By Penelope Trunk | September 9, 2010
If you are smart, you have already studied up on how to be great in an interview. You know what to wear, how to walk, and you studied the answers to the common questions. There are three questions, however, that are so obvious, so common that most people never think to study for them.
Yet they are also the hardest questions you’ll get.
1. Tell me about yourself?
This is not a literal question. This is a question for you to give framework to the interview. You will tell the person what is important to you, what she should talk with you about, and, most importantly, you will tell it to her in a story that she can remember, and relay to other people. You need to be interesting here, so don’t just list your jobs and duties like this is a verbal version of your resume. This is a time for you to turn your life history into a story that leads seamlessly into this job being the obvious next step for you.
We shape how we think about ourselves by the narrative we tell about our lives. In an interview, this skill is most important. You make yourself sound coherent and focused by making your story coherent and focused. A story that is disjointed makes you disjointed. Leave things out. Add some flourish.
When someone says, “How was that person you interviewed?” The interviewer should respond by telling your quick, opening story about you. So make it memorable.
2. How much money do you need to make?
Do not answer this question. You have no idea how much this position is worth to the company. The person interviewing your knows the firm’s bottom line, so he or she they should tell you how much the position is worth to the business. Maybe you did your last job for free. That has nothing to do with how much this position is worth to the current interviewer. So you politely say that you’d like them to decide how much the position is worth to them and offer that wage. Learn to say this ten different ways, because you might have to.
The first person to give a number sets the benchmark. If you set it too low, you’ll never know. If you set it high, they’ll tell you. But you don’t want to risk going low.
Any interviewer who will not give you the first number is not being fair. They can give you a ballpark for how much the position pays. They have a budget. No position is approved without a ballpark budget. So get that number before you give a number. If the interviewer insists on you giving a number, ask yourself if you want to work for someone who wants an unfair advantage from the beginning.
3. Do you have any questions for me?
Interviewers usually ask this at the end of the interview. This puts you in a bad spot because at the end of the interview, you don’t have questions. At the end of the interview you want the job. At the beginning of the interview you have some important questions: What does the perfect candidate for this job look like? What will the first month of this job be like for it to be a success?
Get the answers to these questions at the beginning of the interview, and then you can tailor your interview to address what you’ve learned. If you wait to answer the “do you have any questions” question at the end of the interview, it’s too late.
Finally, there’s one more thing smart people forget to do in an interview: Close. Salespeople are always focused on the close. When you are interviewing, you’re selling yourself, so you need to close. This means, first, asking for what you want. And second, looking for any barriers to getting what you want. Here’s the script: “Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I want this job very much. Do you have any reservations about hiring me?”
At this point, you will have a chance to allay any fears the hiring manager has about you. It’s a tough moment to put yourself into, but it’s better to have a chance to do it than to give up now, when you are so close.
Most people will answer the question directly. Because most people are nice and honest. And that leads me to my last piece of advice. Assume people are nice and honest and approach them with optimism. Assume they will like you and you will like them, and then that’s the most likely outcome.