Acing the Interview: What You Need to Know

December 17, 2019 The Washington Center

Acing the Interview: What You Need to Know

After empowering over 60,000 students with the experience, skills and network they need to land the right career for them, we like to think we know a thing or two about acing interviews.

You asked, we answered — below are answers to the most frequently asked questions about interviewing from students like you:


What types of questions are asked?

In general, whoever’s interviewing you wants to know two things: whether you’re capable of performing the job, and whether you’re capable of working with others to get that job done. 

When it comes to evaluating your capabilities, typical questions include: 

  • “Tell me about a time when you overcame an obstacle.”
  • “Tell me about a project that you’re particularly proud of and your approach, from start to finish.” 

Pro tip: If you’re being asked a situational question, chances are, you’re being evaluated on your skills. 

Aside from your abilities to perform in the role, another important factor that prospective employers will evaluate is your ability to fit in the office culture. At the end of the day, it’s not enough to be a good fit for the specific position; you also have to be a good fit for the team and company you’re working for. 

Some examples of questions that evaluate your cultural fitness include: 

  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • What interests you about this role? 
  • How do you resolve conflict? 

Pro tip: before your interview, mentally jot down a 1-2 sentence summary of the company and what it does, plus how it relates to you as a professional.

How much information is too much? 

It’s tricky to know the balance, especially when you’re asked open-ended questions such as “Tell me about yourself.” General rule of thumb: get straight to the point and keep your responses 45 seconds or less (you can always provide additional details as the interview process progresses).

Related: 
Over the course of your career, you’re going to be in a lot of conversations that start with, “Tell me a bit about yourself,” which means it’s important to keep your elevator pitch on point.
Read how → 

Also, avoid sharing too much personal information. If you do mention any personal details, make sure that it’s either to highlight your qualifications for the role (e.g., “In my free time, I enjoy reading up on the latest legal trends in the legal field, which exemplifies my interest in the industry.”) or to establish rapport with your interviewer (“I’m excited to connect with you, because I noticed that we’re both members of Alpha Kappa Psi!”)

How do I answer assertively, even though I’m actually really nervous? 

Here’s something you might not realize: once you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve already passed through multiple stages where you could have been screened out. The fact that you’re connecting with your prospective employer in an interview setting means that they see potential in you, so let that give you a boost of confidence! 

The best way to reduce nerves (and ace the interview) is preparation and lots of practice, because doing so will help make you feel more confident, which in turn will make it easier for you to answer assertively. Here’s a cheat sheet:

  • Avoid surprises and brush up on common pitfalls by checking out what other candidates have said on Glassdoor regarding the interview process.
  • Check out the LinkedIn profiles of everyone you’re meeting with — not only will this help make you more comfortable talking to a stranger, it might also provide the opportunity of bonding over a mutual interest. 
  • Have copies of your resume, work samples and business cards ready to share with each person you’ll be interviewing with.
  • Get there early! As the saying goes, “If you’re early, you’re on time.”

Here’s something you might not realize: once you’ve made it to the interview stage, you’ve already passed through multiple stages where you could have been screened out. The fact that you’re connecting with your prospective employer in an interview setting means that they see potential in you, so let that give you a boost of confidence!

What’s the best way to answer a question about your weaknesses? 

Employers love to ask prospective candidates about their strengths and weaknesses. And for good reason: it’s essentially a litmus test of your ability to recognize when you could learn and do better, an important trait in high-performing employees. 

At the same time, answering these types of questions requires a bit of finesse because while employers don’t want to hire “weak” employees, they also don’t want to hire employees who respond that they have no weaknesses (everybody has an area they could improve upon!) 

Here’s the two-part formula to answer a question about your weaknesses: 

  1. Briefly describe the “weakness”
  2. Focus the rest of your answer on how you’re working to overcome your “weakness”

Here’s an example: 

“One area of weakness is public speaking; to help overcome my fear of public speaking, I’ve signed up for workshops and I’m proud to say that I recently gave a presentation to over 50 people.”

Further Reading: 

 

About the Author

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.

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