How to Answer: How Do You Handle Pressure?

You’ve started preparing for your interview and you can clearly articulate what motivates you, and the strengths that you will bring to the team. But what do you do if the interviewer wants to get a sense of how you fare when things get tough: “So tell me, how do you handle pressure?” she asks.

This common interview question, which you’ll encounter during more interviews for an internship or entry-level job, is designed to test a few things. Employers want to know that you don’t let the stress of high-pressure moments (which are inevitable in any work environment) get to you and can still perform well. Additionally, your answer to this question allows employers to see how you get your best work done and how stress affects you.

To nail this question, it’s important to understand and explain the situations that can stress you out, illustrate how you manage your reaction to that stress, and then give a real-life example of how you dealt with stress. Your answer should be honest, but definitely with a positive spin.

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing your answer.

Talk about a time when you faced serious pressure.

Think about a time in your life when you felt truly overwhelmed. If you’re an athlete, maybe this was during the run-up to a big game. Another great example is the pressure of finals that students face every semester. Whatever example you choose, outline the situation and explain why it was a high-pressure moment for you.

Pro Tip: Avoid examples where the pressure or stress was due in part to your own shortcomings (i.e. “I didn’t budget enough time ahead to study for the final exam, but buckled down and ended up doing well”). Instead, choose an example that shows how you were able to rise to a challenging occasion.

Give concrete examples of how you deal with the situation.

Once you’ve identified the moment of pressure, outline the steps you took to address it. Be sure to include the way you assessed the situation and the plan you put in place to get through it. Be specific and provide details that will help to highlight the outcome.

Show how these steps helped you meet your goals.

After outlining process you put in place to deal with the moment of pressure, talk about how you were able to resolve the situation and meet your goals.

Say something like: “I find that when I have multiple projects and deadlines at the same time, I’m at my most productive. I’m careful to prioritize tasks and to structure ways for me to manage my time and energy proactively. Last semester, I had three final projects and a presentation due in the same week. I knew that I would need to be diligent with every moment of my day to set myself up for success. I created a weekly calendar that outlined the time needed to complete each project, the time needed to practice the presentation in front of my peers and time for sleeping and going to the gym. Having it all planned out minimized unnecessary stress and allowed me to focus on execution, which was the most exciting part for me.”

By specifically highlighting how you’ve responded well to pressure in the past, you’ll show the interviewer that you’re ready to take on even the toughest parts of the job, getting you one step closer to closing the deal.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 7 Phone Interview Tips  and find answers to common interview questions such as What Excites You About This Industry?.

How to Answer: Tell Me About an Accomplishment That You’re Most Proud Of

One of the keys to a successful job interview is being able to highlight your accomplishments. When the hiring manager asks a question such as, “Tell me about an accomplishment that you’re most proud of,” they’re interested in finding out what you’ve achieved and what matters to you. This is a time when your interviewer wants you to show off, so don’t be shy. Make sure to come prepared with at least one example of your accomplishments, and use the S.T.A.R. method (which stands for situation, task, action, result) to describe your experience.

Here’s what to keep in mind as you prepare your answer.

Outline the situation

Think of something you’re truly proud of accomplishing. Whether this accomplishment happened in school, at a previous job or internship, or even during an extracurricular activity (like on a sports team), start your answer by talking about the events that led up to the moment. For example, if you’re most proud of leading your debate team to win Nationals, explain the situation that led up to that.

Talk about the task

Next, outline the task itself. Focusing on the debate team example, if were you in charge of motivating everyone with an epic speech or staying up all night to practice with a struggling teammate, this is the time to mention that. Explaining your role in the situation creates context for the story and gives the interviewer an idea of how you handle responsibilities and what you’re able to achieve.

Explain the action you took

Once you’ve outlined the task at hand, explain the steps you took to achieve your goal. Use one or two examples to back up your answer and show how these added value to the situation. For example, you can mention the plan that you created to keep everyone motivated and explain how you put it into action.

