Anticipate Key Questions

Interviews and Offers

Crush Your Interview
 

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You have applied, waited patiently to hear back, and now you have received an interview! This is a key stage of the hiring process that is often overlooked by applicants, yet integral to job offers.

Embrace your interview by preparing in advance, similar to how you prepare for a final exam. This is your chance to speak about aspects of the position that excite you, give concrete examples of your qualifications, and connect with people at the organization. Use this page to interview and respond to job offers with confidence.

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Anticipate Key Questions

Although you can never prepare for every interview question, you can be ready and confident to answer questions that are most commonly asked. To help you identify common questions in your interview, listen carefully for the main focus of each question. Questions may be worded differently for each interview you have, but they will usually include some variation of the phrasing found below.

For most questions that you are asked, plan to talk for about 1-2 minutes per answer. This gives your interviewers enough information to evaluate your qualifications, while not rambling on for too long about irrelevant details. You’ll want to keep it interesting, as recent studies have shown that the human attention span is less than 10 seconds—less than a goldfish!
 

Does it surprise you to know that this is typically the one interview question that people are most fearful of and unprepared for? Ironically, the majority of interviews begin with this question, and it is the most important question to ace so that your interview gets off to a strong start. 

Whether or not you realize it, you have already practiced answering this question many times in your life. When responding to this question in an interview, most people use an adaptation of their professional introduction. Begin by giving a brief introduction of yourself, your education, your previous experience, and what led you to apply for this position. It is critical that the information you provide is relevant to the position, otherwise you will miss out on a valuable opportunity to catch your interviewers’ attention.

Here is an example:
“I am currently completing my degree in Economics at UC Santa Barbara where I have gained proficiency in Excel and applying economic theory to current situations. Outside of class, I participate in activities with the Economics Department learning from current professionals about different aspects of the field. During one of the meetings, a local analyst discussed their role in working with the City of Santa Barbara to determine an economic relief plan during the recent natural disasters. His story led me to want to apply to this position as an Economics Analyst Intern utilizing my skills to help the city and gaining more industry knowledge.”

Pick two to three strengths that are relevant to the position you are applying to. They could be personal characteristics or skill-based characteristics, but they need to relate specifically to the position. It is important to give examples of how you have showcased those strengths (use the STARS method listed below for Behavioral Questions). 

Here is an example:
“There are two strengths I’d like to mention. First, I am a naturally patient team member. Last summer, I was a camp counselor for a group of 24 children between the ages of 8 and 12. It took great patience to keep them productive, entertained, and playing together cooperatively. Second, I have strong verbal communication skills to conduct group presentations and 1-on-1 pitches. Through Toastmasters, I have learned the art of public speaking and have given oral reports in classes that received the highest grade in the class. Both of these strengths will be useful as a Customer Success Representative when working with clients to troubleshoot technical problems.”

Here is another example:
“One of my main skills is that I am able to present technical information clearly and effectively, which seems crucial to work across cross-functional teams as an engineer. As a Lead Teaching Assistant over the past two years, I have been exposed to presenting technical information to classrooms with 50+ students who have various levels of understanding. I always strive to make sure my information can be understood and have received above average student evaluations in all my courses. Second, I have experience presenting my research at two national conferences to technical audiences. Although intense experiences, these challenges grew my confidence and skills in presenting to an audience who could understand and be critical of my work. These two varying presenting experiences give me a strong foundation that I think is important for this role as an engineer. 

While it can be tempting to provide a personal “flaw” for this answer (e.g., “I’m a perfectionist” or “I take on too much work”), most hiring managers prefer that you constructively assess your qualifications for this position. 

Read through the job description for the position you have applied to. Are there any qualifications that you simply have not had the opportunity to gain by this point in time? Look for an objective qualification such as specific knowledge, training, or experience that you do not offer as a candidate, but avoid sharing anything that is detrimental to performing this job well. Remember, most employers hire a candidate that meets 50-75% of the qualifications in the job description, so they expect new hires to have some areas of improvement.

In your answer, identify a weakness and then discuss a plan to help you improve in this area. Your answer should end positively so that the interviewer believes in your potential to succeed.

Here is an example:
“Overall, it appears that my qualifications match this position very well, however, I have learned from the job description that this position calls for more experience with Adobe Illustrator and InDesign than my coursework has provided thus far. Anticipating that this would boost my cartography skills, I recently subscribed to Lynda.com to teach myself the software through a 20-hour online course and a trial version. I have already gotten acquainted with the tools and functions within the software and am confident that I can keep a fast pace of learning throughout the next year. Illustrator and InDesign shares some similarities with other skills I have, such as using Adobe Photoshop with ArcGIS software to produce print maps, so I look forward to integrating them into my productions in the months ahead.”

