In order to improve your interviewing skills, you must first understand that there is no set pattern in which interviews are conducted. And, the question you will be asked vary from interview to interview. For purposes of clear understanding, typical interview questions fall into one of four categories.
Situational, also called behavioral
This article focuses on answering generic questions effectively. These are the questions asked in most interviews. Questions such as “Where do you want to be in five years?” and “What are your strengths?”
(This post is the 6th in a series of 7 fundamental steps every job seeker must take in order to prepare for a successful job search. This series is based on the works of the late Michael Farr, arguably the founder of the self-directed job search movement, and my work with literally thousands of career-oriented job seekers over the past 25+ years.)
Unfortunately, most job seekers do not present the skills they have to do the job effectively. This lack of performance in interviews is one reason why employers will often hire a job seeker who does well in the interview instead of someone with better credentials.
But, before we get to how to answer interview questions effectively, let’s discuss some of the other elements that lead of effectively interviewing. As I’m a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due, I will be drawing from one of the most clearly defined descriptions of how to improve your interviewing skills I’ve ever read. I’ve taught these principles with great success for nearly 30 years, and they come from the works of the late J. Michael Farr. And nothing has changed, because we’re working here with relationship building and effective communications. Here we go!
Your First Impression May Be the Only One You Make
Some research suggests that, if the interviewer forms a negative impression in the first five minutes of an interview, your chances of getting a job offer approach zero. I know from experience that many job seekers can create a lasting negative impression in seconds.
A positive first impression is so important. Here are some suggestions to help you get off to a good start: (I know...this may seem obvious, but you no idea how many people still don’t get the picture. So, it bears mentioning here.)
Dress and groom like the interviewer is likely to be dressed - but cleaner!
Employer surveys find that almost half of all people’s dress or grooming create an initial negative impression. So this is a big problem. If necessary, get advice on your interviewing outfits from someone who dresses well. Pay close attention to your grooming, too. Little things do count.
Leave in plenty of time to be a few minutes early to an interview. My suggestion is 15 minutes. No later...no earlier!
Be friendly and respectful with the receptionist.
Doing otherwise will often get back to the interviewer and result in a quick rejection.
Follow the interviewer’s lead in the first few minutes.
It’s often informal small talk but very important for that person to see how you interact. This is a good time to make a positive comment on the organization or even something you see in the office. (Be genuine in your expression, or say nothing. By the way, if you can’t say something positive about the organization, what are you doing at the interview in the first place.)
Do some homework on the organization before you go.
You can often get information on a business and on industry trends from the Internet. Almost all business now have some Internet presence, so your research capability is quite extensive.
Make a good impression before you arrive.
Your resume, e-mails, applications, and other written correspondence create an impression before the interview, so make them professional and error free.
A Traditional Interview Is Not Necessarily a Friendly Exchange
In a traditional interview situation, there is a job opening, and you will be one of several who’ve applied for it. In this setting, the employer’s task is to eliminate all applicants but one or a few. The interviewer’s questions are designed to elicit information that can be used to screen you out. and our objective is to avoid getting screened out. It’s hardly an open and honest interaction, is it?
This illustrates yet another advantage of setting up interviews before an opening exists. This eliminates the stress of a traditional interview. Employers are not trying to screen you out, and you are not trying to keep them from finding out stuff about you.
Having said that, knowing how to answer questions that might be asked in a traditional interview is good preparation for any interview you face.
How To Answer Traditional Interview Questions.
Your answers to a few key questions may determine if you get a job offer. There are simply too many possible interview questions to cover one by one. Instead, the 10 basic questions that follow cover variations of most other interview questions. So, if you can learn to answer these 10 questions well, you will know how to answer most others.
Top 10 Traditional (or Generic) Interview Questions
Why should I hire you?
Why don’t you tell me about yourself?
What are your major strengths?
What are your major weaknesses?
What sort of pay do you expect to receive?
How does your previous experience relate to the jobs we have here?
What are our plans for the future?
What will your former employer (or reference) say about you?
Why are you looking for this type of position, and why here?
Why don’t you tell me about your personal situation?
The Three-Step Process for Answering Generic Interview Questions
I know this might seem too simple, but the three-step process is easy to remember and can help you create a good answer to most interview questions. The technique has worked for thousands of people, so consider trying it. The three steps are
Understand what is really being asked.
Answer the question briefly.
Answer the real concern.
Step 1. Understand what is really being asked.
Most questions are designed to find out about your self-management skills and personality, but interviewers are rarely this blunt. The employer’s real question is often one or more of the following.
Can I depend on you?
Are you easy to get along with?
Are you a good worker?
Do you have the experience and training to do the job if we hire you?
Are you likely to stay on the job for a reasonable period of time and be productive?
Ultimately, if you don’t convince the employer that you will stay and be a good worker, it won’t matter if you have the best credentials - they won’t hire you.
Step 2. Answer the question briefly.
Present the facts of your particular work experience, but...present them as advantages, not disadvantages.
Many interview questions encourage you to provide negative information. One classic question that encourages you to provide negative information is “What are your major weaknesses?” Many people are just not prepared to answer this question effectively!
However you answer questions, your answer is not complete until you continue with Step 3.
Step 3. Answer the real concern by presenting your related skills.
Base your answer on the key skills you have that support the job, and give examples to support these skills.
Whatever your situation, learn to answer questions that present you well. It’s essential to communicate your skills during an interview, and the 3-step process can help you answer problem questions and improve your responses dramatically. It works!
The Most Important Interview Question of All: “Why Should I Hire you?”
This is the most important question to answer well. Do you have a convincing argument why someone should hire you over someone else? If you don’t you probably won’t get that job you really want. So think carefully about why someone should hire you and practice your response. Then, make sure you communicate this in the interview, even if the interviewer never asks the question in a clear way.
How’s this for a powerful example of how to answer this question:
“The reason you should hire me is because I’m dependable, easy to get along with, I’m a good worker, and I have the experience and training to do the job if you hire me, and I accept a job offer. Let me give you an example…”
Of course, this all has to be true. AND, you need to be able to validate your claims with real life examples.
Close the Interview Effectively
Most interviews simply end with a fizzle, but there are some things you can do while an interview is ending that can make a difference. Even if you are not certain you want this job, it is wise to go after a job offer - you can always turn it down later. And, it is quite possible that there are other jobs with the same employer, if the interviewer likes you.
Emphasize your key skills.
Tell the interviewer why they should hire you over someone else by reviewing the skills you have to do this job.
Ask for the job.
If you do want the job, say so! Employers want to hire people who are enthusiastic about doing the sort of work they need done.
Arrange to call back.
Ask for a specific time and date to call the employer back and ask questions or learn of your status.
Don’t Say “No” Too Quickly
Never, ever turn down a job offer during an interview! Instead, thank the interviewer for the offer and ask to consider the offer overnight. You can turn it down tomorrow, saying how much you appreciate the offer and asking to be considered for other jobs that pay better or whatever.
But, this is not time to be playing games. If you want the job, you should say so. And it is okay to ask for additional pay or other concessions. But if you simply can’t accept the offer, say why and ask the interviewer to keep you in mind for future opportunities. You just never know.