So you’ve got your proverbial foot in the door with that golden interview; what comes next? Preparation, of course! With a quick online search you will find hundreds—if not, thousands—of possible interview questions. Luckily, there seems to be a pretty tried and true set of questions used in interviews so there really won’t be too much mystery surrounding the questions. The downside, if there is one, is that the interviewer is likely receiving a lot of similar, shiny and impersonal responses. With a little creativity and a boost in charm, though, you can easily win over your interview committee with refreshingly genuine answers.
How to formulate genuinely genius answers in the heat of the moment can seem like a daunting task, and for good reason: there is way too much chaos in your head during an interview to rely on improvisation. Likewise, in the event that a new and unexpected question pops up you don’t want to be forced to scramble for an impressive answer. So here are some strategies to help you walk into that interview with confidence, class and charming answers.
The Interview Questions
Before we talk about your answers let’s take a quick look at the likely questions. It’s true that there are quite a few basic questions that are to be expected so we will use these as a sort of rough template for your (upcoming) answers. The five most common questions are as follows:
Tell me About Yourself
This is an open door for you to quickly highlight the most basic stuff about yourself. Interviews don’t lend time to pleasantries so use this opportunity to let them know where you’re from and how you ended up in the field that you are applying to. Also, be sure to mention something interesting about yourself so that you appear less like a robot and more as an interesting human being that they might potentially like to work with. See: Tell Me About Yourself and Tell Me About Yourself — One More Time.
Why Do You Want to Work Here/ Why This Position?
This is pretty straightforward, but be specific. A general statement such as, “because it lines up with my goals” is boring and not the (whole) truth. Except for mentioning the income, it is best to simply be honest, so long as it is also still professional. See: Why Do You Want to Work for Us?
How is Your Experience Relevant to the Requirements of this Position?
Rather than listing your experience like a roster, focus on the day-to-day tasks and details that overlap with the required daily tasks of the position for which you are applying. Whenever possible, be as specific as possible.
What is Your Greatest Strength/ Weakness?
This isn’t a trick question and this isn’t the time to play martyr with your answer. Instead of giving a potentially slimy answer such as, “I work too hard,” again try by being honest. Let’s say that your weakness is that you’re shy. Instead of simply saying as much, only, use this opportunity to demonstrate your impressive communication skills while also admitting your biggest weakness. “Oftentimes in new situations I can be a bit shy or slow to warm up. This really can be frustrating at times when I really am eager to meet important people in my field.” This is both honest as well as eloquent, making your answer a smooth and impressive one. See: So Tell Me, What Are Your Weaknesses?, What Is Your Biggest Weakness? and What Is Your Greatest Strength?
Why You (Over Everyone Else)?
This question, while common, is key. You need to really think about what makes you different more than just your experience. Assume that everyone applying to the position is more than qualified—and don’t be afraid to address this fact, too—but maybe your passion or undying curiosity makes you a better employee to work with. See: Why Should I Hire You?
The Interview Answers
The idea behind the interview is to meet you as a person as well as allow an opportunity for you to give examples as to why you are the best candidate. These examples should always come in the form of a story that is related to what they are looking for. It is usually best to keep your examples (aka stories) work-related but sometimes a personal story will do even better—like that time you witnessed a car accident and immediately jumped to action to help. No matter the setting your story takes place in, though, always keep it concise, relevant, and professional. So how do you do this? Here are five key tips to handle those questions with ease:
Have 2-3 go-to Stories
Don’t stress yourself with endless memorized answers. Instead, have a set of concrete examples ready to share in order to demonstrate all of your best qualities. It is very likely that within these few stories you will be able to easily demonstrate your abilities no matter the question. Your task is to determine which abilities you can highlight within each story.
Answer Your Own Questions
What do you want to show off to the committee the most? Do you want them to know how detail-oriented you are? Or would you rather they see your ability to work in a team? Whatever you want to brag about be sure that your stories hit each of these points clearly and quickly. Be smooth, though, and share your example in a natural story-telling way rather than as a report of your skills.
Pay Attention to the Details
Now that you’ve got your stories and examples ready to go make sure that when the time comes you are actually answering their questions! Since you will be walking into the interview with your examples ready to go don’t waste time worrying about the perfect response. Instead, take your already incredible responses and use them to answer, specifically, the question.
Go Heavy on the Charm
Oftentimes when we are nervous we forget to smile. In fact, we forget a lot of things when we are nervous. While on the inside we may be a shaking, albeit charming, mess you don’t want to look it on the outside, as well. As understandable as it is to be nervous, it can also be off-putting. Balance this out with frequent smiling and a bit of humor. By bringing humor to the table you also bring genuine smiles, all around. Smiling is never a bad thing; plus it tricks the brain into thinking it likes something so you might as well trick the brains of the interview committee into liking you even more than they already will!
Do Your Research
While you have certainly done your preparation on your end for the interview don’t forget to also do a bit of research on the other end. Know your interview committee and try to learn as much about them as possible. What committees do they serve on and what are their respective alma maters? There is no need to name-drop, ever, but if you notice overlapping interests or projects then that gives you a good launching point from which to share your experiences. Don’t have access to the committee information? No worries. Do the same research on the department that you are applying to and the various programs and committees within it. Again, this gives you an idea of what points to hit on within your answers, not to mention that you will impress the committee with your understanding of what you’re getting into.
Your stories are essentially a gateway into everything you want to show the interviewer, whether it’s your incredible skills, your charming personality, your witty sense of humor or your compassionate community involvement. Whatever the case may be you want to take advantage of that time to demonstrate as much as possible all within your one to two-minute response. Keep your responses concise and always take from the story only what you need. Use the stories that you have prepared as a launching pad for your answers. By doing this you eliminate half the stress both before and during the interview. Now, take a deep breath and good luck!
If you want to read more on this topic, here are additional resources on how to answer interview questions: