During an interview—for any job, in any industry—expect interviewers to ask questions about your skills and abilities. That means to ace an interview, you'll need to be prepared to answer these questions thoroughly and thoughtfully, providing meaningful answers that demonstrate your experience.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Interviewers are looking to figure out if your background is a good match for the role at hand. Questions about your skills and work history will help reveal that, and will also give them a sense of how well you know yourself.
To convince the interviewer you are the best fit for the role, you’ll also need a solid strategy. Over the course of the interview, the interviewer will be paying close attention to the following things:
- Your level of self-awareness—that is, how well you can connect your past actions and behaviors to successful results
- Your instincts or the personality traits that come naturally to you (e.g., dedication, teamwork, empathy, etc.)
What to Focus on in Your Response
Before reviewing the questions you’re likely to be asked, write down all your hard skills (e.g., web design, accounting, typing) and soft skills (e.g., problem-solving, creativity, communication). Of that list, select up to five that you can confidently discuss in detail and apply to the specific role.
Take it a step further by choosing a brief—but memorable—story that showcases each one of your strengths. Stories that show off multiple strengths are also a great idea!
Make sure you research both the job description and the organization ahead of time. That way, you'll be able to pin down which hard and soft strengths are most likely to be valued by the company and are important within the role. For instance, some companies may prioritize candidates that are strong self-starters, whereas others may value teamwork above all else.
You'll have a considerable advantage over other candidates if your answers show a complete understanding of the role.
Consider focusing on the following soft skills that employers look for:
- Communication: It's at the core of every organization. Therefore, employers are inclined to hire candidates with strong verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Today’s diverse workplace demands the ability to effectively communicate with people regardless of their characteristics (race, gender, age, experience, etc.) and sometimes remotely.
- Collaboration: Team-focused individuals openly share their ideas in groups, actively listening to and asking their peers questions to move toward the overall objective.
- Positivity: Employees with a positive attitude are optimistic, enthusiastic, and perceived as honest. They see setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow and are generally well-liked by everyone.
- Problem-solving: Efficient problem solvers tend to climb the ladder faster than most. In times of conflict, they identify the best solution — staying true to the organization’s vision — and swiftly implement it to curtail adverse outcomes.
- Fast learning: These employees can readily and enthusiastically synthesize new tasks. They acclimate themselves to new work environments and change more seamlessly than most.
- Flexibility: Such an employee is open to taking on a range of tasks and offering their help to peers, even if the scope of work is outside their comfort zone.
What Not to Say
Here are some types of responses that are best avoided when interviewers ask questions about your skills and experience:
- Overly wordy or unorganized answers. While you shouldn't walk into an interview with a memorized script, you should be prepared for questions—particularly common ones. Look to share responses of an appropriate length and clearly address the question.
You can tell your response is a bit too long—and you should wrap it up—if the interviewer starts to seem distracted or impatient.
- Lack of response. Saying "I don't know" can also appear unprepared. If you're genuinely stumped, ask the interviewer to give you a moment. Or, ask if you can circle back to the question. But a little bit of preparation should help you feel confident with most questions you'll get about your skills or experience.
- Boasting. The main point of an interview is to show off your abilities and accomplishments. Do your best to focus on the positive without boasting. Bragging isn't very appealing. Also, in many roles and companies, teamwork is very important. You wouldn't want to appear to take credit for an entire team's work.
- Fibbing. Do not be dishonest during interviews. Lies are easily caught, and will not serve you well.
Interview Questions About Your Abilities
Be prepared to answer these questions:
- Describe a time when your workload was heavy and how you handled it.
- How do you handle stress and pressure?
- How would you describe the pace at which you work?
- How would you describe yourself?
- Sell me this pen.
- Tell me about yourself.
- What applicable skills and experience do you have?
- What are you passionate about?
- What can you contribute to this company?
- What challenges are you looking for in a position?
- What is your greatest strength?
- What is your greatest weakness?
- What motivates you?
- What type of work environment do you prefer?
- Describe a challenging work situation/project and how you overcame it.
- Why are you the best person for the job?
- Why do you want to work at this company?
Soft Skills Interview Questions
These questions focus more on communication and emotional intelligence:
- Describe your experience dealing with the poor performance of colleagues.
- Have you worked with a team that didn't work well together or didn't get along? How did you overcome the roadblocks?
- Tell me about a time you reversed a negative situation and how you accomplished that.
- What tries your patience when dealing with co-workers?
- Describe how you develop relationships with new colleagues.
- Tell me how you changed someone's opinion.
Preparing Psychologically for Your Interview
In addition to role-playing how you would answer the questions above (either to yourself in a mirror or to a friend willing to serve as your “interviewer”), there are steps you can take to ensure that you enter the interview room with enthusiasm and confidence.
- Ground yourself on the interview day. On the day of the interview, set aside enough time from your normal daily activities so you can spend the hour or two before your meeting concentrating on your preparation. Make sure you have a good meal beforehand (avoid caffeine if it makes you jumpy). Dress carefully in appropriate professional attire, and give yourself extra time to travel to the interview. That way, in the event of a delay, you’ll still make it there ahead of time.
- Review your qualifications just before the interview. Before you enter the building, reread your resume and cover letter, remembering that they were good enough to land you an interview. Mentally marshal a few of the most important talking points you hope to mention during your discussion—things like your achievements, why you are interested in this particular company, or how you envision you would be able to contribute within your new role.
- Keep in mind interviewing is a two-way street. Finally, remind yourself that you are interviewing the company representatives as much as they are interviewing you—this is your best opportunity to sense if these are people you could work with and see whether the job is as good a fit as it looks on paper. This will allow you to mentally “own” the interviewing process, providing you with the positive energy that will ensure you make a great impression on the hiring committee.