Interview preparation is hard work. You need to practice your STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) responses. You have to vet out possible behavioral questions and craft compelling responses to them. You must ensure that your image reflects your professionalism—your shirt must be ironed, and your shoes must be polished!
Be sure that you are focusing your efforts in the right area, by narrowing in on what the interviewer is looking for. Here are five questions you should always prepare for, and should always expect:
Why are you interested in this position? Your answer to this question demonstrates that you have an understanding of what the job entails and why you are qualified for it. The interviewer also wants to know how the position she’s interviewing you for fits with your career goals. Framing the position within the context of your longer-term career development shows that you are forward thinking and that you have a plan for success.
What do you know about our company? The interviewer wants to know that you’ve done your homework and that you have an understanding of the company’s products, services, markets, and customers. For example, if you were interviewing with Coca-Cola, you would be expected to understand that it is a $45 billion global beverage company businesswoman and businessman handshakeand that it has many more brands than merely the iconic soft drink that bear its name. You should also know that its products are sold in every country on the planet and that the company has had significant gains in market share via acquisition. In other words, when you research the company, go beyond their own website and Wikipedia entries. Seek out biographies of key executives, look for recent media coverage, and, if it’s a public company, familiarize yourself with the previous year’s financials and the current stock price.
Tell me about yourself. On the one hand, this seems like the easiest question of all, but on the other, this is the one that gives candidates the most trouble. This is not an invitation to rattle off your life’s story, or to go bullet-by-bullet over your resume. Instead, it is the perfect opportunity to stand out from other candidates. Most people respond with something like this: “I’m a CPA with 15 years of progressive experience in preparing financial statements and conducting financial analysis. I’m seeking a role that is compatible with my background, skills, and experiences, and that will further the progression of my career.” BORING! And, it tells the interviewer nothing about who you are. This focuses entirely on what you do. If the interviewer wanted to hire based on tasks, there would be no point in meeting with anyone; a review of the resume and a brief phone call would suffice. But people hire people, not robots and widgets. Tell the interviewer something about yourself that is truly unique and different. Make it human, but professional.
What professional achievement are you most proud of? The interviewer doesn’t really care about the achievement per se. He wants to know why it is important to you. That gives him insight into what it is that you value. He also wants to know how you achieved the said achievement. Was it an individual project, or was it a team effort? If it was a team effort, what was your role on the team?
What was your biggest failure? This is actually my favorite question because it allows the candidate to truly shine. Who doesn’t love a story about overcoming adversity? As Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made mistakes has never tried anything new.” Failures provide new data and great learning experiences, and the interviewer is looking to understand what you did with them. So don’t focus on what the project failed to achieve; focus on what you learned, and how it has made you more effective and more willing to take risks.