Are there some job interview questions that get your heart racing and the butterflies flying?  You’re preparing for an interview and rather than focusing on how you will answer the questions you are confident about, you can’t stop worrying about that one question… It’s perfectly normal and happens to everyone, even those people you think are “perfect.”  No such thing.

I used to get freaked out by the “So, tell us about yourself, Sarah” question.  My stomach would do a flip flop, and I would try to figure out what they want to hear.  Eventually, I learned that was the entirely wrong approach and I came up with a new strategy.  I began to craft statements that focused on what I wanted to say about myself in that particular interview.  I’d figure out what skills I wanted to highlight based on the job description and then weave it into a quick story, like this…

Thank you, John.  As you can see from my resume, I have a background in (name two things that are requirements for the job). One of the things that attracted me to this opportunity was the chance to build on my experience in those areas.  I’m also very interested in (name one thing that is listed prominently as a job responsibility).  Can you tell me about what is involved with that?

Did you see the transition to ask the interviewer for more information?  By doing that you can discover what other skills to highlight as the interview goes on.

Sure, I can hear you saying, I could see doing that…but what about my low grade point average (for example)? Or a question that asks you to give an example of how you handled something when you had never done that before? (I’ll be addressing these situational interview questions in a few weeks)

It’s easy to get worked up about these questions when you don’t know how to respond.  I suggest you use just two methods to address any question that makes you uncomfortable.

For questions that focus on a flaw (like a low GPA), prepare your answer ahead of time.  It should start with “I’m glad you brought that up because I really wanted the chance to address it.”  Then fill in a reasonable, brief explanation like “The first two years of school were a challenge for me.  I wasn’t used to doing that much school work and I had some growing up to do.  At the same time, I can tell you that I am very proud of how I turned things around and in my last two years my GPA was X.”  Or, “I held down nearly full-time work while taking a full course load…”  In other words, say something that will assure them you have the intellectual capacity and maturity for the job.

Questions that ask you to relate specific experience you don’t have are a little tougher.  You need to figure out what the fear is behind the question.  For example, if someone asks “can you tell me about a situation where you had to deal with an irate customer and how you handled it?”  The fear behind this question is that you may lose your cool under pressure, or say the wrong thing.  So, you want to address that, while acknowledging your lack of specific experience like this:  “Well, I’ve never actually been in that specific situation in a work environment, but I can give you several examples of times when I was able to diffuse a situation that could have gotten ugly…”

Remember that ALL of your experience matters!  Whether it’s a paid job, volunteer work, family interactions, or leadership positions is not important.  What’s important is to address the fear with a relevant example that demonstrates you understand.

Happy Hunting!