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Job interviews can be harrowing experiences. You may feel butterflies in your stomach before you even walk through the interview room door, and you may find the suave replies you imagined yourself making have tangled on your tongue, and the first word of every answer you give is “um.” It can happen to anyone—and probably has happened to everyone at least once.
The secret to making a good interview is preparation. Reassess yourself and your reasons for applying for the position and the company. Once this is clear to you, stick to your guns. While interview styles may differ per company (and per interviewer), there are a few questions that are more or less standard job interview fare.
FN has collected ten basic interview questions you’re likely to face and offers you advice on how to approach each.
Tell me about yourself.
This is normally one of the first, if not the very first, questions an interviewer will ask you. This is your chance to sell yourself. More likely than not, the interviewer has had a chance to review your resume and application form, so try to avoid giving information already indicated in it; however, you may want to highlight certain points you feel are applicable to the position you’re applying for, and then elaborate. You can also mention other related experiences: for example you’re applying for a sales position, you may want to mention how you enjoyed a sales and marketing class you took, in which you had to sell various products.
What made you decide to apply for this position/company?
This question can be tricky, and should teach you to listen carefully to the question being asked. While running down the list of reasons you’re suited the position may get a good point across and can help the interviewer assess whether you qualify for the position, it isn’t exactly what they were looking for. Your interviewer wants to determine the reason/s you want the job in order to determine whether you are the right person for it. Being capable of doing the job and wanting it are different things, and these factors can affect your performance and how long you will stay in the company.
The best way to answer this question is to express how your relevant competencies and interests meet to make you ideal and motivated for the position.
Before applying for a position, or going to a job interview, do some research about the position and the company you're applying for; this means going beyond reading the ad or job description. While responsibilities may vary in different companies, most jobs generally have similar overviews. This way, you won’t be like a solider heading into battle without a gun. It’s best to match your skills to the skills required to fill a certain position. You may also want to briefly describe how and at which points your values and the company’s align.
What are your career plans?
When discussing your career, remember that it is your chosen profession or occupation and not merely a job. Also, at this point, it is assumed that you already have at least an idea of the direction you want to take with your professional life. Telling an interviewer your plans for your career is “to find a job” is pretty obvious since you’re at a job interview; it’s also annoying and is really not answering the question—and it’s a far more common answer than you might think.
Focus more on your professional goals: Do you see yourself in the same company several years down the road? Do you see this as a stepping stone toward other things, or do you plan to stay in this field or industry? Do you want to pursue further studies? If so, how does this fit into your work schedule? Do you see yourself working abroad?
You should also give at least an idea of the timeline you set for yourself. For example, when do you plan to pursue your MA or MBA? Or when do you plan to look into pursuing employment opportunities abroad, within the next two years or so?
Giving the interviewer an idea of your goals will tell them more about you—if you are dedicated to the career you are setting yourself up for and the potential for career growth, whether upward or laterally. Also, in being clear about what you expect to achieve, the interviewer may better determine if the company will be able to satisfy your professional needs, therefore leading to a better assessment of whether you will fit the position you are applying for on a more subjective level.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Strengths are skills or values you feel are an asset. Rather than just listing these down, be more specific. Values are relative, therefore tricky. You can be patient, but patient to what extent and in what context? Are you able to endure instructing someone who can’t seem to understand you, or are you uncomplaining of people who are late? You can also give brief examples to be better understood.
Weaknesses are skills or values you feel can be a liability and need to improve on. Since these may seem like points against you, turn the negative into a positive. Give weaknesses that, when looking on the bright side, can also be a strength, and highlight that fact. You can also give a weakness that you’ve created alternative solutions to or are currently working to correct. This article on About.com has some great suggestions and examples.
Never refuse to answer these questions or give vague and non-committal answers since this will give the impression that you either do not know yourself well or are not confident enough in your abilities to recognize what you're best at and what you need to work on.
What is your expected salary?
In most cases, especially if you are a fresh grad or are applying for a job in a new industry, you might be clueless as to the standard rates in your industry. Unlike job descriptions, this may not be as easy to research since this may be based on a number of factors. Try to do some research on similar positions in the same company and other companies in the same industry.
