Job Interviews: Don’t Be So Nervous. Simplify.Posted: May 6, 2012
Let’s start things off with a two question survey, because everybody loves two question surveys.
Question #1) Do you get nervous about job interviews?
If you answered No, please congratulate yourself, you cool cat, and go ace that interview. If you answered Yes, please move on to the next question.
Question #2) Which of the following would you say is the factor that contributes MOST to your nervousness about job interviews?
A) I’m not sure what to wear
B) I don’t know how to tie a tie
C) I’m not very good at speaking
D) I am a walrus
E) I’m not sure what questions they’re going to ask me
F) I’m not sure if they will like my answers to their questions
If you answered A): Always wear a suit and tie, even if you’re interviewing to be a mechanic. For the record, “business casual” means “suit and tie” if you are older than 18. If you don’t own a suit, then try to get as close as you can by wearing nice pants, a button-down shirt, and a tie. If you are looking to buy a suit but are wondering what kind of suit, what kind of shirt, what kind of tie? then here is your answer — dark gray wool suit, light shirt, solid dark tie. Click here to see exactly what to wear. If you can only afford one suit, it should look like that one.
[Note: I’m sorry, female friends, but I don’t have specific style advice for you on this one; wear whatever you think is the female version of suit and tie and you’ll look great.]
If you answered B): Always go with the Windsor Knot. Click here and perfect this knot at least one day before the interview.
If you answered C): Complete this 2-minute warmup for your vocal cords and pronunciation muscles. Speak it aloud by yourself in your bedroom before you leave for the interview. Why? Because you will literally say words better, you will notice this, noticing this will increase confidence, increased confidence will put you at ease, and being at ease will make you a better speaker…ta-daa!
If you answered D): Stop that. There can only be one.
If you answered E): Keep reading.
If you answered F): Keep reading.
Okay, the problem for both of you E)’s and F)’s comes down to one very simple thing. All the popular websites providing “The Most Common Interview Questions and Best Answers to Them” suffer from one problem: They have way too many questions, and each question has way too many answers. (See horrifying example by clicking here.) This is why you are nervous! The more interview questions you see, the more questions you worry about and the more answers you try to memorize. It’s not uncommon for some of you to memorize five possible “best” answers to the 20 most “common” interview questions to help you “ace” your interview. That’s 100 answers, and it is maniacal.
In short, websites featuring “The Most Common Interview Questions and Best Answers to Them” are too complicated. In your case, E) and F) folks, such over-complication leads to pre-interview nervousness. Furthermore, such an over-complicated approach might cause you to be stiff and awkward while answering questions during the interview (assuming you can remember all the answers), or — even worse — the interviewer might not even ask those “common” questions, and you’ll be left trying to make up answers on the spot to questions you were not prepared for.
Craziness! Madness, I tell you! What a terrible approach to take in preparing for an interview.
So let’s simplify.
Before I give you nine of the toughest-yet-common interview questions I have encountered and only ONE answer — NOT A MILLION — for each of them, I must impress upon you two important guidelines.
1) Every line in your resume is a story that you can tell in one minute. Another way of saying this is: Each line in your resume can serve as an “example” for any time an interviewer asks, “Can you give me an example?” You should know these stories like the back of your hand so that you can clearly illustrate who you are, what you’re good at, and how you’re good at it.
2) The more (good) questions you ask, the more an interviewer will like you. Write down approximately 15 basic questions that you could ask an interviewer at any company. Write them down on a piece of notepad paper that you can take to any interview. Beyond those 15 questions, you must do your homework: Learn about the company and its position in the industry (is it a large or small company, do they sell expensive products/services or “value” products/services), then write down two or three specific and insightful questions about the company and its fit in the industry. If you can’t think of enough insightful questions about the company’s strategy or its fit within the industry, then try to think of insightful questions for the specific department within the company for which you are applying. Either way, these questions should make the interviewer say, “Wow…that is a great question.” This will set you apart.
Now, let’s get back to Simplify. Why, exactly, am I stressing it so much? Why am I insisting that you narrow your focus to only nine interview questions?
Because it will make you flexible. You will be able to improvise. This is important, because real-world interviews are not question-answer, question-answer, question-answer format. They are conversations. You need to improvise, you need to adapt a few prepared answers to fit with any question the interviewer might throw your way.
