Ask A Recruiter: How to Answer Those Important Pre-Interview Questions

Career_Girl_Yoh_Blog.jpgWhen looking for a job, you always want to put your best foot forward. You want to stand out, look attractive to hiring managers and at the very least, you want to secure that first interview. As a recruiting firm, we’re here to help you do that.

But before we get ahead of ourselves and before you have any conversations with a hiring manager, we always like to have that preliminary “get to know you” phone call. This call helps us learn more about you as a candidate. It helps us describe you in the best way possible to the most important audiences. We want to get down to the nitty gritty and ask questions that will tell us what kind of worker you are, what kind of skills you have and who you are as a person.

How to Answer Those Important Pre-Interview Questions

So we called up our resident recruiter-pro, Jessica Wisdom, and asked her what the most important questions she likes to bring up in the preliminary call are. Here are her top three, and a little helpful advice on how to make the most out of your answers. 


Q1: Tell me about a work accomplishment that you’re proud of.

This is where you let your skill-flag fly. Our recruiters ask this type of question to figure out what kind of achiever you are. Do you excel in communicating? Do you excel in hands-on projects? In writing projects? Team-based environments or individual work? Pick one good example from your past that highlights your strongest skills and discuss the process you went through to achieve your goal.

Anyone can say “I worked on a new mobile application for our company,” but that doesn’t help highlight the type of worker you are. Talk about the process you took to get there: “I led the UI/UX project team who was tasked with creating the user interface. I wrote the code and designed some of the graphics myself, and I was responsible for the part of the app that pulled data from another system (specify the system) that allowed it to…” And don’t be afraid to get excited. When discussing your most important achievement, you should feel a sense of pride. Let that feeling come through in your tone and your words, and any recruiter will be impressed by your passion.


Q2: What makes you unique?

Before we dive into this one, let’s talk about the ways you shouldn’t answer this question. The interviewer is not interested in the fact that you know how to play the mandolin, you’ve seen Titanic 54 times, or the fact that you can fit your whole fist in your mouth. Don’t confuse “uniqueness” with “fun fact.” This question should depict the value that you would bring to the company that maybe not everybody else would.

Here is a great place to bring up your professional background and any paths you’ve taken that might overlap. If you’re applying for a technical position in the financial services industry, but you only have ERP experience for a large manufacturing company, find a way to use that to your advantage. For example: “I bring a fresh set of eyes to the team. My previous ERP experience was for a manufacturing company, however we interfaced with the finance module all the time. We learned the ins and outs of financial data and cost structures in order to pull the right data.” This has nothing to do with the financial services industry specifically, but it is certainly a valuable skill when it comes to understanding the bigger picture of how financial data is used in business.

When preparing for this question (and really interviews in general,) just remember: examples, examples, examples. The more you can talk about specific and valuable stories, the more interviewers will see that you’re not just blowing smoke.


Q3: What kind of work environment do you thrive in and what workplace culture suits you the best?

This one is tricky because you don’t want to say the wrong thing. Of course you want to be viewed as the best fit for an open position, but you also must answer this question honestly to be sure the company is a right fit for you. If you’re more of the quiet type and prefer to work independently, then a company that thrives on collaboration and team building might not be the best place for you – and that’s okay.

Be honest, but at the same time it’s totally acceptable to be vague. You can say that you “thrive in a supportive and educational environment where you are constantly being challenged.” That’s a strong answer and many companies may consider themselves in that category. Or, you could get a little more specific and try to keep a balance. Example:  “When it comes to brainstorming and idea generation, I prefer to be part of a team – but when it comes to writing projects I prefer to put my head down and get the job done.”

Treat these preliminary calls as practice for the real thing. Our recruiters will help you pull out the most useful information to talk about with a hiring manager, but it’s up to you to come prepared with the best stories and best examples. Just remember to relax. You’ve already accomplished so much – now you just have to talk about it!


About the Author: Have a recruiter protocol or career-related question for Jessica? Drop her a line on Twitter at @JessicaWisdom1 and she’ll do her best to get back to you with an answer or a tip for improving how you engage with recruiters and land that dream job.

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