethics. What would you do if you were asked to lie or hide something? If you found out your company was doing something illegal or unethical, what would you do? You never know when or why these questions may come up, but if you're asked, you should have an authentic and well-formed answer.
The stresses that come from interviewing for a new job, particularly one you really want, are only minimized through preparation. You want to be comfortable and un-rehearsed, but you also want to be thoughtful and well positioned to get the job. A little effort in this case goes a long way.
Think through your answers to the five questions highlighted here. Tailor your responses to the specific situation, but remain true to yourself. Don't be inauthentic in anything you say or do - before, during or after your interview.
Remember that you're looking for a job that will be a good fit and allow you to be successful. If you present yourself in a way that's inauthentic, you risk finding yourself in a job that isn't right for you. It's always better to lose a great job opportunity by being yourself vs. winning one by pretending to be someone else. Posing as someone other than who you are never works out in the long run. So be clear on who are you, what you bring, and what you want. If it's the right job for you, you'll get it.
I once answered the question, "Why should we hire you?" with "I'm pretty awesome." One last word of advice? As you prepare your answers to the questions that matter most, don't hide your light. Bring the shine.