Noelle Johnson is the owner of My Interview Buddy, a company focused on helping women prepare for job interviews and negotiation meetings to get you the salary you deserve. You can learn more about My Interview Buddy at myinterviewbuddy.com.
You just received amazing news, the job that you have been waiting to hear back from just called to invite you in for an interview! Go you! You’ve envisioned yourself walking into your first day of your new job where you feel confident and excited to get started on something new. You can almost taste the “welcome to our company” lunch with your new fabulous coworkers. You are ready to call up your girlfriends to celebrate over some cocktails and then suddenly you get a small sinking feeling in your stomach. You remember – “I need to have an incredible interview.”
It doesn’t matter if you are just starting off or are well seasoned in your career, interviewing for a job (especially one that you are really excited for) can be nerve wracking. It doesn’t help that there are certain questions where you can’t help but wonder, “Am I supposed to answer that honestly, or the way I think they want me to answer?” or “What is the real ‘right’ answer to the ‘biggest weakness’ question”. After interviewing hiring managers, recruiters and CEOs, I have five interview questions that people get wrong all the time and the answers for you to get it right. You’ve got this!
Question #1: Tell me about yourself
When answering this question, it’s tempting to give the interviewer the full picture of who you are. Unfortunately, this can sound like your bio to your Instagram. While your interviewer may think it’s really great that you love dogs and are a master yogi, they aren’t looking for that response on this question. What your interviewer is looking for is your elevator pitch about yourself. They want to know who you are and what brings you there.
Example Answer: “I have been working as Project Manager for the last 5 years for Big Company XYZ, where I worked my way up from an assistant role. I recently finished my PMP certification and I have been looking for the right management position to take my next step in my career.” Short and sweet!
Question 2: What do you like to do for fun?
This is a great softball question, but it is easy to overthink the reply and give a response that you think they want to hear instead of what is authentically you. “I love working on the weekends and spend time on productivity charts!” – don’t do this!
Another mistake that women in particular make is talking about their children. This is unfortunately, something that you would want to leave out as it can cause you to be put on the “Mommy Track,” which can lead to missing out on opportunities and a better salary. Totally unfair, but true.
This question is a way for you to give the interviewer a glimpse of who you are without over indulging on anything that is superfluous information. It tells the interviewer if you like to stay busy.
Example Answer: “I have been writing a wellness blog for a few years. I am mentoring at the boy and girls club. I enjoy yoga and taking my dogs out for hikes.” A statement like this tells the interviewers a lot: She writes for fun, I bet I can expect her to take writing projects on with gusto. She mentors and enjoys exercise, so she must like taking care of others and herself. This means that she may be a strong team player but also knows how to avoid burnout.
Question 3: Tell me, what is your biggest weakness?
This is one that we all should know better than to answer “I have no weakness” (is it getting smoky? Because I think someone’s pants are on fire). The problem with this question is that women tend to over think an answer since we are so over critical of ourselves. What your interviewer needs to hear is something that you had a difficult time with but you overcame, or are taking steps to overcome. And I know I don’t need to tell you not to use the cliché “I am an overachiever” right?
Example Answer: “When I am given a big project I have a difficult time delegating. In my last role I overcame this by looking at the strengths that some of my helpful teammates have that could be used to assist with my project. This has made me so much more productive and gives my team a chance to shine.” A well thought out reply like this tells your interviewer that you don’t shy away from ways to approve yourself.
Question 4: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Whew! This is a tough one. My father once told me about a time where he answered this question with a confident “sitting where you are!” While this may let your interviewer know that you are ambitious, you don’t want them to think that you are trying to edge them out of their job before you even get hired! Another wrong answer is “I don’t know, still working here?” We never want to sound like we haven’t thought of our future as it can come off as “flighty” and makes the interviewer wonder if you are in it for the long haul. If you don’t already know what you want next in your career look to see what is the natural next step for the position that you applied for. Is it going from assistant to project management? Is it becoming a top expert in your role? Research is a girl’s best friend:
Example Answer: “I am a few years in my career working as an Assistant Controller. My next steps is to get my CPA and work my way into being a Controller.”
Bonus, this is an opportunity for you to find out if there are opportunities for growth, and you are definitely going to be interviewing your interviewer, right?
Question 5: Do you have any questions for me?
Yes, yes, 100x yes! Not only does replying “No, all good!” tell the employer that you may not have done a lot of research, it tells the employer that you may not be all that interested in the role. Also, this is a chance to turn the tables, interview your interviewer to get important questions answered. It’s time for them to sweat a little!
Example Answer: “Thank you for asking! I have a few questions for you”… *pulls out pen and paper filled with questions you already wrote down (you are so prepared and amazing, girl!) “Is there room for growth in this organization?” “What are some of the challenges you would expect me to have in this position?” “ What is the company culture like?” Keep the list brief to about 5 questions and make sure to have some in mind for your 2nd interview (which you are totally getting). For more questions to ask your interviewer you can, download my e-guide: 10 Questions to ask the end of an interview.
Good luck on your interview! You are smart, and I know with just a little preparation, the job you want is within your reach.