Finally, finally, I got my degree and am now starting to think about going on job interviews and getting my first non-college job. I’ve had some jobs while here at Uni, but I’m just wondering what to expect. What are the most common questions I can expect to be asked on an interview?
Ah yes, one of those classic rites of passage, the job interview. Now that you’re a free man (or woman) you need to get a job and work for The Man. Well, you know what I mean.
I started the process when I was in college and had to go through the interview process – and landed a job – while I was between my Junior and Senior year at my undergrad school, the University of California, San Diego. I don’t recall it being particularly scary, but I had a buddy who worked at the company (Logicon Corp.) and had prepped them, speaking very highly of me. I think I had to pay him back in beer, somehow, but I did get the job.
The first step, of course, is to have a good resume, which is a bit out of the scope of what you’re asking me, but I will say that there are a ton of resources online to help you create a simple and succinct document that highlights your strengths, expertise and experiences, even if you’re fresh out of school. And one tip: triple check that you have zero typos. You’d be surprised…
Now, on to those interview questions
A huge difference between high school/college jobs and more professional positions that you’ll start taking now that you’re in your career path is that once you get a job, you’ll find that you’ll be asked to interview job candidates. What you’re trying to ascertain is are they competent? do they know what they say they know? are they going to be a team player? can they handle being told what to do, and how? are they going to be committed to the success of the project / company?
Turning that around, the most common questions should be no surprise:
Tell Me About Yourself….
Yes, they have your resume sitting on their desk, but they want to hear it from you. This is not the time to talk about that hilarious prank you pulled on the sorority house down the street or how you stuck a banana in the tail pipe of the campus police after they harassed you because you were skateboarding in a no skateboarding zone!
Instead, you want to make a succinct statement about your professional achievements, your educational highlights, and your goals in your career. For example, “Just wrapped up my degree in journalism, wrote for the campus paper for the last two years, and earned an award for my investigative series on used textbook pricing. What was cool was that article also made it into the Podunk Times. That’s really the kind of work I want to do, but I realize that I have to pay my dues before I can start getting pieces on the front page.”
Why Do You Want to Work Here?
Here’s where you need to have done some homework before the interview. Know some facts about the company and be prepared to share them to demonstrate you aren’t just looking for a paycheck but really care about the firm. Remember, the people interviewing you work there, so for them, at least, it is a big deal that they’re part of the company.
You should talk about what you like and admire about the company and what you can bring to the team. This is a great time to remember John F. Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but instead what you can do for your country” sort of philosophy.
When I got my degree I switched from Logicon to Hewlett-Packard, and I can remember saying that “I’ve always admired HP and its achievements as a company. I’d love to work here with some of the best and brightest in the industry. I bring enthusiasm!”
As a tip, never say “because I’m desperate to earn some money and pay off my student loans” or “I really need a job” or “because you pay well”. Not the right vibe, y’know?
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
This is probably not going to be quite as relevant if you’re really fresh out of college, but it’s a common question and don’t be surprised if you’re asked this anyway. Heck, you might already have a job working on campus or a “student job”. That’s easy, then, because the answer is straightforward: because I graduated.
However, what they are seeking is to ascertain whether you’re a troublemaker or complainer. If you had problems, be honest, but don’t make it all about everyone else. Own a piece of the situation if it was a bad manager or bad co-worker, and talk about how you’ve learned from it and won’t have it affect your work with the new company.
This is not the moment to start talking about conspiracy theories or about how “the boss had it in for me”, even if it’s true. Sometimes, yeah, you can end up with a jerk of a boss or find yourself in a company where your colleague is the favorite son and everyone else gets the crap work. Even if that’s true, though, you need to think about what the interviewer wants to hear since your goal isn’t complete veracity but to seem like a great addition to the team, a really good hire. Don’t lie, but don’t air your dirty laundry either.
What’s Your Greatest Strength / Major Weakness
Interviewers are looking for a candid assessment here, so prepare by having a reasonable, but not alarming weakness and a solid, but not goofy strength. For example “I’m really organized and kind of obsessive about hitting deadlines, but I’m also easily distracted by the latest and greatest, so I find I work best with a lot of small milestones that help me stay on target for the bigger deliverables.”
It’s great if you can give a few examples of this, and even one where that weakness turned out to be an advantage. What I think goes over poorly for an interviewer with any experience are stupid answers like “I’m a perfectionist so I spend tons of extra time to make sure I’ve done the best possible job I can.” That’s the interview equivalent of a dating profile that says “loves talking walks on the beach”. I mean, really?
Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?
This is a test question to see if you’re planning on having the job just long enough to find a better one and split in a few months, or whether you’re planning on having this be the first major step on your career path. Less so than in the past, it’s still true that candidates who have had a lot of jobs in a short amount of time are more risky than those that have stayed at a company 2-3 years before hopping to a new firm.
I would strongly encourage you to really look at your post-college job as a multi-year commitment to being a contributor, a team player, and learning as much as you can about the world of work before you start looking for that next opportunity.
What Hobbies Do You Have? What Sports Do You Play?
These are ways for the interviewer to ascertain whether you have a life out of work and if so, how obsessive you are about it. Hopefully you do have some hobbies and now’s a good time to talk about them but probably not like “I play volleyball every day from 12-3 and plan on continuing until I’m too old – like you – to play any more.” That would not be good.
This is, however, when you can establish a bit of a personal connection with the interviewer too. Ask them what sports they like and what hobbies they have. Perhaps you’ll find a common interest such as chess or snowboarding that can really help you gain a thumbs up from them when they later meet and discuss whether to extend a job offer to you.
What Are Your Salary Expectations?
This might be a bit different from your college jobs too: now that you’re moving into your post-college career, you’ll be moving into a salaried position, which means that you’ll get paid the same whether you put in 35 hours or 60. It’s no longer a per-hour pay range, and you can bet that they already have a target range for how much they’re going to pay someone in any position that they hire.
To some extent this is a bit of a game, so what I suggest is that instead of answering with a number, deflect it by saying “I’m not really sure. What are you expecting to pay someone in this position with my level of experience?” (cunning, eh?)
Still, you should ask a few people in advance and research classified adverts to see what salary they offer just to have a sense of what is industry normal. This is the point in time when you can respond with “Ah, well, I was expecting a bit more” or “I was digging around on the Web and found that the average salary for this position is actually $x. Do you have any flexibility?” In fact, there’s a lot of average salary information online too, if you dig a bit.
What Have I Forgotten to Ask?
This is a great place to summarize your skills, interests, team spirit and genuine desire to work at the organization and contribute to its success. Convince the interviewer that you’d be a fun, valuable addition to the team and would help them look good for having hired you.