Zareen Wajid, Talent Acquisition Specialist
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So you got an interview.. now what? Well, now you prepare. You prepare like you prepared for that Calculus exam, that term paper, and that speech you gave despite your soft-spoken, introverted skin. Then, you think like a storyteller.
Typically, most companies’ interview questions fit under three categories:
- The Dull, but Highly Important General Questions
- The Behavioral-Based Questions
- The Brownie-Points-for-Creativity Questions
These questions function as icebreakers. An interviewer will ask these types of questions at the beginning of the interview. The questions are supposed to be fairly easy to answer, but beware, they aren’t. On the surface they come off as harmless, tricking you into thinking there’s no write or wrong answer (pun intended). The interviewer for the General Questions is most likely a recruiter who is accessing your knowledge and skills, how well you will fit into the company and the team, and why you are the best candidate. They will forward this information to the person who will be making the actual decision of whether or not to hire you.
Anyways, that’s enough of the scary news. The good news is that the General Questions are very predictable. The best way to prepare for these questions is to understand the job description for the position you applied for, and use keywords from that job description in answering the interview questions. I highly encourage you to practice these type of questions beforehand by writing out an answer and basically memorizing it. However, note that if you aren’t answering the question on the same track as the interviewer intended, he/she will start probing. And you should take that opportunity to see patterns as to what the interviewer wants to hear (and thereby, how to answer the question to their satisfaction). They just want to see if you are qualified for the position and are personable so they can pass you along the recruitment process.
Notice something? The Interviewer is essentially waiting to hear keywords and phrases from the job description and how you tell your story with those keywords and phrases as an indication to put a check next to your name, and move you forward. Not too bad, eh?
Common General Questions include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why should we hire you?
- Can you take me through your resume?
- Why are you interested in this opportunity?
- What are your strengths? weaknesses?
- What is your ideal work environment?
- Where do you see yourself in 3-5 years from now?
- What do you know about our organization?
- What are some major trends this industry is currently facing?
These questions follow the theory that your past behaviors and results will predict your future behaviors and results. The interviewer is accessing how you handle situations and how that fits into their needs. The person who you will report to will typically focus on these type of questions, so pull-up your big girl pants, straighten your tie, calm that cowlick, and get to impressing!
The best way to answer Behavioral-Based Questions is through the acronym SCAR.
S Situation – what was the situation?
C Challenge – what challenge did you have to overcome?
A Action – what actions did you take to overcome your challenge?
R Result – what was the result of your actions?
This is where the true art of storytelling comes in. With every question asked, you should be able to explain the situation in a sentence or two, explain the challenge you faced, list the actions you took (focusing on the process, organization, prioritization, etc), and highlight the measurable results and accomplishments. So, with every Behavioral-Based Question, you should have a story detailing your past work performance and accomplishments.
Some Tips & Tricks:
- Think of 5 – 7 stories that emphasize your past work performance and accomplishments
- Don’t think you have prior work experience? Well, don’t underestimate the importance of schoolwork, volunteer work, waiter/waitressing, etc.
- Mix and Match your stories. Use positive examples, negative situations that turned positive, flaws you caught onto, and processes you improved by thinking outside the box
- The stories should revolve around you, not your team accomplishment or your manager’s abilities. Yep, feel free to indulge in your narcissism
Last, but not least, let’s discuss how to predict what Behavioral-Based Questions you will be asked. Behavioral-Based Questions are categorized into behavioral attributes and abilities, such as time-management, analysis, respect, diversity, etc. You can easily decipher which attributes and abilities you will be asked about from the job description, as well as the company’s values. Yep, it’s that easy. Most new grads skim over all the words and just focus on whether they meet the basic qualifications for the job, such as degree, years of experience, computer skills, etc. To answer well in interviews, however, it’s the wordy description in the job description that’s of importance.
- Adaptability: Describe a time in which you couldn’t finish a task because of lack of information. How did you handle it?
- Communication: Tell me about a time of how you resolved a conflict between you and a co-worker when you disagreed with each other.
- Trust: Describe a time in which you developed rapport with experienced co-workers and new clients. Give an example of each.
- Priority: Describe a situation in which you failed to meet a deadline. What happened?
- Teamwork: Tell me about a time when you were on a team and one of your teammates was not pulling his/her weight. How did you handle it?
- Customer Service: Tell me about a time in which you had to deal with a difficult customer with outrageous demands. How did you handle it?
- Decision Making: Give an example in which you had to make a quick decision. What was your thought process?
- Goals: Tell me about a specific goal and how you measured your progress for that goal.
These questions are also known as outside-the-box questions. Typically, the interviewer asking these type of questions is accessing multiple aspects of your personality and integrity. The point is to give you a question in which your ability to handle stress, be open and flexible, and to think quickly, is efficiently gauged. Oftentimes, the people asking these type of questions are at a senior-level.
The method to answer these type of question is… methodical. Aim to answer the question thoroughly, utilizing procedural cues and processes of elimination. Aim to also answer quickly on your feet, avoiding drawn-out Uhs and Ums. Be profound. Be unique. Be yourself.
Realize that these are fun questions so you should definitely enjoy them. More importantly, though, they reveal your innate characteristics and traits so this is a good way to tell your story and leave a lasting impression.
Remember in The Pursuit of Happyness when Chris Gardner shows up to the interview disheveled…
- Martin Frohm: What would you say if a man walked in here with no shirt, and I hired him? What would you say?
- Chris Gardner: He must have had on some really nice pants.
Yep, that was a creative question, aimed to access his ability to handle stress and think quickly. He answered really well, don’t you think?
- List 25 ways you could utilize a pencil.
- When have you been the most satisfied in your life?
- Who is your role model, and why?
- How tall is the combined length of all the skyscrapers in the United States?
- Let’s say you are offered this position and you accept. What accomplishments will we be discussing one year from now?
- Looking back, what would you tell your freshman self?
As you can see, it’s all in the art of storytelling. Whether through general questions, behavioral-based questions, or creative questions, you are telling your story to the interviewer. With a little bit of preparation and storytelling, you’ll be acing that interview with more flying colors than any exam you ever took in college.