You’re preparing for an interview, but you want to stand out from everyone else. By this point, you may have already covered the basics: dress well, arrive on time, use the right gestures, prepare the common questions.
But no matter how much you prepare, you will eventually find yourself in a scenario you weren’t expecting. Anybody can follow a script. The question is: When the conversation takes a different direction, how will you respond?
You see, anticipating every single topic before the interview sounds unrealistic. Overpreparation is a real limitation in projects, not only interviews. Even when they hire you, chances are you’ll deal with new projects you aren’t used to. They will test your problem-solving skills, especially after the interview.
But how do you know what to do under so much pressure? Easy: rather than waiting for solutions, learn what not to do, and do the opposite. If you’re not doing anything wrong, then by default, you’re doing most things right.
This article will cover:
- Four common interviewer questions, why they make them, and how to respond.
- Habits and expressions you should either replace or never use.
- Five ways to impress your interviewers.
Common Interview Questions
If you were to hire someone, what facts would you care about?
- Who are you? What have you achieved?
- What do you know, and how can it help us?
- What can you do and not do? Are you “coachable”?
- Why have you left your other position and chose our company?
Ideally, recruiters seek applicants who can take the initiative, are curious, value leadership, work well as a team player, and have succeeded in similar projects in the past. Whether you fit their requirements or not will not only depend on your skills but how well you communicate and adapt to the company. That’s why impressions matter.
Despite being used all the time, people still have difficulty answering such an open question. How do you know you’ll say what they want to hear if you don’t know what matters to them? You do your research before the interview!
Once you know what they are looking for, you answer this question by presenting a relevant background. How can you benefit this company? What are your current goals? Your story should only complement the proposition; they are not asking you for a biography.
What have you done?
Who have you worked with?
What are you currently doing?
What do you plan to do later in your career?
Why did you choose that direction, and what do you value professionally?
Rather than telling a 20-minute life story, let your actions do the talk. 30 to 60 seconds should be enough, depending on your history length.
“How much experience do you have?”
When employers ask this question, what do you think? Most think that experience translates to quality, and that a long, consistent history suggests responsibility and trust.
Although having experience is better than nothing, your interviewer may not care about experience necessarily. Perhaps they ask for it because:
- They’ve had bad experiences with incompetent staff in the past.
- You’ve set a high rate that doesn’t convince them.
- They’ve accepted promising members in the past, but they didn’t deliver.
If you have some experience, you may agree it’s not equivalent to results, which is what everyone cares about. Here’s what you could say if you don’t have enough of it:
“Because I have less experience, I work extra hard to compensate.”
“Although I’m always looking to get more experience, I don’t believe my past matters as much. Every client is unique, and what I’ve done in the past may or may not apply to them.”
“Are you looking for someone to do things the old way? If you want to impress your customers, you might be looking for some brand new ideas instead.”
“Why did you leave your last job?”
As we’ve said, past performance doesn’t say anything about future results. However, nobody would want to hire someone who just got fired for a bad reason. How can you not think it may happen again?
The answer they want to hear is, you’ve done your best in the previous company, but it lacked the opportunity you wanted, so you chose to look for something better. It increases your perceived value because you present as someone with high career standards, not an incompetent fired employee.
You can quit a job for the right reasons, even make the interviewer emphasize with you. For example, you could answer:
“While I worked in that company, I helped them reach these results in X time. Because of the success, I’m excited to grow, and I believe I can do more.”
Rather than putting down your past company, you are presenting as someone who outperformed it and want a more challenging environment. It means you’re ready to solve harder problems, which is more than welcome in the new company.
Also, ask: “Who was the last member you had in this position, and how well did he do? Why did they leave the position, and where are they now?”
“What are your weaknesses?”
Employers know that, in a job interview, you’ll try to show the best version of yourself. Although they want to know the best you can do, they know it won’t be that way all the time. You wouldn’t have got that far if it wasn’t because of the challenges you’ve overcome. Sharing them with your interviewer will make you look more authentic.
You shouldn’t say that you have no weaknesses, that you can do anything they ask you, or that you’re too “perfectionistic.” Experts are the best at their specialties because they focus and sacrifice from other areas, which is why showing weaknesses is smart.
Here’s a better way to answer the question. What areas do you think you should improve but haven’t learned yet? Everyone has weaknesses, but nobody should accept them.
How would hire a person that not only has problems but doesn’t care about solving them? Avoid the negative approach(e.g., I don’t know, I can’t do it); choose the growth mentality instead (I’m learning, I haven’t done it yet, I’ll figure out.). Here some examples:
What extremes do you relate to?
- Confident (underestimates challenges) or doubtful (overly preventive)
- Words or actions (talk/act more than you act/talk)
- Too open-minded (always changing your mind) or stubborn (stuck in your own beliefs)
- Divergent (creative) or convergent (pragmatic) thinking
- Passionate (prioritizes emotions over problem-solving) or rational (hard to connect with members or clients)
- Energetic (can’t sit on a task for too long) or calm (works at a lower intensity)
- Hard-worker (will likely burn out) or playful (will likely distract)
- Introvert/lone wolf (avoids social interaction) or extrovert/team player (can’t work individually)
- Specialist or generalist (you know everything about nothing or nothing about everything)
- Big picture (misses the detail) or detail-oriented (misses the overall purpose)
- Work hard or smart (high/low output, low/high productivity)
- Student (you don’t know enough to teach or lead others) or teacher (you have difficulty to learn from others)
- Casual (it looks like you don’t care) or serious (you care more about how you look at work than the work itself)
Mind that each personality has strengths and weaknesses. But one person’s cons may compensate with someone else’s pros. Your team and communication skills mean a lot.
Interview fails: Do NOT try this at work!
Before we get into the actual phrases to avoid, let’s mention the bad habits you should remove (because you can say everything right and still make a bad impression).
#1 Don’t depend on scripts.
When having a lot of content to cover, scripts may help to organize and present the information. But the presentation alone won’t secure the job.
You know how awkward it looks when a person has memorized all the conversation. Because the employer wants to know your natural behavior, they may deliberately ask for questions you didn’t prepare.
You can still memorize things and do a good interview, but don’t expect to stand out much. Use scripts as a direction tool only. Give enough flexibility for creative thinking and uncertainty.
#2 Don’t ask about the interview duration
Who makes this kind of question? Probably someone worried that the interview takes too much of their time. But since it’s your most valuable asset, it’s the highest level of respect you can show an interviewer.
How long will it last? Depending on how much value you bring to the table, expect 30 to 90 minutes. But asking when it will finish tells that you have more important matters pending.
And if this job isn’t your top priority, it will neither be theirs to hire you.
#3 No “Can Do Anything” Attitude
Although they do want you to be ready for any challenge, you shouldn’t sell yourself as a jack of all trades. Mind that this company is competing with others who likely have specialized teams, the best of their kind. That’s why “solopreneurs” stand no chance against organized teams. To be honest, you probably wouldn’t be looking for a job if you were able to do “everything.”
Yes, you should do as much as you can once you land the job. But the answer doesn’t fit for an interview. Communicate your commitment without sounding like a generalist.
#4 Avoid sharing personal information when not needed
You have the right to get hired regardless of your race, religion, color, sex, age, national origin, disabilities, citizenship, genetics, or family status. Because of it, asking for this information has no relevance other than getting context. It’s neither the answer they want when they say: “Tell me about yourself.”
#5 Don’t ask for promotions directly
You do want to know what compensation you will receive. But as its name suggests, it only matters after you’ve added value. Don’t make the mistake of asking too early for vacations, salary, and benefits.
Use it as a closing topic and a reference. When it comes to your salary, it’s your future boss who has the answer, not the interviewer. Most teams start offering decent amounts but accept to raise the rate if you reach their objectives.
If you don’t even know if they will hire you, there’s neither the rush to know those numbers right away. Here’s how you can negotiate in any job.
#6 Avoid filler language
A first impression should be concise and convincing. It doesn’t look very confident if you are rushing your sentences, trying to mention everything as fast as you can. It has a tone of desperation.
Just because you are in an interview doesn’t mean you can’t listen, stay silent, or ask questions. You neither need to feel nervous: if you provide “scarce value,” they will choose you regardless of the dozens of applicants.
Unless they help you reinforce the message, avoid using words like “actually,” “so,” “like,” and so on.
#7 Don’t depend on your resume
People hire people, not portfolios. Why address some documents when they can ask you — the most authentic source of information? Can your resume offer them a personalized answer, tone, and perspective?
You can use it to reinforce your presentation, not base completely off of it. You’ll still need to ask questions to find the most relevant viewpoint of your background.
#8 Ask questions after the interview
When applicants say they have no questions, they are missing such an opportunity. They say whoever makes the questions controls the conversation, which gives you the chance to influence the other person.
Unfortunately, this attitude doesn’t show you as a smart person, but as someone who doesn’t care about the job. You either didn’t listen to the conversation or didn’t prepare. Besides, no script will tell you what your interviewer values the most: you need to ask them!
- “How do you develop skills, and what kind of training do you offer?”
