If you were unemployed for a period of time, be direct and to the point about what you’ve been up to (and hopefully, that’s a litany of impressive volunteer and other mind-enriching activities, like blogging or taking classes). Then, steer the conversation toward how you will do the job and contribute to the organization: “I decided to take a break at the time, but today I’m ready to contribute to this organization in the following ways.”
Example: “In my last role, I managed all social media content. I noticed other brands were experimenting with videos and seeing great engagement from their customers, so I asked my boss if we could do a low-budget test. She agreed, so I produced a video cheaply in-house that drove double the engagement we normally saw on our social channels. It also drove conversions, with 30% of viewers visiting to our website within a week of seeing the video.”
As a cyber security specialist, my greatest strength is my intellectual curiosity. I enjoy researching the latest technology trends so that our critical information technology systems remain uncompromised. Not only do I do this by reading the latest issues of cyber security journals, I also convinced my employer to fund my participation in quarterly information technology conferences. This has allowed me to build a network of peer resources—many of whom are leaders in the field—that I can call upon for strategies when new threats arise to our systems.
Even so, don't be tempted to fib and claim to enjoy hobbies you don't. Focus on activities that indicate some sort of growth: skills you're trying to learn, goals you're trying to accomplish. Weave those in with personal details. For example, "I'm raising a family, so a lot of my time is focused on that, but I'm using my commute time to learn Spanish."
Start by explaining what you'd need to do to get ramped up. What information would you need? What parts of the company would you need to familiarize yourself with? What other employees would you want to sit down with? Next, choose a couple of areas where you think you can make meaningful contributions right away. (e.g., “I think a great starter project would be diving into your email marketing campaigns and setting up a tracking system for them.”) Sure, if you get the job, you (or your new employer) might decide there’s a better starting place, but having an answer prepared will show the interviewer where you can add immediate impact—and that you’re excited to get started.
What They Want to Know: Another typical question interviewers will ask is about your weaknesses. Do your best to frame your answers around positive aspects of your skills and abilities as an employee, turning seeming “weaknesses” into strengths. You can also share examples of skills you have improved, providing specific instances of how you have recognized a weakness and taken steps to correct it.
Interviewers ask personal questions in an interview to “see if candidates will fit in with the culture [and] give them the opportunity to open up and display their personality, too,” says longtime hiring manager Mitch Fortner. “In other words, if someone asks about your hobbies outside of work, it’s totally OK to open up and share what really makes you tick. (Do keep it semi-professional, though: Saying you like to have a few beers at the local hot spot on Saturday night is fine. Telling them that Monday is usually a rough day for you because you’re always hungover is not.)”
“In my most recent position, I had recently been promoted to Supervisor, and was managing the department on my own right before the department closed. An employee was acting out and I confronted him in front of everybody. It made the situation worse and caused a lot of distraction for every employee on the floor. I failed to lead properly in this situation, and spoke to my manager the next day to discuss what I could have done differently. We both agreed that I should have handled this in-private with the employee, by asking them to step inside my office with me. If I had done this instead of reacting the way I did, the situation would have turned out much better. From that point onward, I am always conscious of whether a discussion with a team member should occur in public or behind closed doors, and it made me a better leader.”
Tip: Interviewers ask this question to make sure your expectations are in line with the amount they’ve budgeted for the role. If you give a salary range exceedingly lower or higher than the market value of the position, it gives the impression that you don’t know your worth. Research the typical compensation range for the role on Indeed Salaries, and tend toward the higher side of your range. Be sure to let the hiring manager know if you’re flexible with your rate.
Focus on them: In five years, you should have made a significant impact to the company’s bottom line. Think about how you can achieve this in the role you are interviewing for. In technology careers, advancing your skills is important, too. You should be able to share what areas you want to strengthen in the near term (but be careful that they are not areas of expertise that the company needs now).
You don't need to memorize an answer, but do take the time to consider how you'll respond. The more you prepare, the more confident you'll feel during a job interview. When you're not sure what to expect during an interview, also take time to review this refresher on how job interviews work, and these tips on how to prepare to ace your job interview.