By Shea Ki
Getting interview ready goes way beyond choosing an appropriate outfit, making extra copies of your resume, and coordinating a fabulous tote. All of this and more is expected by employers looking to hire high-caliber professionals.
Pressure at interviews can make even the most qualified candidate melt, instead of shine, in the hot seat.
How do you make sure not to fall into the appealing trap of saying what is expected versus what really sounds like you?
I've appreciated your feedback on this blog series where I address several of the most common interview questions to expect. We continue now with visiting a few more questions that often make a nervous mind go blank.
Instead of offering you cookie-cutter responses that the company knows you googled, I will guide you through ways to approach common questions so you can represent your best, most authentic self.
"Um...uh.....(crickets chirping here)"
Being asked, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?," can bring on the self-doubt and blank stares fast. Answer without preparing and you risk sounding ambivalent or unclear about your goals. Answer with a scripted line that you found on the internet that doesn't really sound like you and say bye-bye to your opportunity.
Your response on this one needs to focus LESS on what you think they want to hear. Yes, you read that right. This is an opportunity to stand out from the pack.
It is also key to reflect some of your excitement for growth while also demonstrating a sense of commitment to the role you applied for in the company.
Here are two of my favorite options I share with clients who are not sure what to say to “where do you see yourself in five years?”
1. Find out before the interview their company’s positions they have that are close to or above the one you applied for. Between LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and the company’s website (most have a section on careers and benefits), you will learn more about what the career growth opportunities are.
Who would you want to learn from? Share your vision about seeing possible potential for yourself in other positions or departments. Just be sure to add on the point that you are eager to FIRST focus on how to succeed in the role you applied for.
2. Instead of googling answers to common interview questions, do a search on the company name and add on that you want to find their latest annual report. An example is: "Amazon + 2017 annual report". I just looked that up for a client today and clicked on one of the first links provided that mentioned "investor relations and annual reports, proxies, and shareholder letters." Just reading the first few pages fed me a TON about the company's lines of business, scope of work, targets, and even their company's unique sense of humor and vision.
With annual reports and other public documents out there about most companies, take your time scanning through it.
A company's annual report is an interview content goldmine, but also know that the information is not 100% the real deal since it is cleaned up for public image purposes.
Since the annual report often shares the company's top goals and challenges, use it to give you insight. Highlight and make notes that help you recognize what pain relief your skill set, ideas, and prior experience can provide to their mission and bottom line.
Now that you've dug more into the nuts and bolts of the company, it should get easier to visualize where you fit. How do you see yourself helping to get the company aligned more with its mission from the position you applied to? Share some of that plan in your answer as if it is 5 years from now and you are looking back.
You can wrap up your answer by BRIEFLY adding in a personal goal that is unique to you. Perhaps share that in five years you also see yourself finishing up a meaningful volunteer project, attending a concert on your bucket list, participating in a charity marathon, or another genuine, special accomplishment that would make you glow.
Connecting and sharing with what really lights you up to answer this question will make an engaging, positive impression.
If they knew, why would they hire me?
Sometimes this question, "What are your biggest weaknesses?", gets disguised as “What would your last manager/boss tell me are your areas for professional growth?”
Do yourself a big favor and AVOID these overused or cliche statements in your answer:
“I’m a perfectionist.”
“I work too hard.”
“I can’t think of any.”
“I used to avoid public speaking, but I took classes/training to overcome it...”
“I prefer to focus more on my strengths.”
While none of these statements are horrible, they signal red flags of different kinds to most hiring managers and recruiters. Don’t bore them with stale, cookie cutter responses you found on the internet. It might give you a feeling of relief for a moment, but it will ignite a round of uncomfortable follow-up questions.
So what to say instead? A more beneficial option is to make sure your response includes a skill you genuinely want to develop and an improvement plan to close the gap of where you are to where you want to be.
For more personalized tips on answering this question, sign up for a free 30 min sample session with me so you never stumble on this one again.
Are you kidding me?
Quarky questions, including "Which cartoon character best describes you?", are common as companies try to assess cultural fit before hiring. Consider a question like this to be an invitation to be creative. It’s okay (and often refreshing!) to show some of your natural spark during your interview. Be mindful to include something you have learned about the company’s mission and goals in your response.
A key to having your answer stand out (that most people forget to do) is to connect HOW your personality trait will be of benefit to the position.
Aim for authenticity versus the “right” answer.
Here is a basic (meh) answer that DOES NOT go the extra mile: “I choose Elastigirl from Incredibles because I am flexible and able to adapt to change easily.” (Too general!)
A better example of an answer that demonstrates your fit with the position is: “Elastigirl from Incredibles because I keep a sense of humor under pressure while also remaining focused on getting the job done. Like her, I enjoy being part of a strong, dynamic team that can easily adapt to new demands. I can tell from what you have shared with me so far that I will need to (insert key competencies this position requires such as: problem solve around roadblocks fast.)”
Welcome unusual questions like this as an opportunity to shine and NOT as a trick to stump you.
Most of all, believe in you.
Your turn: What has been the most unique question you have been asked in an interview? I’d love to see it in the comments below.
Want more helpful advice for interviews?
Start upgrading your interview right now by subscribing to receive my free monthly interview tips and soulful career resources.
Your future at work will thank you!