Interviews are stressful! Acing this part of the job application process requires research, rehearsing, preparation, and critical thinking. Although every interview situation is unique, there are best practices that can lead to success, which might look like simply being comfortable during the actual conversations or ultimately, securing the job offer.
Our Alumni Career Advisers have lots of experience with interviewing. They have been on both sides of the table, as interviewer and interviewee, and their perspectives offer some valuable insight into the kinds of questions that make an interview most successful. As a way to share their valuable insights, we asked them to answer these questions:
What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked during an interview, and how did you answer it? Or, what question do you like to ask in interviews, and what are you looking for in the response?
As an executive recruiter who works in consulting Katie Hooper (‘14) knows a lot about rocking an interview! “I try to always tailor my specific interview questions to the role I’m considering the candidate for, but thematically people should be prepared to discuss 1) their career history 2) why they’re interested in the role and the company 3) what is their secret sauce/what makes them stand out from their peers 4) what they’re looking for in their ideal role and 5) their strengths and areas for development.” She also recommends that “people should be comfortable sharing their compensation expectations early in the process, as now it’s illegal in many jurisdictions for recruiters to ask what someone is currently making.”
Given his role in human resources in healthcare tech Ryan Smith (’13) has also spent a large amount of time within the interview space. “This is cliche, but I love the classic ‘Tell me about yourself’ question. This question is generally one of the first questions of an interview and can immediately set the tone for the rest of the interview. People who are well-prepared to share a concise but thorough overview of their background and experience, connecting the dots between each, to highlight interest in this particular role and the strengths they’ll bring, will set themselves apart from other candidates the interviewer will talk with for that position. Rule of thumb is to keep it to 1.5-2 minutes (be concise!). Be sure to touch on unique specifics or accomplishments you’re most proud of from your experience and don’t be afraid to bring your personality into this response!
Another important question that Peter Siderovski (’14), a management consultant in the transportation industry, plans to ask is, “‘What do you think is missing in the culture of our organization, and what could you do to bring it here with you?’ There’s great research coming out about the downsides of the idea of ‘cultural fit’ or screening for employees who would ‘fit in’ in your organization being detrimental to improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) if employees feel the need to conform or look and think like everyone else. It’s better to think about each employee hired as an opportunity to bring in something new to the organization and see what each one can add to your culture. Even if you don’t end up hiring the applicant, each response gives you a data point on what your organization is perceived as missing that could be beneficial to add.”
Kate Maloney (‘97), who works in corporate social responsibility within the consulting industry, has a question that she asks every candidate. “I always ask a person if where they went to school was their first choice. Why did they choose Wake Forest (example) and what was their experience like? What did they take with them as the most important life lesson from the four years? I find interviewees think you are going to jump right to their technical skills or request that they have canned answers to make the interviewer satisfied. I much prefer really getting to know the candidate first. You can tell when the response is authentic and natural. That is a much more solid indication of someone I want on my team.”
Cary Lambert (’13), who works in Strategy and Brand Management in esports, shares what she has enjoyed about the other side of the interview. “One of the most interesting questions I’ve been asked is “What made you excited to get up and come to work at your last job?” I enjoyed this question because it helped the interviewer understand where my passions are, as well as develop an understanding of how I got enjoyment out of my last position. After answering, I turned it around on the interviewer, and asked if it was possible to have the same or similar opportunities in this new role. Having fun and enjoying your work is key for day to day happiness. You spend almost 1/3 of your life at work – so it’s important to enjoy what you’re doing.”
It’s important to evaluate the company during the interview too. Angela Weaver (’13), a policy and strategy advisor in national security, “was asked in an interview once, “What is your ideal type of team to be a part of?”. I didn’t realize at the time how valuable this question was – or how valuable it would be to know the answer for myself. I ended up getting the job and the team culture surrounding the job was the healthiest of my career. It is more important than you would think to know what kinds of teams you thrive on and why – it will help you better understand whether a job is a good fit for you and if you’ll thrive in that opportunity.”
Some interview questions are valuable in ways you might not anticipate. Mallory Allred (’16, MA ’21), who works in data analytics in higher education, really enjoyed being asked, “‘Which question do you wish I had asked during this interview?’ and then in addition to supplying the question, I was asked to answer the question. It was a way for me to describe something about company culture that I was looking for and something I had felt like the interview hadn’t included enough about already.”
For Maggie Sandy (’16), an event and marketing professional who works in nonprofits, preparing for an interview includes something unique. “One interview, I decided I would wear a necklace I had just gotten over a recent vacation. The person I interviewed with pointed it out and asked about the necklace, and it turned into a wonderful conversation about my work ethic and what inspires me everyday. From that point on, I decided to work in a piece of jewelry, a top, shoes, a bag, etc. that would act as a conversation piece. It gave me confidence, and I found that it gave interviewers an easy way to get to know me in a way that didn’t fit in with standard interview questions.”
Whether you plan to ask these questions or have others prepared, we hope you’ll feel prepared and ready to be confident in your next interview! For more resources on this entire process, check out our expert advice blog for even more articles and videos on interviewing.