How to Ace Your Job Interview

By Tracy Achen

Can you ace a job interview? How you present yourself is just as important as what your qualifications are. By practicing your answers to potential questions, you can confidently approach each employer well prepared and relaxed. 

Interview date and time circled on calendar

Employers use this initial meeting to find out what distinguishes you from other people who have also applied for the same job. Even though it's understandable that you might be nervous, remind yourself that the company thought you were qualified enough to want to talk to you.

Below are some questions that you might be asked during your job interview. These questions are designed to give the person interviewing you some insight into your character and whether you would be a good fit for the job. Take some time to think out your answers beforehand so you won't stubble if these questions come up.

Tell me about yourself?

This is one of the most common questions and sets the tone for the rest of the meeting. You want to discuss your major strengths and previous accomplishments as they would apply to the workplace, not your personal life. 

Why do you want this job? 

This is also your opportunity to show that you've done some research on the company and have thought about where you want to work. Highlight how the position you're applying for is a good fit for your skill set.

What makes you the best candidate for this job?

List your past relevant experience, showing how you can use these skills in the position that you are interviewing for.

There seem to be some gaps in your work history. Could you explain? 

Some possible explanations are corporate downsizing, job stagnation, or career exploration.

Why have you been out of the workforce for so long? 

Be honest if you were home raising the children. Explain that since they are older, or that you have qualified child care, you are now able to devote the attention required for your career. You might highlight other skills you were able to develop while you were out of the workforce, such as those picked up doing volunteer work. 

What type of work environment do you prefer?

Each company has a definite work environment, whether it's casual or professional and quiet. A good answer is to say that you're flexible and adapt well to change.

Why did you leave your last job? 

Employers ask this question to determine your career direction and level of ambition. Valid reasons for leaving include job stagnation, no chance for advancement, or placement in a field unrelated to your training. If you were let go or laid off, just be honest.

What did you like least about your last job? 

Don't use this question as an excuse to trash your old job or ex-boss. Instead, focus on the tasks you performed at your last job and demonstrate that your responsibilities weren't challenging enough. 

Have you ever been fired from a job, and why?

Explain that you usually get along really well with everyone, but you couldn’t seem to work things out with your ex-employer. Or if it was company-wide, say that you survived several rounds of downsizing but the last one included you. If you were fired because of poor performance on your part, the best thing to do is be honest. But you can frame it in a better light by stating what you learned from the experience and how you've been able to apply that knowledge to other positions.

How do you like to relieve stress or relax? 

Don’t brag about dangerous hobbies. These types of things suggest reckless behavior on your part and might cause absences from work. Highlight your interests, because companies really don’t want an employee that has no life outside work (they burn out too soon). 

Describe your biggest weakness?

This is a chance to turn a negative into a positive. Instead of bringing up character or personality issues, focus in traits that could benefit the company. For example, although you tend to be a perfectionist, you've learned how to use that to your advantage and your attention to details enables you to do each job correctly. 

How would you describe your work style? 

You want to highlight your competencies when answering this question. If you're methodical in your work, explain how it enables you to get a lot of things accomplished. If you like to work independently, you can share that while you work best alone, you find that collaborating with others brings out new ideas and innovations. 

How much were you paid at your last job?

There are some areas of the country where this is an illegal question to ask, but be prepared to answer this question no matter where you live. Be honest about what you have made before, but try not to set an amount for this job. 

What salary do you deserve for this position?

Once again, research will be your best friend. Find out the salary range for similar positions in your area. Ideally, you want the interviewer to bring up a number. If he or she isn't forthcoming, you can state an amount that is in the median salary range for that position. 

Is there anything you would like to know about the job or the company?

 This is a common question to see just how interested in this position you are. Some things you may want to ask are: What are the typical duties of this job? How many people work in this particular department? Who will be my co-workers, and who would be my supervisor? If I were hired on for this position, what potential do I have for advancement? How long should it take me to get my feet on the ground and become productive? 

Interviewing Tips

Appearance counts, especially when you're interviewing for a job. You want your first impression to be good, so make sure that you dress appropriately in a nice suit or dress. And beware of revealing outfits. This is not the time or place to test your sex-appeal. Also, skip or go lightly on the perfume as some people are allergic to cologne. Make sure your hair is well groomed and you shoes are polished so that you portray a neat appearance.

It's also a good idea to arrive a little early so you have time to use the restroom, freshen up your appearance, and locate where you need to go. Let the receptionist know that you are here for your scheduled appointment. 

When you greet the person who will be interviewing you, take their lead. If they extend their hand in greeting, shake their hand firmly and smile as you make eye contact. After you're seated, try to relax and enjoy the process. This is your opportunity to not only show why you're the best person for the job, but also gives you the chance to find out if this is the best job for you. It's a two-way street.

Your interviewer may signal the end of the meeting by asking if you have any questions. If everything went well and you're really interested in the position, let them know! The person interviewing you may close by telling you what will happen next, such as "We will be interviewing candidates for the next two weeks and will then make our decision". You can always ask if the company will call you directly with their decision or if you should call back to check on the status. Before shaking hands good-bye, reiterate that you would like the opportunity to work for their company.

Once you get back home, be sure to write a thank you letter while everything you discussed during the meeting is still on your mind. If you're not sure what to write, here are some ideas to help you get started writing your thank you letter.

The articles below offer more information to help make your job search more successful:

  1. Divorce
  2. Job Tool Kit
  3. Acing Your Job Interview