In any job search, nailing the interview is a must. It’s the employer’s first one-on-one, face-to-face interaction with you, and the impression you make on the hiring managers is critical. Research actually shows that first impressions are formed within the first few seconds of interaction.
…No pressure, right?
Point blank: you need to bring your “A Game” to any job interview. Be thoughtful about what you wear and what you bring with you, and make sure you show up looking put-together and confident. There’s no better way to build your confidence before an interview than walking in knowing you’re prepared for the questions you’ll be asked. You can’t anticipate every question, and some employers enjoy asking bizarre, curveball questions to see how well you think on your feet, but for the most part, employers still stick to the basics.
As a career coach, I’m often helping candidates prepare for the most common questions so that they can master the basics and shine.
Here are five of the most common questions asked during job interviews and advice on how to tackle them.
“So. Tell me about yourself.”
This one’s not actually even a question, but almost every single job interview has some variation of it. It’s broad. It’s cryptic. So make sure you know very specifically how you’re going to respond. Don’t make it too personal, keep it professional without being too stiff and stilted, and be succinct.
This is actually a perfect opportunity to utilize your elevator pitch—a 2-3 minute speech that you have prepared for situations just like this. A strong elevator pitch has 3 components: a brief overview of your background, a mention of a skill you possess that the employer really, really, really wants, and a solid goal statement that aligns with what the position you’re interviewing for.
“What’s your greatest strength?”
Now is your chance to brag. Do it. Don’t go over the top and come off looking like an ego maniac, but don’t hold back on letting the employer know how your particular set of skills can offer them exactly what they’re looking for. Mention specific accomplishments you’ve achieved as a result of using these skills. Focus on the results you’ve achieved professionally, not necessarily duties. This is your time to shine, so use it wisely.
“What’s your biggest weakness?”
This is probably the one that trips people up the most. Admittedly, it is a difficult question to answer without either, 1) burying yourself (“I’m never on time,” or “I don’t work well with others”); or 2) giving the interviewers a lame humble brag (“I’m just such a perfectionist!” “I work too hard!” etc.). Neither approach leaves you looking very good. However, there’s a simple formula I give clients for answering this question, and if you follow it, you’ll never get stumped again.
First, mention something that you have actually struggled with in the past. Then, tell them how you’ve proactively worked on improving this skill. And finally, give an example of how the work you’ve done to improve the skill has paid off. Example: “I haven’t always been great at giving presentations to big audiences, so last year I signed up for public speaking classes. I went to classes twice a month for the past year, and it paid off. I gave a presentation at a conference last month, and I did so well, I was invited to speak at 2 more conferences in the coming months.”
For the win!
“What’s your salary range?”
As a career coach, one of the biggest hurdles encounter with my clients is getting them comfortable with demanding the pay that they’re worth. I get it—most people don’t like discussing money. It makes them uncomfortable. It makes them feel sleazy. Well, I’m here to tell you to get over it. If you’re uncomfortable discussing salary, the prospective employer will be able to sense it (trust me) and will low ball you for sure. And can you blame them? It doesn’t make them a bad employer; it’s just in their best interest to find the strongest candidate out there at the lowest possible cost. At the end of the day, it’s all about the bottom line.
Never walk into a job interview without a strategy for discussing salary. I tell clients to never be the first one to say a number—the first one to give a number always loses. I recommend clients respond with, “I’m flexible. Finding the right fit is my biggest priority right now.” If they insist and just aren’t willing be the one to give a number first, give them a range that you’re being considered for (a range at the top 20% of what people in your field with your experience make), but again reiterate that finding the right fit is more important for you than the exact salary.
“Do you have any questions?”
Yes, yes, and yes! The answer to this one is always YES! Show up to the interview with thoughtful questions already prepared. Come up with questions that demonstrate you’ve done more than just a brief, cursory Google search of the company. Having good questions during this segment of the interview will demonstrate your interest in the position and will show the company that you’re engaged and proactive.
I’ve seen clients who are totally qualified for positions, absolute perfect fits, totally bomb out in the interview phase. It’s devastating. It happens. But it doesn’t need to.
Showing up prepared and confident is everything. Bottom line is that not every interview will result in a job offer, but if you go in and ace the interview and still don’t get the job, you know it just wasn’t meant to be and that you didn’t lose the opportunity because of lack of preparation on your part.