How To Answer Interview Questions That Trip Everyone Up
So you've seized an opportunity: you spotted a job you want, and you've taken the initiative. You wrote a killer cover letter, brushed up your resume and captured the attention of a potential employer. Congratulations, you proactive person, you!
Now comes the real test: the interview. In some respects, the interview process is a mutual feeling-out process. It's an opportunity for both the candidate and the interviewer to decide if the job is a good fit. But it's also a chance to showcase your real, on-the-job assets from your communication and research skills to your ability to think on your feet.
"The interview is an elimination process," Dr. Thomas J. Denham, a career counselor at Careers in Transition LLC, tells Monster.com. "The employer is trying to weed out those who are not the most worthy of the position."
In a way, the interview is an oral test—if you ace it, you will set yourself apart from the other candidates, but if you don't do your homework, you could find your resume in the rejection pile. Of course, there's no bulletproof way to know precisely which questions a potential employer will throw at you in the interview, but there are some ubiquitous (and tricky) ones you should prepare for. Arming yourself with some sharp answers ahead of time will give you the confidence to conquer any other questions that come your way. To help, we rounded up five eternal interview questions, along with expert advice on how to answer them. Study up, then go forth and land that job.
Tell me about yourself
This may seem like a softball question, but its vagueness can trip you up. Where do you start? What do they want to know beyond your resume? How do you sum up your experience without rambling on and on? Okay, deep breath.
Career coach Hallie Crawford suggests this question is merely an opportunity for potential employers to get to know a little more about you beyond your CV. "Keep in mind that they may have looked you up online and have your cover letter, so do your best not to just repeat something they have already read about you," she tells FastCompany. "Instead, is there a background story about how you got into your industry? Can you explain your unique selling proposition—why you are unique in your industry? Or, you could explain your top three values and why they are important to you."
It's important to anticipate the kind of information your interviewer is looking for, specifically, how your past experience and current interests relate to the position he or she is looking to fill.
"Think about the context from which the interviewer is asking the question, which is to say, you should tailor your answer to the particular role you want," AJ Aronstein, associate dean at Barnard College's Beyond Barnard tells Refinery29. "Tell them what you've done up to this point that makes you a good fit for the position and that should take no more than about 45 seconds to a minute." Short, sweet and to the point, got it?
Why Should We Hire You?
To prep for this question, you need to go back to the original job posting and reread the list of requirements. Find which ones reflect your skill set and prepare to elaborate with concrete examples from your past experiences.
The experts at job hub Indeed.com suggest throwing out some numbers whenever possible to support your case. "For example, if you're applying for a job as an accountant at a company that is looking for someone to streamline processes, you might explain that at your previous company, you implemented a new process for expense accounts that reduced time-to-reimbursement by 25%."
Once you've quantified your abilities, finish off by qualifying them. Is there a personal or professional asset you can bring to this role that others might not? Maybe it's your travels abroad, your volunteer experience, or your managerial success in your last job. Whatever it is, find something in your past that speaks to the job's primary requirements, and use it to suggest you're more than a qualified candidate, but a person who can bring added value to the company.
If you're stuck on what career aspect to highlight, job coach Thomas J. Denham suggests picking three to five notable successes listed on your resume and using them as bullet points in your response. "The notion is that past performance is always the best predictor of future performance," Denham tells Monster.com.
What Are Your Weaknesses?
Oh, the trickiest of trick questions. If you're too honest, you'll incriminate yourself. If you're inauthentic, you'll lose your audience. It's all about finding that sweet spot between vulnerability and strength. Nobody's perfect, we all make mistakes and interviewers know that. What they really want to see is your ability to assess your own performance, and turn potential weaknesses into strengths on the job.
In her book, 301 Answers to Tough Interview Questions, author Vicky Oliver provides one example of how to respond.
"I am extremely impatient. I expect my employees to prove themselves on the very first assignment. If they fail, my tendency is to stop delegating to them and start doing everything myself. To compensate for my own weakness, however, I have started to really prep my people on exactly what will be expected of them."
