This is the second post in a three-part series of “Job Interview Basics” that will help you feel confident, prepared, and ready for career success.
You can never really know what questions you’ll be asked at a job interview until you get there. The good news is, although different companies and hiring managers have diverse interviewing styles and their specific script may vary, there are some common interview questions that you can prepare and plan for.
Capella University Career Counselor Sue Fransen Way shares four questions you’re likely to hear (in some way, shape, or form) at an interview, and her advice on how to answer each. Don’t worry too much about tooting your own horn. You’re supposed to be “selling yourself” at an interview, or at least promoting your skills and enthusiasm. Just be sure you have specific examples to back up all of your claims.
QUESTION 1: Why Are You Interested in This Position/Company?
There is no “right answer” to this question, but it’s one of the hardest ones to answer. These “why” types of question are meant to reveal something about yourself, about your values, and you should take some time to consider your answer in advance. Really know why you are interested in the job, and take a firm position on it.
For example, if you start talking about the company’s financials and growth trends, that reveals something about yourself and what you find important. If you start talking about the company culture or the specific job responsibilities that appeal to you, that relates to something different. There’s no right or wrong answer, but it will tell your interviewer where you’re coming from and what’s important to you. Take some time to think about your values, and how to express them confidently.
Savvy recruiters will pay careful attention to your answer and use it to determine if you are a good fit for the open position. They may be looking for someone who is passionate overall about their growing company. They may need someone on their team who has demonstrated a commitment to specific aspects of a job—like personalized customer service or meticulous record keeping, or any number of other things.
Even though they have published the specific job responsibilities, you won’t know the nuances they are looking for in a candidate before you go in for the interview. That’s why the best and safest thing to do is to be honest. Confidently show them who you are and what values you hold so they will know if you are a good fit.
QUESTION 2: What Are Your Strengths?
Be as specific as you can be with strengths. To simply say, “My greatest strength is adaptability,” is too general of a statement. It doesn’t tell your potential employer anything concrete about you. A better thing to say is: “I’m highly adaptable and it shows up in my work by the way I am quickly and easily able to switch gears when something more urgent needs my attention.” Then, give a specific example of how you demonstrated that strength.
When talking about your strengths, don’t worry about boasting. You have to talk yourself up! If you have quantifiable numbers to use, be sure to pull those out. For example, don’t just say “I was the top sales person in my region.” Say, “With sales 50% greater than my peers, I was named top sales person in my region last year.”
If you don’t have specific numbers or quantifiable results to share, think about what you are known for. Why do people come to you for help? If you work in a job that requires customer service, and your coworkers seek your advice on how to handle difficult situations, that’s your strength. Another way to identify your strengths is to think back to your annual reviews. What was some specific feedback your boss gave you?
If you’re still not sure what your strengths are, you might want to pay a small fee to take an assessment such as the Strengths Finder or the Birkman Method. These are great exercises that will give you the language you need to talk about yourself throughout your career, not just during the interview process.
QUESTION 3: What Are Your Weaknesses?
This question tends to throw people, because nobody ever wants to talk about their weaknesses. But we all have them. Instead of thinking of it as a weakness, though, look at it this way: For every strength, there is a challenge on the flip side of it.
If your strength is adaptability, your challenge could be that you have difficulty focusing on a task that takes a longer period of time or more focus to complete. Tell the interviewer this and follow it up immediately with how you have learned to tackle that challenge.
For example, “What I’ve learned is that there are better times of day for me to work on projects that require sustained periods of concentration. I also know that I work better with white noise and that I need to make sure I’ve had a good breakfast and a morning run. These are the things I’ve learned to do, so it’s less of an issue.”
Your interviewer knows that nobody is perfect. They want to know that you are self-aware and able to work on areas that are challenging to you. Speaking honestly and openly about this. As long as you are able to demonstrate how you cope with your challenges, is the perfect way to handle this tough question.
QUESTION 4: Tell Me About a Time When…
Even if they don’t phrase it exactly that way, most other interview questions fall into this category. Potential employers are looking for you tell them about a specific example of a situation that may come up at work.
Example questions include:
- Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work.
- Tell me about a time when you demonstrated leadership.
- Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a decision made by your boss.
- Tell me about a time when you solved a problem on a tight deadline.
- Tell me about a time when you had to give negative feedback to a member of your team.
Whatever the question is, give a STAR answer. STAR stands for:
- Situation: Set the context of the story.
- Task: Describe what your responsibility was for the situation.
- Activity: Tell them what you actually did to solve the problem.
- Result: What was the end result?
If you come to the interview with a handful of short (30-60 second) STAR stories in your pocket, you’re golden. The best way to plan ahead is to look carefully at the job description. Make a list of the key responsibilities and skills they are looking for, then come up with a STAR story that demonstrates your ability to meet each one. You can use the same story to demonstrate multiple skills; it’s all in how you frame it up. Take some time to write these out and practice delivering them. It will come in handy to have thought about these in advance.
The Capella Career Center offers networking tips, job search tools, career counseling, and more. Its mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.