Your LinkedIn profile is up to date, your resume is top notch and your cover letter is impeccably crafted in order to catch the attention of each and every dream employer you’re targeting. Your search for the perfect job is on, and now only one thing is standing in your way: the dreaded job interview.
We’ve all been there, in that awkward conference room where a person you’ve never met asks you deep, prodding questions about your career goals and ambitions, your past mistakes and, of course, where you see yourself in five years. Getting to this point can be a pain, so once you’re there, you obviously want to nail it. But when the tough questions start flying, how do you maintain your composure and still impress?
According to Catherine Lund, a senior director of client services at Toronto recruiting and headhunter agency IQ Partners, the biggest mistake most of us make is simply not being prepared.
“Don’t expect to get the job by ‘winging it. Do your research on the company and the person you will be meeting,” she tells us. “Look at their website, LinkedIn page and social media profiles. If you are interviewing at an ad agency and you don’t know any of their clients, that is a red flag to the interviewer.”
As for nailing those tough questions? Here’s some more solid advice from the pros.
Why do you want to leave your current job?
Well obviously because you no longer want to be a lackey for a terrible boss and you hate working ridiculous hours. But you shouldn’t say any of that to a prospective employer.
“Be honest but don’t express any resentment or negativity towards your previous organization,” says senior human resources business partner Lisa Bird of Research Now In. “No one wants to hear you speak negatively of your old manger or company.”
“If you decided to leave your job, be sure to explain why. For example: You wanted to leverage your skills and experience in another industry,” adds Lund. “But make sure your answer is in the same industry as the company you are interviewing for! Don’t say you want to work at a clothing retailer if you are interviewing at a bank.”
Why were you let go from your previous job?
Maybe you weren’t able to cut it with your former co-workers or perhaps you and a previous boss just completely butted heads. Whatever it was that led to unemployment, try to be positive and focus on the learning experiences — especially in front of someone interviewing you for a new gig.
“People get fired or laid off from their jobs. It happens,” says Lund. “If this has happened to you, focus on what you have learned from the experience and what actions you have taken to rectify the reasons you were let go.”
Name your biggest weakness
Wait, this is a job interview, right? Why should you be putting yourself down when the goal is to sell yourself? This seems like a trick question, but it’s an employer’s way of determining how you self-identify and whether you’re willing to work on traits that aren’t necessarily easy strengths.
“Be honest about feedback you have received but make sure you follow it up with what you have done to work on that weakness or the process you have put in place to prevent that weakness from affecting your success,” advises Bird. “Everyone has weaknesses and it shows you are open to taking feedback and doing something about it.”
Lund says she prefers asking interviewees what they want to get better at rather than what their weaknesses are so that she can gauge a person’s honesty.
“’I am a perfectionist or I work too hard’ is banal and not acceptable,” she says. “Think of something that you struggle with but that you’re working to improve. For example, are you scared of making a presentation to a room full of your peers? Let them know that you’ve recently joined a Toastmasters course to help you be more comfortable when speaking in front of an audience.”
Why should I hire you?
Because you’re awesome, obviously. But how do you put that into professional terms?
Be sure to take a good, long look at the job description in advance, says Bird, and then highlight how your skills or past experience can align with the role.
“Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. If you were hiring for this position, what type of person would you be looking for? What types of questions would you ask?” Lund adds. “Make sure you have work-related examples ready to answer these questions.”
Name a time you overcame an obstacle
We’ve all overcome obstacles in our lives; it’s what gives us character. But when it comes to a job interview, your potential employer will be looking for a job-related example, to be sure.
Bird recommends using what she calls the “STAR approach.” Describe the “situation” or “task” and then the “action” you took in order to rectify things. Finally, wrap it up with what “results” you achieved.
“Pick a specific situation in which you personally affected the outcome and be clear about the specific role you played,” she says. “Make sure the example is one that had a successful result or that you learned something valuable and you made the best out of the situation.”
Lund agrees. “Practice, practice, practice! This is an important question,” she says. “It shows how you deal with adversity. Choose an example that is relevant to this role and the company. Explain how you overcame the obstacle and what you learned from the experience.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
This one is obvious: at their company, of course. No one wants to hire a person who will just up and leave after all of that training and time invested. So how do you navigate this one?
“Don’t just tell someone ‘you want their job;’ many leaders see this as too aggressive or flippant,” Bird says. “Respond with something that you are interested in but is on a career path from the current role you are applying for. If you are interviewing to be a project manager don’t tell them you want to be in sales. Express your enthusiasm for the industry or some aspect of the company. Hiring you is an investment and they want to be reassured you aren’t just here while you look for something better.”
The key to nailing this one, according to Lund, is to think of examples of how you can bring additional value to the existing team and share the areas you want to strengthen down the road.
What are your salary expectations?
Here’s where honesty is absolutely the best policy. Do your research to know what the current standard is in your field, and then be honest about your expectations.
“Be upfront with what your salary is and realistically what you will need to make a move to a new organization and stay consistent. No one will be happy if you present one expectation and ask for more at the time of offer,” says Bird.
Do you have any questions for us?
Yes, the answer to this is always a definitive and resounding yes. According to both Lund and Bird, asking questions during a job interview is just as important as answering them.
“Where a lot of candidates fail is not by avoiding questions but by not asking them,” explains Lund. “If the interviewer asks if you have any questions, make sure you have some well thought-out questions about the role and company. What would make this person successful in this role? What is expected of them in the first 30, 60, 90 days? Why do they enjoy working for this company?”
At the end of the day, they need to sell you on the opportunity as much as you need to sell them on being the perfect candidate for the role. After all, if this is going to be your dream job, shouldn’t it go both ways?
What happens if you’ve taken all this advice and nailed the job interview but you still don’t get the gig? Keep at it, soldier. Rome wasn’t build in a day and your career can’t be constructed overnight either.
“Searching for a job can be time consuming, but don’t lose faith,” says Lund. “The right job is out there.”