1. Tell me about yourself
Does the employer want your autobiography—the embarrassing elementary school accidents, hopeless high school crushes, medical history and more? No. “be concise—30 seconds to one minute,” said assistant director at smith college’s lazarus center for career development janice schell. The employer just wants a brief insight on you as a person.
This question demonstrates the employer’s interest in getting to know you. Kind of like when your friend’s cat rubs its furry head against your leg— a gesture of friendship. “reframe this question in the context of being in ‘xxx’ role at our organization,” said schell. Breaking it up will help you hone your answer and prevent you from rambling.
At the same time, being put on the spot to talk about yourself can be challenging. “i find this a very tricky question mostly because i am awkward and i hate talking about myself,” says smith college alum hilda nalwanga. The fear of sounding “prideful” makes many people afraid to answer this question. To avoid feeling lost at sea with this question, schell offers this basic framework:
- Who you are right now (class year, school, degree, major, minor)
- A recent experience (specific project, job, internship, extracurricular) of relevance/benefit to the employer
- A previous supporting experience
- Why this opportunity? What are you searching for in a position? Any question/s for the employer?
Thinking about yourself in terms of class year and previous work experiences will help you tackle this question with concision and grace. Who knows? It may make it easier for you to answer the bigger question—who are you?
2. Why should i hire you?
Channel the confidence you had when you walked up to chad at the last frat party and make yourself sound as interesting and qualified as possible. This question makes it easier for an employer to make their hiring decision. “it’s a quick way to gauge whether or not the interviewee is the right fit for a company,” said smith college senior and lazarus center peer advisor michelle chen. Employers see a ton of applicants, and they want to pick people who will vibe well with the organization.
In the face of a question like this, be confident and sell yourself. Humbleness shouldn’t prevent you from talking about your strengths. Ask yourself, “what makes you different from the other applicants?” Maybe you have a unique perspective, ability to take risks or a range of experiences that not many other candidates would have on their resumes. “the best approach is to avoid the trite answer of ‘i work hard’ and ‘i’m determined and i will never give up,’” said chen. Cheesy answers may get you far on tinder, but they won’t help you in an interview. Everyone has something that sets them apart- you just have to find yours and use it to your advantage.
3. Why shouldn’t i hire you?
Think carefully about this answer, or you may get kicked off the island. This question feels like a trap because it is a trap. In order to get out of the rabbit hole, you have to get in to the rabbit hole. “stay calm. If an applicant is unsure of how to answer immediately, the worst thing to do would be to charge ahead blindly or say ‘i don’t know,’” said associate director for internship programs at amherst college victoria wilson. Taking time to think about your answer does not show weakness; it shows thoughtfulness.
When an employer asks a question like this, they may want to know if you can remain composed and confident. They also might use this question to see how you describe your strengths and weaknesses. “if a position states a preference for a major which isn’t offered at your school, explain why your major and other background are assets, and express genuine enthusiasm to learn content you may not know,” said schell. Acknowledging what you don’t know can lead you somewhere. Being able to pin-point the reasons why you shouldn’t be hired also shows self-awareness.
4. Tell me something about yourself that is not on your resume
Spontaneity. Don’t get taken aback by this one. Interviews are conversations. An interviewer may ask this question to learn about your other interests. Show the employer that your passions extend beyond the world of work. As smith college alum sophia liu said, “let’s be real, they know that you cannot fit your life’s work into a standard 8×11.” The lazarus center encourages students and recent grads to keep their resumes up to a page. If you’re going into teaching or writing a cv, then it’s acceptable to have a two-page resume.
A resume only gives a snapshot of your professional history. “so, you always want to make sure you have something else you can add,” liu said. The information we omit still says a lot about ourselves. If you think your vintage tea-cup obsession that got you made fun of in middle school won’t ever help you, think again. Your interviewer may also share an affinity for victorian china, ultimately helping you to land the job.
5. Describe a specific instance where you conformed to a policy with which you did not agree
Forcing yourself to attend that grueling 9 a.m. Because of the professor’s mandatory attendance policy doesn’t count as a good answer to this common question. It may be better to talk about that time you stayed an extra two hours for your newspaper’s layout and editing night. Even though you were exhausted and stressed about your classes the next day, you stayed to help your team. An answer like this shows off your ability to prioritize the needs of your team.
Questions like this are intended to assess how you act in certain situations. To tackle it, try the star method. S for stating the situation, t for identifying the task, a for explaining the action you took, r for describing the results of you achieved. “the star approach structures interview answers well and prevents me from rambling,” chen says. This method also helps you reflect over your experiences. During your interview prep, try breaking down your experiences with the star model and see what you can come up with.