Here’s my tip: get out of your head and into the mind of the employer.
When I help people prepare for interviews, the biggest mistake I see is that people answer a bit too honestly because they don’t realize what the interviewer is actually asking. One of the most important things you can do in an interview is figure out what they’re really getting at with their seemingly simple questions.
For these 5 popular interview questions, here’s what your interviewer really wants to know.
So, tell me about yourself.
Translation → In one minute, tell me why you are sitting in front of me. What fundamentally motivates you, what are you looking for in a job, and why is this job right for you?
The wrong answer → You’re a night owl who just graduated and enjoys sailing on the weekends. Oh, and you’re looking for a sales role.
This is a chance to talk about how well you fit into their company and how your goals match up perfectly with theirs. Don’t spend it being clever.
Why do you want to work for this company?
Translation → Tell me why my company is the best company out there, and why our values match yours.
The wrong answer → Talk about why you so desperately want a job, and how you could learn a lot from this role, and how you liked their website, and you you you.
This question is all about the employer. Show how much research you’ve done, and why you know you are a perfect fit because you can help solve the problems THEY are facing.
Where do you want to be in five or ten years?
Translation → Where have you been, where are you going, and how does this role at this company fit into that journey?
The wrong answer → Idk, having kids?? Maybe law school?
Let’s be real, I’m trying to make plans for next weekend, not five years from now. And that’s okay! Employers don’t expect you to know your whole life plan, they just want to make sure that the company fits into your general direction, and that their investment in you will result in at least a few years of solid work, not just the six months until you start law school.
What’s your biggest weakness?
Translation → Tell me a real weakness and what you do to compensate for that.
The wrong answer → I care too much, I work too hard, and I am too well loved.
No one is good at everything. Successful people know their weaknesses. Be honest, just be sure that your weakness is not a deal breaker for the job (e.g. My weakness is talking to people and whoops, I’m applying to a sales role). Show the employer that you fully understand what you’ll be doing in the job and are prepared to overcome any challenges.
When was a time that you failed?
Translation → When was a time that you failed (like actually failed, a “C” on a test doesn’t count), and what did you learn?
The wrong answer → Recounting a mild failure and blaming it on others.
Seriously, the bigger the fail, the better. The important part is what you say after that story. If no one showed up to your event, awesome! How many people showed up to your next event? Employers want to know how gritty you’ll be when things don’t go as planned at their company.
Notice the trend here? Your answers need to be company-centric. If you can’t think of a reason the story you are about to tell will help you do an incredible job in the role, choose a different story!
Practicing radical authenticity does not mean you have to tell your life story to anyone who asks.
Malena Harrang is a Koru grad and the Program Coordinator in our Seattle office. She graduated from Vassar College, where she majored in International Studies.