Be realistic. If you’re applying for an entry level position, don’t assume you’ll receive a salary significantly over minimum wage. If you’re really unsure, consider how much you need, because at the very least, you should be able to afford to support yourself with any job. Although you may not want to name your price, an interviewer may ask for it point blank. In this case, you should give your higher salary expectation (as long as this is not unreasonably high—a distinction you may need some trial and error to make) but add that this is negotiable. Try not to give your "last price" because this is almost always what the company will take.
If you have work experience, in most cases, it’s fairly reasonable to expect a salary no lower than your last—indeed, you should start out by asking for more, especially because you’ll be leaving your present job for the one you’re applying for (and you may not be able to return if things don't go well). You want to make the move worth your while. Which brings us to the next frequently asked question.
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What are your reasons for leaving your previous employment?
Be truthful—to an extent.
Let’s face it, nothing is perfect. There will always be gripes or issues about previous companies, bosses, co-workers, team members, and most everyone you will encounter. While these complaints may strongly factor into your job hunt, they will most probably not be the only reasons. Also, you may be tempted to use these complaints and negative incidents as examples for situational questions, but resist the urge and take a more objective approach. The interviewer may be assessing how you are able to deal with other people or may be thinking of how you would represent the company if you are hired.
Badmouthing is a sign of immaturity; if your previous experience was not a good one, there are better outlets and instances to gripe about it than a job interview. Focus on your positive reasons for leaving and downplay the negative ones: for instance, instead of saying the pay was terrible and you were being overworked in your previous company, say that you felt ready to take on greater challenges and grow professionally.
Are you married? If so, do you have children? If not, are you planning to have kids any time soon?
This information can be found in your application form, assuming you were asked to fill one out. It is necessary to determine your dependents and people to contact in case of any emergencies.
It is also normally asked to get a better idea of your plans and priorities, and how your personal plans may coincide or affect your professional plans. It should not be seen as something discriminatory, as these questions can be asked of men as well. Also, since there are certain industries/fields that may not be ideal working conditions for women who are expecting, it maybe something your interviewer might point out when discussing the job description. So answer honestly, but don't volunteer too much information. If you’re planning to start a family immediately, or if you're already pregnant, it would be best to be honest about this, but note that this may not weigh in your favor as the company may be concerned that you would complete your training or orientation only to go on maternity leave for two to three months.
Are you willing to do overtime?
People argue that this can be a difficult question to answer, because you obviously can’t say no, and saying yes may appear as an invitation for the company to exploit you. But if you think about it, you’re bound to do overtime at one point or another. Also, depending on the nature of the work, overtime may be inapplicable because the work itself involves rendering long hours. Moreover, if you're applying for a managerial position or a position that is focused more on projects than operations, note that there may be no overtime pay, and overtime may simply be a given.
If you do not feel comfortable saying yes outright, you can sidestep by expressing your agreement or determination to deliver what is asked or needed of you. This has the additional benefit of showing you as being goal-driven rather than a clock-watcher.
What motivates you?
The question of motivation is one of the easier questions the interviewer asks to get a better idea of your values and personality and therefore assess whether these coincide with the company culture and nature of the position you’re applying for. Be honest, but make sure that this is relevant to the job and company you're interviewing for. A safe response is to say that you're spurred on by challenges to learn and continuously improve yourself. This article on About.com has more suggestions on how you may want to phrase your answer to this question.
What do you look for in an employer?
This is another rather easy question that measures suitability; however, in this case, it assesses your compatibility to the environment. In the same way, you are being assessed on whether you meet the company’s needs and expectations; it will also be determined whether the company meets yours. This is important because it would be a waste of your time and the company’s time to continue with the process if eventually you realize you will not be able to get what you need from them. Be clear but realistic about your expectations.
While it is easier said than done, the best way to handle a job interview is to be as relaxed as you can manage. Make sure you understand the questions clearly before answering, since it is better to give a well thought out answer rather than a quick and messy monologue. Don’t panic if the interviewers look bored or even yawn, especially if this is your first or preliminary interview; remember that you’re probably one in a long line of people they’re interviewing that day. And if things don’t turn out well, it’s no big deal; there will be other opportunities.
Looking for other ways to impress during your job interview? You may want to read the following Female Network articles to prepare for the big day as well:
- Job Hunt: How to Construct a Good Resume
- Dress for Success: How to Pick an Outfit for Your Job Interview
- The Art of Marketing Yourself: How to Impress a Client or Employer
(Photo © iStockPhoto.com/Radu Razvan)