How to deliver a strong interview by smashing the six most common interview questions.

We’ve all been there -- the interview starts and there you are in the spotlight that suddenly seems to have become a little too bright. You smile politely as you try to gather your unorganized thoughts to respond to that first interview question, but you worsen the situation. Scenario one, the cat got your tongue! Scenario two, you’re still a cat, but you’re being watched on YouTube as you irrationally bounce around chasing a laser pointer.

The reality: we make our own ill perceptions of situations when we’re not prepared to handle them. Next time, don’t stress it and instead of making a mockery of yourself, take on those notorious interview questions like a pro. Yes and yes, I get it; there are a lot of interviewing blogs out there. Yet, have you noticed that many can leave readers, well…wanting more.

Luckily, Apex’s recent Interviewing Workshop has inspired us to delight readers with a Five Part Blog Series to recap interview best practices. As one of Apex’s Career Readiness Workshops, this Workshop and Five Part Blog Series provide insight on how to deliver a strong interview by smashing the six most common interview questions. Follow us for insight from workforce industry SME’s that know what hiring managers are looking for. How’s that for a win-win?

The Question: “Tell Me About Yourself”

Did you know this is one of the six most common interview questions? That’s right! It’s usually asked at the beginning of an interview. More importantly, your response typically sets the tone for the rest of the interview. Shall I remind you about laser-pointers and cats?

Ok, point made, now what! Well, it’s important to have prepared a customized elevator pitch in advance unless you like chaos. You read it right, an elevator pitch! It may sound silly, but this brief speech/pitch outlines an idea for a product, a service, or a project. In this case, all three (product, service, project) are bundled into one…You! The overall goal to being well prepared not only includes a customized pitch, but it should be organized and pertinent to three core components and it should be delivered in enough time to make a fabulous impression.

How Long Do I Talk?

How long should your pitch be? Studies have shown that we have 27 to 60 seconds to make a good impression. It doesn’t seem like much time, but when you’re in the moment, I think you’ll realize it’s actually like Goldilocks said, “This one is just right!”

Now that we established timeline, what more should you consider? There are three core components you want to incorporate into your pitch. Components include career journey, recent and relevant experience, highlights and/or accomplishments. However, before we delve into each component, keep the following in mind.

To Do and Not To Do

When the interviewer asks you to tell them about yourself, don’t respond with a question. This can be interpreted as your being unprepared and insufficiently structured to pitch the golden egg! Be respectful of your interviewer’s time and your time as well. Don’t include the kitchen sink and don’t tell them your life story. Rather, answer questions as pointedly as possible, there’s that pointer again, while remaining focused and pertinent.

The Law of Attraction – Build It and They/He Will Come

Many of us have heard, “If you build it, they/he will come!” However, did you know it has been tied with the law of attraction? It indicates that by putting thought and energy into a project, you increase the likelihood of success. So apply this law into your pitch to set the interview off right!

Excellent, now let’s develop your pitch with the following three core components:

  1. Career Journey – Here you want to provide relevant background information, key projects or responsibilities that tie into the position or work that you’d be doing if hired. Chances are, if the hiring manager is intrigued, they’ll inquire further, which will allow you to elaborate more.
  2. Recent and Relevant Experience - Keep to relevant experience that stems from technologies you have used, work environments that may line up to those being used at the firm or similar project experience promoting your resourcefulness and the value you bring to the table.
  3. Highlights and/or Accomplishment - Be prepared to tweak your pitch depending on the interviewer. A senior level executive will be more intrigued when you brief them on your involvement with ROIs. Did you complete a project ahead of schedule and under budget? Tell them about it, but don’t exaggerate unless you can back it up.
  4. If it’s a manager or someone that you’ll be working with on a weekly or daily basis, focus on more granular work roles, technologies and projects. They’ll be able to correlate and be more responsive to the technical and day-to-day portions of the role. Did you use pertinent programming languages to help build a chatbot or develop an application that saves staff hours or increases quality service and responsiveness? Be sure to convey the positive impacts of your work or problem solving capabilities that have resulted in notable accomplishments.

Once you have put together your outline with supporting content, customize your pitch and practice it with different people knowing your audience will change. Practice within your network, perhaps a recruiter you have been working with (Apex recruiters are always available to assist), a career coach, or anyone that can provide productive feedback is always a good idea. Remember, a well-prepared pitch that is deliberate as outlined above, will help set the tone for the rest of the interview. After all, you really want this job and you want to put your best foot forward. So bring on your pitch, set the tone! Just leave the ill perceptions behind and laser pointers for the cat!

Example Pitch:

“My name is Erica and I’m an aspiring full stack developer. I was previously a technical recruiter for six years, but I discovered an interest in programming about a year ago. I just completed the Suncoast Developers Guild 12-week Full Stack Development Program, where I focused on the core web technologies and AngularJS and React. I’ve now built three applications. I also have taken Pluralsight courses, mostly on JavaScript and I’m active with the Suncoast JS and Tech4Good MeetUps.”