No matter what field or career you pursue, mastering job interview skills is an investment that will pay big dividends. Even if you’re planning on being self-employed, the ability to discuss and clearly explain your goals and your skills to potential clients, investors, and even prospective employees is invaluable. Below we’ll discuss what type of questions you can expect to answer, how to successfully prepare, and some common mistakes to avoid when interviewing. With these tips and some practice, you’ll be a STAR interviewer in no time!
What does a typical interview look like?
Interviews come in all shapes and sizes – formal and informal, some may be skills- or task-based, but they will all revolve around a hiring manager trying to discover the best candidate for the position. It’s also important to remember that this interview is just as much for you as it is for them. You want to make sure this position and company are a good fit, so doing some research and having specific questions prepared to ask the interviewer will help ensure good outcomes for everyone involved.
“Tell me a little bit about yourself.”
Ice breakers like this might seem superficial, but having a great answer prepared in advance can make a big difference in setting the tone of an interview. Here's how to answer it in a way that highlights your strengths and makes a good first impression:
- Start with a brief introduction:
Begin by introducing yourself and stating your name. You can also mention things like your current occupation, the type of work you're interested in, or what attracted you to the job posting.
- Highlight your relevant experiences:
Next, highlight your relevant experiences and skills that relate to the job. Talk about your education, previous work experience, or any volunteer work or extracurricular activities that have prepared you for this role.
- Keep it concise:
Keep your response brief, just a minute or two, and try to avoid rambling, saying Ummm or Ahhh, or providing unnecessary details.
- Tie it back to the job:
Finally, tie your response back to the job you're interviewing for. Explain why you're interested in this particular position and how your skills and experiences make you a good fit for the role.
Here's a sample response for a hiring manager trying to fill a social media marketing position:
"My name is ABC and I’m a recent graduate from XYZ high school. I’m very passionate about social media and the wide range of opportunities for creative communication it offers. I find that social media is so versatile, from video to memes to copy and ad writing, that it’s one the very best ways to help people discover new things they’ll love — whether that’s products, experiences, services, or anything really!
During my time in high school, I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to help them build awareness on social media platforms about upcoming building opportunities and to help increase the number of volunteers available for building projects. That was the first time I really understood just how powerful social media can be for engaging the audience you want to reach and mobilize. Additionally, I work part-time as a sales associate at a retail store, which helps me develop and improve my strong customer service and communication skills.
I'm excited about this job because the posting highlights some of the marketing efforts I’m most interested in, and I believe my skills and experiences make me a strong candidate for the role."
Common questions you should be prepared to answer:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
- What experience do you have that qualifies you for this position?
- Can you tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge?
- What are your short-term and long-term career goals?
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
- What motivates you to do your best work?
Behavioral questions – Answer with the STAR method
- When your interviewer asks you questions that sound like “Describe a time when…” or “Tell me about a situation where/when…” they’re looking for clues or examples about how you’ll behave in similar situations in the future. When answering questions like these, you’re going to want to give concrete examples that paint a clear picture for the interviewer that shows you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and can handle different situations with skill and tact. The STAR method stands for:
- Action you took
Here’s a sample behavioral question and a response using the STAR method:
“Tell me about a time when you took ownership of a task that was not assigned to you and how you leaned into it to make it your own.”
“Sure thing, I have a great example. (Situation) During my junior year in high school, I volunteered to manage social media for our school's prom committee. Although my main responsibility was to create content for Instagram, I noticed that the committee was struggling to sell tickets and generate interest in the event. (Task) I spoke with the team and told them I’d like to take ownership of the situation and take action to increase ticket sales and create buzz for the prom. (Action) I began to research social media marketing strategies and created a comprehensive plan to promote the prom. I created a social media content calendar that included engaging posts with attractive visuals, interactive polls, and contests that encouraged students to share their prom stories. (Result) As a result of my efforts, we were able to increase ticket sales by 25% compared to the previous year. The social media engagement rate also increased significantly, and many students expressed their excitement for the prom through comments and direct messages. The success of this campaign helped me realize the power of social media marketing and inspired me to pursue additional social media volunteer work to help me build my skillset for a career in this field.”
The answer above shows that you can evaluate a situation and make sure it’s on track for success; work with others effectively and develop a shared understanding of the issue; build consensus and/or lead with your expertise; can research a course of action and form a plan; can monitor your plan to optimize progress; and ultimately deliver results. If your plan didn’t work, you can also talk about what you learned from the experience that helped you deepen your understanding and gave you an experience to build on and move forward.
Now that you have an idea about the sorts of questions you’ll be asked, here are some tips on developing great questions for your interviewer!
- Can you tell me more about the company's target audience and how you engage with them (social media, email, etc.)?
- How do you measure success in this position? Do you have any specific key performance indicators (KPIs) commonly used?
- How does the company stay up to date with the latest trends and changes in the industry?
- What is the company culture like, and how do employees collaborate on a day-to-day level?
