The Hub was buzzing with people from 2PM-4PM today because of two great talks for professional development - Ace your Interview at 2PM and Negotiating Job Offer at 3PM.
Tamara Gardner, an entrepreneur, author, speaker, and life & career strategist, and Cindy Joyce, CEO at Pillar Search and HR Consulting, gave an insight into what interviewers are looking for with their questions, and how to best answer them. The first advice they provided was to research the company well, and that means not just stopping at the company website. They suggested going on platforms like Glassdoor (which they compared to being Yelp for companies) and really learning about the company culture. They also advised to reach the interview venue 10 mins in advance - you reach right on time (or late!) you will stress and smell like stress too. If you reach too early, you put the interviewer in an awkward position. So 10 minutes is the rule of thumb.
What I found very useful were the tips on tackling tricky questions: such as your biggest strengths and weaknesses. The art of humbly bragging is to say things like "my current group really likes that I am blah blah blah" or "I had a recent meeting with my manager and he mentioned that I am very good at so and so". In that way your answers are fluid instead of sounding like "I am good at this and this forever and ever". With the weaknesses - actually say a weakness of yours and follow up by saying how you are working on it. Characteristics like "I am a perfectionist" or "I am very thorough" are not really weaknesses. In fact, depending on the position you are applying for, a weakness can also be technical, where you follow up by saying what you are doing to compensate for it. Through these questions, recruiters are really trying to see your personality, and whether you are a decent person to represent them in a meeting were they to hire you.
Cindy and Tamara also mentioned the illegal questions and how to handle them - if you are asked an illegal question (age, marital status, race, religion, veteran status, sexual orientation), you can answer by saying "let's focus instead on my qualifications that are needed for this job".
In addition, they provided some tips on how to handle the end of an interview where you are asked if you have any questions. This is very important because you want to have a nice closure. You could make a list beforehand that asks about the company's culture, but chances are most bases are usually covered during the interview. However, you can redirect the question back at the interviewer and get them to talk about themselves - because let's be honest, everyone loves to talk about themselves. However, do that with some art so that you don't lose the opportunity to make a lasting impression about yourself. I know during my grad school interview I straight up asked my interviewers (both scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab) what they thought of me as a candidate and where I stand in the pool of candidates. I will say that they were sporty interviewers and took it nicely, and actually answered (and I got an offer from them). However, that might not be the best approach in the industry. If you feel that you might be number two or three in their choice, you can ask them what concerns they have about you. That gives you an opportunity to explain some gaps that might be there between their expectations and your qualifications.
The questions at the end of the session are always great, especially when the crowd is in the same field as I am. One of the questions was what if you get asked if you have other offers/companies you are interviewing for. There's no harm in saying that you have other options but they are your priority.
Another question was how do you tackle technical questions on which you might not have thorough knowledge. The recruiters are mainly looking for your approach to problem solving through these questions. You don't have to present a perfect technical solution.
Last of all, stories during interviews are a great way to answer questions. If you are asked about a conflict at work or how you solved a problem, say it in the form of a story that engages the interviewer.