Most of us feel nervous going to a job interview, whether it’s our first one or the twentieth time we’ve done it. The best way to calm those nerves is to be prepared, and the best way to prepare yourself is to practice.
What follows are two examples of difficult question categories to help you to prepare for an interview, specifically an interview for your first professional job, or your first job in your chosen field.
Obviously there is no way to know exactly what questions you’ll be asked, and it’s not particularly helpful to try to guess. However, it is beneficial to practice responding to different types of questions. The first is the evaluation question, which requires you to assess a past or potential situation. The other—and probably the most difficult—is the open-ended question.
The Evaluation Question. Examples of an evaluation question are, “What is the greatest ethical dilemma you’ve faced and how did you resolve it?” or “Talk about a situation in which you (took an action or made a decision) and what the outcome was.”
Interviewers ask this kind of question to assess your thought process, judgment/decision-making skills and ability to manage stress. To practice responding to these kinds of questions, make a list of both the dilemmas you’ve faced and your significant accomplishments, and then examine the following:
- your thoughts and feelings about the situation
- how the circumstances affected you and the others involved
- your ultimate goal
- the steps you took to determine how to manage the dilemma or otherwise achieve the outcome you desired.
Practice thinking through decisions you’ve made and goals you’ve accomplished; it will help you to create a framework in your mind to quickly evaluate a situation when you’re put on the spot.
The Open-ended Question. The most common open-ended question is “Tell me about yourself”. Responding to this prompt is not about composing a comprehensive biography; you want to give just enough information to pique their interest (and leave them wanting to know more). You can accomplish this by following these steps:
- Your response should be a maximum of 2 ½ minutes; less is more. Time yourself while speaking out loud to be sure you’re within the limit.
- Start with a very brief introduction: where you were raised, where you were educated, and why you are interviewing for this job, in the broadest sense: “My goal is to…”, or “I am most interested in…”
- Summarize your experience, accomplishments and interests. Talk about what you were most drawn to/successful at in school, noting any impressive achievements or relevant coursework. Discuss your life experiences, which encompass things like travel, school activities, and hobbies or extracurricular activities, such as music lessons. Make these activities relevant to the job: “Practicing piano taught me how to concentrate and focus,” or “Learning to build model aircrafts showed me how to break a problem down into a series of smaller steps.”
- Focus on how you can contribute to the company. The interviewer is interested in you as far as what attributes you can bring to the position and/or the company. Don’t make him have to guess; work this into your response: “The experience I’ve gained through (activity or education) will make it easy for me to (specific skills noted in the job announcement).