- Can you provide an example of a successful project this team has executed in the past, and what made it successful?
- Are there opportunities for professional growth and development in this role, such as attending conferences or receiving training?
- Can you tell me more about the day-to-day responsibilities of this position, and how I can best contribute to the team?
- What are some goals the company has and how is your team helping to support them?
- Can you give me some examples of projects I will be a part of in the next couple of months?
- Is there anything I can help clarify for you?
These questions show that you have a good understanding about some of the important aspects of the role: that you’ve got some ambition to grow your skillset; that you’re curious about how they are currently managing tasks you would be responsible for; and what success might look like based on the goals and expectations the organization has for the role.
Dressing professionally is an essential aspect of making a good first impression during an interview. The way you present yourself reflects your level of professionalism and seriousness about the opportunity.
We’ve covered some of the content below, but we wanted to collect a few of the most common questions into an FAQ format to deliver brief and targeted answers. For more detailed information, be sure to review the information on the page above.
When deciding what to wear to an interview, it's important to dress professionally. Everyone has a different style and budget, but a basic approach is to remember that you don’t want people to remember your outfit, you want them to remember how you answered their questions. Some things to avoid wearing might be T-shirts with logos or words, cut-off shorts, anything dirty or stained or in disrepair. Work with what you’ve got and try to make it look as professional as possible.
Preparing for an interview involves doing research on the company and the position you are applying for. Look up information about the company's history, mission statement, and recent news. Review the job description and think of examples of how your skills and experiences match the requirements. Practice answering common interview questions with a friend or family member. Additionally, make sure you have a list of questions to ask the interviewer.
Interviewers may ask a variety of questions to assess your qualifications and fit for the position. Common questions include "Tell me about yourself," "Why are you interested in this job," and "What are your strengths and weaknesses." They may also ask behavioral questions like "Can you describe a time when you overcame a challenge" or "How do you handle stress?" It's important to be prepared to answer these types of questions thoughtfully and honestly.
Difficult interview questions can be challenging, but with some preparation, you can respond confidently. Start by taking a deep breath and taking a moment to think about your response. Be honest and focus on providing specific examples or details to support your answer. If you're not sure how to answer, ask for clarification or take a moment to gather your thoughts. Try to have a list of big projects or stories you can refer to before your interview. It’s easier to pick from those than to think of everything on the spot.
You should bring a printed copy of your resume, a list of references, and any other documents or materials requested by the employer. It's also a good idea to bring a pen and paper to take notes or jot down questions.
After the interview, send a thank you note or email to the interviewer to express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview. Use this as an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the position and any key points you discussed during the interview.
To make a good first impression, be punctual, dress appropriately, and greet the interviewer with a smile and a firm handshake. Make eye contact and speak clearly and confidently. Remember to be courteous and professional throughout the interview.
Nervousness or anxiety during an interview is normal, but there are things you can do to manage it. Practice deep breathing or visualization techniques before the interview to calm your nerves. Arrive early and take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. And remember that it's okay to take a moment to compose yourself or ask for clarification during the interview.
Common mistakes to avoid during the interview include arriving late, dressing inappropriately, speaking negatively about previous employers, not answering their question completely, and failing to ask questions or show interest in the position. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice and avoid interrupting or monopolizing the conversation.
Before the interview, research the company's history, mission statement, social media, and recent news. Look for information about the position you're applying for and the company culture. This will help you to better understand the company and to tailor your responses to the interviewer.
Practice Makes Perfect
In addition to the skills we’ve mentioned, it’s crucial to practice ahead of time and if possible, with anyone who can provide constructive feedback. Here are some options:
- Guidance counselor: High school guidance counselors can provide valuable feedback on interview skills and offer suggestions for improvement.
- Teachers: Teachers can provide feedback on interview skills and offer advice on how to present oneself professionally. They can also help students practice their communication and presentation skills.
- Family and friends: Family and friends can provide a more relaxed environment for practicing interviews, allowing students to practice their skills in a low-pressure setting. However, it's important to ensure that their feedback is constructive and honest.
- Career counselors: Career counselors can provide guidance on interview skills and offer advice on how to prepare for specific types of interviews, such as college admission or job interviews.
- Mock interview programs: Some schools, community organizations, or businesses offer mock interview programs that provide students with the opportunity to practice their interview skills in a simulated environment. These programs can be a great way to gain experience and receive feedback from professionals.
Interviewing is something almost everyone finds challenging but follow the tips on this page and with preparation and practice you’ll become a pro at making good impressions and putting your best foot forward. The last, and most important thing you want to keep in mind is this: persevere! Experiencing disappointment if you don’t get the position you’re after is natural, and when you’re just starting out, in a tough job market, or even just disappointed about a missed opportunity, you might start feeling like you’re not making progress. Don’t give up! Practice and perseverance can’t guarantee success, but they are the biggest parts of making success possible.
Good luck and best wishes for the field of opportunities in front of you!