Ok, you’ve graduated. You’ve just spent tens of thousands of dollars and a large chunk of your life to get your degree. Why?
My guess is that you’re hoping to get a great, well paying, fulfilling job that matches your interests, skills, and abilities as well as your degree. To get that job, you’ll first have to “WOW” your potential employer in a face to face interview and the key factor will be your interview preparation.
The easiest way to approach a job interview with a high confidence level is to prepare answers to questions you might be asked, and then to practice answering them until you can do it naturally. It doesn’t matter whether you’re applying for a position as a delivery driver, a software programmer, an accountant, or a secretary, interviewers are rarely trained in the interview process and as a result often use the same general questions to assess candidates. If you prepare in advance for these questions, you’ll be able to tilt the odds of a job offer in your favor.
The new graduate usually thinks of himself or herself as having a disadvantage from an experience viewpoint. But always remember: the most important thing you have to offer is your integrity and sincerity. Those two characteristics will help you in an interview as well as experience. After all, an interviewer would much prefer an honest, sincere trainee, than a dishonest liar with 10 years of experience, so approach the interview with honest and genuine answers.
Having conducted hundreds of interviews myself, I’ve come up with seven common questions interviewers (including me!) usually ask as well as some ideas about how to answer each. As part of your preparation for your interview, take the time to prepare YOUR honest answers to each question by focusing on the job’s specific requirements and your personal accomplishments that potentially pair up with those requirements.
Common interview question #1
“Tell me about yourself”
Sometimes called a T-MAY, this open ended question can set the stage for your getting a job offer very quickly. It can also set you up to get dismissed out of hand right away. Always, always, ALWAYS turn your answers into positive job accomplishments at every opportunity. Don’t let your answer meander around about your hobbies, group affiliations, or what you do in your leisure time. This is a JOB interview, so make your answer fit the requirements of the JOB. If you have specific training relevant to the job, make sure you incorporate that into your T-MAY.
If this is the “lead off question”
If this is the “lead off question” (and it usually is), ask for a more complete description of what the position entails. You could say, “I have several accomplishments I’d like to speak with you about, but to make the best use of our time together, I’d like to talk directly to your needs and the job requirements. Could you tell me the most important priorities of this position? All I know is what I (heard from the recruiter, read in the classified ad, read on your website, etc.). and I’d like a little more information.”
Next, follow-up with a second and even a third question, to draw out those needs even more. This second or third question usually unearths what the interviewer is most looking for. By asking, “And in addition to that?…” or, “Is there anything else you see as essential to success in this position?” you’ll set yourself up to understand better what the interview is looking for.
It’s critical to think before you speak in an interview
Don’t fall victim to your natural impulse to simply answer the questions. If you can uncover the employer’s wants and needs, you can tailor your answers to the job. Practice your answers so the process will feel more natural. Remember, this is a competition and you have to use your talents, skills, and preparation to outshine the other candidates.
After uncovering what the interviewer is looking for, describe why the needs of this particular job match quite nicely with the tasks you’ve successfully performed in previous situations. Be specific with examples of your responsibilities and especially your achievements so you can present yourself as a perfect match for the needs of the position.
Common interview question #2
“Can you describe a previous work or school situation in which you … ?”
This question comes in many forms, but what the interviewer is looking for is your behavior on the job. Be aware that more and more interviewers are moving toward a behavioral interview technique where most questions are asked in terms that require you to answer with specific examples of your past behaviors. Your answer could focus on a crisis you helped resolve, overcoming a negotiation deadlock with your creativity, handling a problem coworker, or juggling multiple tasks on a project for a previous job or class.
Past behavior predicts future behavior
The theory behind this type of question is that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Interviewers believe that how you handled situations in the past will indicate how you’ll handle similar problems in the future.
Prepare real job or school examples in advance, and describe your behavior in specific situations that prove you have the skills the job requires.
Common interview question #3
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
This is probably the most well-known and common interview question, and interviewers sometimes sneak it in by asking, “What areas did your most recent boss praise you and what areas were suggested you work to improve during your last performance evaluation?” Your best bet is to fit your “strengths” answer to skills that your prospective employer seeks in the next employee. Make sure you keep everything job related though. You may have a unique ability to build bluebird houses, but I’m guessing that has little value in the job.
