The prospect of a job interview usually produces anxiety.  I find the anxiety stems largely from these questions: how do I answer these specific questions? And will they like me/think I’m qualified/think I’m good enough/think I fit in?  Reducing the anxiety is possible with specific preparation around these questions.

The first question is fairly simple to address with scripts.  When I know what to say, it’s a whole lot easier for me to feel comfortable.  While sometimes an interviewer will ask something unusual, there are pretty common questions you can anticipate and for which you can develop responses. These include:

  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • What value will you bring us?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about a success.
  • Tell me about a time you failed.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Why did you leave this job?
  • Have you ever been fired?
  • How did you get interested in this field?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10) years?
  • What are 3 words that describe you?
  • What is your leadership or management style?
  • If I were to ask an employee what you were like as a boss, what would I be told?
  • What do you want to learn in this position/at this company?

There are plenty of sites that have lists of questions often asked in interviews.  The tougher part is coming up with answers. Here are a few rules of thumb:

Write out your answers – keep it brief!  Have a main point for each answer with a little supporting language, especially an example of your past work. Examples (or stories) speak volumes about how you think, how you work, how you approach situations, challenges, problems, and solutions – which is what an employer wants to know. You won’t have done exactly what they need, in most cases, so it’s important to tell them how you approach things.

  • TIP:  Go through the job description and write examples of how you have done the particular things called for in the position.

Do a mock interview with a friend or colleague to see how you sound, and change your answers if you need to. Ask the other person to put on their “employer” hat, give them a copy of the job description, your resume and a list of questions. Then ask them for feedback on content, tone, confidence level, completeness of your answer. Repeat the process, until you feel more comfortable.

  • TIP: Show some real emotions in your answers. There is no right answer to any question, and that means you will differentiate yourself by showing authentic passion for your work,enthusiasm about the job and the employer, excitement about using your skills, humor if appropriate, and conviction that this is the right position for you and you are the right person for the job. It’s OK to say “I love geology, and how it tells the story of our planet, and I’m fascinated by how we can use geology to meet our needs for fuel and food. That’s why I would love to work for ABC company, because it would give me the chance to use my geology skills in a real-life situation, and see how it all really works.”

Emphasize positive things. I suggest phrasing like “I’ve learned about myself that I want to come up with solutions on my own, and that’s not always the best way to operate. So my approach now is to make sure I consult with a few people about a problem, gather their ideas, then come up with a solution I can present to my boss that incorporates other people’s great ideas and therefore has more validity. For example, I had to come up with a system for doing xyz. I had some ideas about how to do it, and in the past, I might have just presented that. But I’ve learned that the people affected by a system often have much better hands-on knowledge and their own ideas about how to fix the system. So I went and talked to a few people, ran my ideas by them, and got two things: one, validation that I was on the right track; and two, some great ideas for improving the system. The real benefit was that I could tell my boss I’d gotten input and that these people were already on board with using the new system, and selling it to the rest of their colleagues. That’s the approach I’d take in this new job – to make sure I test my ideas and get input to improve them before I finalize the proposed solution.”

  •  TIP: This answer doesn’t use the word “weakness”  – I recommend not repeating that word, and instead using the phrase “what I’ve learned” or “an area that challenges me” or “I’ve found that I naturally do this and it’s not always the most effective approach.”  You also want to say how you’ve compensated for that weakness – so that it no longer is something you do all the time.  Everyone has weak areas – the question is do you recognize them, and have you done something about them so you won’t harm your next employer.

Circle back to the job or employer. Employers care about your past only as it relates to them achieving their goals. So everything you say must somehow support the idea that YOU will help them get to where they want to go.  A position description is a statement of need, or an indicator of “pain” – a problem that needs to be solved, a gap that needs to be filled, an unmet need or missed opportunities.  If you grasp their pain, show that you understand what they need, you’re halfway to getting the job offer.

  • TIP:  Refer to the job description in your answer and the desired outcome/impact. “I see you need someone who can do XYZ, and this is one example of how I’ve done exactly that for ABC employer with these results. I know I can do that for you.”

The second set of questions have to do more with “fit” than with skills. You wouldn’t have gotten the interview unless you met basic requirements. Sure, you’ll have to show that you really do know what you’re talking about, but “fit” is more about emotional responses to how you are in the interview. I will write more about “fit” in a future post. For now, here’s one thing to remember about interviews:

Interviews are a conversation. You get to ask questions, as well as answer them.


photo: Brett Davies via Compfight