Smart job seekers know the importance of preparing for a phone or in-person interview. You may already think you are the perfect fit for the position, but doing your homework beforehand will help convince the hiring manager of your talents as well. Even still, the hardest part of the preparation isn’t researching the company or memorizing your resume—it’s anticipating which questions the interviewer will ask and knowing the best ways you should answer.
To help outline the best question-and-answer tactics, NerdScholar asked college career experts to share advice on the topic. Try your answers at the following questions and see how you would fare during the interview.
[Want more career advice? Check out our Job Search Guide for Gen Y.]
1. Tell me about yourself.
This is probably the most common of all interview questions, and typically the first thing a job candidate will hear. Now is the time to introduce yourself to the interviewer. “Take this as an opportunity to identify the most important information about you,” says Shannon Merchant, a career consultant at Texas Christian University. “It’s like a commercial allowing you to introduce the qualifications you most want an employer to know.” Make sure your answer to this question notes “your qualifications and ties your interest in the position into what the employer needs,” says Sarah Trzeciak, career center director at the University of Colorado Denver.
Tailoring your answer to the position will also help you avoid sharing too much about yourself, says Patty Bishop, director of career development at St. Mary’s College of California. Too many personal details “can be dangerous, so be concise and authentic. Remember, interviewing is not just a question of whether you have the skills to do the job,” says Bishop, “it’s oftentimes a question of personality fit.”
2. What experience do you have that makes you a good fit for this position?
“If you haven’t already outlined your qualifications, now is the time to describe how your past experiences—paid and unpaid—tie into the job description,” Trzeciak says. “Highlight experience that showcases your transferable skills and make a direct link to how those skills would benefit the employer.”
Think about and carefully choose (preferably before the interview) the experiences you use to answer this question. And, Merchant advises, “don’t be afraid to be explicit in explaining why you believe this experience or skill is relevant based on what you know about the position.”
3. What are your weaknesses?
Interviewers want to hear about your real weaknesses; this is a chance for them to gauge your honesty. “Claiming your biggest weakness is perfectionism and you work too hard is disingenuous and hiring managers know it,” Bishop warns.
Still, it is important to discuss your weaknesses “in a way that will not damage your chances,” says Roberta Cross, career services director at Washington & Jefferson College. Phrase your answer to end on a positive note, she says, to show what measures you are taking to improve yourself. For example, instead of saying your weakness is that you don’t do well speaking in front of large groups, Cross advises saying, “I know I need to allow extra time to prepare when talking [or] presenting to large groups, so I have reviewed resources to gain tips for improving my public speaking.”
4. Why are you interested in this opportunity at this company?
The interviewer wants to hear exactly why the company caught your attention in the first place. It is the perfect time to “show off your research and tell the employer why you are interested in this opportunity as opposed to any other,” Merchant says. “It’s also a good opportunity to tell an employer what you are hoping to learn through this experience.”
Merchant adds that “candidates should be familiar with the company website and all aspects of the organization and department that can be gleaned ahead of time.” Think about this question during your research to help you identify the main reasons you want the job. “The more you can focus in and provide personal examples that emphasize what skills they need,” says Rachel Gibson, a career counselor at Creighton University, “the more they will be able to see you working for their organization.”
5. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Employers want to hire ambitious individuals who can help take the company to the next level while achieving their own personal goals. You don’t need to have your future mapped out, but it is important to have a sense of your long-term career and education goals, Trzeciak says. “This is used to determine longevity with the company, but also potential. It’s okay to be vague, but demonstrate a commitment to the position and the company.”
6. What superhero power would you want and why?
There are many oddball questions employers like to ask during interviews, but, according to our experts, this is one of the most common. Questions like these have several functions. “Some employers or on-campus organizations like to see how students react under pressure,” Merchant says. How you react will also demonstrate your critical-thinking skills, says Trzeciak. “The answer isn’t important, it’s your reasoning behind it.” She says it’s “also okay to ask for a moment to think about [your answer].” Doing so will help calm your nerves under pressure.
Bishop also advises students to be creative and have fun when answering oddball questions. “If you can treat an interview more like a first date, you will be perceived as someone who is genuine” and easy to work with. How you answer might also determine your cultural fit within the company.
7. Why should we hire you?
“The easy answer is that you are the best person for the job,” says Bishop. “Don’t be afraid to say so,” but avoid being perceived as arrogant. She adds that “the key is to back up [your statement] with what specifically differentiates you. Illustrate this by your passionate examples.” Always remember to frame your answers in terms of what value you can add to the company, she says.
Gibson says interviewers typically save this question for the end of the meeting. Finishing with a strong answer is crucial to getting the job offer and, she says, “re-emphasizing exactly what you have that they want at the end” of the interview will help you accomplish this.
8. Do you have any questions for me?
Usually asked at the end of the interview, your answer to this question is not so much about your past experiences or knowledge of the company, but is still important. This is your chance to interview the interviewer and display your interest in the position, Trzeciak says. She advises candidates avoid asking questions about salary, benefits and hours, and instead “focus on questions that will help you determine if you want to work there.” The interviewer’s answers can also bring up opportunities to add extra examples of why you are qualified.
Shannon Merchant is a Career Consultant at Texas Christian University where she works with undergraduates, graduates, and alumni primarily in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines within the College of Science and Engineering.
Sarah Trzeciak serves as Director of the Career Center at the University of Colorado Denver, where she works to help students find the language to communicate their strengths to future employers. Trzeciak holds a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Family Studies from Colorado State University.
Rachel Gibson is a Career Counselor at Creighton University. She previously worked at Wichita State University and the University of Kansas and has counseled students one-on-one, worked with employers, and has conducted over 200 student-staff interviews.
Roberta Cross has served as the Director of Career Services at Washington & Jefferson College for 12 years. She has worked in career services for 19 years and holds a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Higher Education Administration.
Patty Bishop is the Director of Career Development for Saint Mary’s College of California and has been with the College for 17 years. Patty currently serves on the Board of Directors as Past President of MPACE, the Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges & Employers,
Interview image courtesy of Shutterstock.