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JOB INTERVIEW TIPS - How To Answer The 7 Most Important Job Interview Questions

Posted 8th April 2021 • Written by Ashley Stahl on •

You’ve finally landed an interview for your dream job. It’s Thursday at 9PM, and in 12 hours, you’ll be talking to the hiring manager.  But right now, you’re stuck nervously refreshing the “Mission” page on the company website.  How can you prepare yourself?

Well, to start with, give yourself a major “congratulations.“  You’ve already done better than 80% of candidates by landing an interview.  Remind yourself that you were chosen because you stood out from the rest and you are qualified. 

Think hard on all the things that make you qualified for the position, and the skill you would bring to the role. And most importantly, keep your mindset positive by remembering to really believe in what you’re capable of. You don’t always need experience in an exact arena to be skillful in the work you do. In fact, there is a scientific basis to the strength of positive affirmations, a tool you can use to get yourself inspired.  What’s more is that confidence is integral to nailing an interview, given that 40% of hiring professionals say that overall confidence influences a candidate's chances of getting hired.  

So now that you’ve talked yourself up to yourself, how do you get ready to do the same in front of an interviewer? You never know when you’ll be thrown an interrogative curveball, but there are some likely questions you can definitely expect and be prepared for. 

1) “Tell me a little about yourself”

What might seem like an innocuous question is actually a very important one. Interviewers often see this as a “warm up” question, and what’s more, it’s often an opening for more in-depth conversation. 

In my experience as a career coach, I’ve developed a 4-part formula for acing this question.

Here goes:

  1. Your story:  How you tell your story will show the interviewer that you’re not just applying to jobs at random and counting your blessings that you got an interview.  This is your chance to show them that they are dealing with someone with drive and direction.  In telling your story, you should focus on the why that put you in that interview room, and give a compelling narrative trajectory to your career history.  Focus on a story from childhood or a meaningful moment of clarity that helped stir in you the drive to follow your particular career path.
  2. The “cuff:”  I call this one the cuff, because you want it to come across as “off the cuff.”  That is, you want it to be short and sweet.  This is your chance to address anything you might feel less than confident about on your resumé or application.  Maybe you have a gap in your work history, or you left a job shortly after starting it. Recruiters usually pick up on these things, however, they may not give you another chance to address it in the interview. In speaking directly to a potential flaw or shortcoming that may otherwise be unaddressed, you come across as self-aware and proactive.  Make sure to weave this in in a way that fits in with the overall narrative of your career.
  3. Your “golden skill:”  Employers aren’t swayed by a candidate who over-emphasizes skills across the board.  Instead, focus on a skill that relates closely to the job to which you are applying, and present it in a testimonial fashion. Remember, a “humble brag” plays better here than cockiness. In a study of HR professionals, 72% rated “over-confidence” as “the biggest personality turnoff.” An anecdote about how feedback from someone else helped you realize your strength in a certain area and how this impacted your career goals should do the trick. 
  4. Your goal:  This is how you tie a bow around a great story of your personal career trajectory. Think about what you are passionate about within your field and where you would like to see this passion take your career.  Bring this goal around to the mission of the company to which you are applying. Hiring managers want candidates who they are confident will commit long term. By framing your career goals as aligned with the company’s mission, you’ll instill confidence in the interviewer that you’ll be a good hire who sticks around. 

This may seem like a lot, but think of it as your “elevator pitch,” a concise and confident sales pitch of yourself as a strong candidate. Write a script out, and practice it until it feels natural. 

2) What is your biggest weakness?

This is an opportunity to be truthful and candid, and show that you are self-reflective about your personality and your work performance. Self-awareness is one of the most crucial soft skills in the workplace, and also one that’s in short supply: while 95% of people think that they’re self aware, research indicates only 10–15% actually are. Use this question as an opportunity to show that you’re one of the rare one in ten.

Before we get into what you should say, here’s what not to say:

  • “I’m a perfectionist”—they’ve heard that one before. 
  • “I’m a workaholic”—they know this is a way for you to dodge the question.
  • “I take work home with me” — this shows that you struggle with time management.
  • “I’m a people pleaser”—this is your way of telling them you’ll always say “yes,” and it’s not enough of a weakness to make them feel like you’re being vulnerable.

Answering this question well is a balancing act: you want to emphasize something that isn’t a major character flaw or weakness. You also don’t want your answer to read as if you are avoiding the question or that you are unwilling to admit that you have room for growth and improvement.  

