Learn and improve
A lot can depend on a job interview, and most people find interviewing about as much fun as going to the dentist. The thought of doing an interview gives many people clammy hands and wobbly knees. Yet doing well in a job interview has not so much to do with talent, but mostly with practice. Applying for a job is just a skill like any other. That means that, regardless of your current level of skill, you can improve at it. All it takes is an open mind and some focused practice. In my work as a recruiter, I conducted many job interviews, and a candidate who was well-prepared and rational always performed much better than a candidate who allowed himself to be blinded by the stress. How you present yourself in an interview tells me more about you than your LinkedIn profile, your resume and your cover letter combined. The interview can make or break your application. That’s why it’s important to take this part of the application procedure seriously and prepare for it well. The better you prepare yourself, the less stressed you will be and the better you will perform. Remember: there is no need for panic.
Although all recruiters and companies use their own style of interviewing, a few questions are pretty much standard and will be asked nine out of ten times. In this article I present three questions that I myself always ask, in one form or another. For each question, I give an example of a slightly better answer and a slightly worse answer. Remember that the same question can be asked in a number of different ways, so you might be asked a variation on one of these questions.
Question 1: Can you tell me something about yourself?
The vast majority of the time, this will be the first question the recruiter asks you. It’s your first real opportunity to convince the interviewer of your value. And to be honest, I almost always know whether the candidate is a good fit for the job or not based on the answer the candidate gives to this one question. Everyone knows this question is going to be asked, yet surprisingly few candidates know how to give a convincing answer. That’s because they don’t prepare for it.
What not to say:
The two biggest mistakes here are talking about irrelevant personal information and repeating what’s on your resume. The first mistake occurs when candidates talk at length about their life story, their pets or their personal hobbies. While a personal touch is welcome, I am primarily interested in what you can bring to the table, so skip the personal details. The second mistake occurs when candidates boringly walk me through their resumes. This may be relevant information, but I have already gone through this info extensively before this interview. By repeating it again, you’re not giving me any new insights in who you are, and frankly, it’s boring.
Instead, say this:
If you take only one lesson from this article, let it be this: see this as your opportunity to make a personal pitch. Here you have the opportunity to make a lasting first impression. Make sure you tell a relevant, clear and memorable story about yourself. That way, you start off the conversation on a high note. I would suggest that you prepare and practice your answer to this question at home. It’s a good idea to write down your story on a piece of paper and practice in front of the mirror a few times. Don’t be afraid that this will come across as being overly rehearsed: if you know exactly how you want to present yourself, you will be able to do so in a very natural way.
Furthermore, I would suggest that you stick to a certain structure when writing your story. There are several options for this, such as:
- past > present > future
- why > how > what
- success > skills > situation
As an example, I will give a simple answer using the why > how > what structure. In this structure, you answer three questions, namely: “Why do you do what you do? How do you do it? What do you do?”
“Ever since kindergarten I’ve been all about drawing. I have always loved to draw throughout my life and I get real satisfaction out of putting something beautiful on paper. [WHY]
That’s why I chose to become a graphic designer. I have learned a lot during my education and I really developed my drawing skills. I am particularly good at designing logos. [HOW]
After my education, I started looking for a job as a graphic designer and I came across this job opening. I immediately got excited, because I know that you work mainly with business clients and therefore often design logos. That’s something that fits me perfectly and that’s why I applied. [WHAT]”
Question 2: Why do you want to work here?
This question is about your motivation. Candidates have different motivations: some candidates are mainly interested in growth opportunities, others are looking for certain company culture. The recruiter needs to know what drives and motivates you in order to know if you actually fit the company and the position.
What not to say:
Be careful not to give an answer that could apply to a lot of different companies. General answers, such as “it’s an exciting company” or “the work seems interesting”, are not at all convincing and do not show the recruiter that you are enthusiastic about this particular position at this particular company. It’s also not good to emphasize the terms of employment or career opportunities. Of course, the recruiter understands that you value making a career, but you are there for this job, not already for the one after. The same goes for salary: it’s not a problem to value money, but I hope your interest in the job goes deeper than your paycheck.
Instead, say this:
To answer this question properly, it is important to do your homework. Try to find the answers to the following questions:
- What is the company culture like? (For example, check out www.glassdoor.nl)
- How does this company fit my personality, ambitions, and interests?
- What challenges could I face in this company?
- What challenges could I face in this position?
- What value can I bring to this company?
The more specifically you can tailor your answer to this position at this company, the better. It shows the recruiter that you are specifically targeting this job, rather than ‘a’ job. There are few things as unattractive as a candidate who does not know what he wants or why he wants it. In addition, make sure you show enthusiasm in your answer. I’m assuming that you have applied for a position that actually excites you and you are welcome to show that in your answer.
Question 3: What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?
This question is about your self-image. The recruiter is not so much interested in your actual knowledge and skills: he has already checked these through your resume. If you did not have the right education, skills or experience, you would not have been invited for an interview. Moreover, the recruiter cannot test your technical skills during the interview – with some exceptions, of course. Instead, the recruiter is interested in how you think of yourself and how you present yourself. So, this question is about your personal brand.
What not to say:
Two typical mistakes are made here. The first mistake is not really giving an answer at all. Candidates who ‘have never thought about this before’ do not have a good self-image, which is a problem. The second mistake is a lack of honesty. Some candidates try to disguise positive traits as negative traits. Answers such as “I’m a perfectionist”, “I work too hard” and “I often try too hard” are not good answers. Other candidates exaggerate their positive attributes or are too modest to name positive attributes. Such answers do not work in your favor.
Instead, say this:
My first piece of advice is: know yourself. Before you can give a good answer to this question, you will have to know about your personality, knowledge and skills. What are you good at? What are you less good at? What do you want to be good at? Trying to answer these kinds of questions is step one. My second piece of advice is: make sure you are coachable. Everyone has his or her bad sides, but you should at least be aware of them and know how to improve them. You don’t run away from your lesser sides and certainly don’t bury your head in the sand, but instead you’re open and honest about your shortcomings. Honesty is an essential part of building a personal brand and therefore also an essential part of the job interview. A recruiter will appreciate it if you talk about yourself honestly, so don’t be afraid to give an honest answer to this question.
Based on this advice, you can prepare your own answers to typical job application questions. Remember: there is no need to panic and practice makes perfect.