This post originally appeared on The Daily Muse.
Interview invitations should really come with a warning: Strong feelings of excitement changing suddenly into dread are imminent upon receiving this invitation.
Career counselors (and yes, I’m guilty of this, too) will frequently say, “Oh, it’s a two-way street. You’re interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you.” And while that is partially true—you should definitely use the interview as a way to gauge whether or not you want to work for a company—there is still a power imbalance. Ultimately, the hiring manager will get to decide first whether you’ll get an offer. So, it’s understandable to be nervous.
But fear not! With a little preparation, you’ll know exactly what to say to impress. To get you started, here are four tricky, but common, interview questions and how to tackle them.
1. Tell Me About Yourself
This completely open-ended opportunity to talk about yourself throws a lot of people off. Worse, it’s usually the first question interviewers ask! The confusing part about this question is that it actually isn’t an invitation to tell your life story. The interviewer really just wants to know why you’re interested in this position and what makes you qualified.
One way to structure this answer is to start with your present, go into your past, and finish off with your future. This approach covers all your bases by answering the question, giving you an opportunity to talk about your relevant skills, and getting to what the interviewer genuinely wants to know: How are you going to perform in this position? Remember to focus your experiences and accomplishments on what’s most relevant to the position and the employer.
“I’m a second-year master’s student studying computer science and a research fellow at the Hudson Lab. I have previous industry experience at Dell, where I honed my skills in modeling and data analysis. This experience really piqued my interest in the field of big data, so I’m excited to learn more about your company and the chance to contribute to your data science department.”
2. What is Your Greatest Weakness?
Surprisingly, this isn’t actually meant to be a trick question. A more straightforward way an employer could ask this question would be, “Are you knowledgeable about the areas that you can improve upon? I prefer to hire people who are reflective about their skills and actively seek to improve themselves.”
And I’m sure you’ve heard the advice to spin this into a strength, but don’t. Don’t say you’re such a perfectionist that it sometimes affects your work. No one is going to believe that, even if it’s true.
Instead, give a genuine weakness—whether that’s delegating to others or attention to detail—but push it back into your past. Talk about the concrete steps you took to address your weakness and show improvement. Mention you’re still working on it, but you’ve made some great progress.
“When I first started college, I was a pretty horrible public speaker. I knew this was something I wanted to overcome, so I promised myself to speak up more in small groups. Later, I took it a step further and took a public speaking class. Now, even though it doesn’t come naturally to me, I think I’ve made some big improvements. In fact, I recently presented at a student conference to an audience of over 100.”
Not bad, right? Now just make sure you don’t say public speaking, because everyone uses that example.