There’s nothing quite like the spine-tingling jolt of getting called in for a job interview after weeks of sending out your resume, crossing your fingers and mostly getting a bunch of canned emails thanking you for submitting your application in response. But that initial excitement can quickly turn to anxiety if you’re not prepared once you finally walk in the door.
As it turns out, interviewing in person is the most intimidating part of the job search process, according to a survey of 570 undergraduates and recent college grads by career site WayUp. The fear factor doesn’t end there either.
Once you sit down face-to-face with your interviewer, what’s the “scariest” question you could get asked? For nearly 41% of current undergraduates and 35% of recent grads who replied to the online survey conducted in October, it was: “Out of all the other candidates, why should we hire you?”
That question beat out four other choices, including, “What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
How to answer the toughest question
“Basically the entire interview boils down to this question,” Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster, said in a phone interview. Thankfully, making a case for why you’re the best fit for the job isn’t all that hard — so long as you’ve got your answer figured out in advance. “You need to be convincing and honest, but also have your talking points ready to go,” she added.
The best kind of answer achieves two goals: It demonstrates what you bring to the job, and it conveys your respect for and understanding of their business. The more precisely you can quantify your answers the better.
Here are a couple of sample answers you might give:
“Your company is a leader in industry X, and that is an area I excel in as well, as you can see from the fact that I have been the top sales person on a 10-person team also doing X for the last two years.”
“I’m a great fit for this position because it requires excellent project management skills, and I led the rollout of products X, Y and Z at my last job, which boosted revenue by 30% over the last year.”
If you’re new to the job market and don’t have hard numbers to quantify your skills, you can go with a softer approach, such as:
“You mentioned that attention to detail is a key aspect of this job. In my last job [or internship] at company Y, I got top marks for this in my reviews by doing A, B and C, which saved the company both time and money.”
And if the interviewer asks you about a skill you don’t have, you can get around that by using an example that shows you are a self-starter:
“I haven’t done that before, but I’m a quick learner. For example, in my last job at company Y, I learned the billing system in 2 days, compared to the full week it typically took new hires.”
The key here is to “know your unique value proposition,” which should be tailored to the job and the company, career expert Heather Huhman said: “If you don’t know it, you’re never going to be able to sell yourself to an employer.”
These 5 rules of thumb will help you leave a great impression during your job interview
It’s easy to get nervous during an interview, especially when a hiring manager puts you on the spot with a tough question like why they should hire you — or your biggest weakness. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind, no matter what curve balls they throw at you.
- Be authentic and confident. It’s okay to rehearse your answers in advance to help smooth your delivery, but you don’t want to sound robotic.
- Don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm show. “If I am a hiring manager choosing between two candidates what can make a difference is how passionate do they seem. How hungry are they? How much do they want this job?” Salemi said.
- Be unique. “The biggest mistake people make is being too generic,” said Huhman. If you’re applying for a writing job, for example, don’t just say you’re a great writer. Give examples that showcase your style, ideas and expertise.
- Pace yourself. “Sometimes when you are nervous, you can talk too much or too fast,” Salemi noted. Keep your answers succinct and avoid talking too fast, so the interviewer can really hear what you are saying.
- Master the pivot. As the interview progresses, you’ll likely get a better sense of what the interviewer values most. Listen carefully to what they say and pay attention to how they react so you can play up the aspects of your skills, experience and presentation that they value most.