Interview to Win: Key Strategies for the Job Candidate
Six Questions to expect in most interviews
You have on your best suit, done your homework, and are ready for whatever your potential employer may throw your way during your time together – questions that you have no idea why they’re being asked; a surprise visit from the COO; or some sort of “test” that hopefully you brought your best tap shoes to tip-toe through
While these surprises may be well-intended and can easily throw a candidate a bit off-track, it’s the meaningful exchange of thoughts and insights that really provides the basis for the hiring manager to evaluate your talent and potential fit into her organization.
While being prepared for anything that awaits you behind that door is important, your best return on investment – time-wise – is to ensure that you have clarity regarding your desire for the career opportunity and can articulate how your expertise and the position requirements are in alignment throughout the interview.
According to multiple industry-based sources, listed below are the most commonly asked questions, along with the logic behind those questions, and some do’s and don’ts when you respond.
Remember, above all, an interview is just a conversation between you and the hiring manager, and while an evaluative dynamic also is at play, you’ll succeed most times by remaining authentic, present and transparent with your contribution to the dialogue.
Tell me about yourself. This is usually used as an icebreaker to help both parties get their collective heads into the interview space. So try to treat it as such and provide a succinct biography of where you’ve been, what you contributed and what you gained. Avoid the temptation to go into in-depth detail regarding a past company’s description or team leader’s effectiveness. You should be able to cover your work history in three minutes or less.
Why are you looking? As I’ve offered countless times to hiring managers, ask this question to gauge how much the candidate is running toward the job opportunity as opposed to away from her current employer. Balance your response between what you appreciate in your current position and what intrigues you about the opportunity through the lens of your matching skill set. Conversely, a big turn-off is to describe in anyway how the career opportunity is solely self-serving. If you start a sentence with “I need,” or “I want” or “I like,” be sure to balance that with what you can contribute to the company’s ongoing success.
If you were asked to leave your previous job, own up to it; chances are the hiring manager may already have guessed it. Be clear as to why, reiterate what you appreciated from the job, and avoid, at all costs, disparaging your former company and/or boss. A great indicator of your emotional intelligence is how you coped with these types of changes, which can happen in anyone’s career.
The Most Dreaded Question: What are your weaknesses? I’ve actually heard recruiters coach candidates to side-step this question, which I believe to be a disservice. Be honest and don’t try to gloss over it by offering a weakness that’s really strength: “I’m a perfectionist.” “My standards are too high.” You might have been told this is a clever strategy, but I contend most hiring managers will see right through it and challenge it with follow-up questions.
The Other Most Dreaded Question: What are your salary expectations? Treat this question as any other: Know your response, the supporting logic and state it directly. You probably already have some broad knowledge of what the position is valued at, and if you don’t, spend a few dollars and buy a compensation analysis report to find out. Identify for yourself your minimum number, and if the potential employer can’t meet it, well, it’s not the job for you. Avoid dodging the question, or offering something generic: “I expect the salary to align with my experience and expertise.” The interviewer is asking for a dollar range, not an opinion, so provide it and without an apology, assuming you’ve done your homework.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten years? Personally, I’m not a big fan of this question; I barely know where I’ll be in a week, let alone a full decade from now. I believe the logic to this question is for the hiring manager to understand how you view your own career path in terms of goals and desires. So paint the picture that you have a degree of distinct self-direction in that vein, and as with all questions, but especially this one, avoid the temptation to say something along the lines of not knowing.
Do you have any questions for me? Typically asked at the end of the interview, this question isn’t being asked because of some sort of interview etiquette – your interviewer is checking to see what you are now curious to learn more about, given you have been listening and conversing about the opportunity for the past hour or so. Don’t limit yourself by responding that all of your questions have been answered. Ask what keeps the hiring manager up at night, and why; the company’s view of its own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; or further detail about, say, a recently published press release. In other words, ask something that illustrates you are thinking about the company and the hiring manager’s priorities from the perspective of a contributor.
Personally, I evaluate interviews one of two ways, broadly speaking: those candidates I found to have a conversation with a meaningful back and forth exchange, and those who approached the interview in a question-and-answer manner.
If you leave a job interview with a sense that you played your part – contributing to the conversation with responses centered on matching experience to need, asked thought-provoking questions and stayed on point throughout – you should expect to see an offer letter.
Colleen M. Niese, a Principal at The Marlyn Group, and can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.