How to Ace the Top 7 Most Common Interview Questions

Applicants should be prepared to answer all sorts of different questions during a job interview. After all, employers are known for throwing in curveball questions to catch prospective employees off guard and gauge how they react. Do you know what you would say if someone interviewing you asked, “What sort of animal would you be?” or “Design a spice rack for the blind,” or “What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?”

Probably not.

For you, employers tend to stick to the basics when it comes to interviewing candidates. Here are the seven most common interview questions and how to ace them.

1. “Tell me about yourself.”

This is the notoriously vague question you’ll get in some form or fashion on your next job interview. This question is one of the many reasons that I insist all of my clients have an elevator pitch prepared—a two to three minute introduction that highlights your experience and ends with a goal statement that clearly indicates the position and field you’re in the market for. An elevator pitch will not only help you during network events and other professional interactions, it’s the ideal way to attack this question.

2. “Why are you leaving your current position?”

Best to tackle this one by being as honest and quick as possible without being negative about your current employer (side note: don’t be negative about any employer). Don’t over explain. The goal is to quickly share what you learned, what was missing for you (without descending into negativity), and why you’re excited to get that need or skill set met in your next role. If you mention that you are making a shift in your career or pursuing different challenges, be specific about what those changes are and how the role you’re interviewing for will fulfill that.

3. “What type of salary are you looking for?”

First off, never walk into an interview without a strategy to talk compensation. Before you’re in an interview, research the salaries of employees in your industry who hold positions similar to yours. Come up with a salary range that you’re looking for, but never be the first to say a number. The first person to give a number always loses. If they press you, insist that you’re flexible and more interested in finding the right fit. Last resort, if they still won’t give a number first, tell them the range you’re looking for, but that you’re negotiable.

4. “Why are you interested in this job/working for this company?”

Be prepared to give specific answers about why you want this job and why you think you’ll be good at it. Research the organization ahead of time and discuss something about the company that requires more than just a 10 minute Google search to find out. Brownie points if you can share some ideas that you’d bring into the role — if they’re open to hearing them. Focus on the actual work you’ll be doing and not on other factors like benefits or salary or work schedule.

5. “Tell me your greatest strength.”

This is your big chance to brag, so take it by the reins. Pick a skill that is relevant to the job you’re interviewing for based upon the research you’ve done. Emphasize how you used that skill to succeed in your current or former role, and try to share that gift through the words of someone else. For example, did your last boss tell you that you’re great with details? It’s more powerful to share your gifts through the words of others. Describe how you plan to use that skill in the role you’re interviewing for if given the chance.

6. “Tell me your greatest weakness.”

This one can be tough if you’re caught off guard, but if you plan ahead, it’s a breeze. Pick a weakness you’ve been working on. Tell the interviewer how it has challenged you in the past, and explain to them steps that you have taken to improve this weakness. Lastly, give them a specific example of how you have improved this weakness by actively working on it.

7. “Do you have any questions for us?”

Never, never, never say no! The interviewer wants someone who seems interested and engaged, so go into the interview a handful of insightful questions that you’ve thought of ahead of time. The interviewer is likely to answer at least some of your questions during the interview, so having a few prepared ahead of time will mean you’ll likely have at least one that you can still ask. An incredible question to always ask is: what does success look like in this role?

Job interviews can be the most stressful part of job searching, as they are high-stakes interactions. The slightest trip-up can kill your chances at a job you may be perfect for. But with the right about of planning and preparation, you’ll have no doubt that you’re prepared for the challenge and ready for anything.

Good luck on your next job interview!

Source: Ashley Stahl, Cake Publishing

How to Stop Selling Yourself and Start Being Yourself in an Interview

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, over 60% of people are not engaged at work. I believe this is likely due to not being in the right job, and, as a result, the amount of human capital and business value left on the table is unquantifiable.

If you are seeking your next professional opportunity, how can you avoid becoming a statistic? And if you already know you are unfulfilled in your current role, what do you do once you are invited to interview for a position that truly interests you?

Of course, you have to be able to demonstrate, through your resume and other professional documents, that you are the subject or functional matter expert for the role. You should also show you have been able to achieve the type of results that the hiring team will look for when they speak with you. I’ve found, through being an expert in executive coaching and career transitions, that these more technical factors are where most of us spend our time when preparing for the interview.

But from my perspective, it is highly likely that if 25 people have been selected to interview, all 25 will be smart, all will be subject matter or functional experts in the role to be filled, and all 25 will have read the same interview prep questions and written many of the same scripted answers to those questions.

