I’m graduating with my Bachelor’s degree and am excited to finally be done with school, but I’m also really nervous about getting out into the job force. In particular, I’m scared about going on job interviews. What kind of questions do they ask and what are the best answers?
Congratulations on your graduation, first and foremost. Quite an accomplishment and all-too-often it seems like four years of boring irrelevant classes with an occasional class that’s actually related to your major, but however you slice it, nice job! Ah, I remember the day…
Then again, when I got my undergraduate degree, they gave me an empty holder: I was one credit short and had to take an art history class at the local junior college to meet the requirement. That, as they say, is a completely different story, however!
In terms of a job interview, they can definitely be scary and some companies make them intimidating because they want to see how you handle pressure and stress: if you can’t survive a tough interview question, you’re definitely not going to do well when the client is upset and everyone has to put in a double-shift to fix things by Monday morning. So keep that in mind as you proceed.
Further, think about the message you communicate as you talk. If you demonstrate your passion for surfing, they might think that you’ll be calling in sick every time there’s a sunny day and good waves in the forecast. If you emphasize how much you’ve done as an individual that could be interpreted as “not a team player”. If you spend all your time sharing that you can’t wait to learn from the best, well, you could seem a bit of a suck-up and also not an ideal new team member.
There are also common questions that arise. Let’s look at the ten most common…
Tell me about yourself?
You should think through this in advance rather than stumble around. Think about what they want to hear too: talk about your work experience, your comfort in team settings, your enthusiasm towards your employer, and your ability to balance work and life. Mention jobs you’ve had that are similar to what you’re doing. Since you’re just starting out in your career, talk about college work or volunteer work you’ve done that’s similar.
Why did you leave your last job?
This is one of those trap questions that you hear about on interviews. The key is to never complain about the organization or your manager. A much better way to frame things is “needed a new horizon” or “bigger challenges” or similar positive spin on things. If you speak poorly of managers, co-workers or a former employer, they’ll hear that you’re a complainer and didn’t fit in and that’ll not reflect well on you.
What do you know about our company?
Do your homework. What’s the industry buzz about the company? Who are the key players? What are the major issues in the industry?
Are you applying for other jobs?
Answer honestly, but not in detail. “Yes, I’m exploring a variety of options, but this is definitely my top choice.” Then move on to the next question as quickly as possible.
Why do you want to work for this company?
This is where you can tie in your research on the company. Talk about the challenges of the industry, talk about the innovation that this company exhibits and how you want to help move the industry forward and help people. Be sincere, talk about your long-term career goals and you’ll survive this question just fine.
What kind of salary do you hope to receive?
This is a trap question for sure. Answer too high and you’ve just shot yourself in the foot. Answer much lower than they are prepared to pay and you’ll either seem clueless or someone who undervalues their own contribution. Instead, stall: “Hmm… that’s a tough one. Can you tell me the salary range for this position, please?” If they won’t answer that, offer a wide range of salaries and let them make you an offer later, if you ace the interview. Something like “$30-$45K, maybe?”
What irritates you most about your co-workers?
Here’s another trick question for you. Imagine you’re the interviewer for a minute and a candidate says “my former colleagues are jerks, that’s why I want a new job”. Would you hire them? Of course not. Instead, the way to finesse this is to not have any complaints about your colleagues or to have them be benign, like “they weren’t as committed to getting the job done on schedule as I was” or similar. You can’t lose with an answer like “don’t really know, I get along great with my colleagues.”
What is your greatest strength?
This is another one where a bit of forethought will be beneficial. Be positive, but be specific. Good answers are your ability to prioritize, to work under pressure, to focus, to get along with colleagues, to help others and ask for help when needed, to meet deadlines, etc. A great one: your positive attitude. No-one likes a complainer!
Tell me a bit about your dream job?
This is a no-win question. If you say that the job you’re interviewing for is your dream job, you sound like someone who doesn’t have much of a career goal. If you say something else, however, then you sound like someone who might move on as soon as a better opportunity arises. My advice is to be vague and talk about the attributes of your dream job rather than a specific position. You know, “great people, great work environment, changing the world, having fun”. Heck, I want that job too!
Tell me about a problem you had with a supervisor?
Don’t fall for this. Don’t bad mouth your current or most recent boss or you’ll blow the entire interview right there. Stay positive, be enthusiastic, and confess to a poor memory of any problems you had.
The key to a successful interview is really positive, positive, positive. Do your homework, and approach it as something fun. It’s also your chance to interview the company and its team members about what it’s like and what they do and don’t like about their job and the business. Who knows, they might love you and you might decide it’s just not an environment that’s going to help you thrive…
And good luck to you!