posted November 12, 2019
One of the most effective ways to prepare for a job interview is practicing your answers to common interview questions. There are many factors to consider when getting ready for an interview, but the words you use and how you structure your answers are important.
In this article, we’ll explore why interview practice is important and how to prepare for some of the most common interview questions.
Why Interview Practice Is Important
Before we get into details about some of the most common interview questions, here are some quick reasons why practicing for a job interview can be helpful:
- Practicing your answers will help you feel more comfortable talking about yourself. Not all of us are naturally gifted when speaking at length about our career accomplishments. As you practice, you will start to sound (and feel) more comfortable. This is one of the few times in life when you’re expected to brag, and practicing your answers ahead of time can make it feel less awkward.
- You will already have an idea of the main points to cover. It’s smart to go into an interview with a list of your best talking points ready to go. Having that list memorized will help you present yourself in the best possible way. One note of caution: don’t force your main points into an answer if they don’t address the question directly. You’ll likely have a few minutes at the end of the interview to summarize, so you can save your best selling points for that time, if needed.
- Practicing out loud helps you decide which words to use. If you’re going back-and-forth about how to describe something, practice it by saying the words out loud. After hearing the words spoken, rather than reading them on a notepad or a computer screen, you may decide to go in a different direction. Using words that are a natural part of your everyday language will help you sound more confident.
Preparing for Common Interview Questions
In the section below, we’ve included some common interview questions that are likely to come up in any industry.
“Tell me about yourself.”
Many interviews start with some variation of an open-ended statement like “Tell me about yourself.” Make sure to spend some time preparing this opening statement, as it will set the tone for the rest of your answers.
Your goal for this statement is to summarize your career, not to tell your life story. Don’t go into too much detail, as you’ll have opportunities for that later in the interview. Plainly state how the experience and skills you’ve gained in the past have prepared you to succeed in this position in the future.
Also, be careful not to stray too far from the requirements of the position to which you’re applying. You may have a varied background in a lot of industries, and those are all certainly a part of your career story, but try to stay on track by focusing on the connections between your previous work and what the employer is seeking for the position.
Finally, avoid bringing up personal information. There may be appropriate times to talk about your family or your interests outside of work, but those will likely come much later.
“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”
At some point in the interview, you will likely be asked to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Describing your strengths is an opportunity to return to the main points you want to hit on about why you’re a strong fit for the position. Talk about your natural abilities, the skills you’ve developed, and the wisdom you’ve gained from previous experience. These can all be considered strengths.
Discussing your strengths is also an excellent opportunity to use examples. It’s one thing to claim that you are a strong salesman, but it’s another to bring up specific sales numbers and describe how you improved upon the work that was done at your organization before you arrived.
When discussing your weaknesses, be honest. Don’t fall into the trap of using clichés like “I work too hard.” After stating your weaknesses, describe what you’re doing to improve. Maybe you’re starting to use new tools to help you stay organized, or maybe you’re reading books to help you develop your skills as a manager. Be prepared to talk about how you’re trying to get better.
Most interviewers will also ask behavior-based questions. Employers ask these kinds of questions because past behaviors can be good indicators for future performance.
Here are some examples of behavior-based questions:
- Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation at work. How did you overcome the situation?
- What’s an example of a goal that you set, and what did you do to accomplish it?
- Provide an example of a time when you had a problem with a co-worker or supervisor. How did you resolve the situation?
In many cases, interviewers are expecting candidates to use their answers to describe their soft skills like teamwork, communication, conflict management, leadership and more. These are qualities that are difficult to express in a resume, but an interview is a perfect time to try.
When preparing your answers, one popular method for how to structure them is the STAR method. The acronym STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. Remembering those four phases of an answer helps you ensure that you’re answering a behavior-based question as completely as possible.
Every industry is different, and each organization will have its own interview style and preferences. Here are some articles we’ve found to help you prepare for questions related to specific career fields:
The CSU Career Services Manual has additional resources to help job finalists prepare for common interview questions, including examples of answers using the STAR method.
At CSU, we’re here to help you find your dream job. For more information, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu.
Related: How to Change Careers: Your Step-by-Step Guide