Part of becoming a good interviewer is understanding what your audience is looking for when they ask questions. Having a foundation of understanding can help you feel more comfortable in an interview and answer the question with accuracy. I cannot pretend to know exactly what every single employer may be looking for, but I can tell you what I have gleaned from my time doing mock interviews. I have learned what makes for a great interview answer through hearing many good, mediocre, and bad examples. The main thing that employers are looking to learn about you in an interview is, who you are. I know many of you might be thinking “but I thought they are looking to find out if you can do the job?” This is somewhat true. But if you have made it to the interview process, they probably assume that you can. Now it is a matter of will you fit in here and be able to do the job. The more you are able to let them understand you and how you go about doing work (solving problems, working with others, process for doing things) the more likely you are to get hired with a company in which you will fit the culture. Let’s go through some specific examples of common questions and what an employer is probably looking for:
- Tell me about yourself?
This question seems to be the most hated of all interview questions. The frustration comes from how broad this question is and not knowing where to start. Relax. All the employer wants to know is a little bit about your background and the events that have led up to you interviewing for the job. What sparked your interest in (insert job here)? Was it your major in college? An interest area that you developed from a volunteer event? How did you get here?
- Why do you want to work for (insert company/organization here)?
A common mistake that people make with this question, is assuming that it means what it says. It DOES NOT mean “why do YOU want to work here?” What it really means is, “what do you know (or think you know) about our company, have you done your research, and how do your values align with ours?” When you answer this question you need to be well researched about what the companies mission statement and/or culture is and how you can relate that to yourself. The organization or company wants to feel as if they are the only company you would ever consider applying for, as if they are the best choice in the world! So make them feel special and consider what it is you admire about what they do. Do NOT, under any circumstances, reply “I need a job that pays well.” Even if that is the truth! That does not make them feel special.
- What are your greatest strengths?
This one is slightly more straightforward. You should, in fact, list some of your strengths. When I say strengths, I mean character strengths (organization, leadership, helping others,etc.) , not skills (bilingual, can use a computer). However, simply listing your strengths is not enough. Listing strengths does not tell an employer anything except that you know how to list things that sound like they would be good things to exhibit. Instead, pretend that the employer has added to this question “tell me about a time in which you have used these strengths.” When you tell a story about using the strengths you have listed, you are then explaining what those words mean to you (it could be different depending on the person) and how you actually can demonstrate your use of them.
- What is your greatest weakness?
This is another question that people really dislike. The point of this question is not to make you feel embarrassed or stupid. The point of this question is that everyone has one. Be honest when you answer. What is something that you struggle with (procrastination, timeliness, etc.)? It’s okay because everyone struggles with something; to err is to be human. The trick to this question is to follow it up with a story about a time when this weakness has come up for you and what you did about. Did you learn something? How did you overcome it in the future? Telling this story will demonstrate how you go about dealing with your weakness. They want to know that you can recognize your weaknesses and that you know how to combat them.
- Tell me about a time when you have worked on a team?
This is a pretty straightforward question. However, make sure that the story that you tell about your teamwork includes something juicy! A little bit of conflicting ideas, members who didn’t pull their weight, or something that went wrong. Why? Because then the employer gets to hear about how you work with others. What do you do when there is a conflict? They want to hear about your process for being a good group member in a professional manner. This tells them how you will get along with other staff members and what kind of personality you will contribute to the team.
There are often hidden meanings in interview questions. The best thing to do is to take the route in which you tell the most about who you are and how you go about doing things. This is always going to be the best way to let the employer learn about you and whether or not you will be a good fit for the position and the office culture. And then, if you do not get the job, you can be confident in knowing it is because it would not have been a good fit for you. If you get it, you can be sure that it will be a work environment where you are going to get along great with your new team.