My experience suggests that it is only by being you, and not selling you, that you will ultimately find yourself in exactly the right professional seat, no matter if you are starting your career or have already established one.

Follow these steps before your next interview:

Take the time to articulate what drives you.

Your values are likely what motivate you, so share with your interviewer how you will demonstrate your core beliefs in the role you seek to fill. For example, if you are leading a team for the first time, will you seek to build trust among your team and be clear enough in your vision so that you can hold one another accountable to achieve collective results? Can you listen to your team members in a way in which they know they have been heard?

If you can truly articulate how you will show up in your new role, there is no stronger demonstration of your leadership style. You should be able to describe to the hiring team how you will show up every day to execute on the role. Give them the ability to imagine you performing (and excelling) at the job. If you can do this, I believe you will make a lasting impression on the interview team.

Create your own set of questions for the interview team.

This helps you decide whether the role is a good fit for who you are. You should be ready to answer the questions you know will come to you, but it’s also important to spend time asking them what it feels like day to day to be in the role for which you are being considered. Don’t stop your questioning until you have a good understanding of being in the position. This is the only way to affirmatively determine if you will find yourself in the right seat.

Role play.

I suggest that you spend 20% of your prep time on articulating why you are a subject or function matter expert. Spend 80% of the time finding the right words to communicate who you truly are and how that would look on a day-to-day basis in the role for which you are interviewing. You might be self-aware, but a gap can exist between knowing who you are and articulating who you are in a way that’s authentic and succinct.

I’ve found that role-playing can help you hone this critical message. You can do this with a coach or a trusted friend; just ensure you are with someone who knows you well and can help you feel comfortable getting out of the “selling yourself” mindset and into the “being yourself” mindset.

Let go of the results.

If you show up in the interview being exactly who you are, know that you have presented yourself authentically, answered all the subject matter questions to the best of your ability and asked all the questions you can to help you ascertain whether the role fits you, then you’ve had a successful interview. If you have done these things, then the result — no matter which way it goes — will be the exact right one. If you do not get the job, it was likely because the fit was not right. If you do get the position, there is a much greater likelihood you will find yourself in the right seat.

Source: Lisa Walsh, Forbes

Do You Have These Critical Soft Skills

The Hiring Formula for Success offers a means to fully understand how the non-technical and fit factors impact a person’s ability and motivation to achieve results. It’s important to recognize that ability without fit is the primary cause of underperformance, dissatisfaction and excessive turnover. As important is the recognition that it’s what people have accomplished with their skills that’s important, not the amount or list of skills themselves.

Here are the most hiring mistakes attributed to the non-technical factors:

  • A mismatch between the hiring manager’s style and the new hire’s need for management and coaching.
  • Lack of intrinsic motivation or full commitment to do the actual work required. Ability to do the work is far different than motivation to do it.
  • Lack of fit with the pace of the organization. The pressure to perform is a primary factor defining a company’s culture and a person’s likelihood of success.
  • Lack of fit with how decisions are made and how work is accomplished. This is another aspect of what company culture looks like on-the-job.
  • Lack of fit with the team. Much of this relates to the new hire’s inability to collaborate cross-functionally coupled with the lack of appreciation for the needs of others.
  • An inability for the new hire to properly manage and organize his/her work properly. This is true whether the person is an individual contributor or a manager.
  • For management roles, in addition to the above, it’s an inability to build, manage and develop the team assigned.

Labeling these factors collectively as “soft skills” minimizes their importance since without them people will underperform. Despite this, too many interviewers focus too much on the person’s technical ability – the so-called “hard skills” – and not enough on the factors that actually determine on-the-job performance.

Screen Shot 2019-08-12 at 3.09.44 PM.pngDespite the challenge, it is possible to assess all of these non-technical factors by using The Hiring Formula for Success relationship shown in the graphic. Simply stated, “The ability to do the work in relation to fit drives motivation and ultimately performance.”

The performance-based interview described in The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired has been built on this concept. The process starts by rethinking the job description as a series of key performance objectives (KPOs) embedding the required hard and “soft skills” into a series of outcomes. For example, rather than saying a person must have a specific degree, specific experience and be results-oriented, it’s better to say something like, “Complete the XZY project within 120 days under tight budget and schedule constraints.”

Here’s the basic process:

First, conduct a comprehensive work history review. Going step-by-step through the person’s background determines general fit for the role on a scope and scale basis and if the person possesses the Achiever Pattern. This indicates if the person is in the top tier of his/her peer group.

