Earning

Getting the Job: A Step by Step Guide to Winning Interviews

If you want to muscle up, you talk to someone at the gym, not the doughnut shop. If you want to nail an interview, keep reading! I’ve been offered every job I physically interviewed for. Twice, I’ve been offered better positions than the one I was applying for. I’m confident that if a hiring manager will sit down with me, the job is mine, even if it may seem out of my reach on paper.

Let’s jump right in, I know you have a lot of prep ahead of you!

The Beginning: Tell me about yourself…

Your interview should start with some version of this question. You know they will ask, so you must have a well thought out, prepared, and practiced response.

I like to include the following:

  • My name
  • My current employment situation
  • Why I’m here today
  • Something memorable about myself

Example: Here’s roughly what I shared in 2015 when I got my first job in the south. For context, I had just packed up my car with whatever would fit, quit my previous job, and was now unemployed in a new place with no contacts. How was I to convince them I wasn’t crazy, let alone right for their open role?

Interviewer: Why don’t you start by telling us a little about yourself?

Me: Sure! I’m Liz, a new resident of the area. I moved here recently from Wisconsin, where I worked at a mid-size financial institution as an Operations Support Lead. I enjoyed supporting cross-functional teams and finding ways we could all work more efficiently and effectively with one another. I saw those were two skills I could leverage in this role, among many others, and am excited about the opportunity to utilize my skillset and grow in my career. Since moving to Arkansas my husband has become an avid golfer, I on the other hand, enjoy only driving the golf cart!

What did you think? On the inside, the need for that job felt desperate. Our tiny apartment wasn’t even big enough to unpack the boxes that fit in our cars. Luckily the hiring manager called 15 minutes after I left their office. We moved to a larger apartment 3 months later.

Pro tips:

  • Write this statement out and practice out loud.
  • Record your response on your phone to play back and fine-tune.
  • Delivery should take no more than 2 minutes.
  • If they’re in a hurry and try to jump right in to interview questions, start your response with, “Let me start by telling you a little about myself.”

The Middle: Answering Interview Questions

There are 2 types of questions asked throughout an interview:

  • Traditional – strengths, weaknesses, why should we hire you, etc.
  • Situational – describe a time when XYZ happened, or how would you handle XYZ, etc.

I always complete an internet search for the top interview questions when preparing. It’s important to know when a curve ball is becoming more common with human resources. For example, “If you could have any super power, what would it be?” was popular when I graduated college in 2010.

I’ll take you through some examples of each type of question below to help you start preparing and practicing your responses. It’s important that you prepare (I prefer to physically write out) your responses to the top questions from your internet search. They may ask the question in a slightly different way, but it’s important to reflect on your key wins and success stories so they come more easily when you’re in the interview.   

Traditional

Q: What is your biggest strength?

A: My biggest strength is mental agility. I learn quickly and can understand how functions work with one another and come up with solutions and processes that are both effective and efficient.

Tip: Incorporate some key words from the qualifications section of the job posting into your response.

Q: What is your biggest weakness?

A: I’m a people pleaser. I like to say yes and support a variety of projects. While I’ve learned a lot about different areas of the business this way, I’ve also become overwhelmed a time of two. In this role I plan to combat this with excellent time management and prioritization.

Tip: Use a real weakness and be authentic. I was overwhelmed just last week and my boss added a couple things to my plate, due Tuesday. She asked if I was managing okay. I said yes, even though I know Monday will be tough! So this is still a weakness of mine, but I’ve got a very detailed plan of attack to finish it all.

Q: Why are you leaving your current role?

A: I’m happy in my current role and doing well. When I came across this posting however, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. This role would be a great place for me to leverage my existing skillsets and develop in areas I’m passionate about.

Tip: Even if you had the worst boss, co-workers, or work-environment, don’t cite those as your reasons for leaving. Keep this positive. Although you may have every right to run from those aspects of a role, you don’t want to give the impression that you’re difficult to work with.

Q: Why should we hire you?

A: I’m dependable, punctual, and hard working. I have experience supporting a variety of team members, providing best in class customer service, and constantly searching for ways to streamline operations. I will be able to contribute early as a member of your team and have significant runway for growth. I look forward to the opportunity to make an impact.

Tip: Expect this question to come up. If it doesn’t, near the end say, “Let me tell you why I’m the best candidate for this position”.  

Q: What do you know about the company?

A: I like to dig, so I found out quite a bit. Your website is pretty user friendly, so I’ve read up about your company being privately held and family owned which I admire. Brand X and brand Y that you sell reminds me of family movie nights when I was a kid. It was often the bribe for getting my parents and two sisters in the same room! Reviews from current and past employees were very positive, and I’m excited for the opportunity to be one of them.  

Tip: Do your research. Know the name of the CEO (if applicable), visit their website and read the about sections, and then see what recent news articles mention the company.

Situational

Q: Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline.

A: Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. I was working on project X, when project Y came through and was marked urgent. I had to review both deadlines and identify which one needed to be prioritized. Luckily, the deadline on project X had some flexibility. The customer meeting was still a week away and I was able to move other tasks around to complete it in the next few days. As soon as I found out about the conflict, I communicated this change to the project team. I understand my limitations and what steps I need to take when timing is challenged. We’re all tasked with full plates so it’s important to know how to best handle competing deadlines and priorities.

Tip: If you have never missed a deadline, good for you. Tell them about your process for making sure all tasks are completed and/or give them an example of what you would do if the situation came up.

