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5 questions to nail during a job interview

Written by Olga Pougovkina

Great news! You got contacted by the recruiter for an interview after sending your CV. This brings you a step closer to the position that you really want. You are excited and nervous because the stakes just got higher. After all, you were selected from many other applicants meaning that you have potential and a solid chance of getting that role. But you are not there just yet because you still need to beat your competition in this round. Maybe you find yourself wishing that you’ll have some extra luck to increase your odds. For this remember:
“Luck is preparation multiplied by opportunity”

And preparation is the key word here as it will help you to organize your thoughts enabling you to be clear and to the point. This will reduce the chance of you getting lost in your story and not answering the question initially asked. Overall, you’ll have a much higher chance to make a strong impression and stand out from the other candidates.
So how do you prepare to kill it at an interview?
For this, you simply think through the potential questions, outline your answers and formulate them into a clear story. To help you, I made a list of questions that often get asked during interviews. They may be worded differently, however the essence remains the same. Keep in mind that just as with your CV, you need to prepare specifically for each interview as the answers to the questions will depend on the role and the company that you are applying for.

1. Why are you applying for this position?
This is often the opening question and it’s therefore important to have a strong response ready as it can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Depending on where you are in your career, you can have different reasons for applying. If you are in academia applying for a position in a company – you’re looking to make a transition from academia to industry. If you are already working in industry – you may be looking for growth opportunities like moving into a new field or you are driven by personal reasons (e.g. commute, company values, etc…).

What to do: Emphasize why you are interested in this role (the field, skills to develop, the company, etc..).

What to avoid: Putting the focus on changing your current situation. You want to make an impression that you are excited and interested about this position and not that you are merely looking for an escape. For example, instead of explaining why you want to leave academia for all the negative reasons, emphasize why you want to transition into industry and work in the company where you are applying.

2. What makes you the right candidate?
This is not the time to simply recite the skills and experience from your CV. The hiring manager has seen your CV and the fact that you were selected for an interview means that you meet the key requirements. It’s also very likely that other candidates who got to this round have similar profile to yours.

What to do: To make sure that you stand out, talk about the combination of your skills and experience that will make you excel at this particular job. Make it clear why they should choose you from the rest.
After responding you can also reverse the question by asking what they are looking for in an ideal candidate. This information can help you further during the interview.

What to avoid: Listing the skills or using general phrases like “I’m good at working under pressure”.

3. Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
There’s always a question aiming to probe your ambitions and to test whether you fit into the long-term vision. It’s difficult to answer at any point of your career and is especially challenging if you’ve just made the decision to transition into industry. After all, you are already taking a big step into the unknown, do you really need think further? On the other hand, you also don’t want to be sitting there and saying something vague if this question comes up. In this case, having a response ready gives an impression of you applying for this role with intention and that you are confident to make plans for your future.

What to do: Tell where you want to grow toward and try to place it into the context of the company. Do you see yourself becoming an expert in a specific technology or field? Do you want to be a single contributor, or would you like to lead teams and have people reporting to you? This is also the perfect time to ask which development opportunities will be available to you down the line.

What to avoid: Saying that you want to achieve a certain scale or get promoted. It just doesn’t get you off on the right foot and doesn’t give a lot of information other than that you are very eager to climb the ladder.

4. What would your colleagues say is your weakness?
The question about your weakness will come up in one way or another. The idea behind it is to get an impression of the level of your self-reflection and whether you are open to admit to your shortcomings and work on them.

What to do: Ask for feedback from your trusted colleagues as it is difficult to assess yourself objectively. Although it can be uncomfortable, it will help you far beyond job applications. Based on the feedback that you receive, share an area for improvement together with what you are doing to address it.
After this, a question to the interviewer could be about one or two personal qualities that are critical for this role.

What to avoid: Going for a cliché answer like I am a perfectionist or overcommitted. If you don’t have feedback that you can use, talk about what you are working on for self-development and in which areas you would like to grow.

5. Question specific to the position. For example, how to apply a technology in a certain context or something about the field.
In contrast to the previous questions, you can’t really prepare for this one as you don’t know what will be asked. The most preparation that you can do is to think of potential questions considering your expertise and what you know about this position. It will also help to know as much as possible about the company. However, don’t drive yourself crazy. The aim of this question is to see how you can apply your knowledge and expertise in a specific context and how you cope with being put on the spot.

What to do: The key here is to take a deep breath and answer the question with the knowledge that you have sticking to the point.
You can also use this as opportunity for additional questions on the topic which can give you more insights about the work.

What to avoid: Going into a long-winded story where you put a lot of information into your response hoping that you will get it right.
As you can see from my suggestions, I encourage you to ask questions. An interview does not have to be one-sided, where only you are being assessed as a potential candidate. After all, you are also there to get information about the job and to see if it’s the right fit for you. Just like the hiring manager can’t know everything about you from your CV, you can’t possibly have a complete picture of the position from the short job description that was shared with you. Although you usually get a chance to ask questions at the end of an interview, it’s best not to leave them all until then. If the timing is right, go for it and turn the interview into a dialogue.
I hope that these 5 tips will help you to nail the job interview and get the job you want, good luck! 

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