If you’re a recent college graduate, chances are you’ve had a job interview at some point or another.
You may have worked a summer job, or had a part-time gig while taking classes. You may even assume that you’re prepared for the job interviews you’ll face in your new post-grad career.
That would be a mistake.
While all interviewing experience is helpful, the level of scrutiny you’ll face in the application process for a professional position is a great deal more intense. A good attitude and a clean outfit might get you hired at the local hardware store, but a salaried position requires a little more preparation in the lead-up to the interview.
It’s hard to predict just what your interviewer might ask you, but there are a handful of questions that come up in the interview process for almost every industry. Read below to learn what they are — and how to answer them like a pro.
Tell me about yourself
When answering this question, avoid mentioning anything religious, political, or potentially controversial. You never know how the interviewer will interpret those qualities. Instead, you should briefly mention one or two hobbies that can help the interviewer relate to you.
“You should also try to tie your response to the role you’re pursuing,” said Laura Gariepy, HR professional and freelancer coach. “For example, if the job entails leading a team, you could bring up that one of your favorite hobbies is reading books about leadership.”
It may also help to mention hobbies that show other positive characteristics. For example, training for a marathon shows that you’re capable of setting and achieving long-term goals, while building computers shows that you’re detail oriented and tech savvy.
Why do you want to work here?
The interviewer wants to make sure that you specifically want to work for their company, not that you’re desperate for any job. Talk about specific initiatives and programs you’re excited about.
“This is an opportunity to show you’ve done your research, and you can highlight how you connect your values to the company’s,” said former recruiter Rich Jones of Paychecks & Balances. “Have a story or two ready that shows why you connect to their work.”
To answer this question well, take the time to read blog posts from the company’s website and articles from the local business journal or newspaper. You should also check out their LinkedIn profile.
It’s best to leave personal reasons out of your answer. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear about how the grace period on your student loans is ending soon or that your landlord is increasing your rent.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
If you’re interviewing at a large corporation, talk about how you can see yourself working at the company in a more advanced position or in a different department. This shows that you’re committed to staying there for at least a few years.
“Play up the fact that not only are you interested in what we do, but that this role is a strategic opportunity for you to reach your own career goals,” said Kyle Bumpus, a software development manager who has interviewed hundreds of applicants. “Nobody expects an entry-level employee to spend 10 years in the same job, so it’s okay to show ambition and that you are eager to climb the ranks.”
If you’re interviewing at a company where upward growth is limited, talk about what general career goals you have. Do you want to be a manager someday or tackle a major project?
“Focus on where you’d like to be in your career progression,” Jones said.
What are your strengths?
Answering this question well is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from other candidates. When listing your attributes, be specific and focus on unique qualities.
If you’re having trouble thinking of ideas, look at the job posting and see what skills they ask for. Scott Trench, CEO and President of BiggerPockets, said he wants a candidate to have the right strengths for the job they’re interviewing for.
“If I’m interviewing for an account manager position, I might be looking for a candidate who says something like, ‘I’m extremely organized, responsive, and love everything about people,'” he said. “The key, again, is to know what is the skill set required by the position, and what professional strengths best suit the needs of the position.”
What are your weaknesses?
While it’s tempting for candidates to weasel their way out of this question, that strategy usually doesn’t work well. You should state a real weakness, although you don’t have to admit your most embarrassing secrets.
HR Director Anna Huffman said this question is used to measure emotional intelligence and self awareness.
“I look for answers that are not canned answers,” she said. “Has the candidate really taken time to self reflect?”
When you do mention a weakness, talk about how you’re trying to improve it. Managers want to see that you care about growth and self improvement. If you’re forgetful, for instance, mention that you’ve created checklists to remind yourself.
Jones said you can also mention any specific skills, software, or other tools that you aren’t familiar with, but want to learn more about.
How did you overcome a difficult experience?
When an employer asks this question, they want to know how you react during a crisis. Are you the type of person who gives up immediately or the one who finds a solution?
Think of a couple of examples in your life that you can mention. These anecdotes might include a time when you were struggling with a difficult course in college, or when you ran into a major problem during an internship.
“The answer does not have to be work-related,” Huffman said. “In fact, a personal story can resonate more strongly with the interviewer.”
Practice answering these questions
To get some practice before the interview, ask your college advisor if the university is having any mock-interview sessions. “Or take turns asking interview questions of your fellow classmates and give each other candid feedback,” Bumpus said.
Interviewing for your first job is difficult, so don’t worry if you get nervous or feel like you don’t know how to answer all the questions. Like with any skill, practicing will help you feel more comfortable.
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