Highlight the results

Finally, be sure to mention the successful outcome and explain why you consider it to be your greatest accomplishment. The outcome itself doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge win, but it should be something that you’re truly proud of and that reflects well on you.

Say something like: “During my junior year, I led my debate team to Nationals after a successful season. I was in charge of making sure the team was still motivated and on top of their game after a pretty long season. I came up with a gameplan that combined debate practice with team building, dedicating extra time to two team members who didn’t have as much experience. We ended up winning Nationals and had an amazing time in the process.”

By following the S.T.A.R. method, you’ll be able to show off your biggest accomplishment and show the hiring manager that you’d be an asset to the team.

How to Answer: Why Do You Want to Work Here?

One of the most common job interview questions you will encounter is fairly straightforward: “Why do you want to work here?” The question allows the interviewer to learn if you’ve done your homework about the organization, assess your current career needs and decide if you’re a good fit for the company. It also helps them to get a sense of your passion for the role and for your future career.

The question may seem like a trick question, but it’s not. It’s also not one you should answer spontaneously. Instead, you should plan a thoughtful, concise and appropriate answer in advance.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when preparing your answer.

Focus on an aspect of the company that you admire and explain how that resonates with you.

You may be tempted to answer this question frankly, but saying that you “need the money” or “saw that the company was hiring” will not give the interviewer any insight into who you are. Every person your interviewer calls in to discuss the position has bills to pay, too. Instead, focus on why you chose to apply to this particular company. Be sure to mention something specific such as the company’s main product or one of their core values.

Say something like: “I’m graduating this spring, so when I was thinking about my first full-time job, I decided I wanted to work at a company that makes a product I truly believe in. Your company’s user demographic is people ages 18 to 25, and as a person within that age group and an avid user of your product, I think I could represent the brand well as a PR and communications specialist.”

Highlight your skills and explain how they’re relevant to the position.

Next, set yourself apart by highlighting your skills and elaborating on your strengths and experiences. If you have particular experience with the company’s target demographic or the main skill set required for the role, be sure to mention that.

Say something like: “I was a brand ambassador for two years in college, so I know the best ways to increase brand awareness and sales, and to be the voice of a brand.”

Connect your career goals to the brand.

Once you’ve demonstrated your passion for the brand and shown how your experience relates to the role, be sure to mention how your career goals align with those of the company. The key is to show that you’re passionate about working for this particular company — not a competitor or simply any company in the field.

Here’s how to bring it all together:

“I’m graduating this spring, so when I was thinking about my first full-time job, I decided I wanted to work at a company that makes a product I truly believe in. Your company’s demographic is people ages 18 to 25, and as a person within that age group and an avid user of your product, I think I could represent the brand well as a PR and communications specialist. I was a brand ambassador for two years in college, so I know the best ways to increase brand awareness and sales, and to be the voice of a brand. Your company’s dedication to empowering young people struck me in particular, and it seems like a great fit in terms of me being able to provide valuable insights and expertise while working for a brand that believes in what I can bring to the table.”

By showing that you’re knowledgeable about the company and that your values align with theirs, you’ll demonstrate that you’re a good fit for the role and stand a great chance of impressing the interviewer.

 

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Get a Letter of Recommendation and find answers to common interview questions such as Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

How to Answer: Tell Me About a Time You Failed

Although no one likes talking about a time they’ve failed, the truth is that everyone has experienced failure at some point in their lives. As Robert F. Kennedy famously said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” When employers ask this question during an interview for an internship or entry-level job, they’re interested in learning about your willingness to take risks and your ability to overcome challenges. In order to come up with an answer that shows that you’ve learned from your mistakes, you need to be able to demonstrate that you’ve successfully bounced back from failure and that you’ve learned important lessons along the way.

Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to be honest. No one is perfect, and even the most successful people have failed more times than they can count. Instead of aiming for perfection by saying that you’ve never made a mistake, focus on how you can turn a negative into a positive.

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing your answer.

Pick a real failure that you were able to learn from.

Think carefully about some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your life. Did they happen because you took a risk or tried something new? Or maybe you failed at something you’re normally very good at but circumstances got in the way. Whether your biggest failure was the Calculus test you didn’t pass in college or the track meet you lost in high school, the key to coming up with a great answer is to pick a situation where something went wrong but that something wasn’t catastrophic. This will make it easier to keep the story short and to focus on what you learned rather than how it felt to fail.

No matter what you choose, make sure you stay away from personal or overly emotional topics that don’t relate to the job at hand and could make the recruiter uncomfortable.

Outline the steps you took to overcome the challenge.

Once you’ve given some context for the situation and how it developed, outline the steps you took to get back on track. For example, if you’re talking about a test you failed, you can mention that you talked to your professor to get advice, then worked hard and went to office hours for extra help to make sure it didn’t happen again.

Pro Tip: Be detailed when outlining your approach. This will show the hiring manager that you’re not only proactive about problem-solving, but that you’re also able to think through the best ways to overcome a challenge.

Show how you were able to bounce back.

Finally, talk about what you learned. This is a great way to show the interviewer that you’re focused on personal and professional growth, and that you’re able to take even the most difficult situations and turn them into something positive. Most of all, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you’re resilient, a quality that employers always look for when screening candidates.

Say something like: “When I took Calculus my freshman year, I knew that I was in over my head. I’ve always been pretty good at math but the class was really challenging and I found myself falling behind. When I got my final grade and realized I had failed the class, I immediately went to talk to my professor and she helped me put together a plan for retaking the class and passing it. Over the course of the next semester, I went to office hours every week and asked a friend who was good at Calculus to help me with my homework. After struggling with that class, I realized that college was going to be much more challenging than high school, so I made sure to carefully look over the syllabus of every class I took and to set up meetings with professors to go through questions and ask for advice. I found that to be a great way of heading off potential problems and I managed to pass Calculus with flying colors the second time.”

Answering this question might seem challenging at first, but it can be a great opportunity to show the interviewer that you’re able to troubleshoot problems and to learn lessons that will serve you well in both your professional and personal lives.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Stand Out with Business Cards and find answers to common interview questions such as Would You Work Holidays and/or Weekends?

How to Answer: Would You Describe Yourself as a Leader or a Follower?

If you hear the question “Are you a leader or a follower?” during an interview for an internship or entry-level job, you can consider this question a “fit” question, meaning that the interviewer is trying to assess whether you’re a good cultural fit for the company, the team and the position you’re applying for.

Just like with any binary question, the interviewer wants to hear your response, followed by a reason for why you feel as though that response is true. As always, actions speak louder than words, so speaking about your past performance can always help make your answer even stronger.

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing your answer.

1. Start by explaining how you see yourself.

Do you consider yourself a leader or a follower? Mention this and explain why that’s the case. However, we recommend bringing up that you’re also capable of being the other type. The interviewer most likely wants to know that you’re capable of being both a leader and a follower, and that you can figure out the right time for each one based on the situation.

Say something like: “I tend to be the leader in most situations, though I can think of plenty of times when it was better for the group for me to follow along.”

2. Give an example (no more than 60 seconds) of a time when you took charge.

This can be a leadership position in a club, a leadership position in a group project, a time you started your own business, etc.

3. Then give a shorter example of a time when you followed instructions.

Your best bet would be to think of a time when you were not the “expert” in the group, but someone else was, so you followed along and learned from them. Make sure you’re honest in your entire answer since you want to ensure that you’re the right personality fit for the role!

