There are two guarantees about every job interview you’ll have: each one will be different and each one will be unpredictable in some way or another. Learning to prepare in the face of this uncertainty is a vital skill—one that will aid you tremendously in your job search and your career in general.
To set yourself up for success in any interview environment, spend time on self-reflection during your job search and application process. This preparation will help you answer everything from an open-ended “Tell me about yourself” to the more direct “What are your weaknesses?”—questions that are usually aimed at learning how you perceive yourself, what your strengths are and what you want. In this article, we explore five questions you can ask yourself when preparing for a job interview, including example answers.
Common questions to ask yourself before an interview
Here are the five questions you should ask of yourself before any job interview:
What past accomplishments are you most proud of?
These accomplishments may or may not be from your work. Pick out the ones that are appropriate for the situation and that you’d be comfortable sharing. Consider how those moments have affected who you are as a professional. Is there a time when you made a choice that had a positive outcome for a group of people? What about a new skill you weren’t sure you could master, but with practice became better at? Or, maybe a mistake you made and how you recovered and learned from it?
The success stories you choose can become the foundation for your answers to generic questions about your skills, values or aspirations. For example:
Interviewer: Tell me about yourself.
Candidate: In a nutshell, I’m someone who’s driven by curiosity and enjoys working with others to solve problems. For example, in my last job, I noticed that in large team meetings, the same few individuals would consistently speak up while others stayed silent. I was friendly with most everyone on the team and I knew that many of the folks who were quiet still had great ideas to contribute and that we were at risk of only pursuing projects proposed by more outgoing people.
I suggested to my manager that we give the team a prompt 48 hours before these meetings and invite them to write down their ideas in a shared document. In the meeting, she would then invite some people to give more details on the idea they had shared. The change in team culture was incredible. We saw a greater diversity of ideas, and we also saw people become closer as everyone found a way to participate.
If you need a confidence boost at any point during the job search, consider writing down the things you’re proud of on a piece of paper. Put it on your refrigerator or near your desk—somewhere visible so you can be quickly reminded of what you bring to the table.
Related: Setting Goals to Improve Your Career
What three things do you want to get better at this year?
Start with the things that are related to your job, but also consider branching out into other areas of your life. Naming where you want to see measurable progress will help put everything in perspective.
Working on this question will also help you be realistic about the jobs you’re ready for and practice the language you use to describe your skill level. Here’s an example of how that could play out in an interview:
Interviewer: Can you tell me about a time you delivered excellent service to someone?
Candidate: Yes. In a past role, I was responsible for dealing with upset customers. I found that if I could give people time and space to express themselves, we could get to the root of what was troubling them. Once, after speaking with a customer for ten minutes, he revealed he was stressed because his wife had been recently hospitalized.
Through interactions like that, I learned that my job was to make interactions as seamless as possible because our customers want to get back to the important things and people in their lives. We were able to resolve his issue, and now because we knew him better, we were able to send him and his wife a get well card. In fact, listening attentively to people and understanding them is one thing I’m interested in getting better and better at. It’s a skill that doesn’t have a ceiling and will always be important to me, in life and career.
What skills do you have that you’ve noticed differentiate you from your peers?
Without a doubt, there is something that sets you apart. Try to recall moments when you realized you were different from the people around you. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you realized you were more prepared than anyone else. Maybe you were able to anticipate an outcome before it occurred. You could be very quick and creative, or perhaps you’re thorough and methodical.
Everyone has a different style. Find a positive way to articulate yours so you can share it with interviewers.
What would your past or present colleagues say is the best thing about working with you?
Think back on any peer feedback you’ve received or try to identify why you have good working relationships with those around you. You may want to reach out to former supervisors, colleagues or classmates to get their opinion. Identify some strong anecdotes to share.
If you can’t recall any specific peer feedback, think about when peers have come to you seeking help. What do you tend to be the go-to person for? And, what would you imagine others would say about you based on those experiences?
Where do you want to be in three or five years?
While these “where do you want to be” questions can be hard to answer, it is useful to imagine your future self. Look back to the last few years. What’s different about where you are now? Where will you steer yourself next?
Many interview questions probe at how you see yourself growing, and how the job you’re interviewing for figures into that. Interviewers won’t be looking for a specific plan or timeline, but rather a general idea of your aspirations. If you’re going after a job that doesn’t perfectly align with where you want to be in a few years, focus on the skills and competencies you want to develop.
Here’s an example:
Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in the next few years?
Candidate: I know that developing my leadership skills is really important to me. In the last few years, I’ve learned a lot from great managers, and I’m eager to continue learning about effective decision-making and measuring and reporting on progress towards stated goals. It’s not something I necessarily see tied to a title but rather something I want to focus on as a skill.
I also know I want to grow my expertise in this industry. New innovations are changing the way we work every day. I want to stay on top of that change, taking on new challenges as they arise, whether it’s learning new technical skills or new approaches to time management and productivity.
As you spend time answering these questions for yourself, you’ll become more confident about the interview process overall. The key is to know specifically where you’ve come from, what you have to offer, and where you want to go next.
Feeling ready for the interview? Search and apply for jobs.