Interviewing Part 4: During the Interview (Questions & Answers)

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Anne Weeks

Anne Macleod Weeks is a graduate of Lawrence and Villanova Universities. She has been an educational administrator and English teacher for 38 years, specializing in the area of college admission. Ms. Weeks has been a leader in the college admission and Advanced Placement arenas and has published on pertinent educational topics in a variety of national papers and journals. She currently resides in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Anne Weeks

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The day has come, and you are well-prepared for your interview, having done your research and crafted your personal brand.

Knowing how the interview will progress can set you at ease. By anticipating what comes next, you can relax as you move through the experience.

Interviews are often conducted in Four Phases:

  • Warm Up (5-15 mins.): This phase begins with small talk. You might be asked how your day has gone, if you had any difficulty traveling to the interview, what your thoughts are on the trending news, weather, sports.
  • Beginning (5 mins.): After the casual small talk, the interview will shift to a more formal discussion, and you will be asked a specific question. Be alert to this shift in tone! This is a point where you can sabotage your chances with too casual an answer or by offering information that will work against you.
  • Discussion (30 mins.): During this phase, you may be asked 4-5 behavioral questions (see below) and some technical questions. When the opportunity presents itself, do your best to create a discussion by giving a specific answer that is followed by a question of your own that can deepen the discussion. For example, when asked to describe a time when you exhibited high energy and successfully worked at a fast pace, follow up your answer by asking about the fast-paced culture of the company.
  • Wrap-Up (time will vary): This is your opportunity to ask for feedback (see below for Questions the Candidate Should Ask).

What about Questions and Answers?

There are two types of interview questions: behavioral and technical. There are 9 categories of behavioral questions for which you can prepare. Though there are hundreds of questions you may be asked, if you prepare well for these 9 categories, you will do well. Create a script of answers and practice before the interview, so your answers become second nature.

  • Tell Me About Yourself

This question can confuse even the most seasoned professional. Where to start? Do not ask, “Where shall I start?” or “Should I discuss something professional or personal?” This question is a GIFT to the interviewee. It allows you to control your personal narrative. Introduce your strongest qualities. This sets a foundation for the interview, and it encourages the interviewer to focus on those qualities for the rest of the interview. Begin with 30-45 seconds about your personal characteristics and then share your professional/academic background. In total, your answer should be no more than 3 minutes long. Prepare your script ahead of time and practice, so you will keep it short and on point.

  • What are Your Strengths? What Do You Do Well?

Prepare an individual answer to this question for each interview. If you are interviewing for a position in finance, you might highlight your strength with numbers/details. If it is for a position in research, you might highlight your strength as deep dives while weighing the information with an open mind and seeing the big picture. Have 2-3 personal strengths prepared, with an example for each in action. Have an additional strength prepared to add if given the chance – sell yourself!

  • What are Your Weaknesses? With What do You Struggle?

This can be a tough question for most people. The trick is to always put a positive spin on a truthful answer. For instance, you might say, “I know I have little patience and tend to be candid with individuals who are not doing their best work. I have learned to give constructive feedback and to mentor them rather than simply confronting them for a lack of commitment.” The underlying point of this type of question is to assess your self-awareness, maturity, and whether you have a growth mindset (Growth Mindset – Dweck). You should have 3 weaknesses ready to go, but offer one at a time.

  • What are Your Ambitions for the Future?

Offer one personal and one professional objective. For instance, “For the next three years, I want to dig into this marketing role and learn as much as I can. Hopefully, the quality of my work will earn me a promotion. I also want, in my free time,  to master the cello, so I can join a small orchestra.” Demonstrating you are a multi-dimensional person who makes use of their free time to build skills, to enjoy a hobby, and to become involved in community reflects well on your values and who you might be as an employee.

  • How Much Money are You Looking to Earn?

This is another question to research ahead of time. There are a number of sources where you can find the common salary levels for the position: glassdoor.com, payscale.com, salary.com. Having a good idea of the typical salary will give you confidence in citing your number. Do keep in mind where you will be living and how these numbers will fall within this range (i.e. salaries in NYC tend to be higher than in Salt Lake City). Though you will answer this question with a reasonable range, know that larger organizations have a definite salary range predetermined by their compensation systems, and they will be more rigid on this answer. Never offer a salary number unless they ask.