Say something like: “All of my friends tell me I’m the leader of our group since I’m always the one planning our group trips, the one who was President of all of her clubs in college and the one who tends to present after group projects. However, there are plenty of times I can think of when I’ve been a follower because it was best for the group. For example, I’ve never played softball before, so when my friends started a softball league (with me in it), I watched a few games and read a few articles, but I ultimately let my softball-pro friends take charge on where I should go, what the batting order should be and so on.”

By demonstrating that you can be both a leader and a follower, you’ll show the hiring manager that you’re a true team player and a cultural fit for any role. This is a great way to stand out from the crowd and help potential employers see your value.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 10 Tips for the Perfect Cover Letter  and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?

How to Answer: If I Asked Your Friends to Describe You, What Would They Say?

During an interview, hiring managers want to get a sense of who you are beyond your resume. The easiest way to do this is by asking questions designed to draw out your personality. One of these questions is, “If I asked your friends to describe you, what would they say?” This is a common question you may encounter during an interview for an internship or an entry-level job. When the interviewer asks this, it’s because they want to gauge how others perceive you, how self-aware you are and how you work with a team.

When preparing your answer to this question, you’ll want to highlight your positive personality traits and give concrete examples.

Pick a few of your best qualities.

There are many qualities that appeal to employers, including loyalty, hard work and leadership. When deciding what quality to highlight, make sure that it’s an accurate reflection of you and that you can back it up with examples how it has shaped your relationships with your friends.

Give specific examples of how you display them.

Are you the leader of the pack? Don’t be afraid to mention this. If you’re the go-to friend for making plans and executing them, this is definitely something you want to highlight to your future employer. Emphasize the leadership skills you possess and your experiences with being a leader.

Say something like: “My college friends would say that I’m the leader of the group, the life of the party and the caretaker. I’m always planning trips for us, including vacations to places we’ve never been before. Last summer, we decided to take a trip to Costa Rica and we were excited about it but didn’t know where to begin. I offered to research flights and hotels and managed to find us a great deal in a nice location. Once we got there, I made sure to look for fun places for us to go out and checked in to see how everyone was doing throughout the trip. We had a great time.”

Pro Tip: Keep your answer focused and concise. Now is not the time to reminisce about every experience you’ve had with your friends. Make sure you keep the conversation relevant to the position you’re interviewing for.

By talking about a great quality that your friends would praise, you’ll show the interviewer that you’re a team player and an asset to the organization.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Turn Down a Job Offer and find answers to common interview questions such as If You Could Invest in One Stock, Which Stock Would it Be?

How to Answer: Would You Work Holidays And/Or Weekends?

There are several questions you might encounter during an interview for an internship or entry-level job. One question you’re likely to come across, particularly if you work in the hospitality or retail industries, is “Would you work holidays and/or weekends?”

Why do employers ask this? It’s to gauge your flexibility and your ability to juggle work and other commitments. In some cases, your answer can directly affect whether you’re hired for a position.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your answer.

1. Be realistic about your time.

If the employer is looking for someone who can be available 24/7, and you know that just isn’t feasible for you, be honest from the start rather than having that miscommunication later. It’s much easier to take on more work later than to scale back after you’ve agreed to perform the job.

Say something like: “I have no problem with working on holidays or weekends as long as I can set my schedule as far in advance as possible.”

Pro Tip: Don’t give more detail than necessary. If your grandma has already asked for your help executing Thanksgiving this year, that’s wonderful, but your future employer doesn’t need to know.

2. Know your limits.

Remember that the employer has needs too, one of which is the confidence that a candidate can fulfill all of a job’s requirements—time commitments being one of them. Still, most employers will work with you around legitimate concerns and/or scheduling issues if they feel as though you are the best person for the job and you’re straightforward with them about your scheduling needs from the start.

Say something like: “Unfortunately, because of my family commitments, I can’t commit to working every holiday, but I could definitely give up some when the company needs it.”

