Interview Preparation

Even though you may not know exactly what an employer will ask you, you can still do some solid preparation for an interview. Often times, job seekers inadequately prepare for interviews, those who do will gain a real edge over their competition. Research indicates that preparing and practicing interview responses in advance improves interview performance.

Writing responses to potential interview questions helps you to concentrate and decide what the most relevant answer is before you are in the high-pressure situation of an interview. It helps you provide a thorough response with enough detail to support your answer. When you know what you want to say, you can concentrate more on the delivery of the response, so you can get to point without rambling.

The intention of preparing and practicing interview responses is not for you to memorize your answers, which can make your responses sound canned, or even false. The purpose is to help you feel more relaxed and more confident when you walk through the interview door.

Types of Interview Questions

There is no limit to the questions you could be asked in an interview, but interview questions generally fall into two categories: traditional and behavioral. Traditional questions are general, tried-and-true questions that get to the heart of who you are: your skills, your personality, your qualities, your strengths and weaknesses, and how you get along with others. Sometimes traditional interview questions are used to build a rapport with you and may not even be phrased as a question. Success or failure with these questions tends to hinge on how well you can communicate your answers, so a thorough and confident response will go a long way. Examples of traditional interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • What do you consider to be your strengths and/or weaknesses?
  • Why should I hire you?
  • Can you explain this gap in your employment history?
  • What do you think you’ll be doing five years from now?
  • How well do you work with people?
  • What do you know about our competitors?

Behavioral, or situational questions may also address what traditional questions address, but they are framed in such a way that the job seeker is forced to provide a specific example from their past experience to answer the question. Examples of behavioral or situational questions include:

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to persuade someone to do something.
  • Tell me about a time you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
  • Give me a specific example of a time you had to conform to a policy you did not agree with.
  • What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
  • Tell me about a difficult decision you have made in the past year.
  • Give me an example of a time when you showed initiative and took the lead.
  • Give me an example of a time when you motivated others.
  • Tell me about a time when you delegated a project effectively.

The idea behind behavioral interviewing is that the candidate’s past performance is often the best predictor of future performance. In fact, behavioral interviewing is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job performance, compared with traditional interviewing techniques that are only 10 percent predictive.

That is not to say that behavioral-based questions have replaced traditional ones. You will probably find that many employers use a combination of both. However, since an increasing number of employers use behavior-based methods to screen job candidates, understanding how to excel in this line of questioning is becoming a crucial job-hunting skill.

Common Interview Questions

Most interviews will include some common interview questions. When you have a specific interview lined up, you can customize your answers to the specific employer you will be speaking with. Here is a list of common questions along with guidance on possible responses.

Why should I hire you?

Give the interviewer a one-to-two sentence synopsis of who you are, your biggest strength, and the major benefit the company will get from this strength. Target your answer to the specific job and don’t ramble. Focus on how your skills and experience meet and exceed the job requirements. Demonstrate what makes you an outstanding choice, without belittling any other candidates.

Tell me about yourself.

Give the interviewer a three-to-five sentence snapshot of your skills or professional experience.

What did you like least about your last job?

Avoid speaking negatively about your previous company, co-workers or supervisors. Instead, focus on what you want and how you believe your talents can be used in the position for which you are interviewing. Expressing a desire for growth, challenge, and opportunities are good ways to turn this question from a negative into a positive statement.

Tell me about a time when...

Listen carefully to the question and tailor your response to exactly what the interviewer is looking for. If you don’t have a professional example, use one from your personal life, but keep it neutral (don’t mention anything that could rule you out, like religion, politics, age, etc.) and focus on how your actions would apply in a work situation.