Prepare for this question by considering the most important qualities of the job to which you are applying and what “flaws” might actually be assets in the role. Are they seeking a collaborator or a self-starter? A leader? Or someone who is good at following direction?

Seems like a tightrope walk? Not all of these ideas will land for every role, but try some on for size and see if you can fit any into your narrative.  

  • I lead with emotion, and prefer to trust instincts.
  • I work best on my own, and I’m stronger at hitting goals without excessive guidance.
  • I work better in a team/group environment, and need the collaboration of others to execute a vision.
  • I tend to be better at thinking big picture, and prefer to delegate details to others.
  • I’m best at focusing on small details, and rely on the help of collaborators to see the big picture.

If you’re clear on what your weakness is and you need help explaining it, here’s a five step formula I tell my clients to use for this question, all the time:

  1. Pick a weakness you’ve been working on.  You want to be able to show progress in this narrative of your weaknesses. 
  2. Acknowledge how it has been a challenge in the past.  Showing the interviewer that you are aware of how this limitation has affected you in the past will show self-reflection and self-awareness.
  3. Show steps you are taking toward working on.  Give concrete examples of how you are taking on your limitations or weakness head on. 
  4. Show how you are making progress. Explain how you have noticed progress in yourself in overcoming your weakness.
  5. Emphasize that you’ve been acknowledged for your progress.  Round out your explanation of this weakness with an anecdote about how colleagues or bosses have noticed the progress you have made. 

3) Why Are You The Best Person For This Job?

The truth is, you don’t know if you are. But you have to believe you are. Remember all that stuff about positive affirmations and confidence? 

One way I love to start answering this question is by saying, “here’s what you won’t find about me on my resume…” and from there, share about a soft skill that is important to the job. Here are a few statements/skills to consider:

  • “I execute and don’t require much follow up.” 
  • “I am good at anticipating issues and getting ahead of them.”
  • “My superpower is handling an upset customer with ease.”

Once you make a statement like this, back it up with a quick 30 second story that shows them, and doesn’t just tell them, you have an ability. An anecdote like this will give them insight into who you are and how you show up at work. A story like this goes well beyond a warm conversation and a short gander at your resume to paint a picture of who you are. That is everything.

Additionally, this question is really an opportunity to show that you’ve done your homework when it comes to the company. Think back to the cover letter you sent when you applied. Answering this question is a lot like writing a great cover letter: you have to tie your skills and experience directly to the role that you’re interviewing for. Before you walk into the interview, take a look at your resume and write down, for each job, what your biggest accomplishment was and how the skills you used for it in the past relate to the job you want. Knowing this before you walk through the door can help you add a lot of value in this conversation.

Learn as much as you can about the position, as well as the company as a whole and the work culture there. If you can use your network to connect with someone at the company who can give you an insider look at the things, all the better.

Beyond showing that you have the necessary experience and skills to fulfill the responsibilities of the role, your answer to this question gives you a chance to show that you are a good “culture fit.” Finding candidates who fit into the “work culture” is more important than ever.

According to a study by Millennial Branding, 43% of HR pros say that being a good culture fit is the most important quality a candidate can demonstrate.  Company culture isn’t just about the good water cooler banter: 90% of North American CEO and CFOs believe the the quality of a company culture is closely tied to its financial success and its reputation and perception by the public. 

Most people will be trying to show that they can perform the specific responsibilities of the job. Indicating that you are factoring in work culture will give you a leg up. 

4) How do you deal with conflict in the workplace?

This question is a great way to emphasize that you have strong emotional intelligence , which hiring managers view emotional intelligence as a crucial soft skill. In fact, 71% of hiring managers say they’d prefer a candidate with strong emotional intelligence over a high IQ, and 59% said that they would even pass on a candidate with a high IQ but low emotional intelligence.

By demonstrating your capacity for empathy, and your understanding of dealing with different personality types, you will show that you’re highly emotionally intelligent.

Remember, the last thing you want to do in an interview is express any negativity.  So it’s important when answering the question to tread lightly in how you portray conflict you may have had with co-workers in the past.  You don’t want to make a point about how difficult or obstructive a certain colleague may have been.  Instead, say you noticed that there were certain dynamics that were holding back the team from progress, and you took steps to address them with proactive communication and dialogue. 

