A job interview is stressful. Preparing for the interview de-stresses the situation considerably. Yet, 78 per cent of all candidates — regardless of the
 level for which they are interviewing for — wing it. And frequently, they cause themselves to be weeded out in the process.

Seemingly innocent questions can
trip you up. You think you are answering them in a way that puts you in the best light, but you will be surprised at how many people completely miss the boat.

Here is a closer look at two common interview questions, their pitfalls and how to avoid them:

1. “Why do you want to work here?”

In response to this question, some people will say something like: “I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years and have been very successful. I feel I can make a difference in your organisation. I have a proven track record of leadership. I’ve read in the papers that your company is having some problems, and with my experience as a director, I can help straighten those out.”

That answer may sound good and appear to suffice, but on a
scale of 1 to 10, it ranks 4. Why? The answer shows no research, no thought and no consideration. It sounds stock and is applicable for any number of companies.

In my experience as a recruiter, I have found that while mid-level management tends to under-answer the question, higher management will often over-answer the question. One group doesn’t provide enough information because of a limited lack of
experience; the other group has been around, worked its way up the ladder in more than one company, and in its attempt to
sound thoughtful, intelligent, and wise, ends up saying very little.

Let’s look closer at the question, “Why do you want to work here?”

This is where you get to show off your research. Tell the interviewer what you have learned about the company, and why it appeals to you. Specifics are the key here. Relate those specific examples from your experience to what you have learned about the company, its focus and its market.

Look to your personality and what motivates you and how that relates to any details you learned from the ad, your recruiter, your friend who referred you, or from where you learned of this opportunity. For instance, perhaps the advertisement stated that it was looking to
 establish a marketing department from ground up.

If you thrive on growth, challenges, making things happen — there’s your answer — along with examples of how you have grown, established or done market research in a parallel situation.

You may ask, “What if it’s not a high-profile company? What if it’s on the small side and local?” Not every company is the size of General Electric. But most librarians are more than willing to help you find any information that might be present in any of their research books.

Local newspapers may have done stories on the company, and the library would have those too. And these days, most companies have websites. Share what you can do and why you feel you can make a contribution and benefit the company.

This question is about how you can benefit the company, not how the company can benefit you.

2. “Tell me about yourself.”

Some interviews are lost right at this point. This is not an invitation to talk ad nauseum about everything that has happened to you since you were five years old or since you left university. Nor is it the time to shrug your shoulders and give an unplanned, one-sentence answer. Some people, especially those who haven’t prepared and have a tendency to talk when they get nervous, find themselves rambling.

Put together a nice little two to three-minute verbal bio about your career, your qualifications, and why you are interested. Know what you’re going to say in advance.

Points to note

Knowing who you are, what you want, what you have to offer and what you’ve accomplished — and having it all on the tip of your tongue — can make or break you for a job offer. Not just for your perfect job, but sometimes for even finding any job.

Being able to sell yourself, your skills, how you can benefit a
potential company and then being able to close the deal, necessitates taking the time to research and learn about the company. It means knowing yourself well enough that you can apply aspects of your capabilities to the individual facts and details of that
individual company — and that you can do it smoothly, without groping for words or just winging it.

The words of Peter Handal of Dale Carnegie Training echo the importance of interview preparation, including what strikes most people as silly: role
playing. He said: “You only have one chance to make a really good impression.”

And if you don’t take it seriously enough to study and thoroughly prepare, someone else will, and that is the person who will get the job. Do your homework before every interview. There’s no second chance to make a good impression.