If you're still at a loss for what to say, Indeed.com has created a formula for answering this question that turns any stated negative into a positive. "First, state your weakness. Second, add additional context and a specific example or story of how this trait has emerged in your professional life. That context will give potential employers insight into your level of self-awareness and commitment to professional growth."
Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
Maybe you had a bad experience at your last job, maybe you were laid off, or maybe you're still stuck in the worst job ever. Whatever the reason, you can be honest without being negative. "Remember that you want to avoid bashing your current or past employer and the company," Crawford tells FastCompany. "This question is designed to find out why you are looking for a new job. Instead of focusing on them, focus on you. Are you looking for more career growth than what is offered where you currently work? Or a more challenging position?"
Focus on the positive aspects of your last job, or how your role or the company inspired you to pursue greater opportunities like this one. (Flattery will get you everywhere.)
What are your salary requirements?
This question is a doozy. On the one hand, it's a sign the interview is going well—you're being taken seriously as a candidate and your interviewer is ready to talk rates. On the other hand, the stakes just got higher. If you haven't done your salary research, you could low-ball yourself or price yourself out of a position you really want. Moreover, you don't even know what range they're offering. So what do you do when an interviewer tosses you the salary question? Toss it back.
"The first person who mentions a number loses when it comes to negotiations," career coach Bianca J. Jackson tells the WashingtonPost. "So I would try to get a number from them first. Every position is budgeted, so I would flip the question back onto them: 'What have you budgeted for the role?'"
Even if you don't get a concrete response, you've proven yourself a shrewd negotiator who is intrigued by what the company can offer but in no way desperate. Of course, if you're pressed to provide a salary range, don't undersell yourself. Lean towards the higher end of your salary requirements, while still ensuring your potential employer that you're flexible because the job itself is so enticing.
The bottom line when prepping for a job interview is to do your homework. Study the job posting, tailor your experiences and assets to their hiring needs and sell yourself with confidence. If you can do all that, you'll be ready for any question that comes your way.
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Every time payday rolls around, I’m on top of the world. Jeff Bezos-level rich - even though I’m anything but. And then somehow the very next day, rent is due.
The cycle continues. The next payday, bills for my apartment. I find myself without a surplus of savings since I just moved and newly-furnished my apartment completely.
Even more terrifying is the looming presence of the holiday season. Halloween’s officially over and before we know it, hello Thanksgiving…and then there’s Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s. It’s insane.
I’ve been feeling very British lately. Not in a Union-Jack-obsessed, “Keep Calm and Carry-On” way. I went through that phase in 2012 with everyone else… no thank you. And it’s not even a surge of patriotism catalyzed by the Queen dying — I’m firmly team Diana and team Meghan.
Now that fall is officially here, the holidays will sweep in and I’ll have to contend with the fact that I won’t be spending them with my family in the UK. I went home to London earlier this year, so there’s not much left in my travel budget for another trip across the pond. A few domestic jaunts might be in my future, but the closest I’ll get to England this winter is watching Love Island and Love, Actually.
So in that spirit, I’ve been filling my days with content from my favorite Brits. I’m listening to all the old British rock bands I grew up listening to, patiently awaiting the new Arctic Monkeys album, and rewatching anything with Michaela Coel in it. I even shipped myself an order of British Baked Beans, so you know it’s dire.
I’ve also been watching British YouTubers like Grace Beverley — my favorite. Generally, I only go on YouTube to watch Vogue Beauty Secrets and AD Open Door videos. But I’m so glad I stumbled on Grace. Her content is a mix of London lifestyle (what lured me in), relatable entrepreneurship, and mindful productivity. I’m not a hustle-and-grind-girlboss, but as a creative person in a 9-to-5, I need all the help I can get to stay plugged in. So, the video “how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmed” changed my approach to WFH.
Grace outlines her own productivity method: the to-do table. Instead of making a simple to-do list, she divides her tasks into a table that anyone can follow. As someone who’s survived with to-do lists for years, I recently implemented Grace’s method, and it’s revolutionized my workdays.
how to be really really really productive without getting overwhelmedwww.youtube.com
I follow her routine to a tee. Here’s how it works:
Essentially, she divides her daily responsibilities into four categories: quick ticks, tasks, projects, and non-negotiables.
