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Don't Get Knocked Out in a 1st Round Interview

Guest Blogger: Bud Rockhill, Lehigh, Journalism, ‘79, Harvard, MBA, ‘83 (visit his profile on Lehigh Connects)

For many, the prospect of being interviewed can be a little intimidating, especially for those who are not comfortable talking about themselves. It can help to anticipate the main questions, and actually write down your answers. If you think in advance about the most likely questions, you have a good chance of being right for about 75% of the questions. Other questions, while they may not be asked exactly in the way in which you’ve anticipated them, can be “twisted” or “modified” to make it possible to use the answers you’ve prepared.

1. Tell me about yourself

This question is not as innocuous as it seems. Gives you a chance to “frame” yourself and set the tone for the rest of the interview. Try to have this question be answered in a summary format, with 2-3 key themes that you’ll want to come back to later and throughout the interview.

2. What are your greatest strengths?

Limit the list to 2 or 3. Hopefully, it links back to your answer for #1, and links to what the company is looking for in the person they hire for the position for which you are interviewing.

3. What are your main weaknesses?

First, avoid the cliches like “I work too hard.” Second, don’t bring up anything that will prevent you from getting this job. Instead look for one or two things that were weaknesses in the past or that you don’t enjoy, but have either improved or overcome. In this way, you can answer the question, while turning it into an asset.

For example: “To be honest, dealing with numbers is not my greatest asset nor my favorite thing to do. However, I do realize that it’s a critical part of my job. The way I’ve dealt with this is two-fold: First, I just “suck it up” and invest the time required during the budgeting process so we do the ground level financial planning correctly at the most important time of the year. Second, I know that I need a good accountant on my team who will complement my skills, and provide the strength in that area.”

4. Situational – Provide an example of a time when you ______________

Be prepared! Since most college students have limited work experience, even with some great internships and volunteer work, an effective interviewer will try to ask you to provide examples of situations in which you had to demonstrate the same type of skills or behaviors that will be necessary in a full-time work setting.

For example here are three likely questions you may be asked:

· You were asked to start and manage a project from start to finish

· You tried to do something and failed

· You had to overcome a major obstacle to meet a challenge

Answers to these do not need to be on the level of discovering a cure for cancer. The more honest and straightforward you can be, the better. And get to the point quickly, preferably by starting with the punchline and then providing the backup.

For example: “I was responsible for running the Toys for Tots campaign for our fraternity, which ended up getting toys donated that resulted in a merry Christmas for the children of 50 families”. Then explain the process.

5. What do you like most about your current/last summer job?

Again, highlight the aspects of the job that most closely parallel the position for which you are interviewing.

6. What do you like least about your current/last summer job?

This is not a whining session. Pick stuff that does not parallel the job for which you are interviewing, yet make it real, and try to turn it into a way of defining the criteria for the job you’re looking for. Make it a learning experience that demonstrates your maturity and how you’ve extracted some value out of it.

For example: “I worked as an analyst in a bank reviewing credit applications. While I remain interested in finance, I realized that I need more variety in the job and am looking for more of a project environment”.

That sounds much better than “It was so boring reading credit applications!”

7. What should I remember about you when we’re done? (Or: “Why should I hire you?”)

To answer this, you need a good understanding of the job, and a good understanding of yourself, and you need to have thought it through in advance to link the two. Come back to your three themes and decide if you want to use all three or just one.

8. What’s the one thing in either your academic career or a job that you’re most proud of? (Or: What is your greatest success in school, work or sports?)

First, state the goal or business objective of whatever situation, and relate it back to what’s important to the company, and why it was a significant goal.

For example: “I wanted to make Dean’s list in my junior year, but also was working part-time 20 hours per week and playing intramural soccer, which is one of my favorite recreational activities. It was a real juggling act between academics, work and sports, but I had a 3.7 GPA for the entire year. So I met my goals for each, and felt like I could still have fun along the way.”

In using examples, try to use “we” instead of “I”. You don’t lose any credibility, and you come across as more of a team player & leader.

Explain what you did, quantify the results, link it back to the original goal, and share the credit. If you think about this question in advance, and have some specific examples: sales results, sports results, academic results, awards. This would be a good time to mention it or even show some “visuals”. Some tangible evidence of the good job you did is always helpful, and can break the monotony of talking.

9. Why are you interested in this job?

Again, this will demonstrate your ability to have listened and to link the company’s needs to your strengths. Make the fit very clear and very obvious, and show that you have thought about it. If this is an early stage interview, and you’re not clear on exactly what the job requires, use this as an opportunity to ask one or two clarifying questions of the interviewer.

For example: “My impression of the job and the company is that there’s actually a very good fit between my background and what it’s going to take to be successful here, but do you mind if I ask you a question so that I’m clear on what you’re looking for?”

If you are already clear on what the job is, link your answer to what you do in your current job or your academic background, along with the results and accomplishments in your jobs, internships or academics, and your strengths.

10. What are your long term career goals? (Where do you want to be in five years/ten years?)

Think this one through. If possible, demonstrate knowledge of the company organizational structure and hierarchy so there is some logic to what you’re saying. It is also fine to not always be looking for the next step “up”, but to be able to say that you want to work in a bigger or different department, or to stay with the current job for quite a while and then look for ways to enhance or broaden the job without leaving.

Not every company needs someone who wants a fast promotion, and some companies and interviewers are a little tired of people who are always trying to move up without mastering the current job.

There are plenty of additional interview resources available in the Center for Career & Professional Development. Use the Handshake, Resource page Interview tile or request a Mock Interview from one of the 2,000 alumni profiles on Lehigh Connects.

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