Aside from basic skills, you must show that you are enthusiastic—not just about the prospect of employment but about the industry in general and the company in particular. Before heading into an interview, think about why you would like this particular job, and why you want to work for this company. Offer specific examples when possible. First timers often make the mistake of waxing poetic on the many reasons why they were “born” to work in a particular industry. Show excitement without being fanatical.
Q: What led you to apply for a position in this industry?
YES: I've always wanted to work in an industry that makes tools. I enjoy working on home improvement projects, so I've collected a number of saws manufactured by your company. I could be an accountant anywhere, but I'd rather work for a company whose products I trust.
NO: Actually, it's not so much the industry that I am applying to as it is the position of marketing director. As my expertise lies in marketing—and virtually every company has a marketing team—I am not too concerned about the actual industry I work in. After all, marketing promotions work the same in every industry, right?
Talk about how you first became interested in this specific industry. Discuss the similarities between your current job and the job you are applying for. Be sure to emphasize that you are looking for a career, not just a job! Make sure that your enthusiasm for the industry—and work in general—comes through in all of your answers (where appropriate, of course).
Q: What makes you think you'd be particularly good at this job?
YES: My academic career included several classes in business and marketing. Additionally, in my current internship, I have frequently been given the chance to help promote our products by attending trade shows, helping in the development of flyers and sales catalogs, and sitting in on meetings with the company sales department. I have been commended for my willingness to voice opinions and offer new ideas on how we could better market our products. I am forward thinking, and I always try to keep up with current trends and tendencies. I think that my creativity and strong writing skills would augment the success I could have as part of your marketing team.
NO: I can't say anything specific. Suffice it to say that when I saw the job description in the newspaper, I knew it was something I could probably do well in.
The question is specifically asking about which skills and characteristics you possess that could help you succeed. Think about the kind of person that would be perfectly compatible with the job you are applying for. What skills do you possess that reflect this perfect candidate? Discuss how you keep up with the industry. Read the trade magazines and visit various organizational meetings and websites to find out about current trends. Make it part of your job to keep current, and make sure the interviewer knows that you are doing this.
Q: How do you stay current?
YES: I pore over the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Institutional Investor, and several mutual fund newsletters. I subscribe to a number of RSS feeds and blogs and am active on social media sites like LinkedIn. I also have a number of friends who are financial analysts, and we often discuss the business amongst ourselves.
NO: I read the newspaper every day. Though most of my time is spent browsing through the sports pages, I do take a quick glance to see what is happening in the business world as well.
This question relates to the previous one. Show the employer that your interest in a specific job or field does not end at 5 p.m. Talk about the many ways that—even outside of work—you keep up with your business. It could be that you spend your lazy Sunday mornings reading trade magazines; there's no shame in sharing this with the interviewer. If you are a member of any professional trade organization, now is the time to talk about it. Do you attend regular meetings or chat frequently with the other members? Show the employer that this position is not just a way to make a living, but a way of life for you. This question also provides you with an opportunity to share your experience and knowledge of new technology that can help keep you up to date on industry and professional issues.
Q: Why is it that you have decided to make this industry your career?
YES: The technology in the industry is changing so rapidly that I see lots of room for job enhancement, regardless of promotions. I'm particularly interested in the many applications for multimedia as a training tool.
NO: I know that the salary range for top professionals in this field extends well into the six-figure bracket. As I hope to save enough money to retire by the time I am fifty, this is exactly the kind of money I'll need to make to achieve that goal.
The interviewer wants to make sure that any time and energy spent on training you will be money well spent and that you will remain with the organization for several years to come. Think about why you have chosen this specific industry or job as a career and what it has to offer you in the future. Don't mention money! You want to assure the interviewer that by selecting you for the job, she is selecting a competent and loyal employee who will look forward to many years of continued growth with the company.
Other key factors to keep in mind when answering this question are what expectations you have for the industry as a whole and what aspects of the business excite you. Though it may seem redundant, the key to a successful interview is to drill your “themes” into the interviewer's head. If you need to mention on more than one occasion your deep interest in the industry or your membership in a professional society, so be it. Be sure to offer specific proof of your long-held interest in the industry and not just your very recent decision to make it your life's career. Passion for your work is one thing that should never be taken for granted.
Is the firm you're interviewing with hiring for the long- or short-term? This is a key point you should be able to find out from the job description. That said, avoid saying you're interested in employment to tide you over for the next six months or so. The same rule applies if they're hiring short-term and you're looking for a job that will see you through retirement.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
YES: I would like to think that in five years I could be managing my own department within the company. As I have served directly under department heads in the past, I think that I have learned valuable lessons as to what it takes to be a good leader. I would like to have the chance to use these skills and, I hope, to make a difference within the company.
NO: I see myself running my own business. As a leader in the field, I think that working for your company would certainly prepare me for the daunting task of running a business. I am really hoping to learn the business from the ground up here and then work to apply that to my own company.
Here's one instance in which you don't want your answer to be too specific. If you think you would like to see yourself at a management level, say so, but refrain from giving an exact job title such as senior vice president of financial affairs. Showing that you are achievement motivated is one thing; telling the interviewer that you are out to get others fired is another. Use this question as a way to talk about your greatest skills. Again, be realistic. If you are being hired for the mailroom, it is unlikely that you will be running the show within the next five years. Though confidence and a desire to be promoted are all valuable to an employer, an employee who is living in his or her own fixed reality is another story. One way to surely eliminate yourself from consideration for a job is to state unrelated career goals. If you're applying for a job as an accountant, it is not wise to tell the interviewer that in five years you hope to be the host of your own late-night talk show!