Nail Your Next Interview

How to Best Answer Common Questions

You’ve applied for the job, and you just heard back that you got it — an interview, that is. Now, it’s go time. This is your second chance (after your résumé and cover letter) to make an impression. At this point, they like what they’ve seen and are likely itching to hear more.

Beyond that, the interview is an opportunity for you to vet this company and make sure it’s a good fit for both parties. The interview process is a bit like dating; you’re testing the waters, getting to know them, and being upfront with your answers while portraying yourself in the best light. It’s a dance, one that you can masterfully choreograph before it’s even begun.

“Tell me a little about yourself.”

The inevitable introductory question. What may be intended as an ice-breaker can actually be anxiety-inducing for many. After all, you’re probably sitting across the table from a perfect stranger and expected to open up to them. The spotlight’s on you…

No sweat! This is actually the best question to start with, because you know it’s coming. You can craft your personal elevator pitch well in advance and conjure it on command. And, since you’ve practiced several times, the confidence and poise you exude in your answer will bode well. 

Include these elements in your pitch to ensure it’s holistic:

  1. Brief but memorable introduction: For example, “Hi, my name is Leslie. I’m a content developer with a passion for writing in a way that connects brands with their advocates. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.”
  2. Focus on the present: Explain your role at work and include a recent, impactful achievement.
  3. Quickly overview the past: Provide context for how you got where you are and any relevant experience.
  4. Bring it back to the future: Pivot into an overview of what you want and what interests you about this particular job.

To really “wow” your interviewer, put these soft skills from your repertoire to good use:

  1. Composure: Take a deep, mental breath — maybe after some actual deep breathing and even some power poses in the bathroom mirror beforehand, if you can swing it. Still yourself of any fidgeting or nervous movements. Speak calmly and directly, while being cognizant of both your volume and cadence.
  2. Confidence: Sit up tall, make eye contact, and focus your attention fully on your interviewer. Smile where appropriate and speak in a conversational, yet direct and professional tone. Own your answers; you know what you’re talking about.

Draft your stellar personal elevator pitch here.

“Tell me about a time when you overcame a challenge.”

This question might come in different forms. “What is your greatest weakness?” (the worst of the variations) and “Tell me about a time when you failed and what you learned from it” — both aimed at sussing out the same information.

Take this opportunity to be a little vulnerable, showing your interviewer you’re comfortable talking about your faults. Then leverage your answer to demonstrate your willingness and ability to grow and learn from those flaws. Here’s how you do that.

  1. Be sincere in your answer. This is not a time to brag about yourself by choosing a weakness that’s actually a strength (think, “I work too hard” or “I care too much”).
  2. Choose an honest, yet bite-sized weakness, then lay out the clear steps you’re taking to correct it.
  3. Be solution-focused in your response by using a growth mindset. If you need help developing a growth mindset, take a listen to the Fierce Lab podcast episode featuring Kat Robinson of Microsoft.

Use this space to jot down some ideas.

“Why do you want this job?”

Now’s your chance to really shine. Before you go into the interview, truly consider why you want the job and how you can position yourself as the best candidate.

  1. Lay the groundwork: First, briefly touch on why you’re interested in the job. What caught your attention about the posting? About the company?
  2. Dive deeper: Explain why this job fits you well in terms of both your short-term and long-term goals. Sprinkle in how those goals have the potential to move the company forward. Be as specific as you can.
  3. Remember, it’s not all about you. This is an investment on the part of the company, too. They’re evaluating your presentation, your past experience, and you as a person on several levels to determine whether or not you would be an asset to their team. This answer is as much about you as it is about them, so frame it in a way that addresses the needs of the company, too. Consider why there’s a need for the position you’re interviewing for and position yourself as the solution they’re seeking.

Take a stab at your answer here.

Interviewing can be nerve-wracking, but taking the time upfront to craft your answers and practice them already puts you way above the competition. When you’re prepared, you’re virtually unstoppable. 

In the interview, always be honest and professional. And don’t underestimate the power of those soft skills. It’s not just about what you say — it’s how you present yourself. So put your best foot forward and click-clack your way to the top. You got this!