Perfecting your one — and only one — answer to each of the nine toughest-yet-common interview questions will allow you to practice for 9 questions and be able to answer 29. It’s like The Sinatra Test: If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere; if you can answer the toughest questions, you can answer the easy ones. Once you know your specific, in-depth answers to the nine toughest questions, you will be able to take bits and pieces from each answer to create an improvised, natural, well-spoken answer to any question — whether it be a tough question or easy question — and in doing so exhibit yourself as a calm, confident, and competent person. This is a good thing. Interviewers like those sort of people.
Without further ado, here are nine of the toughest questions that I have been asked in almost every interview, and the ONE answer for each question that has impressed the interviewer every single time. This concludes the “article” portion of this blog post; everything else below will actually take some time to complete, if you decide to attempt it. Obviously you can’t use my answers, but you can certainly use them as a template. Even if you don’t use my answers as a template, the important thing is that you create one perfect answer that addresses the “translation” (i.e., “What they’re really saying:”) of each question.
Q1: “Tell me a little about yourself.”
What they’re really saying: “I’m trying to figure out why you want this job and if you’re a good fit.”
A: “I studied marketing at Boston University’s School of Management because [why:] I wanted to apply my analytical and creative problem-solving skills to the area of business that delivered value to consumers and clients, especially when it came to data-driven market research and understanding and appealing to consumer and client needs. When I studied abroad in New Zealand, [good fit:] I was a market research intern and learned how to apply data-driven market research skills to a real-world business, which is why when this position opened up, I thought it would be a good fit.”
Notice that the answer has a chronological, natural story-like structure, but it also says what I’m interested in, and what I’ve done recently related to that. Your answer doesn’t have to be so formulaic, but the interviewer’s takeaway should be that applying for this job was the next natural step.
Q2: “What are your weaknesses?”
What they’re really saying: “You’re not perfect, so how do you compensate?”
A: “I pay incredible attention to detail and wholeheartedly want to do the very best job that I can on any task that I do, but sometimes this causes me to take too long in completing tasks. I’ve been working on this by constantly reminding myself that ‘a job well done’ involves not just a great final product, but a great final product that is completed efficiently and delivered quickly.”
Note the “sandwiching” technique: the good thing (it’s good to have attention to detail and want to do the very best job you can) comes first, the bad thing (too long to complete tasks) is in the middle, and another good thing — and the most important thing — ends the sentence. This last part is most important; you should make sure you show them how you compensate.
Q3: “How do you handle stress?”
What they’re really saying: “Do you have good problem-solving, time-management, and decision-making skills?”
[Cite at least one–if not all three–skills in your answer, and use a specific example. Sometimes a personal answer can work (e.g., I exercise three times a week to stay balanced), but it’s safer to answer how you handle stress or pressure on the job.]
A: “In stressful situations, I really like to let my executive function skills kick in by taking a step back and quickly analyzing the best way to solve the problem. Just taking one minute or less to really analyze the situation and decide what main problem needs to be focused on, figure out how to produce the highest quality of work concerning that main problem, and determine how to do it as quickly as possible. For example, in my Strategy Consulting class my team frequently had project deadlines which required a high volume of work to be handed in, and we often needed to complete that work in a very short period of time.”
“So, first I would prioritize the importance of different types of content that needed to be handed in – the supporting arguments for our consulting recommendations were always the most important, so I decided this would be the main thing that we would focus on. This specificity not only increased our focus on the most important task to allow for greater quality of work, the increased focus consequently allowed us to finish the important task much more quickly than before. Additionally, I broke things down even further by having each teammate complete a part of the task that he or she was most capable of completing, so now each teammate was able to do his/her one job better and more quickly than any other teammate.”
“Once we had completed the most important task in this manner, we would then move on to the less-important tasks with a similar approach, and they would be completed very quickly as well.”
Q4: “What would others say about you?”
What they’re really saying: “Are you a good fit for our team?”
[Always answer this question based on what previous colleagues and employers would or have said about you. Include any weaknesses to give a well-rounded answer, too. Don’t be afraid of commenting on relational skills.]
