“If you were an ice cream flavor, which one would you be?” It wasn’t a weird dating app question or some silly team-building exercise—this question was asked on a real interview with a real company trying to fill a real position in their organization. My response?
I couldn’t even laugh. The question—the last one to end an otherwise stellar interview—completely threw me. Should I pick my favorite ice cream? Should I talk about the virtues of frozen yogurt versus ice cream? Should I look for deeper meaning in the flavors—how I’m left brain and right brain, like the salty and sweet of Rocky Road?
Quickly enough I spit out an answer, grabbed my portfolio and left. It was, hands down, the weirdest question I’d ever been asked—in an interview or otherwise. But it also made me realize I needed to be prepared for everything, including the tough questions.
Since then I’ve been lobbed—and personally lobbed—just about every interview question under the sun and I can confidently say be prepared...especially for these key questions. While they may seem mild enough, even these go-tos can trip you up if you aren’t prepared.
#1. Tell me about YOURSELF / Walk me through your resume
Same question. Who doesn’t like to share their story? But an interview isn’t a free therapy session. While the interviewer isn’t saying it, they’re looking for you to talk about yourself through the lens of their hiring needs. Talk about your background, previous work experience and how they led you here.
That said, be sure to strike a balance—too much achievement-rich chatter could make you seem egotistical, while too little can make you seem not-so-confident. Aim for three to four sentences about your academic or career path to this point, and move on.
#2. Why are you interested in this company/position?
Be prepared to speak to both the role and the company overall. This question is almost always testing that you’ve done your due diligence.
While you don’t need to be an expert on the organization, you should be able to speak to the most appealing aspects of the job based on the description and what you know already, as well as the key elements of company life that resonate most. If you admire the organization and the work they do, say so—and explain why, specifically. If you’ve had a previous experience with the company—as a customer, an intern, or someone who benefited from their work—speak to that. Interviewers love authentic experiences and meaningful connections.
#3. Why are you looking to leave your current position?
If you aren’t a recent grad, this will almost always come up whether you’ve been at your job for 12 months or 12 years. While you don’t need to get into the nitty gritty, having a simple, succinct answer is critical. Something as quick as, “I’m looking to pivot into a more digital-centric role,” “There isn’t a clear-cut next step for me at my company, and I’m eager to take on more responsibilities,” or even “I’m ready for a new challenge!” are all perfect responses that show you’re engaged and eager to keep learning and growing.
#4. Where do you see yourself in five years?
This is a great opportunity to show your enthusiasm for your potential new company. Talk about wanting to find an organization like Company X where you can continue to grow and thrive in the long-term—so that, in five years, you’ll be even more deeply invested in the organization and truly making your mark.
While you don’t need to say, “I want to be a department head” or “I plan to be a Marketing Director,” it’s good to speak to your broader goals. “I’d love to continue growing in the marketing department, and move into areas like business development and lead generation,” speaks to your knowledge of what happens in the group plus what that next-level position could look like. Focus on responses like that, with an emphasis on your desire to learn and grow right here.
#5. Why should we hire you?
Don’t get on the defensive—this question is more about your unique skills and traits versus putting you head-to-head with other would-be hires. If prompted, be specific—this isn’t the time to reiterate you’re a “hard worker,” even if you are. Instead, summarize your past experience, use concrete data whenever possible and, in one to two sentences, remind the interviewer why they called you in in the first place.
#6. What are your salary requirements?
For such a simple question, this one seems to leave virtually every interviewee tongue-tied, whether they’re vying for a first job or looking to secure that corner office. If you have a job now, that could be a good jumping-off point—you make $50,000 as a marketing coordinator, and know marketing managers in your industry make closer to $65,000, let’s say.
If not—or if you want to be sure your salary is in-line—check out sites like Glassdoor. Not only do they collect salaries from the majority of their users, their Know Your Worth tool is a great way to see what professionals in your market with your title—or your desired title—are making. You can even check out reported salaries for people in the role you’re interviewing for, at that particular company. Knowing marketing managers at Company X make $71,650, on average will give you the confidence to ask for that.
#7. Do you have any questions for me?
The answer is always YES. Even if the interviewer has answered every single question on your list, be sure you always have a few more locked and loaded—questions like:
- What do you think is the most unique aspect of this company?
- What do you love most about company culture?
- What kinds of people are successful in this department/role?
- What advice would you give an entry level candidate coming into this organization?
- What traits are most valued in this organization?
You can also ask what the next steps are in the hiring process, and what their anticipated timeline looks like. This will help you understand how, when and how often to follow up.
And, bonus: the more prepared you are for these questions, the more confident you’ll feel when tossed a crazy question about your ice cream persona, spirit animal or sitcom personality. Because, trust us, the longer you interview, the more likely those questions will pop up.
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