Congratulations, you have a job interview! After months of networking, filling out job applications and speaking with recruiters, you finally have an interview. You know that it is important to put your best foot forward, whether it is just a preliminary phone interview or a formal face-to-face interview.
Hiring managers are busy, and they would not have scheduled the job interview unless they were confident you had the credentials for the job. They want you to succeed and get the job offer so they can delegate assignments to you and not spend any more time screening candidates (a more time-consuming task than most job applicants would appreciate).
So, why is it that after all that trouble of screening your CV and going back and forth to find the right time for your phone or in-person interview, they would ask you tricky questions that seem to set you up for failure?
We have all heard about the infamous:
“What is your biggest weakness?” , and its close cousins: “What did you least like about your last job?”, and “Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?“.
If you are not happy with your current job, then the question “Why are you looking for a new job?” could also be a tricky one.
Unless you prepare a well thought-out answer to these questions you could jeopardize your chances of getting an offer. Another, and more empowering, way to look at these questions is that they give an opportunity to demonstrate to your future boss that you (1) perform well under pressure (2) can communicate diplomatically, (3) are enthusiastic about this company and position and (4) are always looking for professional growth opportunities.
Employers understand that you might be nervous during a job interview and you are not expected to give a perfect answer to every question. However, they are looking for someone who has the right background, shows a high level of interest in the position, and acts in a professional manner.
Here are the top 5 strategies you can use to help you present yourself in the best light even if you are asked “tricky” questions:
1) Research the employer and the job description well.
A job interview is your chance to get a good understanding of the position and the company culture. Come prepared with a list of questions regarding your responsibilities and career path. If you ask relevant, well-thought-out questions, both you and the employer will benefit.
First, the employer will see that you are enthusiastic, motivated and really interested in the position. Second, you will get a good understanding on whether this position would be a good fit for you. Use the information about the company and the position to formulate answers to typical questions such as “Why do you want to work here?” and “What interests you about this position?”
Research the background of the interviewers on Linkedin prior to your interview. Also be sure to update your Linkedin profile as I highlighted in one of my earlier blogs.
2) Think about how you overcame major challenges, what you learned from them and how you grew professionally.
This is your chance to shine. Pick one major obstacle or growth opportunity that you had to overcome, that really demonstrates imitative, creativity and persistence. It could be a skill, software or an instrument that you had to learn on your own.
Perhaps you volunteered to organize an event, teach a seminar, or organize the group meetings at your previous position. Was there any situation where you went the extra mile, above and beyond what the employer expected? Many employers will ask you “What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome?” so be sure to get an example that really highlights your commitment, initiative and leadership.
Leadership skills are highly valued in every career path and the more you can demonstrate that you are independent and take ownership of your responsibilities, the more attractive you will be. You can weave parts of this example into your answers if your employers ask about challenging situations, examples of leadership, and the most rewarding parts of your professional experience.
3) Think about areas of improvement which are not critical for the job you are applying but are important in your professional development.
These examples could be used in response to your “What is your biggest weakness?” The best answer to the “biggest weakness” is an area that is not critical for the job that you are applying, but it is an area that you are working on. For example, if you are hired to do programming or labwork, then you could say that one area that you are working on improving is public speaking because you know it is important to give presentation as you advance your career.
Be sure to frame it as an area of growth where have already made progress, rather than a real weakness. Your answer could start as:
“I am not sure whether I would call it a weakness, but one area where I would like to grow is public speaking. I have already given some presentations at my previous company (or college), and I know how important it is to communicate my research well. This is an area where I would like to grow, and if I am hired, I would be happy to give presentations to your team during group meetings to improve my public speaking skills.”
If you frame your answer in this way you demonstrate that you are a person who takes initiative and you are thinking about your career development- two key qualities employers look for in candidates.
4) Ask yourself, “Why am I the best person for this job?”
That’s right, the first person you need to convince that you are the ideal candidate for this job is yourself. Think about reasons why the employer would be so fortunate to hire you, and write down specific examples of how you have demonstrated that you have the skills that are important for your prospective employer.
Include examples of your technical expertise, as well as work ethics (self-motivated, detail-oriented, takes initiative). You can use these examples in an answer to “Tell me about yourself” or “What are your strengths?”.
If you have friends who are already working in industry, they will be great resources to tell you about the qualities that employers look for. Be sure to leverage your professional network to get interviews and also to prepare you for your job.
5) Never bad-mouth a previous employer.
What if the interviewer asks, “What was the least rewarding part of your last job” or “Why you are looking for a new job?”
The best way to approach these types of questions is to emphasize what you learned from your previous job, and what growth opportunities you are looking for in the next job.
For example, “I really enjoyed working at XYZ because I gained a lot of experience in doing (fill in the blank). However, I am now ready for a new opportunity where I can also gain experience in (fill in the blank), because I know that is important for my career development.” This type of answer shows that you are diplomatic, and that you are enthusiastic about your career development.
It would be nearly impossible to think of answers to every possible question that an interviewer could ask. In fact, if you memorize replies to typical interview questions your answers will sound contrived and unnatural, and will decrease your chances of getting a job.
Your attitude, enthusiasm and energy are nearly as important, or perhaps even more important than your actual answers. Since you will be interacting with your employer daily he or she wants to know what type of person you are, how you present yourself and whether it is easy to communicate with you.
If they ask a question that you do not know the answer to, stay relaxed and be honest. You can say something like: “That’s a great question, let me think about that for a minute” or “I don’t have experience with that, but I hope that is something I would be very interested to learn about if I am hired.”
If you walk into an interview with excitement, and the mindset that you are the perfect person for this position, your energy will shine through and you will also answer questions more spontaneously and with enthusiasm.