The Interview

Answering questions during the interview


Stories make people listen. When telling a story, you also become more animated, engaging and smile more. Interviewing in this way will be more enjoyable for you since you will be able to express the attributes you have that are desired by employers.

Interviewers not only want to know that you have the capability; they also want you to demonstrate that you have seen results from your efforts. Sharing your results and accomplishments in stories is essential. It communicates your value in a way that increases confidence and helps interviewers to remember your strengths.

Stories have a form: a beginning, middle and an end. A simple way to construct your stories is using the BAR approach. Begin with the Background of the situation you encountered, describe the Action you took to solve the problem or remedy the situation and include the specific Results of your efforts.

  • Background - Summarize the project/problem you faced.
  • Action - Describe the actions you took to achieve results.
  • Results - Describe the results and put numbers to them if possible.

By constructing BAR stories, you will certainly raise the bar to a new level of interviewing success! Remember, you are responsible as the storyteller to engage the listener by conveying a positive and enthusiastic attitude.

Restate the question

When you give an example of your strength by telling a story, always begin by restating the question as part of your answer. While telling stories is a great method to make yourself memorable, it can also be difficult to remember the original question that led to the story. You are more likely to remember the question you are asked, if you hear yourself restate it as part of your answer.

Highlight your accomplishments

The next most obvious place to turn for interview preparation is your resume because it is the interviewers' reality of you. As a result, your resume becomes part of the outline for the interview and many of the interview questions will be drawn from it. Be sure to use your resume to develop accomplishment stories. Emphasize your results in the stories you develop.

First impressions

Most employers make up their mind about your candidacy in the first four minutes of the interview. Since first impressions are so important, be very well prepared for the first four questions of your interview.

The first four questions are generally some version of the following:

  • What can you tell me about yourself?
  • Why are you interested in this company?
  • What are your accomplishments?
  • What are your goals after graduating?

Strength questions

Questions are designed to assess your strengths and to identify your weaknesses. There is a strategy to knowing when interviewers are asking you to sell yourself and when they are screening you. Positive questions provide opportunities to sell yourself and negative questions are attempts to screen or narrow the candidate pool.

Questions about your strengths are asked when interviewers want to know how you differentiate yourself from the rest of the candidates. They want to know you are the BEST candidate. You should jump on the opportunity and offer a fully engaging story with powerful results.

Make sure that your answer to a strength question is:

  • Relevant (to the question being asked)
  • Recent (occurred in the recent past)
  • Results-oriented (shows positive results)
  • Enthusiastic
  • Immediate

"Immediate" means you do not have to think to answer these questions. When asked about your strengths, you should be brimming with stories about how you have added significant contributions in your past.

When an interviewer asks a strength question, before responding, always silently add to the end of the question you are hearing, "...and what does this have to do with this company/internship?" This helps you tie your response back to the company/internship.

Weakness questions

When asked about your weaknesses, do not say you don't have any. If you tell interviewers that you have successfully hit the bull's-eye every time, they will only come away believing that you are not being truthful.

Discussing challenges and obstacles you have faced are elements of an interview that cannot and should not be avoided. Your focus should not be on the challenge or problem itself, but on what you learned from it and how it made you a stronger. Mistakes are not something you should avoid discussing, but maintain your focus on how you have learned and grown from the experiences.

Weakness/screening questions are far more challenging than strength questions. People lose more offers because of poorly managed answers to weakness questions.

The first step in preparing for weakness questions is to examine your resume and identify anything that could be perceived a weakness. Perhaps the internship you are interviewing for wants a finance candidate and you are majoring in economics. When asked what your weakness is, say something like, "I'm concerned that it will be considered a weakness that I am not a traditional Finance major." Immediately add the reasons why the weakness will not have a negative effect on your performance by speaking to how relevant your educational experiences are. They already know your major area of focus and still called for an interview. The weakness question gives you an opportunity to reduce any concerns from the information in your resume, and you have not given them any new concerns to consider.

If there is nothing on your resume that you can use as a weakness, then choose a weakness that is content-focused or technical in nature. This kind of weakness is one you can be trained in and quickly be brought up to speed.

Weakness/screening questions are typically asked when interviewers need to narrow down the candidate pool. When asked a screening question, your goal is simply to stay in the running. Do not use these questions for lengthy discussion. Keep your answers short and reposition them to draw on your strengths.

When asked a screening question — one that encourages you to discuss a negative, difficult or challenging experience, you want to make your answer:

  • Dated (it happened a long time ago, not yesterday)
  • Unrelated (choose a weakness unrelated to the needs of the position)
  • Short (keep your answer short)
  • Growth-producing (describe how you've learned and grown from it)
  • Delayed

"Delayed" means that you want to think before responding. It should be difficult for you to identify your weakness. These answers should be short and focused predominantly on what you learned from the experience. Talk about how you have grown and how, when you look back on the experience, you realize it was an opportunity to improve your skills.

At all costs, stay away from personality/behavioral traits as weaknesses. These are dangerous because they are typically the weaknesses that come to mind immediately. Unfortunately, they are also the hardest to correct. For example, your personality preference may be to wait until substantial pressure has developed before getting to work on a project. People who are pressure-prompted are better last minute producers and thrive on the excitement of completing projects just in time. Unfortunately, this can be interpreted as a weakness. Preferences cannot be changed easily and can give the employer reason to doubt your ability to execute on time.

When asked a weakness question, before responding always silently add to the end of the question, "...and what have I done to overcome this and grow?"

Tough questions: when you don't know what to say

Always answer the question you are asked. If you do not know the answer, it is okay to tell the interviewer that you do not know the answer. Explain that you will furnish that information as soon as possible. It is also okay to ask for clarity on the question that has stumped you.

You may say in a very friendly and positive tone, "Wow, I have to admit I am completely caught off guard by that question; could you tell me more about what you are looking for?" or "That is a really tough question for me. I imagine you are interested in knowing …because it is important to the position in this regard...., is that correct?"

This question allows you to stall and think while they respond. It may also give you more insight into what they are looking for in the answer and can help trigger a response for you. If you can't think of an answer, then tell the interviewer, "You have asked an important question and I want to respond appropriately; however, I need to think about what you are asking. Can we come back to that question later?"

Answer length

Keep your answers to a maximum of 2 minutes. Most adults have an attention span of about 2 minutes. If you feel yourself talking for more than 2 minutes, pause and make sure you still have the attention of the interviewer. Take a break from your answer and ask a short question to reestablish interaction. For example, you might say, "Do you know what I mean?" "Is this example making sense?"