When you’re going out on your first round of professional interviews, you may be worried about your lack of a lengthy resume, relevant experience, or salary history. Luckily, many companies realize young professionals may not have the depth of a resume older professionals do. And if you’ve practiced typical interview questions, you’ll likely do a great job of explaining how the experience you do have will benefit your potential employer.
However, there are some questions that college students completely bomb. College students typically fail these interview questions because they lack experience and practice. Luckily, I’ve faced several of these questions and, while I initially failed at answering them too, preparation can help you successfully navigate these difficult interview questions.
1. “What would you add to our company? What about our company stood out to you?”
If you’re new to an organization, as in you haven’t already interned with the company or worked there before, you’ll likely face interview questions related to your knowledge of the company and its business.
Companies want to know you’ve done your homework, you know what the company does, and you’ve thought about the value you’ll provide if hired. If you can’t talk about one project the company has worked on, you haven’t done a thorough job to understand the position or the company culture. Not knowing anything about the company you’re interviewing for could not only doom your chances of getting the job, but could also doom you if you do get the job. After all, why apply for a job if you don’t know anything about the company – good or bad? Will you even like it there?
2. “Why did you leave your last job?”
Out of all the interview questions asked of recent college graduates, this one is by far the easiest – if you know how to answer it correctly. This question could also be one of the most difficult if you haven’t prepared for it. It’s difficult because many college students don’t realize diplomacy is an important skill during the interview process, and often take the opportunity to discuss everything they didn’t like about a previous employer.
This question is designed to see if you know how to diplomatically yet truthfully answer why you left a previous job. For many college students and graduates, this question is easy. Many college students and graduates are typically leaving previous employment or internships to utilize and improve their skills, as well as get into a particular field.
This question is not designed for you to tell your potential future employer about all the things you hated in your last job. As your grandmother may have said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. Above all, be diplomatic and professional in your answers.
3. “Tell us about the time you worked with a difficult coworker.”
Similar to the “Why did you leave your last job/former employer, etc.” interview questions, this question about difficult coworkers is not an opportunity for you to complain. However, you might fail this question if you answer it the same as the question above.
An interview question about a difficult coworker is not a time for you to be diplomatic, but it is time for you to be creative and persuasive. This question is looking to see how you handle adversity, because you’ll likely face some challenges in your new job. Succeed in answering this question by focusing on a difficult encounter with a coworker and how you still were successful.
You may have been successful at managing your interactions with this difficult coworker, or you may have been successful at completing a project while still working with a difficult coworker. Show how you can handle adversity without melting down and running to a supervisor, and this may be a question that gets you the job!
4. “Tell us where you see yourself in 5 years.”
These types of “Where will you be in our organization?” interview questions are becoming less popular as employers realize Millennials aren’t like Baby Boomers. Millennials don’t typically plan on staying with one company forever. This interview question is tricky, because you don’t want to lie. While you may not plan on being with the company forever, you do have to make the company want you and see you as a long term investment. While many companies nowadays know young employees won’t stay forever, they want to know the commitment they’re making to you will pay off – i.e., hopefully you’ll stay longer than 6 months.
Focus on the skills you want to achieve in your new position at the company. Talk about how you’d like to develop communication, leadership, or specific hard skills in your role, and about any type of training or advanced certificates you’d like to learn. Keep it broad and, whatever you do, don’t tell them you “want their job” in 5 years – even if it’s true!
5. “What salary do you believe you deserve?”
Salary interview questions are far less common in the public sector, as salaries are typically fixed and lack wiggle room. However, these questions are still fairly common in the nonprofit and private sectors. These are tricky interview questions too, because you don’t want to answer something too low that undervalues your worth, but you don’t want to answer too high and lose out on the position all because of salary.
Temper your answer in terms of opportunities, like vacation, flex time, or a change in title. Try to avoid giving a hard number, but say you’re looking to work with the company to come to something that is equitable for both of you. If pushed to give a number, do your homework on salaries within the company, and include overall compensation instead of an hourly wage in your answer.
With some practice and preparation, you can save yourself a bombed interview and potential embarrassment. While you may lack a lengthy resume, you can make up for it with a professional and polished interview.