- “What would an average day in my future department look like?”
- “As an interviewer, what do you enjoy the most about this company?”
- “Do you think I will be a good fit for the team? Have you hired any other members recently? If so, how had they developed?”
- “What’s the most valuable task I can complete within the first 30 days of employment? What about quarterly and yearly objectives?”
If you still have no questions, you can ask for feedback. You can summarize and share your impression of the interview and what your expectations were (better to say something than nothing).
As an applicant, you want to give the best impression, so that you’re the one who’s making the decision, not the company. Your concern shouldn’t be your first impression, but what company to choose among the ones that accept you.
Don’t compete. You want to be the only choice because no-one offers so much value. Here’s how to do it:
#1 Research with the Memory Palace technique
Imagine how the interviewer feels. They’ve accepted an interview with you, and the first question you ask is what their business does. When joining a reputable company, one should at least know who they are and why they exist.
Perhaps you have prepared so much content that you worry about forgetting it later. What if you become so nervous that you can’t remember? Some topics use complex vocabulary, making it hard to relate to their meaning.
Instead, we can use the creative Memory Palace. This technique is all about telling stories and imagination:
- Think of a place you can easily picture yourself walking around (e.g., your home)
- For every keyword that you want to memorize, think of an object inside a particular room. Associate it with a feature or event.
Whenever you want to remember something, you start a mental route through this “palace,” visiting each room in order. Make sure you invent crazy stories about those objects, so it becomes easier to remember. Once you visit that room, your mind will trigger the sequence automatically.
That’s it: a fun way to memorize and impress recruiters.
#2 Be down-to-earth yet professional
They do want to hear of your skills and accomplishments (you wouldn’t be there otherwise). But the point is not to put you on a pedestal, but to help the company. What only matters at the end of the day is your ability to connect with their team.
- Can you help others with your skills?
- Do you enjoy team communication and leadership?
- Will you commit to their company culture?
What do you think is a better influence tactic? Use a scripted message with buzz words to sound smart? Or a natural, honest conversation about business?
As a rule of thumb, if your message is easy to understand, you will make a great impression, even when applying for corporate jobs.
#3 Do talk about your other ambitions
Side projects? Investments? Start an online business? Who doesn’t like ambitious people who’re always growing? Some believe that if you talk about your business in a job interview, you give bad connotations about your future loyalty to the company.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. If you own a successful business and are still applying for a job, you have better reasons other than money. It feels a privilege to hire someone who’s already doing great by oneself.
Do you like to invest in yourself by reading books, joining courses, attending events? If so, you can mention it when they ask you about yourself. The fact that you’re leading all these projects right now already says a lot about your career potential.
#4 Give them what they need
If you researched, you already know what this company does. If you contacted them before, you also learned what challenges they are facing and what solutions they need. Then why not offer your service as soon as you get to the interview?
Have you found some errors in their website design? Are they following the wrong SEO practices? Can you offer some insights they may have never heard before? Dedicate a few pages to address their problems, why they are doing it wrong, what you recommend, and why. In the interview, you can handle this document and discuss those ideas. If not, tell the interviewer to send the work to the team and review it.
Now, you have a value-first attitude (and a reason to follow up later).
#5 Forget about interviews. Have a business conversation instead.
Think about it: interviews aren’t that different from selling to clients. In fact, almost any social interaction you have requires persuasion. We are selling all the time.
So how do you sell to clients? You understand what they need, offer your solution, minimize objections, and negotiate.
Get the answer to that question as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning. You don’t need to share everything you’ve prepared: only the content that’s relevant to that answer.
When the interviewer asks what value you can offer, mention five to eight ideas of how you can improve the company. Next, tell them to pick the few that matter to them the most. Ask them to explain why they chose that way.
They may ask: How do we know you’re the best person to do it? To prevent the objection, make sure to introduce your skills and background before you present the solution.
Ask about what they have been doing to achieve those goals and offer yourself to complete them.
“Let’s assume I can solve these problems by the end of the quarter. Would you consider that a good hiring decision?”
Although it sounds convincing, they still need to manage risks. You can respond with a guarantee:
“We’re all tired of people who promise to do this and that and then don’t do it. I want to do it for free, so you only pay after you get results.”
Ask about the first project you would need to complete within the first month after getting hired. To put a foot in the door, offer to complete the task and get back to them, whether they hire you or not.
The Bottom Line
Skills and experience matters, but also does commitment. Employers seek people who qualify for their position, enjoy their job, and solve problems. If you do so much for the company as we’ve shown in our examples, chances are you will become the chosen one.