Monday, May 3, 2010

All the Right Answers

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Last week, I wrote about the importance of asking good questions in an interview. If you do your research prior to the interview, and think critically about why you want the position, you can impress the interviewer with your preparation, insight and interest. But as important as asking good questions is, an equally (probably more) important part of the interview is answering the employer’s questions well. After all, the point of an interview is for the interviewer to get to know you in a professional context! And no matter how good your questions are, if you bumble your way through the rest of the interview, you probably won’t get the job.

To get ready for an interview, consider what questions you might encounter, and then prepare yourself accordingly. Below is a list of ten of the most common interview questions—culled from experience and the all-knowing Internet—as well as advice about how to answer them. Of course, every interview will be different, and you should try not to over-prepare…you don’t want to sound like a robot or an actor just reciting lines. If you’re having a difficult time finding the right balance, remember that you can always schedule a mock interview at CAPS by calling (773) 702-7040. Your practice interviewer will be able to give you advice and feedback about your interviewing style, and pointers on how to improve. Remember: interviewing is a skill, and as with most skills, the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

Tell me about yourself.
This is one of the most common questions to start an interview with, and it can be a really tough question to answer because it’s very broad. Additionally, most people have a hard time talking about themselves, especially in a laudatory way. The best thing to do is keep your answer short and relevant. Touch on your education and work history, current life situation, and a few details about how/why you became interested in the position. The interviewer doesn’t need to hear where you were born or how you ended up in a particular city, but he or she is interested in learning why you are interested in the field that you are now applying to work in.

Why are you interested in this position?
If you didn’t include this information in your answer to the first question, this is the time for you to highlight how and why you’re great for this position. Try to avoid self-descriptions like the “ideal” or “perfect” candidate (no one is perfect), but feel free to talk about relevant experiences and accomplishments that fit well with the job description. You can also include information about why you’re looking for a job, but if you do, stay positive. Bad-mouthing a current or former employer won’t score you any points with the interviewer.

Why are you interested in working for XYZ Company?
This is a chance for you to let your preparation show. You will have done your homework, so address anything you’ve learned about the company that you found interesting or exciting. As always, stay positive and enthusiastic. “Because I need to make money” may be the honest answer, but in an interview, discretion is certainly the better part of valor.

What relevant experience and/or skills do you have?
If you have relevant experience in spades, this will be a straight-forward answer. If not, a little more creativity may be required. Draw on co-curricular interests and hobbies to paint a picture of why you’re qualified. Be careful not to lie, though—if you don’t know what a vlookup is, don’t tell the interviewer you’re a master of Excel.

How would your current/previous coworkers or supervisor describe you?
Hopefully, your coworkers and supervisors would use nothing but superlatives to describe you. However, if expletives are more likely, now is NOT the time for full disclosure. Again, don’t lie—you never know who the interviewer might know—but try to find a way to maintain a positive tone. If you’ve ever gotten a really nice compliment from a coworker, this is a good time for specific quotations.

How well do you work when under pressure?
The super-obvious (and correct) answer to this is “Very well” or something along those lines. You can say this in a variety of ways: you work well under pressure, you prefer working under pressure, you thrive on a challenge. Whatever you say, keep it positive and as close to the truth as possible. After all, if the reality is that pressure gives you hives, your employer will find that out if they hire you. If you have to lie to get the job, you probably shouldn’t be in that position.

What’s your greatest strength?
This is a chance for you to toot your own horn, which can be difficult for some people. If you have trouble talking about yourself, pick one quality you’re proud of and give a relevant example. If you could be Narcissus’ twin brother, try to keep your answer short. Arrogance, even when warranted, is never an attractive quality. Also important: the employer is looking for a work-related answer. This may seem obvious, but now is not the time to boast about your beer pong prowess. Instead, give an example of a skills that translate well into any work environment, like stellar organizational skills or the ability to do eight different things while walking and chewing gum (if one of those actually is a strength of yours).

What’s your biggest weakness?
The key to this one is positivity. Although there might be a number of things you feel you could improve in yourself, this is not the time to make a list as long as your arm. Answer the question honestly by picking one small, work-related flaw and giving an example of how you’re working to improve it. Whatever you do, don’t say that you don’t have any flaws (that’s just a lie) or that you’re “too good at your job” or some such nonsense. You might be great at your job, but everyone can improve in some respect.

Would you rather be liked or feared?
This is a trick question: you’d rather be respected. You don’t want to say “feared” because this gives the impression that you’d be hard to work with. You don’t want to say “liked” because this could mean you’ll be a human doormat. If your coworkers respect you, you can get the job done and still have friends afterward—the best of both worlds.

What kind of salary are you looking for?
This can be a tough one, especially for young job seekers. Be realistic, but be careful. If you throw out a low ball estimate, you may not be making as much as you could. If you go high, the employer may pass you over. The best answer is to ask about what this position has earned in the past and what qualifications they consider when making salary decisions. This is also another opportunity to show that you’ve done your research. Use sites like to get an idea of what an average employee at that or a comparable company makes. Then, if pressed, you can throw out a range. But always end with “However, I’m flexible with regard to salary, given my interest in this position/organization.”

Is there a popular question that got left off the list? Leave a comment below!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...