Job interviews aren’t like first dates. If you flub a question, you can’t recover with winsome charm and by picking up the tab. Maybe it’s not game over, but don’t be that person who flounders.
“Your shot at nailing the most successful job interview depends primarily on how much you’ve prepared in advance,” said Rob Barnett, executive headhunter and author of “Next Job, Best Job: A Headhunter’s 11 Strategies to Get Hired Now” (Kensington). “You need to prove that you’ve done more homework than most candidates by showing up armed with an arsenal of relevant details you’d only get from having done the digging, and offering up insightful observations, critical feedback, incisive questions and inspired ideas. You’ll be able to keep the interview momentum focused on the present and the company’s future.”
Here are the eight questions you’ll frequently encounter in job interviews and how to knock ’em out of the park.
Tell me about yourself.
While people often struggle with open-ended queries like this one, with a little prep work, you can feel confident about handling this pesky Q, which is often an opening gambit.
“This is not the time to tell your personal life story or regurgitate your résumé in detail,” said Chelsey Opare-Addo, owner of Not Your Mother’s Résumé and an Amazon recruiter located in Aurora, Ill. “Practice an elevator pitch — a 30 to 60-second speech where you communicate your specialty, professional passions and career goals.”
Strive to make it memorable and natural, as if explaining your career to someone at a dinner party.
What’s your greatest weakness?
File this one under “ugh,” too. The best strategy is “to be honest while steering clear of any weaknesses that could affect your performance,” says Opare-Addo. “This works particularly well if you choose a weakness that you’re actively working on.”
For example: “I’ve never been comfortable with public speaking, and have traditionally avoided it. However, I’ve been listening to professional development podcasts, and worked up the nerve to deliver a short presentation to the leadership team last month. It’s still not a strength of mine, but the presentation was well-received, and I’m happy that I put myself out there.”
How did you respond to adversity in previous jobs?
Barnett cautions job seekers to be very careful with this topic.
“You should never bad-mouth anyone you worked for, or people who worked with or for you in the past,” he said. “But you do want to show your next boss how you dealt with challenging people and projects. Rehearse how to briefly talk about any past conflicts. Let people know how you faced and resolved issues without throwing anyone under the bus.”
If a bad dynamic with your boss left you unsettled, play up how you took it upon yourself to align with other leaders in your organization and emerged from the situation with firsthand knowledge of how to manage up effectively.
What are your career goals?
The interviewer is going to hire someone who seems the most goal-oriented, said Biron Clark, former executive recruiter in the NYC software industry and founder of CareerSidekick.com. “Start with a short-term goal and then discuss a longer-term goal, such as where you hope to be in two to three years. Also, make sure your answer fits the job you’re discussing. If you mention a number of goals that will not be met by this job, the interviewer is going to assume you won’t like the role. So they won’t hire you, even if you could have done the job.”
Have you ever been given a warning by your boss or HR?
Barnett advises interviewees to tread carefully here. “You’re going to need to tell the truth, because this can be discoverable if they decide to dig. Keep it short,” he said. “Keep it real. And let the interviewer know you took responsibility and learned how to avoid this in the future.”
Why should we hire you?
Um, because you’re great? We know, but that isn’t going to fly.
“Companies want to see how well you understand the position and how well you can articulate your value,” said Clark. “Read the job description and then present yourself as a solution to their problems by showing experience and skills that will let you come in and help them immediately.”
Avoid claims like “I’m a hard worker,” or “I’m a fast learner,” since they aren’t specific enough. Instead, point to details of the job to show that your past skills and experience will allow you to step into the role successfully.
For example: “I noticed on the job posting that the person you hire will be interacting directly with customers on a daily basis. I can get up to speed quickly in those interactions since 75 percent of my current role is customer-facing, both in person and over the phone.”
If you have no relevant experience you can point to, Clark said it’s best to explain how you overcame a similar challenge in the past, “which will reduce the perceived risk of hiring them and trusting them to learn this new role.”
What have you been doing during the pandemic?
Opare-Addo has seen candidates struggle with questions surrounding employment gaps, and the question is becoming increasingly common as many try to reenter the workforce.
“The key is to answer with confidence and resist the urge to sound apologetic,” she said. “Answer the interviewer’s question, and then answer their ‘real’ question — meaning, assure them that you’re ready to return to the workforce and commit to an employer long term.”
Do you have any questions?
Never say: “I think you’ve covered everything.”
“Asking questions shows interest and that you’re being careful and selective in your job hunt,” said Clark, who said you should ask at least two or three questions to each person who interviews you.
Feel free to make inquiries regarding the job, the group and the company, and have one opinion-based question, such as why the interviewer joined the company or what they enjoy the most about working there. These questions are versatile enough that you can repeat them to multiple people you encounter in the process.
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