  • What has been Your Proudest Accomplishment?

Think first about what your answer will say about you as an individual and as a potential employee. Do you want to reinforce your work ethic, your values, your leadership skills, or something else? Prepare ahead of time, so you can give the best answer for what you want to convey. You could share you were an Eagle Scout, that you worked with disabled children, or that you worked your own way through college. Everyone has something for which they are proud.

  • Tell Me about a Time When You Failed in a Major Way or What has been Your Biggest Failure in Life?

This is much like the earlier question about weaknesses. You want to put a positive spin on your answer. Position your answer as a learning/growth experience. You don’t have to share your biggest failure! Choose an incident from young adulthood, such as “I didn’t prepare well before soccer tryouts senior year in high school, spending more time at the beach than training in August. I didn’t make the team, and it taught me that hard work and preparation are the key to success. I never made that mistake again and if I didn’t make a team, I at least knew I had done my best to prepare.”

  • Don’t You Feel You are Under-qualified for this Position?

One struggle for undergraduates in starting their career is having little, if no, professional experience. Securing informational interviews can give you the chance to learn more about an organization, a career path, a job function, or industry. In preparation for this interview question, make sure you understand the technical aspects of the position. Do not deny the interviewer’s viewpoint, but rather respond like this, “I can see where you are coming from, but I see it a little differently. X, Y, and Z are aspects of this position with which I am comfortable and motivated. Can we talk a little more about the day-to-day responsibilities because I would like to be sure this is a role where I can hit the ground running.” Feel free to use academic or real-life experiences that can bolster your fit.

  • Why do You Want to Work Here?

The obvious answer is to say you want a job – but that isn’t the right answer! Prepare to focus on one or two key attributes of the organization, an attribute of the individual for whom you may work, and the opportunity to learn. Be thoughtful with this response, and demonstrate you have done thorough research beyond the organization’s homepage and know what this job will mean to you and your career. Hiring managers hire someone who is intrinsically motivated to be part of their team over any other organization’s team out there. Sell yourself!

What Questions Should I Ask the Interviewer?

The questions you ask can be just as important as the questions you answer. Having well-prepared questions to ask will demonstrate you are a candidate seriously interested in their organization. Avoid questions that appear dull, uninspired, or even dumb. Never ask about vacation time, benefits, or salary! The questions should be open-ended and require more than a yes/no answer. The optimal number of questions to prepare is 5.

If you have a question based on something discussed in the interview, start with that one. This will tell the interviewer you were paying attention, engaged, calm, and collected during a potentially nerve-wracking experience.

Other suggested questions are:
  • Can you tell me a bit about the culture here and how decisions are made?
  • What differentiates an average performer from an exceptional performer?
  • (A question you derived from your prior research on the company)
  • What are the next steps in the hiring process and the timeframe you expect? (This gives you valuable information on how best and how often to be in touch)
  • What do you think of my candidacy? (This is always a closing question a candidate should ask. Hiring managers are required to make a lot of assumptions about candidates during the interview process because they are working with limited information. Some of these assumptions can be wrong! If you leave the building without correcting them, they will become fact in the interviewer’s mind, and you risk losing an offer over misinformation. It is important to deal directly with any objections. If the objection has to do with your experience, you have the opportunity to highlight other areas of strength and to offer to get more training before starting the job. If the interviewer has misunderstood something, this is your chance to correct it. If you are unsure of being so direct, Beyond The U can assure you no candidate has lost a job based on asking this question!).

Now that you know the structure of an interview and the questions/answers involved, it is just a matter of preparation and hard work to be successful in landing your first job! You can CRUSH THE INTERVIEW!

 

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Anne Weeks

Anne Macleod Weeks is a graduate of Lawrence and Villanova Universities. She has been an educational administrator and English teacher for 38 years, specializing in the area of college admission. Ms. Weeks has been a leader in the college admission and Advanced Placement arenas and has published on pertinent educational topics in a variety of national papers and journals. She currently resides in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Latest posts by Anne Weeks (see all)