I love writing cover letters. I know, I know, it’s a strange thing to love doing, but I do. I have the job application and a Word doc pulled up side-by-side on my laptop and I carefully craft an e-mail that addresses all of the application’s main points, all while weaving in my personality (hot tip: notes in brackets are a great way to do that!). And, more often than not, I usually at least get a reply.
Job interviews, however — those are an entirely different story. Though I have gotten better over the years, I’m not a confident speaker and usually fumble over my words or trail off awkwardly. It’s… not been ideal. Fortunately, though, I’m now in a job I love so won’t need to be doing a job interview anytime soon.
But, that said, it’s always good to prepare, so, for that reason, I decided to seek out some advice on how best to handle interviews — specifically, some questions you’re almost guaranteed to be asked. Ahead, Amanda Rose, career expert and founder of Small Business Women Australia and Western Sydney Women, shares not only what those are, but also how best to answer them.
Tell Me About Yourself or What Do You Like to Do on the weekends?
With this line of questioning, you need to understand why they’re asking this question. Yes, they want to get to know you but they’re also trying to find out about you without crossing the boundaries of “things they shouldn’t be asking you, like marriage status or whether you have children”. So be smart and strategic. For example, you may like to exercise or visit farmers markets on the weekend. There’s no need to tell them who you go with.
The ‘tell us about yourself’ question is also generally one of the first questions you will receive in an interview and at a time when your nerves are in full flight. So, you need to be prepared and have your answer rehearsed so you don’t come out with something absurd such as “I kind of like watching reality TV”.
How you answer the first one or two questions in the interview will set the tone, so this is your opportunity to start strong. Angle your response to highlight desirable attributes, such as, “Personally, I am into fitness and nature”, showing you are well-rounded, you like routine, and are disciplined. Or you could say, “I like to study”, which means you like to further educate yourself.
If there is something that you really want the interviewee to know about you, work that into your answer for this question as you may not get another chance once the interview really gets going.
What Has Been Your Biggest Accomplishment?
This question can be asked in a variety of ways such as, “Tell me about a time when” or “What did you enjoy about your previous role”. This isn’t the time to be shy, but it is the perfect time to use data/statistics as well as acknowledge whether it was a team effort or not. For example, “our team worked on bringing a new product to market and surpassed our three-month target by 30%”.
Be prepared with three examples of projects you have worked on and how you achieved the objective. It could be, “I brought in an extra 20% of sales because I implemented a new marketing campaign” or, “I decided to have one-on-one chats with all the nurses and it increased their confidence and satisfaction on the job” or “I exceeded my customer’s expectations by going above and beyond with my level of customer service”.
Take the time to review your current and previous roles to articulate what you have achieved. Don’t undersell yourself. Often as we do our roles day in day out, we forget about our wins and successes along the way, so if you need to jog your memory, ask others around you about things you have achieved.
When Have You Failed and How Did You Deal With It?
This question can come in a variety of formats, such as, “Tell us about a time when you faced a challenge” or “How did you overcome a problem in your role”. Again you need to understand what they are trying to find out here. They want to know if you can admit failure and how you came back from said failure. This could be over or underestimating time frames or budgets. What happened and how you fixed it.
During this answer don’t waffle and be matter of fact. You want them to see how you move on and don’t dwell. Choose an example where things were difficult and the best examples are with something unpredictable, like a pandemic. How did you handle that situation? How did you lead your team or handle it personally and have a positive impact on the team? Be prepared and have your points ready to go. How did you respond, what were your key action points and what were the results.
Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
That one question we all hate answering. Unfortunately, “I don’t know” doesn’t cut it or pointing to the person in front of you doing the interview and say, “There” isn’t great either (I’ve tried it, doesn’t go down well). They want to know you’re ambitious, but not too ambitious — they don’t want you to go and start your own business or take their job. Instead say something along the lines of, “I want to continue to grow and look for opportunities within the company and be mentored to be the best I can be”.
The reason why companies ask this question is to see if your long-term goals are aligned with the role, so you need to align your answer as such. For example, if you’re interviewing for a Marketing Coordinator role, answering with, “I would like to have completed my marketing degree” is a good answer. Answering with I hope to be a contestant on MasterChef is not the correct answer.
Essentially, they want to know how long before you bolt. Are you there temporarily or keen to build your career in their company? Sometimes, it’s important to be general enough to give yourself room to move. However, they want to see you have goals and are willing to work towards them.
Why Do You Want This Job?
I know this seems like a silly question, however so many people go for a job purely because it is a pay cheque to them. That is understandable, however if a company is genuine about building a good quality and positive culture, they genuinely want to know what it is about the role and also the company that made you apply.
Answering with “because I need the money” isn’t going to cut it. This is where your research and a job description will come in. Pick two to three things that jump out at you and show them how it relates to who you are professionally and personally. Having a good answer ready for this question will be a plus for you.