Ace the Interview: How to Answer the Job Interview Questions You Know They’re Gonna Ask

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Yay for potential bosses who interview over adorable coffees! But for the love of all things holy, do NOT put your phone on the table!

The prospect of a job interview can be incredibly stressful. “What if I don’t know what to say? What if I say the wrong thing?” This article will show you how to prepare for the job interview questions you know they’re going to ask.

Relax, we got your back. 

Unless you were mentioning how tough it was in the “Big House”,  or explaining to the interviewer how you’re “more of a thinker than a doer”, you’ll be just fine if you answer their job interview questions honestly, with the needs of the employer in mind. But if you want to do better than fine, and totally SLAY, here’s how to respond to the most commonly-asked job interview questions.

Tell me a little bit about yourself…

This one used to scare me the most. Where do I begin? My hobbies, my childhood pets, my favorite bands, my parole officer’s latest compliment?  Don’t just riff and try to look charming, smart, or interesting. (Dear God, do NOT try to come off as interesting.)

Remember why you’re there – these folks are looking to fill a job, and fill it well. They’re not looking for a list of every job you’ve had, how well you did at school, or what a good tennis player you are. Prepare a sort of concise and compelling elevator pitch that demonstrates why you’re such a good fit for the job. Include 2-3 specific accomplishments or experiences that illustrate you have the qualities and/or skills that will make you successful in the specific role. This is your chance to make the interviewer feel at ease that you will be a good match for the job and the environment.

Why should we hire you?

This is one of the most intimidating job interview questions, but you should actually be really grateful if they trot this one out. This is a wonderful set-up for you to launch into why you are uniquely well-suited to be a great match for the job. Effectively communicate how your experience and skills insure you can do the work, deliver great results, fit in with the company culture, and that you’ve got plans on how you’ll be able to really rock the job and bring your own “special sauce” to the table.

And what “special sauce” do you bring to the table?

Be honest – don’t just say what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Share the strengths, skills, personal qualities and experience that are most relevant to the position. Be as specific as possible. Never say generic things like “people skills” or “sales experience”; talk about how you’ve demonstrated relationship building, or persuasive communication, in specific settings — with specific outcomes. 

What do you consider to be your weaknesses?

This one throws a lot of people.  We recommend you don’t mention kleptomania or your penchant for hard liquor. But seriously, don’t do that old “I work too hard” or “I can be too much of perfectionist” jazz. (Cue eyeroll.) Interviewers use this question to gauge your self-awareness, honesty and how you resolve problems. Describe something you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. Like, maybe public speaking isn’t your forte, but you’re attending Toastmasters meetings and teaching workshops to help you improve. See what you just did there? You admitted a ‘weakness’ that isn’t a job deal-breaker but also demonstrated that you’re taking steps to improve it.  

How did you hear about the job?

Seems innocuous enough, but this is actually a perfect opportunity to stand out and convey your interest in the company and the nature of the work itself.  If you found out about the gig through a friend or contact, mention his/her name and explain why you were so excited about the opportunity. If you discovered the company through an event or article, share that. Even if you found the listing through a random job board, share what specifically caught your eye. The main thing here is to convey excitement about this specific position, not just a generic desperation to land any ole job.

Have a great pitch about why you want this particular position or want to work in this particular field or for this company.  Explain why the role is such a great fit for you (e.g., “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I read about this work in Fast Company and I decided I just had to be a part of it”).

Where do you see yourself in five years?

This is a toughie. How should you know?  You probably don’t. Doesn’t matter. What the interviewer wants to know is you have realistic plans for your career and if the role for which you’re applying aligns with your expectations. If you have plausible goals, by all means, share them. It’s also fine to say that you’re not quite sure about your ultimate career path but that you see this job as important in helping you figure it out.

Why are you leaving your current job?

“Because they’re on to me” is not a good answer.

Don’t let this one scare you.  Focus on your enthusiasm for the role for which you’re interviewing, on how you’re a great fit, what it offers you ad how you look forward to rocking it.  Only say positive things about your current or former employers. If you left because you were laid off, that’s OK too.  Again be honest and concentrate on saying things to make the interviewer confident you’ll be a great hire.  Focus on your skills, excitement and relevant experience for the position you want. (If you were fired, don’t freak out. Share how you’ve grown and how you approach life, the future, and your next job as a result. Ideally, try to position this learning experience as an advantage for job to which you’re applying.) 

What are your salary requirements?

Hate this one most! The main thing is to let them know you’re somewhat flexible. Unless, of course, you’re not. In that case, be honest if you have a firm base salary beneath which you cannot go. Use the Web, LinkedIn and contacts to research a reasonable range for the position.  (Some recommended saying the highest number in that range that applies, based on your experience, education, and skills –and again, make sure the company knows that you’re flexible.) Basically, here’s the main thing you need to convey: you know your experience/skills are valuable and you also want the job and you’re willing to negotiate (somewhat).

What are your hobbies and interests outside of work?

Interviewers ask personal questions to get a better sense of who you really are – your personality, what makes you tick. They also want to get a sense of who you are so they can infer whether you’ll be a nice fit with  the company culture.  Still, keep it fairly professional – no need to mention your mastery of pole-dancing, the money you’ve won at slots, or brag about your high tolerance for pain.

Do you have any questions for us?

Here’s your opportunity to find out if the job is a good fit for you. Before the interview, write down some questions you’d like answered. What more do you want to know about the position, the company, the brand’s vision? Feel free to ask questions of the interviewer herself (“What do you like best about working here?” or “What about working here has had the most impact on you?”) But no, this is not the time to ask about vacation days or the company’s policy on inter-office romances.

My favorite question to ask here is, “What’s the main problem the position needs to solve?” Let them tell you what it is so you can tell them (then or later) how you can help solve it.

Sure, you’re nervous about making a good impression, but keep in mind the interviewers are nervous too. Remember, the interviewers also have a problem: they need to make a good choice in selecting a new employee for the position and they want to make good. You are there to help solve their problem. Forget about you and your real or imagined flaws; keep your focus on what the interviewer, the company, the team and/or position needs, and direct your answers to address those needs. You need a job, they need to make a good choice. Focus on solving their problem, not yours, and you’ll bring out your best.

Good luck getting hired, ladies!

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