Example: “I’m a stickler for the details. On my last job as a waiter, I was asked to train seven new waiters over the course of a summer. I believed it was important to teach them the finer details of how our food offerings were constructed, so I gave each of them a detailed description of our dishes. For example, if asked about a particular chicken dish, I would describe it as an herb marinated, 9 ounce boneless chicken breast, grilled to perfection with a light dusting of Cajun spices, two slices of thick, peppered bacon, and fresh, creamy Monterey Jack cheese, garnished with parsley and a few chopped scallions. The customers loved it and my training ideas using these types of descriptions have been incorporated for all trainees.”
When it comes to weaknesses and “growth areas,” construct your answer to show how you have improved yourself or situations, and certainly include as many specifics as possible. Tailor your answers to this question so that you can relate things you’ve learned. But don’t be too obvious and use the “I’m just too aggressive” angle. Interviewers see right through it.
Common interview question #4
“Why are you leaving your current job?” or “Why did you leave your previous position?”
I always want to know why someone is willing to leave their current company, especially if they have been there for only a short time. No matter what, always tell the truth, and never speak negatively about past employers. If you currently have a job, you are in a stronger position than someone who is out of work. Be honest and tell the interviewer what you’re hoping to find in a new job. Of course, as stated before, your answer will be much stronger if you have already discovered what this position is all about and you match your desires to it.
If you’re currently unemployed
If you do not currently have a job — be honest. And never lie about the reason or reasons you aren’t currently working. Those things are too easily found out.
Example: In my last position, I found that I was limited in my growth potential. I’m looking for the type of growth opportunities you’ve mentioned here.
Or: In my last position, my bonus was based on what the CEO thought was a “good” bonus whereas I prefer performance based bonuses. I’m constantly measuring myself against what I’ve accomplished in the past and I’m looking for a position that will allow me to measure those results in compensation.
Common interview question #5
“What is your ideal work environment?”
This question is not about whether you prefer a cubicle or an office, so think broadly to include ideas about supervision, management styles, and your workday routine. Many times an interviewer will use this question when he or she feels you may be overqualified for a position. It can also be used to give the interviewer a sense of your work ethic, your flexibility with your schedule, or how creative you are.
Tell them what they WANT to hear in your interview
Your best answer is to describe the job you are interviewing for. Make certain your answer is believable by tying it to specific reasons, stated with sincerity, why each aspect of this position is attractive to you.
Example: Actually, Ms. Jones, the position you and I are discussing sounds like a perfect fit for me. As an assistant manager for one of your high volume locations, I would love the opportunity to bring my creativity and high degree of work ethic to your company. I believe my previous operations experience would benefit the company since I could bring a fresh perspective to the challenges you face daily. The hours are great, the working conditions are great, and I’d love to throw my creativity and high work ethic behind your organization.
Common interview question #6
“Why do you want to work for this company”
If you have done your research and are able to answer this question with authority and show a deeper understanding of the company’s goals, marketing strategies, and history, you could hit the ball out of the park. Your best research sources are the company’s annual reports and possibly the corporate newsletter. Ask for copies of these documents when you’re scheduling the interview. You could also research any contacts you know at the company, its vendors, advertisements, or articles about the company in trade publications.
Join Linked In, and begin building a professional network online. You’ll soon realize that you’re only a few degrees away from knowing someone at almost any company.
Common interview question #7
“What is your most notable accomplishment?”
Before you go to the interview, think of three or four accomplishments and quantify what their actions in terms of
- Increasing revenues. What have you done that brought in more money?
- Saving money. What have you done to reduce expenses?
- Improving resources. What have you done that improved business operations?
You MUST be able to quantify your achievements if you want to stand out in the crowd. Additionally, showing that you understand how your actions have benefited your previous employers indicate that you could potentially do the same as a future employee.
Relate your results to the position
For new graduates, these accomplishments can easily be related to the different organizations you worked with in high school or college. Always relate your experiences where you were able to produce the desired results. Were you on the Blood Drive Committee? What marketing ideas did you implement to increase donors? Did you work part time at the Student Government Association? How was it changed for the better by your involvement? Did you assist a favorite professor? Can he or she provide a reference for how well you performed?
Finally, always say thank you. People, particularly interviewers, will remember.