The interviewer may ask the questions in a way that solicits a more situational answer, such as “tell me about a time you dealt with a conflict at work.” Here’s a formula that I have found successful for answering this questions in a way that paints you in the best possible light. 

“I was working with a certain individual, and I noticed that they would often (insert a problem behavior, such as ‘resist taking on more work’) when x situation would arise.  I felt that this was holding back the team from meeting our goals.  I took the opportunity to address this in a careful, one-on-one conversation with my colleague directly, and found that having a frank conversation in private was effective in conveying my concerns.  I learned from this conversation (insert insight about conflict strategies,) so I’m grateful to have had it. After we talked, I found that we were all more on track to meet the team’s goals.”

Emphasizing the companies mission and team’s goal rather than focusing on the shortcoming of past co-workers will show that you results-oriented, and you can see beyond interpersonal dynamics and focus on the greater good of the work. 

If you’re someone who is conflict averse, or you’re not confident you have good conflict-resolution skills, here’s a crash course on some communication strategies. These practices will make you confident that you’ll be able to follow through on your promise to be an A+ communicator:

  • Lead with compassion and empathy. Show that you try to understand where someone else is coming from, or why something may make them feel a certain way.
  • “I statements” rather than “you statements.” This helps you focus on your own subjective experience, rather than pointing out flaws in others.
  • Replace “but” with “and.” This seems basic, but it’s an easy fix that can quickly deescalate a conversation from an argument to a discussion. 
  • Ask yourself, “Am I listening, or just waiting to talk?” We learned how to take turns in kindergarten, but that doesn't mean we always remember to apply the principle in conversation

5) Where do you see yourself in five years?

Please, please, don’t say “in your job.”

Like the “a little about yourself” question, this is an opening to show that you have confidence and drive in your career trajectory.  You want to show that you are consistent in your goals and that you’re committed to the hard work and follow-through required for the job. This is also a chance to show that you are confident that you will perform at a level that will allow you to continue to ascend.

Here are three things companies want to hear in your answer to this question:

  • A desire to grow with the company. 
  • A desire to be challenged within the company
  • An alignment with your wants and the companies needs

A great answer would emphasize that the opportunity to grow within the company would be aligned with your long term goals for your career, and that you would also be grateful for the opportunity to help others grow and contribute to the common goals of the company.

6) What can we expect from you in your first 90 days?

This is one more chance to show that you’ve done your research. The best way to answer this is to start with some specifics.  Make it clear that you not only understand the responsibilities of the position, but also that you’re thinking ahead to what the short-term and long-term goals for that role might look like.

Here are some specific ideas of how you might spend your first three months that will show that you’ve considered how you would integrate into the company:

  • Meet with managers to discuss the specifics of short-term and long-term goals, and what goals would be extraordinary if you met them.
  • Map out and prioritizing goals that will “move the needle,” and contribute most meaningfully to the company.
  • Make time to be an observer, and learning as much as you can about the company culture and different facets of the business.
  • Connect one-on-one with new co-workers.

Another strong answer for this question could start with researching what’s working for the company’s competitors, and offering some creative solutions that you’d love to take initiative on if they hired you. By sharing with them your vision for what’s possible with you on their team, you’re making the job offer a no brainer!

7) Do you have any questions for me?

The answer to this one is simple: “yes.”

That is to say, you want to make sure that you are prepared with just a few questions of your own— not too many, but a few. This will likely be the last question, and therefore the last opportunity you have to show them that you are prepared and enthusiastic, and that you’ve considered your place in the company culture, not just your tasks in the specific position. It also might be the last chance you have to gather info that may be crucial if you are given an offer.  

Here are a few directions you might take it:

  • What would success ideally look like from me, if I was in this role?
  • If I did an extraordinary job in this role, what goals would I reach in 6–12 months?
  • What’s a typical day possibly look like in this role?
  • When are you looking for someone to start?
  • I was very excited to read about X Initiative, could you tell me more about that?
  • I noticed a lot of emphasis placed on company work culture, could you tell me about your experience of the culture here?
  • What’s your favorite part about working at X Corp?
  • Do you have a certain story or memory that speaks to your experience of working here?

Every interview will be different, and you may hear all or none of these questions.  But it’s likely that an interviewer will touch on some of these subjects, and preparing to address the ideas that arise from these common questions will help you put your best foot forward in an interview.

Try to remember that, at its most basic, an interview is just a conversation. Stay confident and don’t forget that it’s a two-way street. They want you as badly as you want them!

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