Mastering the Top Three Interview Questions
Interviewing is nerve wracking! The only way to calm those nerves is to prepare, especially for the obvious questions. The hardest questions to answer seem to be asked by nearly every recruiter:
Tell me about yourself.
Walk me through your resume.
Why do you want to work at X company?
While these seem like simple questions, how you answer these questions will determine whether you move forward in the hiring process. Here are tips on how to master answering these three most routine questions:
1. Tell me about yourself.
This question is not about your resume! It is about YOU! The interviewer wants to know who are you and how does "who you are" relate to the job. For example, what values do you have that are relevant to the role or company culture? What is interesting about you and how does that relate to the job? Is there a characteristic that is inherent in everything you do? How do you think? How do you approach work? What soft skill is critical for success in the role?
Business Operations role (inherent)
I have always found I thrive in turning disorder to order. From the time I was a kid I would clean out my toys, make sure they were organized, and help my parents with filing papers. I see how that has translated to my interest and success in Business Operations. I love taking really hard problems and sticky situations with no playbook and synthesizing information to come up with a solution for numerous stakeholders. When I saw this role at X company, I knew I could bring value and that’s why I applied (or was so interested when you reached out).
Any role (character)
I think the most unique thing about me is I am the first person to graduate from college in my family. Growing up in (native country), I didn’t always have everything I wanted but I had everything I needed. When it was time to apply to colleges, the entire family knew I had the best shot at graduating, so they pooled their money together to send me to college. I graduated at the top of my class from [X] college, which then provided me a full scholarship to continue my education and achieve an MBA. Now I am paying for my nephew to go to college in the US. His success is what drives me to succeed in everything I take on.
Inclusion & Diversity or Any role (deep understanding and curiosity)
I love to travel and I use every opportunity I can to travel to a new location and immerse myself in the culture. That’s why I can speak 4 languages fluently. I think travel has worked well for me in my interests because I really enjoy working for global companies which are interested in not just taking what we do here in America and replicating it outside the US, but figuring out how to keep corporate culture while also respecting how traditions and cultures elsewhere may shape interpretation.
Notice the answers are personal, but not too personal, and each relates to the job the person is interviewing for.
2. Walk me through your resume.
The trick to this question is you are not walking through every accomplishment. You are discussing three key things for each role:
1. What hard/soft skills you used or learned in each role through key accomplishments?
2. The value you brought to the job.
3. How did your role increase in scope and responsibility?
It's important to also mention the reason for your transition from job to job. Why did you start looking for a new role? Were you referred? Poached? Did a former boss/colleague bring you with them? Most importantly, try to show personality and character.
Here is the script I used to use when job hunting for an HR Business Partner role (bold for learnings and purple for what I was trying to convey without saying it out loud):
As you can see, I started my career as a TV news reporter. That’s where I learned how to
hustle on tight deadlines nightly and hone my written and verbal communication skills,
and where I built my executive presence (I can speak to executives). When the internet
was taking off, I realized TV news wasn’t going to be the only source of news, so I went
to night law school while working full-time as a consumer-investigative reporter (I’m a
After graduation, I moved to LA to be a screenwriter. We both know how that worked
out (Humor). That’s when I landed a media and legal risk assessment role at NBC,
where I vetted reality show participants by reading their background checks,
psychological and medical evaluations. They used to call me a “psychological profiler.”
(Creates intrigue – making them think: TELL ME MORE!).
That was the beginning of my passion for understanding people on a deeper level—
how they would react on set, after the show taped but before it aired, and then after it
aired (HR—understanding people).
A former colleague at NBC moved to Viacom and recommended me (Says: I’m good!)
for a role there that was broader in scope and responsibility and included immigration
and crew mobility around the world as well as child labor compliance and managing
overall safety on our sets (I expanded role/have understanding of HR functions). When
my husband took a job in the Bay area, Viacom asked me to stay on (They kept me! I’m
worth it!). I did so for a year and then tried to figure out what I could do with all these
Through the suggestion of a recruiter and a lot of research, I chose HR Business Partner
(new career wasn’t a whim but deliberate) because I was most successful at NBC and
Viacom strategically helping leaders create successful TV programs by understanding
people, which in essence is helping leaders build strong teams of people with the right
skills to drive a business and manage people-related issues as they come up on set (HR
skills). I realized I should get certified in HR to prove I understood the nuances of HR, so
I took and passed the SPHR and GPHR and also spent a full year getting certified in
executive coaching (HR skills developed). While I coached a lot in my NBC and Viacom
roles, I wanted more tools in my coaching toolkit and I love to learn, so it made sense
to complete this certification as well (capacity to learn). Now I have thousands of hours
under my belt and have consistently used HR skills so now I’m looking to transition to
an HRBP role.
3. Why do you want to work at X company?
This question may seem easy but the interviewer is checking to see if you researched the company and aligned your interests to the company's mission and goals. What about the company is unique and enticing? Is it the size of the company? The culture? Is the company novel in its space? Have you always wanted to work in this industry and your skills will transfer well? Be enthusiastic and tell a story about how your skills are unique. Passion will trump experience!
Example 1: I heard about [company] from a colleague, [name colleague], who works there and she always says how much she loves her job because the leadership is strong and everyone is working toward a common mission: [name mission]. I want to work for a mission-based company in the [industry] space and have been keeping an eye on your company for years – now the perfect role opened up and here I am!
Example 2: I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about your company until I [saw an article/read something/heard something] and started researching it and I am really impressed. Specifically [what are you impressed by]. The more I read about it, the more I curious I became. So [company] has been on my radar of top companies to pursue for years.
Example 3: Who doesn’t want to work for [company]? It’s not only innovative, but I understand [details from research]. That is the type of company I have been looking to work for because I am most engaged when I work for a company that has [specific characteristics].
No matter what question you are asked, every answer should be under two minutes. That's right, under TWO minutes. Interviewers, especially recruiters, lose interest and don't want deep details, unless they ask. And some will ask! That is when you can move into a deeper conversation. So time yourself, practice, and enjoy the journey.