#6: How to answer the most common interview questions (I)

Over the next 3 weeks we will be handing you ideas on how to come up with the best answers for the most likely asked interview questions.

While we don’t advise you to prepare a perfect response for every question (actually, please don’t), we do recommend you to think about what you might be asked, what recruiters are really looking for in your responses, and what you need to do to show that you’re the right man or woman for the job in question.

  1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Super common question. This one seems simple, but so many people fail to prepare for it. So please listen: Don’t give your complete employment (nor personal) history. Instead give a pitch – one that’s concise and compelling and that shows exactly why you’re the right fit for the job. Start off with the 2-3 specific accomplishments (see our post #2) and/or experiences that you MOST want the interviewer to know about, then conclude talking about how that specific experience has positioned you for this role.

  1. Why do you want this job?

And again, companies want to hire people who are passionate about the job, so you should have a great answer about why you want the position. (And if you don’t? Well, then you might want to apply elsewhere). First, identify a couple of key factors that make the role a great fit for you (e.g., “I very much enjoy the technical aspect of the role because I love building prototype, challenging myself to refine them until the perfect product is in place”), then share why you love the company (e.g., “I’ve always been passionate about the automotive industry, and I think you are developing very innovative products, such as XYZ, so I want to play a big part in it”).

  1. What do you know about the company?

Before reading this answer please check out our blog No# 5… Any candidate can find and read the company’s “About” page. But, when interviewers ask this, they aren’t only trying to check whether if you know the mission—they want to know whether you care about it. Start with one line that shows you understand the company’s goals, using some key words and phrases from the website, but then continue to make it personal. Say, “I’m personally drawn to this mission because…” or “I really believe in this approach because…” and share a personal example or two.


#5: The ONE question you need to get right

“Why do you want to work for us?” Whether you are speaking to one of the company ambassadors, the actual recruiting managers or even writing your cover letter, the one thing you want to ensure you do, is to let the person at the other end know that you are impressed with their company and that you can’t wait to work for them. Give compliments. So how to do this without sounding like every other candidate who goes on about how excited he or she is to work for a company that “values transparency” and has a “great company culture?” Consider these 3 points:

1.) Why is this company unique?

The key to answering this question well is being specific. If you can give the same answer to another company, then you’re not being detailed enough. Your answer should be unique to each place you interview with—no general statements about “working with talented people” or “global impact.”

If you want to address the culture, talk about the precise aspects of it that you like. You can find plenty to work with when checking the companies’ “Mission Statement” or „About us“ on their websites. Even better, double check your assumptions with the ambassadors. They are the perfect source to verify the information you researched and they are ultimately there to help you jump ahead to get the job. In any case, this is the perfect chance to show off that you actually did some research.

2.) What and how do they communicate?

Somewhere along the application process, someone you’re interviewing with has likely Googled you – so do the same. Aside from the news that comes up when you Google the company (which you should also read), corporate blogs are real honeypots to find information. Whether it’s a post welcoming new employees to the team or detailing recent changes, these are the things you should know about. Lastly, check out the company’s Twitter and Facebook profiles. Is the tone professional or casual? Is it nonstop promotion with zero interaction? Is the team responsive to complaints? Take away positive news and examples you encounter during your research to make use of.

3.) Who are their competitors?

Aside from knowing as much as possible about the place you’re interviewing with, it’s a good idea to be able to talk about the industry as a whole and even more impressive to be able to talk about competitors and how the company fits into the bigger picture. Then, make sure you know the points why you prefer them to the competition.

There is no one way to answer this question – as long as you do your research you’ll be fine. Good luck!

#1: Step-by-step CV guide for graduates

If you haven’t received a job offer yet, you might be wondering if your CV should look different now that you’re soon officially a graduate. Does your education section move down to the bottom of your CV?  Should you really include relevant courses? What’s the difference between applying for entry-level jobs and applying to part-time jobs and internships?

Relax: Here’s a simple guide to what your CV should look like when you’re just out of university.

1.) Education

Unless you have significant relevant work experience outside of school – such as semester-long internships, for example – then your “Education” section should stay at the top of your CV. As a new graduate, this is still your greatest qualification. Besides, all the companies that have opportunities specifically intended for new graduates will be looking for this info front and center.

Right beneath your university, you may have a line labeled “Relevant Coursework.” Only keep that if the classes you list are, in fact, relevant or send a message to the recruiter. If, for example, you’ve taken classes not directly connected to your degree that relate to your field of choice, this section can be helpful.

The same goes for “Awards.” If the honors you’ve earned mainly serve to illustrate that you did well in school, you don’t really need this section as you can insert your grades right next to the name of your degree. But if you have awards that showcase your leadership abilities or other professionally relevant skills – for example, a distinguished fellowship like the DAAD or being part of the Dean’s list – keep it.

2.) Experience

University is a time to explore your interests, so it’s unlikely that all of your internship, work-study, or research experience is relevant to your current post-graduate interests. So, what should that look like on your CV?

The solution: Keep your most relevant experiences at the top of your CV by adding a section called „Relevant Experience“ and another section beneath it called “Additional Experience.” Title the first section based on your field of interest: “Coding Experience”, “Mechanical Engineering Experience”, for example.

Breaking out your most important experiences from everything else allows you to still follow the standard chronological order expected on CVs, while making it easier for recruiters to see what you’ve done that qualifies you for roles you’re interested in.

3.) Extracurriculars

Extracurricular experiences are a big part of any university experience – not to mention, they often help you develop skills that companies want. So, try branding your extracurriculars in a way that is appealing to recruiters. For example, if you’re going into a field that requires taking initiative with limited supervision, labeling your extracurricular experiences section, “Leadership” is a good way to go. Or, if your position requires more teamwork and community building, consider “Community Involvement.”

In terms of format, it’s a good idea to format your extracurriculars in exactly the same way you’ve organized your work experience: the organization name, your role, the dates you were involved, and bullet points detailing your accomplishments. You want to send the message that you took your work for student organizations just as seriously as your internships – and that they should be considered as such.

4.) Skills and Interests

This section of your CV will likely be on the bottom. Think hard skills for this section – Python, Matlab, Java – not soft skills like communication. You can also consider adding relevant interests. (Though, emphasis on relevant – if you’re applying for a coding job, Python makes sense. Eating out with friends does not.) Wherever possible, your hobbies and interests should reinforce your application and the idea that you’ll be the right fit for the role – even if it’s just through transferable skills: coaching a local football team and demonstrating your motivational skills, for example.

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