Just as we talked about how you should aim to write a resume that conveys a cohesive narrative to the reader, you should approach job interviews with a similar mindset. Before you go and throughout the actual interview, think about your story. How did you get to where you are, and why is this job the logical next step for you?
So, Tell Me About Yourself
Don’t freeze up, and don’t start meandering off-topic with tales of the kitten you got in fourth grade. Free-form though it is, this question can encapsulate some very specific answers. Even if your career has not followed a completely linear path, try to emphasize consistency over disjointedness.
What if you used to do something in a different industry? You learn lessons at every position, whether or not they appear immediately related. A professional music teacher who wants to transition to sales could point to her experience dealing with difficult parents and school bureaucracy as proof that she could hobnob with elite executives. The skills she used to teach her classes in an interesting, compelling manner will help her explain a product, gain people’s trust, and convince them to buy what she’s selling. What matters are the common threads between then and now.
“Tell me about yourself” doesn’t give you much guidance, but these are the questions you should hear whispering in your ear. All of them build up to the broader question of how you got to where you are, why you’re qualified for this job, and why you want it:
- Where are you from originally?
- Where did you go to school?
- Why did you choose to go there?
- What did you do after graduation? Why did you choose to do that?
- Describe (in brief) the subsequent jobs you’ve had, why you took them, and what you’ve learned. Give the greatest emphasis to the most relevant experience.
- Why have you chosen the industry you’ve chosen, and why is the job you’re interviewing for the most logical next step?
Why are You Interested in Working Here?
This is a trick question. The real question: What do you know about us? Then you can launch into why that knowledge has convinced you that they are the company for you. At the bare minimum, be sure to Google the company and visit its website. If possible, research the backgrounds of your interviewers and be as well-versed as possible in the company’s mission.
Make sure that you know your strengths, weaknesses, skills and career goals. In particular, make sure you’re clear on why you’ve chosen this field and what you’ve learned from your experiences thus far.
What Questions Do You Have for Me?
Not only should you have questions prepared, you should have good questions prepared to show that you’re intelligent and have done your research.
- How do you imagine that your business strategy will change in the future, in light of certain factors?
- What do you consider the best and worst features of this job?
- How do you imagine that this role will evolve over time?
- Cite current events that placed the company in the news. How will that affect the way you approach your business? (Use your judgment, depending on the job description. This is much more appropriate if you’re interviewing for a higher-level role than if you’re interviewing for an entry-level role.)
On your first interview, you want to ask insightful questions that demonstrate your interest, enthusiasm and savviness. You don’t want to open with dull or superficial questions about the application process rather than touching on the meat of the job itself.
Questions NOT to ask on a first interview:
- So, what’s your timing for this interview process?
- How many other applicants are there?
- Anything about compensation.
- Never say that you don’t know much about the position or the company—do your research!
This information may come out eventually, but remember that the questions you ask aren’t necessarily the questions that are most burning on your mind; these questions are yet another way to demonstrate your intelligence and competence.
Other Pearls of Wisdom
Remember to stay calm, walk your interviewer through your resume coherently, and keep a positive attitude. Be confident yet humble, charismatic yet not ridiculously talkative.
Depending on the position you’re applying for, err on the side of dressing conservatively. At the very least, make sure you are pulled together and ready to impress.
- Stand up when people enter the room or when you shake someone’s hand.
- Follow the lead of your interviewer. Never interrupt; if you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification.
- Don’t skate around answers or fake knowledge that you don’t have. If you don’t know something, admit it with poise. Otherwise, people will see through your attempt to mask the lack of knowledge.
After the Interview
Keep records of the interview, who you talked to, and a timeline for follow up.
Firm handshake and a smile—and you’re good to go!