Interviews come in all shapes and sizes. You might be asked to talk about past projects you’ve worked on, given a task to complete in a short amount of time, or expected to answer rapid-fire questions from a panel of the company’s employees. Especially when you’re interviewing at a startup, where passion and culture fit is just as important as your skills, you can expect—well, just about anything.
This, of course, can make preparing for your next interview a little challenging. Fortunately, there are a few common questions that can help you get started on the right foot (even if your interviewer doesn’t actually ask them!).
1. “Why are you on the job market?”
Unless you’re a new grad, when your reasoning is pretty clear, every candidate has a story. And for prospective employers (especially startups, who are hoping their new hires will be around for a long, long time), it’s important to understand what made you leave your last job—or what will make you.
Be honest, but frame it in positive a way that shows that the role you’re interviewing for is a much better fit for you than your current or last position. For example, instead of “I want to try something new,” say “I felt like I reached a point where I was no longer learning new things, so I want to try a new challenge that will help me improve as a product manager.”
Or, if you’re leaving a job because, frankly, it’s terrible, focus on what you hope to learn in your next role: “I’d really love to be part of product development from beginning to end, and I know I’d have that opportunity here.”
Didn’t leave your last job by choice? If you were fired, be honest: Industries are smaller than they seem, and there’s a good chance your potential employer will find out (or already has). Being upfront about the situation and explaining both what you learned from it and why it won’t happen again can earn you big points.
2. “Why are you interested in this role?”
To put it bluntly, if you can’t answer this question, you shouldn’t be in the interview. But it’s amazing how many candidates don’t have a good response!
To make sure you do, first consider why you’re interested in the function and identify a couple of key factors that make it a great fit for you. For example, “I love customer support because I love the constant human interaction and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem.”
Next, consider why you’re interested in the function at this company. (“I need a job, and you’re hiring” will not get you far with the interviewer.) Is it the product? “I’ve always been passionate about education, and I think you guys are doing great things, so I want to be a part of it” is something I love to hear when interviewing for my company, InstaEDU. Is it the stage? “I’m really excited to join a small team so I can learn more about other roles and make a bigger personal impact on the company,” is a great answer, too.
Most importantly, be honest, since overselling yourself for something you either aren’t interested in or aren’t good at won’t benefit the company—or you.
3. “What would you do in your first week on the job?”
Hint: The answer should not be “Whatever you guys need me to do.” This is your chance to show that you’ve done your homework and given the role and your place in the company serious thought.
Start by explaining what you think you need to do to get ramped up. What information do you need to do a great job? What parts of the company will you need to familiarize yourself with? What other employees will you want to sit down with?
Next, choose a couple of areas where you think you can make meaningful contributions right away. So, for example: “I think a great starter project would be diving into your email marketing campaigns and setting up a tracking system for them. That will let me start collecting data so I can run some A/B tests in week 2.”
Sure, if you get the job, you (or your new employer) might decide there’s a better starting place, but having a well thought-out answer prepared will show the interviewer where you can add immediate impact—and that you’re excited to get started.
At the end of the day, interviewing well is a skill like anything else, and practice indeed makes perfect. So if you aren’t feeling confident or don’t have a ton of interviews under your belt, grab a friend and take turns. The more comfortable you get answering the questions above—and any others that an interviewer might throw your way—the better off you’ll be when you nab the interview for your dream job.