Learn to Answer Interview Questions About Your Abilities

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Job interview questions tend to fall into three categories: knowledge, skills, and abilities. The best way to prepare yourself is to anticipate the questions that will be lobbed at you and practice ahead of time.

Some may seem simple on the surface but look a little deeper, and you'll discover the employer's intent. For example, a question about explaining a complex subject to a non-expert audience may be both about your subject-matter expertise and your ability to communicate with people who have a different background.

Sample Interview Questions and Answers

Review a few sample job interview questions and prepare replies that answer the interviewer’s likely intent, as well as what they’re saying on the surface level, and you’ll make the best possible impression.

Question: “Tell me about a time when you had to convey technical information to a non-technical audience.”

Intent: The interviewer wants to know how you relate to people outside your area of expertise.

Sample answer: “While I worked for Mr. Smith in the accounting department, I was selected to explain the financial section of the employee's paycheck to all new hires. After my first two sessions, I realized I needed to reframe my information so that the new hires would have an accurate understanding of the impact of their decisions as it related to their pay. I worked with colleagues in human resources and marketing and developed a training outline that was implemented at the other locations throughout the company.”

Question: “Tell me about a time when you worked with interpreting and presenting data.”

Intent: If you are in a non-technical profession, this question is designed to see if you are comfortable with information not directly related to your position.

Sample answer: “While at the GHI Corporation, one of my job assignments was to work with the IT department to prepare the annual meeting brochure complete with financial data, graphs, and related SEC requirements. I became proficient at designing graphs that gave an accurate picture of the financial data, as well as editing the legal information into a more readable format.”

Question: “Why do you think that you will be successful in this job?”

Intent: The interviewer is concerned as to whether you see this as a career move or stop-gap employment.

Sample answer: “As my resume reflects, I have been successful at each of my previous places of employment. Given my research about your company, the job description outlined, and the information we've exchanged today, l believe I have the skills and experience to fulfill what you're looking for and I'm eager to contribute as an employee.”

Question: “Tell me about a time when you participated in a team. What was your role?”

Intent: Companies, for the most part, do not want "Lone Rangers" – they are looking for employees who will adapt to the company culture and get along with others.

Sample answer: “In high school, I enjoyed playing soccer and performing with the marching band. Each required being a different kind of team player, but the overall goal of learning to be a member of a group was invaluable. I continued to grow as team member while on my sorority's debate team and through my advanced marketing class where we had numerous team assignments.”

Tips for Preparing to Answer Questions About Your Abilities

  • Review the job description, matching your abilities to their requirements. Make a list of keywords from the description that match your qualifications. Review skills lists for your field, job title, and experience, so that you can include any related abilities that aren’t mentioned outright in the ad.
  • Prepare a few stories to share. You can’t know which questions you’ll be asked, of course, so it pays to come to the interview with a few relevant stories to share. Choose examples that demonstrate abilities that seem most important to the company (again, going by the job description, as well as what you’ve learned so far in the interview process).
  • Practice … but don’t memorize. Good storytelling skills will take you far, both in job interviews and in your career once you’re hired, but you don’t want to seem like you’ve committed specific stories to memory, only to shoehorn them into the conversation wherever possible. So, focus your practice interviews on developing a high comfort level around the topics that are likely to come up. You’re aiming for a productive conversation, not a monologue.