All job interviews include two particular questions. Every time. Crafting great answers to these two questions is the best interview prep you can do. If you can answer the questions with crisp, focused responses, you will definitely stand out from the pack. Don’t be surprised. Be ready.
When helping friends prep for interviews, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get caught up preparing for dozens of possible interview questions—and totally miss the two biggest and most important interview questions everyone is sure to hear. These questions are typically asked early on in the interview, which makes them all the more important as a strategic opportunity to set a great first impression.
As a recruiter, I hear company feedback on the candidate interviews. When candidates come prepared for these questions, I hear things like, “Wow! She really had a clear focus, presented ideas well. She definitely did her homework on us.” Or, “It seems like this job is a great mutual fit. She shared what she was looking for and it lines up well.”
That is an interview win by focusing and preparing for the two big questions you will get asked all the time.
Question #1: “What are you looking for?”
When this question comes up, many people give wandering, unfocused, vague answers to this basic question.
How to answer: Start your response with, “I’m looking for five things.” Then list them off, “First…Second…Third,” and so on. Give a one-sentence answer for each one item, based on what you developed for your target criteria.
As I reflect back on my career and where I want to go next, I’m looking for 5 things:
- 1) A Marketing Manager role, which tracks with prior positions and level of responsibility.
- 2) The Consumer space. I’ve done both Enterprise and Consumer marketing, but found I’m more passionate about the Consumer space.
- 3) Team leadership. I’ve overseen teams between 3–7 people in prior roles, and I enjoy mentoring and developing people.
- 4) The gaming industry. After working with Xbox and Big Fish Games, I know this space well and want to stay, if possible.
- 5) A product I can believe in. In reading about your company, I am inspired to market your products and I already have some ideas of how I can make an impact.
This response tells the interviewer a few things:
- * You know what you want. A majority of people can’t answer this question well, so you already stand out from the pack.
- * You can effectively communicate ideas. Creating a Top 5 list shows you can speak in a focused and professional manner. This indicates how you might communicate on the team.
- * You will engage the interviewer. I’ve found this approach gets the interviewer leaning forward with interest. They may even write down the list point by point.
Question #2: “Why are you interested in this role?”
A company recruiter wants to feel like you have done your homework on the role and the company, and that you’re not just looking for employment.
How to answer: Share your excitement about their product or service and industry. Explain why this role aligns well with what you are looking to do long-term. Mention company values and culture. Mention any employee referrals for added credibility.
Also, physically lean forward when giving your answer and show excitement to engage your audience. You will see the interviewer lean forward as well, a natural response called “mirroring.”
Here’s an example:
[Leaning forward] I’m very excited about the potential fit of this role and company. I really like the startup stage you are at. You have an impressive list of initial customers and a product that I can believe in—I use it myself as a customer! The executive team seems to have a strong background, and your investors have had good success with other companies in this area.
I think your positioning against your competitors with the pricing strategy and distribution is a real win. I’d have a short commute as a bonus—15 minutes. Your company values align well with the type of culture I’m looking for and seem to fit in. Lastly, I got to have coffee with David in finance last week, and he shared how much he loves working here and feels you have an exciting future ahead.
If you were the interviewer and heard an answer like this, what would be your initial impression? Assuming a company will interview five people with similar skills and experience, they will typically lean toward the person who demonstrated focused and good communication skills (question #1) and showed excitement and knowledge of the company (question #2).
Now that you know, time to prepare
OK, now it’s your turn. Take time to develop written answers to these questions. Then practice saying them out loud to yourself, because sometimes things look good on paper but sound odd or lack flow when you hear it. When ready, practice with a friend for live feedback.
These two questions may show up in a different order, or worded in a different way, but I can promise you that you’ll hear them in some shape or form. If you have limited time to prepare for your interview, focus on these two questions to make the biggest impact. Solid answers will give you added confidence and help you feel ready for the conversation.
For more helpful job search tips: Ultimate Job Search Guide: Recruiter Insider Tips