Second, ask the Most Significant Accomplishment question for each performance objective. By digging into the person’s major accomplishments most related to the KPOs of the open role it’s possible to assess all of the factors shown in the graphic. The trend of growth over time is an important indicator of potential.

Third, ask a realistic problem-solving question. This is not a hypothetical question. It must address a real problem the person is likely to face on the job taking the form of, “What would you need to do to address this challenge (describe) we’re currently facing?” The purpose of this question is to understand the process the person uses to figure out a solution, not the actual solution. Using a give-and-take format this process reveals the candidate’s planning, problem-solving, creative and strategic thinking skills.

As part of the Performance-based Hiring learning programs we suggest that each interviewer be assigned a narrow role focusing on just one or two of the non-technical factors. While each interviewer will ask a similar major accomplishment question, it will be prefaced with something like, “I’ve been assigned to assess your project management skills. Can you give me an example of a major recent accomplishment you believe best demonstrates your ability in this critical area?” It takes about 15 minutes of fact-finding and peeling the onion (i.e., asking all of the who, when, what, where, why and how questions) to fully understand the accomplishment and make the comparison to the actual performance objectives of the job. To increase overall assessment accuracy, it’s best if the interviewers share their evidence using a summary form similar to this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard.

Check out Performance-based Hiring learning programs for more information.

Source: Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group


Can your Campus Job Improve Your Resume?

As the beginning of the new academic year approaches it’s time to think about looking for an on-campus job that could add more experience to your resume. Here are some things to think about once you get hired for your not so dream job on campus that may help you get that big time adult job after graduation.

A Good Starting Point

You are working toward that PR degree so your first job in college obviously will have to be in social media or design right? Not always. Although you may be learning skills super important in class that will help you with those jobs in the future, companies may not think you are qualified if you want to jump straight into an industry position with no previous job experience. This is why those on-campus odd jobs are perfect. They help build your resume outside of your high school experience and show future employers that you have work ethic outside of what immediately interests you.

If you have the option, try to find jobs that sound like they could be somewhat relevant to your area of study. For example, if you are studying a subject where your future career will be mostly spent in an office, try applying for positions like “Office Assistant”, “Front Desk Associate”, or “Secretary”. You may not have the option to chose anything besides working at the library, but if you do have the option try that method.

Recommendations are Important

No matter where you get hired on campus, it is guaranteed that you will be working with and for other people. This gives you a great opportunity to make positive impressions on these people who could make the difference when applying for your dream job in the future. Entry level positions for college grads most definitely will ask you for recommendations from your place of study and having an on campus job gives you the opportunity to build a list of people who can vouch for you outside of academics. A great recommendation letter can make the difference between you and another candidate with the same skills and education.

Transferrable Skills

Whether you are working making smoothies during the semester or as the dean’s personal assistant, you will be learning soft and hard skills that will appeal to future employers. These skills include things like: managing a team schedule, pricing product, working under pressure, handling confidential information, and more. These skills are transferrable (fancy word for applicable) to multiple jobs you will have throughout your young adult life. You may not think of these types of skills when first applying for the job; but if you think about this as you are job searching, it will help you find the best position that will be of greatest benefit to your future career.

Mastering the Art of Customer Service

If you are taking a job on campus, it is very likely you will be talking to students and visitors each day. This daily interaction is called customer service; and it is gold for employers. Being able to positively communicate with customers is a huge benefit for a lot of jobs and shows that you are able to handle yourself in a professional environment. For example, if you are working at the student bookstore you most likely will encounter upset and stressed out customers. If you tell a future employer after college that you dealt with that, it will show a lot of great things about your ability to handle stressful situations making you a prime candidate for the job.

Learn What you Don’t

By having a job on campus you will learn industry lingo and important info you would have never known without taking the job. As a secretary, you could learn how a certain department operates and become a mini expert on that program. If you work at the school cafeteria, you will learn how large food operations work and other processes meant for a scalable business. This knowledge could come in handy someday for a job that is more closely related to what you are studying and could show how you are a more well rounded candidate to future employers.

Now accept that on-campus job offer with pride! There are serious benefits that I’m sure you will see later on after graduation.

Lastly, reach out to your campus’s Human Resources to find out what part-time student positions are available.

Source: Chegg

Understanding Scholarships

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of tuition, fees, room and board, for undergraduate students attending 4-year degree-granting institutions, ranges from $19,488 for an in-state student attending a public institution, to $41,468 at a private institution. Financial aid is available for students who need it, but most often this comes in the form of loans, which eventually need to be repaid with interest.

