Ask Matt: How should I answer those first interview questions?

  • Updated: October 10, 2012 - 5:25 PM
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Dear Matt: Most interviews seem to start off with questions like "Tell me about yourself" and "Why are you interested in this job?" How do I answer those questions? Can I eliminate myself with the wrong answer?

Matt says: Job seekers are rarely eliminated because of a wrong answer to those two questions, says Lissa Weimelt, an executive recruiter and President of Twin Cities-based SearchPro Services (www.searchproservices.com). They are, however, passed over because they talk for too long, ramble and appear unprepared, says Mindy Braxton, a talent sourcing specialist with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MN (bluecrossmn.com).

"Most often, job seekers will answer these questions with details about their personal life," said Braxton. "What the interviewer is really looking for is who you are as a professional. Employers want to know if you have the knowledge to do the job. They want to know, How can you combine your skills, knowledge and personal characteristics to fit into their workplace and the role you're interviewing for? Employers want to know, What can you do for them?"

When asked why you are interested in the job, make sure to avoid one often critical mistake: focusing on how it fits you, or providing a vague generalization with no substance.

"Avoid answering that you are interested because it's close to home or because you've heard it's a great place to work," said Braxton. "These are very generic answers that don't tell the employer you've done your homework ahead of time. Use specific examples from the research that you have done."

Here's what Weimelt suggests:

Tell me about yourself. This icebreaker is not meant to take a lot of time. Give a prepared, brief, under 1-minute synopsis of your skills. No more. The skills or experiences you choose to highlight should match those found in the job posting. At the end you could say, "And that is why I am so excited to be here today. I feel we may have some things in common." Smile and stop talking. That puts the ball back in their court, ice broken.

Why are you interested in this job? Because it's a great match. Give one or two brief examples why -- then stop talking. Good reasons to be interested in a job/company can be found on their website: The products or services they offer, their value statement, good training. "Interviewers who judge a person to be sincere, honest about their work history, enthusiastic about giving their all, and informed about their company will often overlook minor fumbles from nervous job seekers," said Weimelt.

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