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Look, there’s no way around this: job hunting sucks.
It’s stressful, time-consuming, and success hinges on a million different variables, each muddied by competing advice from anyone who feels emboldened to dish it out.
In the hours before a job interview, all of this comes barreling to a climax. Often, the more you rehearse your work history, the more you Google potential interview questions, the more you labor over how to charm your interviewer, the further from an offer letter you feel.
So here’s a tip … stop doing that.
Obviously, you want to be prepared for an interview. But instead of going over every esoteric question an interviewer might ask, why not home in on the few you know they will? Learning how to mold the points you want to make around different types of questions will better prepare you for the task at hand, says Mary Abbajay, president of Careerstone Group and author of Managing Up.
“There are only about 10 different questions, but 100 different ways of asking,” she says.
Here are the questions that will inevitably come up in your next interview, and how Abbajay and other career experts say you should answer them.
“Tell me about yourself”
This question, usually an interviewer’s first, isn’t as easy as it seems.
It’s not enough to just “give the employer a run down of your resume,” says Dr. Ashley Hampton, a psychologist and business coach. “And they definitely do not want to hear about your personal life.”
Instead, Hampton recommends using the time to emphasize the experience that landed you an interview, and why you’re applying for the job.
“You can assume the candidates that are interviewing are extremely similar in their accomplishments, what they can offer the company, and what they look like on paper,” she says. “Research the company, research the position, and determine what in your story makes you the best and most unique match.”
Try not to sound too rehearsed. Carmine Gallo, author of the communication guidebook Five Stars, says job seekers who can “craft compelling stories” have the upper hand — no matter the industry.
“Storytellers stand out,” he says. “They are the ones who condense a lengthy career history and wrap it in an engaging narrative, all the while connecting their experience to the [desired] company’s ultimate goal.”
“Why did you leave your last job?”
Duh! You want to do more of the type of work that the open role specializes in.
Done. Easy. Move along.
“Do not throw your old company under the bus,” Mary Abbajay says. “You’re just ‘really ready to get into what this company is all about’.”
“What did you do at your last job?”
The best job interviews, like the best resumes, focus on specifics.
Abbajay recommends brainstorming a few “stories of success” from your last two or three jobs. These narrative hooks lay out a detailed scenario where you took some sort of action and got measurable results. Maybe you increased revenue, doubled productivity, or signed a bunch of new partnerships. Whatever it is, make sure you’re not memorizing a speech. Just know the general flow of the story you want to tell, and be prepared to fold it into the framework of whatever questions the hiring manager asks.
“[The question] can be, ‘tell me about a time you worked on a team,’ or ‘have you ever led a project that was failing to success?’ You’ll have those stories in your head, no matter what they ask you,” Abbajay says.
“What’s your greatest weakness?”
Yes, hiring managers actually ask this. But it’s still in their arsenal so they can see how comfortable you are answering it, and not to pick apart your actual response.
“As an interviewer, I used this question as a personality screener to determine if the person was too boastful about strengths or not willing to admit fault in regards to weaknesses,” says Dr. Hampton. “Both could signal potential problems in working with the candidate in the future.”
So what’s the right answer?
“Say something that can be easily fixed,” Mary Abbajay recommends. “Like, ‘sometimes I get too wrapped up in the details,’ or ‘I don’t tend to network enough.’ Make sure you have a weakness, but also make sure it’s something little.”
“Do you have any questions for me?”
Yes! Yes. Dear God, yes.
Experts agree that it’s critically important for job seekers to ask good questions themselves.
The best ones get to the heart of what the employer is looking for in a candidate, beyond the nitty gritty of the day-to-day tasks.
“We love when a prospective candidate asks about our culture and values, and how their role will drive our mission forward,”, says Jim Barnett, CEO of the HR software firm Glint. “When someone is as excited as we are about [that], we know we’ve found the right fit.”