A question I often get about interviewing is: “How can I figure out what answer the interviewer is looking for?” Unless they’re asking a technical question or one to test your knowledge that only has one answer, the interviewer is not looking for one standard answer. When asking behavioral or general questions, they want to know how you tick and how you respond.
When you come in for an interview, they’ve already determined you meet the qualifications. In the interview, they want to know if you’re a good fit for the company and team. But there will always be some tricky interview questions. Here’s how to tackle a few of them.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Do you begin from birth? No. They are interested in your professional career. Think of it as a short story. Explain any time off you’ve taken, i.e., gaps in your employment history or career changes. You can start from the beginning of your career or work backward from your current or most recent job. Keep it brief by offering a one or two sentence description of each job. Conclude by telling them what brought you to apply for this position and why you are interested in their organization.
“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
This is a tough one because you don’t ever want to sound negative during an interview. If you are looking for more responsibility in your next role, you can tell them that. But don’t just leave it at that – tell them why. What do you enjoy about managing projects or people? Why do you think you’re good at it? You need to create a picture for them of how you look on the job. If you are looking for a new job because you hate your boss or team and there is truly no other reason, don’t just come out and say you don’t get along with your boss or colleagues. You don’t want to outright blame another party or come across as unable to work with people who are different than you. What have you done to try and work things out?
“Why do you have a gap in employment?”
You want to be transparent with this. While you don’t have to give every single personal detail in your answer, tell the truth. Did you take time off to raise kids? Were you laid off? Did you have to care for your aging parent? Whatever the reason, they’ve heard it before and you’re not going to lose points for honesty. Again, you don’t need to tell them everything or chatter about it endlessly.
“Why weren’t you promoted in your last job?”
All employers know there are a million reasons why someone wasn’t promoted. Sometimes it has nothing to do with performance and everything to do with company changes, budget, and policy. And if it was because of poor performance? Own it. Tell them what steps you’ve taken to improve your work. Accountability is an important skill and not enough people adhere to it. The employer should respect you for that as long as you describe what you’ve done to mitigate it. You don’t want them to infer that you are looking for a new job because you didn’t get promoted and haven’t done anything to improve your performance.
“Why do you want to work here?”
When answering this question, don’t state something haughty, like “everyone wants to work at Apple.” You also want to avoid doing a quick scan of their homepage in preparation and coming up with the first thing you see. Go a bit deeper in your research. They want to know why you want to work for them. The best thing you can do is to offer a specific reason why. Have you talked to someone who works there about the corporate culture that made you want to apply? Do you follow the company and its developments for a specific reason?
While you should be well prepared for these tough questions and others the employer may throw at you, the key is to be yourself. The qualifications are there – they want to know you.