By demonstrating flexibility and commitment to the position, you’ll impress the interviewer and get one step closer to landing the job.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How Much Should I be Paid at an Entry-Level Job? and find answers to common interview questions such as Tell Me About an Accomplishment That You’re Most Proud Of.

How to Answer: Tell Me About a Time You Went Above and Beyond the Requirements for a Project

One of the more common interview questions you’ll get during an interview for an internship or entry-level job is: “Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond.” This interview question is industry and role-agnostic and the purpose of it is to understand whether you are the type of person to overachieve and reach for the stars, or whether you are the type of person who does exactly as they’re told, without ever questioning what you can do better.

Luckily, you can practice your answer to this question ahead of time, so here are some things to think about as you formulate your answer:

Think about a project where your original goal had been very clear.

Now explain the original goal in a clear and concise way. It’s important that you give an example where the interviewer can understand what was expected of you, before you try to ‘wow’ him with your story.

Discuss the opportunity you observed that made you think that going “above and beyond” would be beneficial.

For example, if you were given a goal to “eat a pie of pizza”, then eating two pizzas would not be beneficial toward accomplishing your goal. However, if you were given a goal to interview 3 people who ate pizza, but instead interviewed an entire restaurant, then you have a larger sample size, which can help you evaluate the survey outcomes more accurately.

Describe exactly how you went above and beyond the requirements.

It’s important to make sure that you’re using an example that shows YOU as the driver of ambition, and that you weren’t just following someone else’s over-achieving ways.

Explain the outcome.

Finally, explain the outcome, and why going ‘above and beyond’ was the right thing to do.

Extra points if you’re able to include a humble comment along the lines of: “When I’m passionate about something, I tend to be the type of person who goes above and beyond to get something done.”

Say something like: “In my summer internship in the strategy department at Pizzeria Dos, I was asked to find out what customers thought of our new white tablecloths (we had just switched from red tablecloths). I was told to ask 10 customers in total by stopping them on their way out of the restaurant. Instead, with my boss’s permission, I decided to add a small questionnaire to the checks of every customer who came in for the next 2 days. This way, I could reach more people in a scalable way, without bothering those who were in a hurry to get out. I printed the questionnaires on small pieces of paper, so the entire study cost no more than $10 in supplies. I then collected all 50 of the completed evaluations and learned that people hated the white tablecloths because they could see the stains from their dripping cheese too easily. I’m happy that I could deliver 500% of the number of opinions my boss wanted, and that I was able to do it without bothering customers and still getting an unbiased opinion.”

By answering this question with a specific example, you’ll be able to show the interviewer that you’re ready to go above and beyond your assigned duties and to be a team player for the company. This is a great way to show how motivated you are, and to stand out among the pool of other candidates.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 7 Phone Interview Tips That Will Land You a Second Interview and find answers to common interview questions such as What Motivates You?

How to Answer: What Are Your Salary Expectations?

Being fully prepared for the interview process means knowing what questions to anticipate. One of those questions is, “What are your salary expectations?” You won’t encounter this question during an internship interview, but it’s likely to come up if you’re interviewing for an entry-level job. Why do employers ask this? If you’re a recent college grad, it’s because they want to make sure that you have a sense of the industry you’re trying to enter and are coming into the job with realistic expectations.

Entry-level salaries vary by job type and industry, so knowing as much as possible about your field is extremely important when preparing to answer this question. Another thing to note is that entry-level salaries are most often not open to negotiation.

Here are some things to keep in mind when preparing to answer.

When it’s not appropriate to negotiate.

“If you’re recruited into a formal entry-level program (a program where a class of people starts together and trains together) the answer is likely going to be no to a salary negotiation,” explains Liane Hajduch, a former campus recruiter for RBC Capital Markets.

This includes fields like investment banking, consulting and engineering, all of which have structured salaries for entry-level jobs. If you’re entering one of those industries, it’s best not to negotiate! However, you should still come into the interview knowing the salary range for the position and having a clear sense of what to expect if you’re offered the job.