Q: Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer or team-member.

A: I was in a small group meeting and a we were trying to identify ideas for a presentation. I was newer at the time and when I explained my idea, most of the group loved it, but there was one associate who kept asking the same questions over and over. The team wasn’t moving forward, and the meeting productivity started to tank. I decided to see this as an opportunity. This was the first professional interaction I had with this colleague, so they were probably doing what they usually do to feel someone out. I answered their questions for a few minutes, then offered a couple solutions. I’d be happy to put together an example of the concept so we could all review in more detail another time, or if that specific team-member wanted I’d like to take time offline to understand their questions further and come to a solution. Either way the meeting needed to move forward. The outcome was positive. Offline the person was very kind and only asked a few questions. To me, it seemed like a power play in the group setting, but I passed the test. I didn’t challenge them back, get flustered, or unnecessarily involve management. We’ve been working together well since.

Tip: We all deal with difficult people in our lives. When thinking through this example, don’t get defensive or speak poorly of the other person. How you talk about people you don’t particularly like, says more about you than it does about them.

Q: Describe a situation where you weren’t satisfied with your job. What did you do to change that?

A: The purpose of my job is to be an expert in the data and provide quick and actionable insights to the team. When I first started however there were a mountain of programs that needed analyzing and some reports that needed to be validated and even rebuilt. I honestly wasn’t fired up about spending 30 hours in spreadsheets a week. I did an audit of what needed to be done and built out a rough project timeline for completing each review/report. I made sure to allocate enough time each week to keep up on the business, but most time was spent getting through the back log. I managed my time wisely and limited distractions and made it through to the other side about 5 months in role. I’m now able to focus primarily on new projects and have a detailed understanding of the business. Although not satisfied with the workload initially, I understood the value in working through it and the benefit at the other side.

Tip: You are the CEO of your own career, whether you work for someone else or not. Try to think of ways you want to do more than what is required of you, and how you went above and beyond.

Near the End: What questions do you have?

You must have at least a couple prepared questions to ask the interviewer/panel at the end. It shows you’ve prepared well and that you’re also trying to ensure this role is a good fit for you.

Here are the questions I typically ask at the end of the interview:

Q: Why is this role vacant?

Why? This is a huge question in my opinion. If the person was promoted or went on maternity leave and decided to stay home with the kiddos, great! No red flags there. If they share that the previous associate is no longer with the business, be silent for several seconds and show through body language that you’re listening. They may not share any additional info, but they may see that silence as something they need to elaborate on and give you some more clues.

Q: What does success look like in the first 30/60/90 days?

Why? I like this question because you’re having them picture you in the role starting ASAP, and all the great things you can accomplish in your first 1-3 months in role. It also helps you understand what you need your priorities to be when they hire you.

Q: What do you see being the biggest challenge in this role?

Why? This gives you an opportunity to speak to how you can overcome this challenge. Say something like, “I see how that could be challenging. Fortunately, I have experience in XYZ, and this is how I might address something like that.”

Q: Do you have any concerns about my qualifications, or is there something you’d like to know more about, so I can take this opportunity to speak to that?

Why: My favorite question by far! It shows that you understand the challenging situation they’re in. They may have made up their mind about you before walking through the door, because you don’t have X experience. Sometimes hiring managers feel compelled to follow their human resources approved list of questions. You’re giving them an opportunity to really tell you what’s important to them, and you’re giving yourself a real chance to change their opinion if needed.

Q: When will a decision be made? What are next steps?

Why: Always ask this question if they don’t bring it up. Not only will it show you’re motivated, but you also won’t be sitting at home for the next week staring at your phone and refreshing your email.

Bonus Questions: Super power, theme song, etc.

When I graduated in 2010 the “cool” question was, “If you could have any super power, what would it be?” This type of question tests your ability to think on your feet. If you can, pick something that demonstrates a strength or skill.

Example: If I could have any super power, I’d want the ability to understand any language for all creatures on earth. Without barriers in communication, think of all I could accomplish! Think of how much pet food I could sell, if I could talk to a cat!

In my most recent interview I was asked, “Do you love to win, or hate to lose?” I said something along the lines of:

“I love to win. Losing to me is not taking anything away from a situation that doesn’t go according to plan. You must challenge yourself to grow and if it doesn’t turn out exactly the way you’d hoped, you’ve learned something valuable to increase your future success.”

My now boss found this funny because she identifies with, “hates to lose”! Unfortunately, she’s a Chicago Bears fan and I’m a Green Bay Packers fan, so we’ve had a rough year in competitive football! PS, my husband and I are due in June with a baby boy and we’re naming him Aaron! (The current Packer QB, for all those affiliated with other teams.)

The Closing: Ask for the job, if you want it.

If the interview has gone well, and you’re still interested in the job. Make sure you ask for it. This can be very subtle. When we’re either wrapping up or shaking hands I like to throw in:

Me: I appreciate your time today. I’d love the opportunity to be a member of your team and work for this organization. I’m excited about what I could accomplish and the value I can add. Please reach out if you have any questions or concerns and I’m happy to speak to them.  

Conclusion:

I hope this was helpful as you begin prepping for your interview! I know there are a million and one questions they may come up with and having responses prepared and practiced to the internet’s top 20 or so, will leave them stunned. You’ve got this!

Feel free to post or email any questions and I’ll get back to you ASAP. I’d also love to hear what crazy questions they came up with and how you landed the job!

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