What are scholarships and grants?

In its simplest form, a scholarship is a monetary gift that an organization gives to an individual based on a set of standards. The term “grant” is often used interchangeably, but generally “grant” is used to denote a need-based monetary gift which takes into account you or your family’s financial situation, whereas a scholarship award is based on merit. In this guide, we’ll cover the latter.

Scholarships vary in their distribution, though most are intended to apply directly to funding education. More stringent scholarships may come with a contingency that the award money be only used toward tuition, whereas more lenient scholarships may allow award money to be put towards books or living expenses while you are in school.

What about the “scholarship trap”?

There is a common cautionary tale that a scholarship award might actually reduce the amount of money a student will receive from the school’s own grant program. Indeed, federal rules require schools to factor in outside sources of financing—scholarships included—when determining a financial aid package. As a result, when a student wins a private scholarship from an outside source, the school could reduce the financial aid package by the amount of the award. This is usually referred to as an “over-award” by schools or “displacement” by scholarship providers.

Though you may find such policies unfair, you should not let over-awards dissuade you from applying to scholarships. Depending on the school’s policies, an over-award might be remedied by shrinking the loan portion of a student’s financial aid package, as opposed to the grant portion. You should check with your school to know what to expect.

Who is eligible for a scholarship?

Perhaps you’re worried about competing against other students who may have better grades, higher test scores, or more impressive extracurricular activities. If so, there is good news for you: merit is a broad and subjective term. Merit-based scholarships are indeed awarded to individuals who best meet given qualifications, but merit can be measured in countless ways and applied to a wide range of activities. “Meritorious” really just means “deserving;” you are “meritorious” in many ways. Your job in the application process is to identify your merits and put them on display.

Remember, scholarships generally have a narrow focus, seeking to reward certain accomplishments, fund particular projects, assist a group of people, or identify and promote specialty niches. Some common targets include:

  • Older and returning students, or adult-focused education
  • Athletes (offered by the National College Athletic Association, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and by individual schools, to name a few)
  • Minority groups (as in the United Negro College Fund, the American Indian College Fund, etc.)
  • People with disabilities
  • Religious groups
  • Women
  • Students of military families (offered by the Veteran’s Association or the Department of Defense)
  • Foreign students wishing to study in the U.S.
  • Domestic students wishing to study internationally (this type of scholarship is typically offered by the student’s own school)
  • Need-based or financial aid
  • Special skill or academic focus (art and music, for instance)
  • Community-based
  • Career-specific

Where can I find scholarships?

The financial aid office at your school is likely equipped with tools and resources to help you or your child apply to scholarships. It may have libraries of books, catalogs or postings of scholarships, and computers you can use to search or prepare application materials.

There are also many websites devoted solely to searching for and finding scholarships, with a vast range of features and databases. It is useful to conduct a few broad searches on large government-sponsored databases to get an idea for the types of scholarships available, but remember that the goal is to find scholarships that are looking for applicants like you. If a website or search engine offers advanced search functions, do limit your search terms, but be creative as well: think of synonyms for terms you search and try multiple combinations of words and phrases depending on your output results. (If, for example, you are looking for scholarships that give money to young equestrians, you might also try “horseback riding,” “rodeo,” and “jockey.”) It can’t hurt to consult a thesaurus for synonyms just to be thorough. You might even reveal niche scholarships you’re eligible for that you hadn’t thought of in the first place.

An often overlooked method of finding scholarships is to actually take the initiative and ask around. Member of a club or association? See if they offer any scholarships. For example, your school’s alumni association may be inclined to help those from their alma mater. How about your employer? Ask HR to see if there is a tuition assistance program in place or if the company would be inclined to sponsor your education if it benefits the company. Lastly, anyone who is familiar with your personal strengths such as an advisor, teacher, or family friend is a great source as well.

Finally, be wary of scams that you may come across in your scholarship search. Some red flags are websites that “guarantee” you’ll receive a scholarship with their aid, have scholarships with no qualification requirements, or charge you any type of fee for their services. A true scholarship-giving organization will not expect you to pay money to receive an award.

How should I organize my scholarship search?

You’ll be working with an immense amount of information and it is crucial to stay organized. By writing down important dates, deadlines, and contact information as you go, you avoid having to go back and re-gather these often tricky-to-locate little tidbits. There is no wrong or right format to use to stay organized, just be sure to choose something that works for you. Your tracking sheet should include sections for:

  • the name of the scholarship
  • application requirements
  • the preferred method of submission
  • contact information
  • deadlines
  • columns for tracking progress
  • notes or any research that you have done on the scholarship or scholarship committee

How do I apply for a scholarship?