Say something like: “I expect to be paid a salary that is commensurate with the industry standard for an entry-level candidate joining this position.”

Pro tip: Sites like Payscale and Glassdoor offer a lot of information about salary ranges and can give you additional insights about a company including the average salary by job type.

When it is appropriate to negotiate.

If you’re entering a more creative field (think media or marketing) and have previous relevant experience, then negotiation might be possible. “I recommend doing your research on the industry and what similar entry-level hires are being paid,” explains Hajduch. “If you know your worth, and you have data to prove it, you’ll have a much stronger case than if you make it subjective or emotional.”

Once you’ve done the research and know the range for the position, be ready to show the interviewer that you have the skills and commitment to deserve the highest salary within that range.

Say something like: “I know the average salary for this type of entry-level position is in the $35,000-$40,000 range. I think that I would be a great fit for the role due to my past internship experience and I am expecting a salary within that range.”

Answering “What are your salary expectations?” effectively is easy if you come into the conversation prepared and with some solid research under your belt. Be confident and straightforward, but also remember that flexibility will go a long way toward making a good impression on the interviewer and the company.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as When to Start Applying for a Summer Internship and find answers to common interview questions such as Why Do You Want to Work Here?

How to Answer: What Was Your Favorite Class in College?

One of the most common interview questions you’ll encounter as a college student or recent grad is, “What was your favorite class?” The purpose of this question is to get an understanding of what you’re passionate about and to find out whether you take a thoughtful approach to your education.

Here are some tips to help you nail this answer.

Pick a class that was meaningful.

Before your interview, think about all the classes you’ve taken and focus on the ones that had the biggest impact on you. What do they have in common? Did they teach you a new skill or make you think about your life in a different way? Once you’ve narrowed down the list to a few classes, focus on the one that was most meaningful to you. For example, if you took a class that helped you overcome a huge personal or professional hurdle, be sure to mention that.

Say something like: “My favorite class was my sophomore year French class. I’ve always loved French and was able to read and write it well, but I struggled to carry on a conversation.”

Explain what you learned and what skills you picked up.

Once you’ve identified your favorite class, go into detail about why it was important to you. Did you learn something you’d been wanting to learn for a long time? Did it challenge you in a specific way? Talk about the skills you picked up and show the quantifiable impact of those skills.

Say something like: “Because this class focused a lot on developing conversation skills, I was able to get past that hurdle and now I can easily hold a conversation in French.”

Talk about whether you liked the professor and why.

The key to coming up with a thoughtful answer is to make it a detailed one. So in addition to quantifying the impact of the class itself, you can talk about the professor’s teaching style and whether they did anything specific to making learning easier and more fun.

Say something like: “I liked that the professor made the class fun and came up with activities that challenged us to expand our vocabularies and learn the language quickly.”

Show how this experience has shaped you.

Once you’ve outlined your reasons for picking this class, wrap up your answer by explaining how the experience has shaped you. If possible, be sure to also quantify its impact by showing how it led to an even bigger learning.

Say something like: “As a whole, the experience made me realize that things seem a lot less overwhelming once you actually dive in and that’s something that I plan to keep in mind as I start my professional life.”

Here’s how to bring it all together:

“My favorite class was my sophomore year French class. I’ve always loved French and was able to read and write it well, but I struggled to carry on a conversation. Because this class focused a lot on developing conversation skills, I was able to get past that hurdle and now I can easily hold a conversation in French. I liked that the professor made the class fun and came up with activities that challenged us to expand our vocabularies and learn the language quickly. As a whole, the experience made me realize that things seem a lot less overwhelming once you actually dive in and that’s something that I plan to keep in mind as I start my professional life.”

By giving a thoughtful and detailed answer, you’ll be sure to impress the interviewer and get one step closer to landing your dream job.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Get a Mentor at Work and find answers to other common interview questions such as Tell Me About Yourself.