This is a key moment in the interview to demonstrate that you have done research about the employment opportunity you have applied for. Show that you know something useful about the position, organization, or industry, and connect this to your own qualifications or interests. 

Because hiring managers listen carefully for authenticity in your response to this question, it can be useful to provide multiple reasons that show why you are interested, rather than just one.

Here is an example:
“I first became interested in this line of work when my professional mentor suggested that I look into professional positions within nonprofits about three years ago. I have always been passionate about helping my local community and was actively involved in various volunteer roles within elderly care agencies for over five years. Once I became a student at UCSB, I decided to study English to further develop my written communication skills. During a research paper about the nonprofit sector, I learned about the Grant Writing field and found it to be a strong match to my writing skills as well as my interest in supporting small non-profit organizations. This led me to pursue an internship to assist a Grant Writer in conducting research on funding sources from state grants for a healthcare agency. Now, applying to this position, I have a strong interest in utilizing my skills to add value to your nonprofit agency through the Grant Writing Coordinator I position. Your organization presents an exciting match to my experience as well as a shared value for community service which I enjoyed learning about in your website’s mission statement.”

This type of question is one of the most common types of interview questions that gets asked. These questions usually start with a phrase that invites you to speak about a past scenario or a hypothetical future scenario, such as “Tell me about a time when…?” or “Describe a situation in which...?” or “Give me an example of…”. From these prompts, interviewers can assess how you would approach a situation related to the position. Interviewers typically believe that your past behavior will provide insight into your future behavior, so it is important to walk through these answers in detail.

When answering these questions, it is best to use a specific example to SHOW your approach, rather than simply TELL it to the interviewers. This should be in a storytelling format, focusing on the details that relate most to your story’s point, to help you answer the question properly.

The most effective way to answer Behavioral Questions is to follow the STARS method, with a sentence or two about each of the following items: 

Situation (S)
Specifically describe an experience that relates to the question asked. What group or organization were you a part of and when did this occur?

Task (T)
Tell more about the assignment or role you had. What was the goal?

Action (A)
Elaborate on the relevant steps you took toward the goal. How did you accomplish it?

Result (R)
Explain what happened as a result of your efforts, including any quantitative information such as grades or qualitative information such as personal feedback from someone. What was the outcome?

So What? (S)
Connect this example to something important in the position to which you are applying. In the context of the question that was asked, why should the interviewer care?

One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to analyze the job description and prepare an example story in STARS format for every essential function, responsibility, or qualification that is described. This way, you will be ready to anticipate the majority of scenarios that they may ask you about in the interview.

STARS stories can draw from multiple areas of your life experiences, but should focus mostly around your education, experience, and other relevant involvement. And as with most interview answers, your response to Behavioral Questions should be about 60-90 seconds in length to provide the necessary details.

Here is an example for “Tell me about a time you handled a stressful situation?
“During my internship last summer, I was responsible for managing a research project with various stakeholders. I noticed that there was conflict between two organizations prior to the event and identified that the source of the issue was conceptual differences regarding the research question. I decided to hold a meeting between the two conflicting participants to find a way to compromise on the research question and see if resolution could be had. Although it was a difficult conversation to start, it ultimately led to a more productive research question that had buy-in from all parties. Importantly, all stakeholders were able to move forward and collaborate effectively on addressing the initial issue and we were able to provide a written product of our work.”

While you always want to provide complete answers to the interview question that is asked, it is often best to stay general in your response to this question. 

When hiring managers ask about your future goals, they are trying to learn how this role will fit you. Organizations vary in their attitude toward internal promotions and opportunities to advance, so you may want to be cautious about stating specific job titles you plan to pursue in your future (e.g., “My goal is to be a manager here within three years”). Instead, focus on what you want to be learning and contributing toward.

Here is an example:
“My immediate goal is to graduate and secure a job in higher education to utilize my experience and training from UCSB. I am looking forward to further growing my professional development skills as it pertains to impacting underrepresented student populations. Specifically, I want to understand the unique needs of the students on this campus and help develop programming to help alleviate these concerns. In the long-term, I expect to take on projects with increasing amounts of responsibility, so that I can be entrusted with a budget as well as assessing and evaluating my projects’ results.”  

Going into any interview, it is good to be prepared with an answer to this question even if it is never asked. If you do get asked about your desired pay rate in the interview, your response will likely impact any job offer that could be extended by the organization later in the hiring process. 