- Quick Ticks: Actions that take less than 5-minutes
- Tasks: To-do’s that take up to 30-minutes. Probably don’t take too much brain energy.
- Projects: Long-term list items. These help guide your priorities, even if you’re not crossing them off in one day.
- Non-negotiables: Pick 3 things each day that you must get done. This is how you’ll truly measure success.
With everything written down and sorted, next address your schedule. Meetings, deadlines, and time blocks — whatever works best for you. Write it down. Then make a pact with yourself to stick to them.
This way of categorization provides a roadmap for prioritizing your day — making you far more productive. Have you ever spent the entire day on small tasks and then suddenly realized you hadn’t moved the needle on any task? Or do you spend way too much time on tasks that aren’t a priority? No more. With your non-negotiables laid out, you know what to laser-focus on and what to dedicate energy towards.
Also, it pays to know your working style. I’m not a morning person. Yet, I have to be up and at ‘em super early. So, first thing in the morning, I march through my Quick Ticks to warm me up. I set a time limit, so I can knock out some easy wins which is totally inspiring. Then I move on to bigger things without lingering on emails or admin. For others, it might be more helpful to tackle the big things with all that early-in-the-day brain power earlier.
Grace has great tips on avoiding overwhelm and burnout. My favorite is taking more intentional breaks rather than scrolling through social media. I call this scrolling “productive” because I’m “coming up with pitches.” Oh, the lies we tell ourselves. It’s more productive in the long run to giving my brain a break with non-screen related stimuli.
Grace’s solution? Set a timer to read a real, an actual book. I’ve never thought of this. It’s a genius way to check off some books on my TBR and kickstart my creativity. After reading a good book, I’m completely inspired to write. So having books near my desk helps me step away from the computer during my lunch break for an actual reset. (And yes, the current books I’m reading are by British authors: Assembly by Natasha Brown, and Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold by Bolu Babalolu.)
In my pursuit of switching out my WFH set-up and getting my life together, I’ve engineered my workstation for success. With my new WFH essentials and Grace’s productivity technique, I’m revitalized for work — despite the fall blues and my melancholy about the pending holidays.
Here are the things getting me hyped for work and helping me crush my Grace Beverley-inspired to-do tables — no lists in sight:
Pack your bags — Southwest Airlines is having a major sale! Fares are as low as $59 one-way if you book by October 3rd.
This end-of-summer super sale is a game-changer for your travel plans through the end of the year. Summertime travel gets all the glory. But why not take advantage of your long weekends, holidays, and PTO this fall. You’ll be surprised at how much travel you can fit in. Keep the fall/winter season exciting with domestic trips that give you all the excitement without breaking the bank. All thanks to Southwest.
Here’s the breakdown:
Where can you go?
You’ll find discounted tickets to and from most airports. Sale fares apply to cross country travel, and even Hawaii, Mexico, and the Caribbean! Whether you’re visiting a new city or revisiting your last beach vacation, this sale has fares to make your travel dreams come true.
What do the fares cover?
Southwest Airlines has multiple fare tiers, each with various benefits. Wanna Get Away fares start at $59, while Wanna Get Away Plus fares start at $89. You can also find great deals on Anytime fares, which offer priority boarding and express lanes. Then there’s Business Select tickets for a luxe experience at an affordable price point.
Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member?
You may think these sale fares are too good to be true. Is there a catch? Do you have to be a Southwest Rapid Rewards member to access them? You’re in luck — anyone can attain these fares for a limited time.
But, insider tip, you should consider signing up for Southwest Rapid Rewards. With a free sign up, you earn points and miles with each trip you take. And with this sale, each dollar you spend on these discounted tix can stretch super far until you eventually earn free travel. The only thing better than a sale is free stuff.
I’ve been browsing the Southwest Airlines site, checking out flights and dreaming.