3 notoriously tough interview questions (and how to answer them)

09/08/2017
A job interview can be daunting, especially if it’s your first one. Being able to anticipate what the interviewer will ask, and preparing your responses in advance, can be the key to showing up strong and confident and securing a job offer. In April 2016, a CareerBuilder survey noted that close to 70 percent of employers said they planned to hire new employees right out of college. With employers eager to hire and the competition fierce for jobs, it’s more crucial than ever for college students and recent grads to make a good impression from the time they shake the interviewer’s hand to when they leave. To help those preparing to enter the workforce, here’s a breakdown of three intimidating interview questions and how to answer them. 1. “TELL ME ABOUT YOURSELF.” An intimidating request? Perhaps. But also empowering. In fact, it’s arguably the question most essential to the overall success of your interview and can position you as the ideal candidate for the job. Since employers often kick off with this question, it serves as a way for you to set the stage for the rest of the interview, allowing you to take control and dictate the direction of the conversation. Although it appears to prompt an open-ended response, what the employer is really looking for is a brief, succinct snapshot of what makes you the best fit for the job. “Tell me about yourself” does not mean tell me everything. Your response should be an elevator pitch – on steroids – that positions you as the person that fills the role they are looking for in this job. 2. “WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?” Answering one of the most dreaded interview questions is actually easier than it seems. Understanding your strengths can help you identify not only where you’re going to best fit, but also where you can potentially get into trouble. So, how do you identify your weaknesses in a context that keeps the employer’s opinion of you untarnished and your image as an ideal job candidate intact? There are several approaches. The first strategy is to package your weaknesses as strengths. Instead of presenting the areas you need improvement in as weaknesses, describe them as areas you are actively working on to improve and transform into strengths. Discuss the actual steps you are taking to address and advance in these areas. But be mindful of your answer; do not label as a weakness an area or skill that is critical to the role you are interviewing for. Another approach to identifying your weaknesses is to address the elephant in the room, so to speak. For example, if you have an obvious or prominent weakness that the employer will stumble upon regardless of whether or not you mention it, like a low GPA, it is best to get in front of it and bring it up on your own. By proactively addressing your weakness head on, it gives you the opportunity to explain yourself and the situation before the employer has a chance to jump to their own conclusions or prematurely judge you. An alternate way to safely respond to this question, is to choose an area or skill that has nothing to do with the job you are applying for, but that you still consider a weakness. This way you provide a suitable answer without hurting your chances of landing the job, or causing any reason for the employer to doubt your qualifications for the job. 3. “WHY SHOULD I HIRE YOU?” This is your chance (in two minutes or less) to address three things: why me, why this job and why this company. The appropriate way to structure your response is to work backwards. Your answer should end with the objective. Open with one or two sentences about your life outside of college — this shows you are a real person who has accumulated life experiences, and it accentuates your ability to contribute a unique perspective to the team. Next, give a brief overview of your education and relevant work experience, connecting the dots as to why you are qualified for this role. Finally, provide a status check. Ask yourself: Where am I now? What do I want? This is an opportunity to express to the employer why you are here interviewing for this particular job, at this particular company, at this particular point in time, and what makes you the right fit. Show that you’ve done your homework. In preparation for the interview, research the company and the person you’re meeting with and review the job description, roles and responsibilities. You might not be able to prepare for everything, or even every interview question, but it’s important to dedicate the time and effort. The greatest way to set yourself apart from the other candidates interviewing for the same position is to prepare and practice responses to potential questions in advance of your interview. Preparation not only provides you with the tools you need to answer the employer’s questions with confidence and ease, but it could also be the difference between securing a job offer or continuing your job search. Susan Brennan is the associate vice president of University Career Services at Bentley University, which was recently ranked No. 1 in “Best Career Services” by the 2017 Princeton Review. Click here to read the rest of this article
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