People sometimes feel they did not do their best at their job interview. And as a career coach who specializes in interview preparation, I understand that. First, in general, most people do not prepare sufficiently for that oral test commonly known as the job interview. They simply don’t know how to. But because of their past successes at landing jobs, they feel that that validates the fact that they must be good. Second, some job candidates take the time to prepare, but they do not make extra efforts at practicing interviewing—namely, by doing mock interviews with someone who can point out their weak spots and help them improve. And third, they don’t understand what’s really behind common interview questions. Let’s go through some here.
The most common interview question is, “Tell me about yourself.” Well, it’s not exactly a question, but it is indeed an unfinished sentence because when you hear those words in an interview, what’s really behind them is the real question: “Tell me about yourself in a way that demonstrates to me your qualifications to help us meet our challenges by reciting at least one relevant success story.” Now that you know that, it will be much easier to craft a good answer.
Another common interview question is, “What are your strengths?” Behind this one, the interviewer is looking to see whether you’re prepared for the interview and whether you can recite eloquently and succinctly what your strengths are. Again, the interviewer hopes your examples will be pertinent and relevant to the company’s needs. If your recited strengths are valid but not for current company needs, your answer is tantamount to serving someone a wonderful dessert after a huge meal. Yes, it’s good, but there is little appetite left.
After the strengths question, it is very common to be asked, “What are your weaknesses?” Admittedly, this is a difficult question. What’s behind this one is an interviewer who’s curious first about your honesty and then about whether you reveal something that might be a serious impediment to your candidacy. Or perhaps you’re completely dumbfounded and unprepared—and that’s not a good sign.
“Why are you interested working for us?” is another important and common question. Behind this question, the interviewer does not want to hear what you think is good for you about the position. Instead, you are being given an opportunity to prove to the interviewer what you can do for the company, not for yourself. And above all, you should answer this question with a heightened level of excitement. This is what the interviewer is expecting to see, and if your answer is not memorable, then the interpretation will be that you’re probably not very serious and not very interested. In an interview, exhibiting your excitement via body language and facial expressions is more important than the words you say.
Another question that always comes up in an interview, provided they like you, is, “So, how much money are you looking for?” This question is commonly misunderstood because some job candidates think the interviewer is close to closing the deal and ready to negotiate. Absolutely not! Don’t be misled by that question. You as a candidate have no negotiation power at this stage. You were not offered anything yet. The real thought behind the question is, “I like what I see so far, but I wonder whether I can afford you.” That’s why a good answer here will consist of a reasonably wide range, the lowest end of which has to be the lowest compensation you’re willing to accept. So, not until you have in your hand that letter whose first word is Congratulations are you ready to start negotiating. But the subject of salary negotiation has to be left for another article in the future.
by Alex Freund