If you are an undergrad facing your first interview you need to know how to answer the two hardest interview questions for college students.
While you are likely well qualified to answer most questions about your experience and your goals for the future, two top interview questions are always hard for college students to answer: Tell Me About Yourself and Tell Me About a Time You Failed.
What Are Interviewer’s Looking For?
When it comes to answering tricky interview questions, interviewers are looking for students to answer each question calmly, clearly, and with confidence.
It’s easy to ramble on and on while trying to tell your interviewer about yourself. In fact, many people will make a major interview mistake by continuing to talk about things that are not relevant to the interview.
If you want to show your interviewer what a good fit you are, it is worth practicing these two interview questions.
Tell Me About a Time that You Failed or Made a Major Mistake
When an interviewer asks you to tell them about a time that you failed or made a mistake they are not looking for a chance to correct you or make fun of you. What they are looking for is a chance to see how you discuss hard things professionally – and there is often nothing harder then talking about our own mistakes.
Tip 1: Be Truthful
When thinking about your answer, you want to choose something that is truthful and factual. Avoid the temptation of making up a mistake to make yourself look better.
Instead, pick a mistake that really happened to you, and one where you can show how the issue was resolved. The interviewer wants to see how you can talk about difficult things.
Tip 2: Acknowledge What You Did
When talking about your a mistake make clear what you added to the problem. Potential employers like to know that you will take responsibility and bring mistakes to their attention if you are fired. Blaming someone else or trying to hide your mistakes are big red flags for potential employers.
When choosing a mistake to talk about, try to pick an example where what you did is easy to talk about and explain.
Tip 3: Outline How You Fixed It
Your interviewer wants to know how you made things right after making your mistake. It is important to take the time to explain how you fixed your error so the interviewer can see how you thinking things through and resolve conflicts.
If there was no way for you to fix the mistake in the moment, take your time explaining how you would do things differently if presented with a similar situation. This shows interviewers that you have taken the time to reflect on your actions.
An Example Answer to Tell Me About When You Made a Major Mistake
While I was interning at Company X, I missed a critical deadline to provide an outline for the scheduling module I was helping to create. At the time, I was unfamiliar with how the company documented feature requests, and so my initial outline did not include a number of key features that my manager was looking for. Because of this, I had to revise my outline and technical specs again with one of the company’s engineers. This led to a number of scheduling challenges as the engineer was also working on another project. While I was able to complete the outline with the features they requested, it was delivered a week behind schedule. Throughout the process I maintained close contact with my manager so that the delay was not a surprise and we could account for it as the project progressed. Faced with the same situation again, I would have reached out directly to my manager a senior engineer to make sure that I was aware of all the necessary requirements going into the project.
Tell Me About Yourself
Students and professionals often find the tell me about yourself question to be tricky. It can be hard to know whether the interviewer is looking for information about what you do in your personal life or what you do in your professional or academic life.
To make answering this question easier, we recommend answering this question in three parts.
Part 1: Talk About Now
In the first part of your answer to the tell me about yourself question, talk about who are you are right now in the present. What best describes you in a professional setting?
In this part of your answer, you want to share a little bit about what you are currently interested in, especially as it relates to the job you are applying for.
Part 2: Talk About Then
In the second part of your answer, you should talk about the past. This is likely the longest part of your answer, but should still only be two to three sentences long for most students. In this section you want to emphasize previous experiences and how they shaped your interests.
Part 3: Talk about The Future
In the last part of your answer you should talk about your future goals. These should include getting the current position you are applying for and what you hope to learn or skills you hope to develop. In this section, don’t focus on laying out a multiyear plan for your development. Instead, focus on what you hope to gain just in the position you are applying for.
An Example Answer to Tell Me About Yourself
I’m a recent health policy graduate from the University of Forever looking to build on my previous experiences within geriatrics and aging.
I previously interned with Dr. M. L. Example, an scientist in residence at the Cityville Center for Aging, where I developed a passion for advocating for the needs of older adults. I later worked alongside representatives to the Statesville Legislature as an student aide with a focus on policies impacting senior citizens.
I hope to join a team like the one here at XYZ Policy Group where I can continue to raise awareness about the unique needs of our state’s aging population and their medical needs.
A well crafted answer to the Tell me About Yourself question can show an interviewer that you are skilled, capable, and reflective and can serve as a type of verbal cover letter to the rest of your interview.
At the Balkhi Foundation, we believe in providing educational resources for undergraduate students to help level the playing field through education. We hope that you found this resource helpful as you continue to work towards your future career.