Question 1: Tell Me About Yourself

Welcome to the first in a new series addressing common interview questions and how you can prepare. If you have ever been stumped by a question, please share it in the comments and we can discuss it.

“Tell me about yourself.” This is the most common way that many interviewers begin, allowing the two of you to get comfortable with each other and to see what you have to say about yourself in an unstructured format. There may be variations, with the interviewer asking for something specific in the introduction, but you should never be challenged by this one.

Your answer should be one-half elevator speech and one-half “why I will be a great employee.” It is your opportunity to say what you want about yourself while also helping the interviewer know from the beginning why you are sitting in her chair and taking her time. If you combine those two elements, you will be off to a good start.

Here is an answer that uses the 50/50 formula: “My name is Jane Smith, and I am a career banker with a history of delivering top customer service scores and strong business results since I started in my career at Bank of America after completing my MBA at the University of Rhode Island. I hope that we can talk about how I can become a leader and important part of the team at Wells Fargo as you consider me for this new role.”

An answer like this is concise, clear and delivers on both parts of the formula. It tells why you are great and why you are interested in this job.

You will get this question, or one like it, so be ready. If you are interviewing over the phone, write it down and read it if you have to. If it is a live interview, practice giving your answer, asking a friend to critique your performance. Your first answer and first impressions will set the tone for the whole interview session, so don’t blow it – especially when you know it’s coming.

Question 2: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

Question 3: Tell Me About Your Greatest Accomplishment

Question 4: When Have You Failed?

What If There’s Just One Question?

Face to Face

You have a great résumé and you have found a job listing that sounds like it was written just for you. You send off a perfect cover letter and the best possible thing happens: you get the call and a recruiter wants to schedule an interview.

Now what? Are you ready to sit for an interview and follow up?

First, how much time have you spent preparing for easily anticipated questions? When the recruiter, HR manager or hiring manager sits with you, how will you respond to these questions?

  • Please, tell me about yourself and your career.
  • What accomplishments from the last 12 months are you most proud about?
  • Give me details on how you grew sales/reduced expenses/improved profitability as you claim on your résumé.
  • What is your greatest strength? How about your biggest weakness?

Are you going to be ready for these questions, or will you just hope for the best and see what happens? Your competition will prepare and practice and have a portfolio of answers in mind to answer these and other questions. How well do you know yourself and how well can you tell your story in a compelling way that will make the interviewer want to hire you?

Here are a couple of ideas to help you get ready:

  • Research the company you are hoping to join. Complete an Internet search for “(Company Name) interview questions.” That may give you some insight into the questions you will face. Glassdoor is a potential resource to check.
  • Write out your answers to common questions and read them out loud. Do they sound convincing? Try recording your voice – your smartphone probably has a voice recorder – and listen for enthusiasm, energy and conviction. Is it there? No? Try again.
  • Know your résumé from top to bottom. Even if you paid someone to write it for you, this is your life and your career. You need to get committed. (An aside: You can either be involved or committed. When it comes to a bacon and eggs breakfast, the chicken is involved. The pig is committed. You want to be the pig).

If this still leaves you feeling unprepared, get some help. You have come this far. Making an investment in interview coaching can help. Whatever you decide, get ready, because your time to sell yourself face to face is coming.