For this reason, most negotiation experts advise candidates to defer detailed discussions about pay rate until the organization has decided that you are the final candidate they want to offer the job to. Premature salary discussions typically benefit the organization more than the candidate; if you say a number that is too high then they may stop pursuing you as a candidate, and if you say a number that is too low then they may get you in for a lower rate than you deserve.

In all discussions related to salary, avoid being the first person to state a number. Consider walking through each response in the order listed below until the interviewer is satisfied with your answer at this stage of the hiring process.

  1. Make one attempt to defer your answer: “I believe that my qualifications are a strong match to this position, so for now I would like to keep our conversation focused on how I can contribute to your organization. If possible, I would be happy to discuss salary in more detail once you have had the chance to decide if I am the best fit for this position. I assure you that I am open to negotiation.”
  2. Ask for more information: “I have conducted research on competitive rates for this type of position with our region, so I am familiar with typical pay ranges but it would be helpful to learn more about the situation here. What specific range is within the hiring budget for this position?”
  3. Cite strong research to answer confidently: “From researching the median salary of entry-level positions in this field in Santa Barbara with similar education and experience, I would expect an annual salary between $52,000 and $58,000, not including benefits.” 

Discussing salary can feel uncomfortable, but it is an important skill to practice for your long-term career success. When in doubt, base your negotiation off of salary data on websites such as Salary.com, Payscale, and Glassdoor, and use your best judgment in choosing how to respond to salary-related questions in interviews. 

Most interviews end with 5-15 minutes for you to ask questions, depending on the time that the employer makes available. This is a very valuable time during the hiring process in which you get to ask about aspects of the position that are important to you and that you would like to learn more about. Because of this, you will want to brainstorm questions in advance. What do you want to know about?

When you prepare and research information in advance of your interview, take notes on any questions that arise about this employment opportunity. It is typically fine to bring in notes on a notepad to jog your memory when asking questions at this stage of the interview. You may even want to take more notes based on the interviewers’ answers! 

While it may seem that any question is fair to ask, most interviewers will evaluate you for your questions during this point of the interview, as a measure of how invested you are in this position. The most important step to success is to ALWAYS ask at least one or two questions, rather than decline the opportunity altogether. Declining an opportunity to ask questions is often interpreted by employers as “I am not that interested in this position.”

Regardless of what you ask, it is important that you understand the type of questions that you ask. This can help you think ahead about the impression you are leaving. It is wise to prepare at least 5 questions in advance, so that you have more than you may need.

Here are some example questions that could help you decide about your interest in this position: 

  • To elaborate on the duties that are written in the job description, could you walk me through some typical projects for this role?
  • What is the initial training schedule for this position, and what professional development opportunities are offered once a new hire is fully trained?
  • Who would I be working with on a regular basis, and in what roles? Is it possible to meet them?
  • How would you describe the work environment for this position?
  • What stands out to you most about the organizational culture/values of this organization?
  • What are some typical career paths of people who have held this position in the past?
  • Why is this position open?

Here are some example questions that could strike a conversational tone to connect with your interviewers: 

  • How did you get started in this organization?
  • What are your personal points of passion or areas of interest in this field?
  • What initially attracted you about this organization, and what keeps you coming back?

Here are some example questions that could make you stand out as a results-oriented candidate:

  • What qualifications have made past employees particularly successful in this position?
  • How is success defined in this position, and how is employee performance evaluated?
  • [Any question that asks about a current trend or aspect of the business to showcase good critical thinking skills.]
  • Is there anything else about my answers today or my resume that you would like additional information on? [This can be a good final question to end on]

Pro Tip: Ask questions that are unbiased and open-ended. Avoid questions that have a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

While any question could arise in an interview, here are some other common questions that you may want to anticipate. As you review these questions, look for ones that relate more to the position for which you are interviewing. Ultimately, you should be prepared to speak about anything that is written in the job description.

Personal Assessment:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How do you think others who know you would describe you?
  • Tell us about your experience working independently?
  • Please describe how you work on a team?
  • Tell us about a time you managed conflict?
  • How do you manage stress?
  • What are some of your hobbies?

Motivation:

  • What led you to choose your field of study?
  • Why did you decide to attend UCSB?
  • What courses did you enjoy most and why?
  • What major accomplishments would you most like to achieve in your life and why?

Knowledge:

  • Of what you know about our organization, what stands out to you most?
  • Please describe one challenge that our field is currently facing, and suggest your proposed solution.
  • Why do you want to work for our organization?

Background:

  • Tell us about a time when you worked under pressure and how did you handle it?
  • What problems have you solved in your previous positions?
  • How does your college education/work experience relate to this job?
  • Why are you seeking employment at this point in time?
  • What was the most difficult part of your UCSB experience?

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