A: “The one thing that I most often hear from colleagues, bosses, and academic teammates is that I am a very good teammate myself, and I’m always a pleasure to work with. The specific reasons for why they appreciate me as a teammate vary though. My AAAAAAAAAA teammates and my teammates from my BBBBBBBBBBB development project both praised my very unique analytical and creative mindset that allowed me to think of ideas and solutions to things in a way that was completely uncommon but extremely effective. They might also mention my tendency to care a little bit too wholeheartedly about every task, as I mentioned before, but I think that they ultimately came to appreciate that characteristic. My boss from XXXXXXXXXXX once pulled me aside to thank me for working there for such a long time and always showing an outstanding work ethic that allowed me to work hard all day and lead by example in doing that. And my bosses and colleagues at YYYYYYYYYYYY thanked me for my initiative to create tasks for myself; tasks that I had not been asked to do, but wanted to do simply because I genuinely and wholeheartedly believed that I could do things that would make a long-term, positive contribution to my company.”
Q5: “Where do you see yourself in five (or ten) years?”
What they’re really saying: “Do you know where you’re going in life, and are we a part of it?”
[If the job is an entry or even mid-level position, chances are that they know you won’t be there in five years. They’re testing to see whether you’re stable, reliable, and have clear goals. Start with the big picture, then narrow down to the specific company and/or position.]
A: “I see myself as a market research analyst or a marketing communications executive. I say both of those because they’re fairly similar to one another in that they are both related to learning about consumers and what they want and then communicating your product or service offering in the most appealing way. Also, I say both because they would prepare me for even further down the road in my career as I would eventually like to oversee new product development at a technology firm, which would require research and marketing skills obtained in the two types of positions I just mentioned.”
Q6: “You don’t seem to have a whole lot of experience.”
A: “Yes, it is true that I may not have five or ten years of experience in this field, but I can tell you that in my internship experience at YYYYYYYYYYY, I didn’t know very much going in, but I was able to be very successful there. I went in without any experience doing market research for a real-world organization, much less doing analysis and making useful recommendations for them, but I was ultimately able to succeed by performing market research that was above and beyond what they expected, and was a genuinely valuable asset to the organization. So although I don’t have a lot of experience in this industry, I am very capable of going into a situation with little experience and having the ability to learn quickly and perform very well.”
Note that this is a simple case of turning the seemingly negative question in your favor. Do this by agreeing with them, making the concession that you do not have much experience. But then go on to mention a good quality about yourself, and provide a detailed example from your experience to really sell your point.
Q7: “Tell me about a time you had the ability to overcome obstacles and find solutions.”
A: “There were a lot of obstacles in the ideation of a new product for my new product development team project. First off, my team pitched literally a hundred ideas for what our product would be for the semester-long project, which was extremely difficult because of all the restrictions on what product ideas were and were not allowed: the product could not currently exist in the market or build off of some product in existence, it could not be any sort of combination product (so no toothbrushes with floss in them), it could not be anything related to food, and – most restrictive – it could not be a product idea that had already been used by a team in the program’s past, and the program was at least 5 years old, so, ultimately, this meant that there were already hundreds of product ideas that you couldn’t do simply because other teams had thought of them in the past.”
“So, we had to create a product that was not only beneficial to a large enough number of consumers to sell it to, but also a product that was a completely original in both the real world and in comparison to past projects. Eventually I was the one who came up with a product idea that passed this gigantic checklist. It’s definitely an academic achievement I’m proud of because it took a lot of patience, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and imagination to come up with that idea, and it took a lot of teamwork and determination to finally design a product that was capable of being mass-produced.”
Q8: “Why do you want to leave your current employer?”
Focus on all the good things you are looking to get out of the potential employer (instead of all the bad things you dislike at your current employer).
A: “I really need to be in place where I can get guidance to grow as a professional in a wholehearted environment. What I mean by that is – an environment where most senior employees have been in the company for a long time, and are personally committed to the success of the company and the company’s clients. Also, I need to be in place that satisfies my insatiable curiosity about consumer behavior, learning about how people feel about certain products or companies and what people want, in order to – ultimately – help clients deliver value to those end customers.”
Q9: “What would your salary requirements be for this position?”
You need to research your answer for this, but it’s very easy. Simply go to http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/index.htm , click the drop-down menu and change it from “Companies” to “Salaries,” then type in the company you’re interviewing for and its location and click “Search.” This will take you to a new page. On this new page, look for the job title you’re interviewing for and the salary range for it.
A: “Based on a lot of research I’ve done concerning [Job Title] positions at [Company’s Industry] firms in the Boston area, and what I’ve learned during other interviews with other [Same Industry/Competitor] firms, I would say that my ideal starting salary for this position would be $xx,xxx.”
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