Most scholarships will require the student to complete an application form, write an essay, or even complete an interview. Here’s what you can expect.

The Application Form

This is the easy part – if you’ve done your research, all you need to do is put in the time, and follow directions.

  • The schedule: Since the process of filling out applications can be time-consuming and possibly daunting in volume, be sure to use your centralized tracking sheet to prioritize. You should take into account the amount of effort required for each scholarship, your propensity to win, and of course, deadlines. Follow a schedule, and then concentrate on one application at a time.
  • Follow directions: This is important. As mentioned above, scholarship applications are very particular in their requirements. You must provide exactly what they ask for, or you may be disqualified and your hard work will be wasted. Remember, committees are faced with the task of choosing one or a handful of winners from a large pool of applicants, and it makes their job easier if they can eliminate entries from the slush-pile for failure to conform. It is well worth your time to read and reread directions carefully.
  • Formalize your tone: Whenever there is an opportunity to write a response to a question (as in a short answer section, apart from the main essay), mirror the tone and language of the scholarship. The reasoning for this is twofold: not only does it require you to read the application and directions thoroughly and critically, but it also conveys to the scholarship committee (if only subconsciously) that you are an applicant who fits in with the culture of the organization.
  • Answer all optional questions: If a scholarship application gives you the opportunity to present additional information about yourself, take it! By taking the time to answer questions that are “optional” you have doubled your chances at winning a scholarship compared to students who skip these questions. A scholarship committee will obviously look more highly on the applicant who takes the application seriously and puts in the extra work. Also, you have the opportunity to present a tidbit or two about yourself that would be absent from a bare minimal application.

Writing the Essay

  • Brainstorm ideas: Scholarships occasionally ask pointed essay questions, but more often the prompts are designed to allow for a broad array of acceptable responses. Students who have difficulty writing are welcome to be creative here—use whatever method you need to get your mind moving!
  • Research: Before writing, you should research the scholarship advisory board or awarding body. Go ahead and google members of the committee for personal details— it can’t hurt to know your audience. Research past winners—their essays are sometimes posted, and reading through them can give you a good idea of what the scholarship committee is looking for.
  • A Note on Conformity: It can be tempting to stand out from the crowd by crafting an untraditional essay. This is ill-advised. Your individuality should show forth in the content of your essay, and not in the structure. Wacky formats come off as gimmicky and can underscore your professionalism. Whenever possible, stick to a standard essay format (introduction, well-organized body paragraphs, and a conclusion), and reuse the essay when possible, but not without but a bit of customized tailoring.


Once you have a solid draft of your application put together, get some critical feedback. If you can recruit a friend, fellow student, co-worker, parent, or teacher to look at your application, they might catch something you didn’t—this can be as mundane as a grammatical error, or as subtle as an undesirable message you might be sending unintentionally in an essay answer. Some individuals might have great skill at proofreading, and some might offer excellent thematic or structural suggestions for your essays, but not everyone is equally skilled—it is good to have multiple opinions and to consider them critically, but trust your judgment.

The Interview

Highly competitive scholarships may include an interview as part of their application process. If you make it to this step, congratulations! You are likely a top-tier candidate. In preparing for the interview, consider the following tips.

  • Research the organization thoroughly, including its members, its mission statement, any publications it may have produced, and any recent press or media attention it may have garnished. You’ll want to incorporate some of this knowledge into your responses in order to demonstrate that you are serious about the organization and that you are in line with their values.
  • If possible, try to figure out who your interviewer or members of the interviewing team will be, so you have an idea of what to expect on the day of.
  • Practice answering interview questions. You can find commonly asked questions from various interview-prep materials, but don’t be surprised if you hear a wild card or two. Interviewers will often throw a fun or random question into the mix to gauge your reaction under pressure.
  • Prepare a few questions to ask the interviewer as well, not only to demonstrate your interest in the organization, but also to show that you’re thinking critically.
  • On the day of the interview, dress professionally and be personable.

Happy scholarship hunting! Be sure to cast a wide net and apply to as many scholarships as you feel you are reasonably qualified to receive. The results just might surprise you, and even small awards can add up to taking a big bite out of the amount you might otherwise have to borrow to pay your tuition.

iGrad offers a scholarship search tool go to their website iGrad Scholarship Search Tool.

Source: iGrad