Job interview questions tend to fall into three categories: knowledge, skills, and abilities. When it comes to questions about your abilities, the best way to prepare is by anticipating what interviewers might ask you. That way, you'll be able to practice ahead of time, and come with relevant examples and anecdotes to share.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Compared to some other questions you may get during an interview, queries about your skills and abilities are relatively straightforward. Interviewers ask these questions because they want to know what you're capable of.
Assume if interviewers ask about a particular ability, they're doing so because it's important for the role at hand.
However, do pay attention to what's below the surface. Think about why interviewers would ask this particular question. 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.
How to Answer Interview Questions About Your Abilities
The key to responding to these questions is having plenty of examples at the ready.
You may get a lot of behavioral or situational interview questions. That is, interviewers will propose a certain scenario, and ask how you've dealt with it in the past or would deal with it in the future. When you're faced with questions that start off with "Tell me about..." it can be really helpful to use the STAR technique to devise your answer.
With this tactic, you'll description the Situation (or problem), the required Tasks, the Action you took, and the Result. This will help you tell a relevant story, without rambling. By describing your actions—and the results—you'll be highlighting the abilities you'll contribute.
Be sure to highlight your most relevant abilities. For example, if the role requires someone who is a strong communicator, you'll want to give a response that highlights how you communicate and shows that you do so very effectively.
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.
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.
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.
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. The interviewer wants to get a sense of how you work with others.
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 a team member while on my sorority's debate team, and through my advanced marketing class where we had numerous team assignments.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
- 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.
- 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. 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.
What Not to Say
- Don't be dishonest. It's never a good idea to lie during an interview. If an interviewer asks about a skill or ability, and you don't have it, just say so. Fibbing can only lead to trouble.
- Don't ramble. Long or incoherent responses are hard on interviewers, who may get lost in your response or struggle to pay attention. Keep answers succinct and in general, avoid jargon or delving too much into details.
- Review the job ad and company website, so you'll be well informed about the company's needs and culture.
- Make a list of your most relevant abilities, along with examples of situations where they were beneficial to an employer.
- Consider the interviewer's intent in asking questions, so that you can frame your answers accordingly.