When you enter the interview room you know you are going to be facing a list of pre-prepared questions chosen specifically to gain information about your character, experience, perspective and problem-solving ability. Working through a list of standard questions that seem to pop up in most interviews, can give you a sense of confidence in the moment when nerves are high.
You don’t want to sound like a robot giving rote answers but you also don’t want to fly by the seat of your pants so your answers end up sounding like word salad. You are never going to use only the words “yes” or “no” as a finite answer but you are also not going to deliver monologues that would make Shakespeare proud.
Questions stimulate our neocortex which is responsible for our sensory perception, motor commands, conscious thoughts in human and language and spatial reasoning. Every fiber of our being is geared to answer any question put to us. A great interview answer is a fantastic combination of improvisation and preparation.
The person asking the questions controls the situation. How do you respond to that kind of power dynamic? Do you clam up in the face of what you perceive to be an interrogation or do you strive to gain back control of the room by dominating the conversation?
Take a moment to self-analyze your normal response to being “questioned.” The interviewer is asking very pointed questions with the express purpose of gauging how calm and confident you are under pressure. They want to see that you possess enough knowledge to match the question asked and if you can deliver your answer in a self-assured manner.
You could always take an improvisation class at your local comedy club or you could rehearse a few answers to the most asked questions and then ask a few to create a few more for you and put you under pressure.
The Sound of Silence
Don’t fear a silent moment in the interview. It’s totally alright to take a moment to formulate your answer. You don’t have to answer in a split second and stumble over the initial thought process. Impulsive talking is a bit like impulsive shopping –you get home and feel a little disappointed in yourself.
Repeat the question out loud to yourself, take a thoughtful “um” and then start. If you aren’t entirely clear about what they are asking you simply request that they repeat the question. If their question is extremely broad or vague ask a question to clarify their question.
The most important thing to remember is to listen, engage and enjoy telling these wonderful new strangers about the fantastic life you have been leading and how your experiences are a match for their job opening. You are not on trial; you’re building a bridge to a possible ongoing relationship. So show your best side.
Time to Shine
Before you go for your interview, call ahead to find out the format that the interview will take. The format chosen will highlight the kinds of potential questions that could be asked. Here are some of the most common questions to get you started.
- Tell me about yourself?
- Don’t be tempted to confess your entire life story starting at five. Hit the highlights that are relevant to this particular job interview. This is the elevator pitch –its clear, to the point and should invite their curiosity in you. Mention 3 life accomplishments and then link them to the position that you are applying for.
- What do you think are your weaknesses?
- It’s not the ideal time to be talking about where you lack in life so don’t get overzealous and start a laundry list of self-complaints. Steer away from perceived personal weaknesses in your character and stick to how you are currently improving your professional challenges. “I am currently taking a course on improving my Excel spreadsheet prowess so I can deliver production schedules faster.” The interviewer is looking at your self-awareness level as well as your ability to share honestly.
- Why should we have you on our team?
- List your experience that directly matches the position and finish with a positive intention, “I look forward to being part of your team who are renowned for cutting edge innovation.” This is the best question ever –you get to sell yourself and your unique set of skills that are perfect for this company. You also have the opportunity to show that you are interested in this specific company –you can mention the mission statement or information you might have gleaned when you researched the company.
- How have you dealt with challenging situations you have faced at work?
- This is not the time to bad mouth past employers, the interviewer wants to know about your conflict resolution techniques. You are on your best behavior in the interview but they what to know what happens if you are faced with a stressful, pressurizing situation. Identify an issue from your past and calmly go through the steps you used to handle the situation professionally. You can mention the methods you used to assist with stress reduction.
- What are your future goals, where do you see yourself in the next 5 -10 years?
- This question is asked to reveal whether you are ambitious, have realistic expectations and if the position you are applying for aligns with your future goals. Your answer should reflect where this position in the company might be able to take you in the future. This should not be a question that takes you by surprise. An interviewer would want to see that your career is important and that you have put some thought into it. You can easily keep to short term goals.
- Why are you leaving your current position?
- Keep upbeat and positive in your answer. It’s always a hard question to answer but it will almost always be asked. Again steer away from being negative about your last company and rather frame what you are moving towards. Keep it simple and short.
- What are your strengths and your greatest professional accomplishment?
- Put it out there. Don’t be shy or feign modesty on revealing your successes. This is your moment to truly shine. What was your position in the last company, what did you actually end up doing and how to you excel in those duties? Don’t mention strengths that you think will best suit the position they are offering –talk about your actual strengths.
- What are your salary expectations?
- Research what the going salary is for the position you are applying for on sites like Glassdoor or Payscale. When you see the salary range, state the highest figure but also communicate your flexibility in that regard. You can also answer that it can be discussed at a later point in the negotiations or you could ask them what is the range they usually pay for people with your same background and skill set.
- Which animal do you most identify with in the wild?
- These quirky questions don’t mean that the interviewer has had a momentary lapse of sanity –they are testing your ability to think on your feet. There isn’t a right answer but every animal does have attributes that you are aligning with by choosing them. So you might want to think about how you want to be perceived.
- What do you like to do after work hours?
- Personal questions like these are all about gauging how you will fit in with the company culture.
There are hundreds of questions that could be asked in an interview situation but essentially it is up to you to answer succinctly, positively, calmly, and confidently. It’s the opportunity to show how you would be the perfect candidate for the position while revealing some of your best character qualities.
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