It would be nice if job interview questions merely involved being asked about your favorite foods and movies, with the interviewer saying, “I love Happy Feet too! Let me show you to your desk.” Anything would be better than answering the inherently awkward questions that interviewers have been asking since clipboards were invented.
But they keep asking them, and so we must keep answering them. As clichéd as they are, the interview questions can offer insight into how you think, so let’s go over some non-clichéd answers to them.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Unless you’re a character in a science fiction movie who experiences all of time, answering this question can be tough. How can anyone know where they’ll be in five years? I have trouble knowing where I’ll be in five minutes. The last time I was asked this in a job interview, I sat there for five years trying to think of an answer. We took bathroom breaks.
The interviewer is trying to assess whether your career goals somewhat align with the company’s goals. For instance, if you were interviewing with a marketing firm and your answer to the five-year question was that you saw yourself playing in the NBA, they probably wouldn’t hire you. You don’t need to lie and tell them you see yourself as a senior executive at the company, but give an answer which suggests a passion and ambition for the industry itself. The more enthusiastic, the better.
Don’t worry about being a little off. It’s not like the interviewer is going to check in on you after five years. Hold on, there’s a knock at my door.
What are your income expectations?
It’s certainly tempting to assert yourself with the old income question. “I want 90 stacks, a company Aston Martin, a 78 gallon piranha tank, and my own private bathroom and solarium. Got it?” But that might not be a good approach.
This is one of those interview questions where it’s best to as brief as possible. Aim for a salary range that both makes you feel comfortable, and doesn’t undersell you or scare the company away (the lowest range should be at least 5k over what you realistically would make, since they may go lower). If you want to be really brief just say, “I’m looking for compensation that’s commensurate with my experience.” It makes you sound smart.
What’s your biggest flaw?
This seems like a trick question, and it probably is, but the interviewer is mainly curious to see your level of self-awareness. You don’t want to say something like, “What the hell is that supposed to mean? What are your flaws?!?”
Since it feels like there’s no great answer to this interview question, try to be sincere and simply describe a flaw that isn’t crucial to the position itself. So if the job requires you to by hyper-organized, don’t tell them you’re unorganized, and if it requires networking, don’t mention that you’re shy.
Feel free to take the humble brag approach, as in, “I have trouble delegating, since I’m more confident in my own abilities.” Try to phrase it in the past tense, and describe what you did or are doing to fix it.
Tell me about yourself
Perhaps the most frightening question out there (along with the dreadful “What’s your story?”), people tend to have a hard time describing themselves. The human life is a constantly changing art form which can’t be condensed into a mere sentence, at least that’s what we like to tell ourselves. Usually I just respond, “I like cheese.” You can do better.
Try not to simply regurgitate basic details that the interviewer already knows. “I’m a human male that requires oxygen and love.” Instead, opt to tell a professional anecdote that both reveals a bit of your personality, and shows your passion for the industry itself (and not about the time you spiked the water cooler). If none come to mind, describe who you are outside of what’s on your resume, perhaps discussing how your upbringing influenced your career ambitions.
If you want to jazz it up, get under a spotlight and do an elaborate dance routine about your life, which can crescendo with you sliding on your knees and catching a top hat. Or just use your words.
No matter how you answer, try to keep it succinct, and make sure you end with “and that’s how I saved Christmas.”
Why do you want this job?
The truth is that you don’t want this job, you want to live in a world where the clouds are made of cotton candy and bills can be paid for by whistling. Nonetheless, you’ll have to come up with an answer, and not just say “revenge” or “the bathroom is for employees only.”
Perhaps you like the work itself, or the company has released interesting products, or you think you can bring something new. Whatever the reason, prove that you actually want to be there. You want to be there, right?
In your answer, try to connect both your personal and professional interests to the job itself, so that taking the job appears like a natural next step in your life. You can’t go wrong there. Where you can go wrong is staying quiet and simply rubbing your thumb against your index and middle fingers to indicate money. Don’t do that.
Do you have any questions for me?
Beyond asking where the bathroom is or if they validate parking, it can be difficult to ask questions after you’ve been answering them for so long. The question feels like the interviewer is being needy, as if a spouse is saying, “Aren’t you going to ask me about my day?”
It’s always best to ask questions before this point, but nonetheless, take the opportunity to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the company and the position. Ask them what they’re hoping for the role itself. Or ask if there’s anything in your own background that could be improved to better align with the position (this question shows humility). If you want to confuse them, ask, “Where do you see me in five years?”
This is the easiest part of the interview to prepare for in advance. Just come up with a few questions, a couple follow-up questions, and then close it all off by saying, “I’m sorry, we’re out of time.”