How to Answer Common First-Round Interview Questions

Let’s face it: job interviews can be daunting. College grads entering a first-round behavioral interview feel the pressure to make a good first impression, yet this pressure might hinder your true personality and strengths from showing through. All too often, people approach interviews with a “me vs. you” mindset, feeling stressed by the game of saying what they believe the interviewer wants to hear, rather than their authentic answers.

The reality is that interviews are often more about us (the potential employers) better understanding you as a person than they are about exploring your qualifications and aptitude, which are usually determined through a combination of your résumé and later interviews.

Below are some common interview questions and what we are trying to learn by asking them. We aim to eliminate common misconceptions and at the very least, we hope this eases the stress of interviewing with Stroud. We’re not speaking for every company out there, since each employer has their own interview objectives – however, in our experience, these are questions students commonly find stressful, and what we are seeking to understand by asking them.

 

Why should we hire you? Why do you want to work here?

Common Misconception: The employer is quizzing you on how well you’ve done your research and read their website. They’re looking for the “perfect” candidate – so you need to pitch yourself by repeating back the company’s message.

Reality: Ultimately, hiring an employee is creating a partnership, and it doesn’t benefit either party in the long run if there isn’t a good fit between the employer and employee. You will be happiest and most productive at a company whose values, work, and culture align with your own interests, skills, and personality. Companies want this just as much as you – and want to understand this match early on!

How to Succeed: Understand the mission, principles, work, and culture of the company before your interview. Reflect on how this overlaps with your principles and preferences. In the interview, tell us how you feel you mesh with our business. On the flip side, understand the areas that you see as mismatched so that you can ask questions. If there is misalignment, you want to understand this so you don’t end up in a job you dislike. Addressing this in an interview allows you to get further information or to find a different career option that better suits you – ultimately leading to a better partnership and a more satisfying result.

 

What’s your biggest weakness? / Tell me about a time you’ve failed.

Common Misconception: The employer wants to hear that you don’t have any weaknesses, or that your weakness isn’t really a weakness at all. Pick something safe like “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist” and quickly spin it into a story about a strength.

Reality: Most roles require constant learning and growth in order to be successful. We firmly believe that the most effective way to develop –personally or professionally– is to first recognize your own areas for development and then build a plan to tackle them. Everyone has areas they can improve, and an individual’s ability to recognize and improve on them is one of the most important attributes a candidate can demonstrate. What we’re asking about is how well you do this.

How to Succeed: Many people aren’t comfortable discussing their weaknesses, so take time before the interview to reflect thoughtfully on this question. Speak about a meaningful example – don’t make something up for the sake of it. Help us understand how well you can honestly assess your own development areas and what your plan to succeed is.

 

What do you do in your free time? What do you do for fun?

Common Misconception: Answer with something strictly professionally relevant: the employer wants to hear a restatement of the most notable line items on your resume or your paraphrase of their company mission.

Reality: Companies want to learn a bit more about you as a person and understand how you “fit.” Why, you might ask? One reason might be that interviewees are often nervous, and talking about something you’re excited about helps break the tension and let your genuine personality and energy come through. Another is that when a company hires you, not only do your skills and capabilities become a part of the business, but you also become a part of the organization. At Stroud, we care about the personality behind the resume – and the beliefs, philosophy, and motivations behind your accomplishments.

How to Succeed: Be authentic. Tell us about something that gets you excited! If we get stuck at the airport together, will we have fun together? We want to get to know you and what you’re passionate about – so if it’s baking cookies on the weekend or building race cars in your garage, tell us about it and let us see your excitement.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment? What are you most proud of?                   

Common Misconception: You need to have done something world-changing or life-saving to impress interviewers. They’re looking for you to talk about a truly remarkable feat, so tell them about your most “dazzling” accomplishment in order to set yourself apart.

Reality: At Stroud, we are more interested in your depth of thought than the uniqueness of the situation. It is more valuable to spend time reflecting on what truly makes you feel most proud and why you regard that as your greatest accomplishment, regardless of the type of example.

How to Succeed: Tell us what your greatest accomplishment is, or what you’re most proud of – then help us understand what you were thinking and feeling as you went through the situation. What was challenging about that experience and why does it make you proud? Focus on reflecting thoughtfully about your own actions rather than coming up with the wildest story.

 

Tell us about a time you set a goal and went after it.

Common Misconception: Companies want to make sure you have a track record of success, so tell them about a lofty goal and the success story of achieving it. They’re not interested in the trials and tribulations faced along the way, so just focus on the end result.

Reality: The result matters, yes. But when we are trying to learn about how you would be as an asset to our organization, we care just as much about your approach. We want to know, once you set your goal, how did you build a plan to hit it? What challenges did you face along the way? How did you work with others and what ultimately enabled success? Companies care about not only what results you can drive for them once you join, but also what it will be like to work with you.

How to Succeed: Tell us not just what you tackled, but how you did it. Prepare a few examples ahead of your interview so that you’re able to speak to them, including what goal you set and what approach you took. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked what you found most challenging or rewarding about it, and why. Remember, we are trying to understand what it will be like to have you as a part of our organization, and therefore are seeking to understand how you think and do.

 

Ready to Interview

You know how to prepare for your first-round interview – now it’s time to nail it! Remember – the behavioral interview is about you and the company getting to know each other, not an aptitude test or personality quiz. Let your enthusiasm and authentic self shine. Good luck!

 

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