Whether you’re looking for an internship or your first full-time job out of college, there are a few interview questions that are essential to understand.
In short, potential employers want to learn about you and what you bring to the table. They want reassurance that by working with you, they’ll be able to achieve their goals without having to worry about the work you’ll produce. An interview is really learning about what drives someone and what can be expected of them. Most importantly, an interview is about finding out how someone will mesh with the rest of the team.
As a former student and now a graphic design professional, here are some essential interview questions I’ve asked interviewees (along with the deeper meaning behind the questions).
1. Tell me about yourself.
What they’re really asking: Tell me something I didn’t read on your resume.
Your resume and portfolio likely helped you land your interview in the first place. If a potential employer has called you in for an interview, they’ve reviewed it. They know about what school you went to and the jobs you’ve done. They already know what organizations you volunteer for and what your skills are. This question is your way to stand out from the very start.
Instead of focusing on past accomplishments, focus on your motivations. Tell your interviewer why you’re pursing this job, what drives you, what projects you’re comfortable working on and what your goals are for the future. Remember – keep it short. You have a whole interview in front of you to answer technical questions. Give a casual overview that opens the door to future questions while framing you as an ideal employee.
2. What do you know about our company?
What they’re really asking: Have you done your research and put time into this interview? Does this position really matter to you?
Here’s the thing – anyone can go online and check out a company’s home page. If you haven’t done this for past interviews, you’re missing the mark. However, because anyone can do it, this isn’t a fantastic way to stand out. Simply stating what a company does won’t get you much further than simply answering “I don’t really know.” It’s expected. However, going above and beyond might not be. To ace this question, prepare for your interview in advance, as 80% of interview work should be done before you step foot in the door.
You should also check their social media interactions and find out what past customers are saying. Look at your potential employer’s mission and vision statements – find out how they are living up to them. Read their blog. Look at the competition and where the company is positioned in their industry. Talk about how your skills can help take them to the next level. This also opens the door to ask any questions you may have come up with during your research. You could go even further. If you notice an obvious weakness on the employer’s website or from talking with current employees, you could take the bold step of preparing an action plan to address it.
Maybe their blog is hard to navigate, or they need a refresh or redesign of their website. Tread carefully though – depending on who is interviewing you, you may be speaking with the person who originally set it up that way. By demonstrating an understanding that goes deeper than the surface, you’re showing that you’re a driven potential employee. You’re showing that you are taking this interview seriously and that you’ve done your homework. If you’ll put the extra effort in before the interview, what will you do as an actual employee? The sky is the limit.
3. What’s your greatest weakness?
What they’re really asking: How honest are you willing to be?
Employers have been asking this question for decades. Do you think they’re expecting you to come totally clean by explaining you have a hard time getting to work on time, your work can be sloppy and you’re not always the most popular person at the office? Absolutely not. Instead, your potential employer is trying to gauge your ability to critique yourself and to speak honestly.
To answer this question, look for a negative that could be a positive as well. Something like, “I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to meet deadlines, which can be stressful. However, this pressure usually produces my best work.” Turning a negative into a positive shows you’re willing to be honest, but that you’re also an asset to any team regardless of potential weaknesses.
4. What is your greatest accomplishment?
What they’re really asking: What does success mean to you?
Your potential employer really does care about your greatest accomplishments. They want to know about projects you’ve completed and how you perform under pressure. However, this question generally means something more. The definition of success varies from one person to the next, even from one company to another. By asking you what your greatest accomplishment is, the interviewer is trying to find out how you define success.
They want to know if you’re in it for a paycheck or if there’s something deeper. Think about your answer to this question in advance. Talk about your work and about what you accomplished, but try to frame it as something that helped something greater – a previous employer, a team member or something more personal. When you include the bigger picture in your answer, you’re demonstrating your ability to work for something greater than yourself.
5. Where would you like to be in five years?
What they’re really asking: Is this job a good fit for you?
This isn’t a trick question; no company expects all new employees to be there for life. However, your potential employer wants to know that you’re a student or graduate with serious goals that match your potential for growth at their company. They want to know you don’t see this job as merely a paycheck and that you won’t leave as soon as something better or new comes up; they’re looking for commitment. Be careful in how you answer this.
Instead of naming a specific position, talk about what you’d like to be doing in 5 years. Think about the skills you’d like to further develop and to have mastered in the next 5 years. Talk about the projects you’d like to have worked on and where you’d like to be in your career: a manager? A supervisor? Someone who assigns projects or trains and mentors other designers? There are many options, so answering properly all depends on their framing.
6. Tell me about your creative process.
What they’re really asking: Do you even have a creative process?
To answer this question, you don’t want to make yourself look like you can’t stray from the creative process you currently use. However, you definitely want to demonstrate your experience, so this can be tricky. Your future employer wants to know whether you are a tedious designer who takes every project seriously; this means using a process that works and that has helped you achieve success in the past.
Think about your process. Do you first meet with a client to ask questions and learn about their goals before sitting down to brainstorm? How many creative drafts do you create for presentation prior to approval? Where and when do you do your best work? Are you flexible? How do you come up with and meet strict or tight deadlines? All of these questions make up your approach to creating solid designs. By taking the time to outline how you perform, you’re demonstrating an ability to stay focused. Think through your process and be ready to explain it if asked to do so.
7. What blogs, related to this job, do you read?
What they’re really asking: How much do you really care about this industry and becoming a better worker?
Blogs related to your industry are everywhere. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people with online portfolios and blogs just waiting to be browsed. This means your interviewer probably doesn’t care which design blogs you mention. In fact, depending on where you’re interviewing, they might not know any design blogs by name. Instead, your potential client or employer wants to know how much you really care about becoming a better designer.
They want to know whether you’re humble enough to know that you don’t know everything and you spend time looking for ways to improve. They want to know whether you’re open to learning more and driven to go about this, even in your spare time. If you’re not paying attention to other designers and following their blogs, the time to start is now.
8. Are there any projects you would not be able to work on?
What they’re really asking: Are you adaptable?
Your future employer needs to know that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to be an asset to their company. This means you need to be adaptable and willing to accept any and all projects, even if they don’t fall in your standard scope of work. This doesn’t mean a “no, I’m able to do any project,” is acceptable.
Instead, talk about how you handle situations you’re not the most comfortable with. Answer with something like “I am most comfortable working on XYZ. However, when something comes up that I’m not experienced with, I’m willing to do research and to put in the extra work to make it happen.” This type of answer shows you do not see yourself as perfect and that you’re willing to go above and beyond at all times.
9. How do you handle criticism against someone that has a different vision than you do?
What they’re really asking: Are you flexible and easy to work with?
In certain industries, such as graphic design position, criticism a given. You’re going to produce work clients aren’t happy with, or that requires changes, even if you see the completed project as perfect. Your potential employer wants to know how you’ll handle this situation. They want to know you don’t see a project as set in stone and that you’re willing to put the needs and desires of your clients above your own visions for a project. Be honest and explain that at all points, your focus is on pleasing your clients and you’re willing to create work that does just that.
10. Do you have any questions for me?
What they’re really asking: How interested are you after everything weave discussed?
This isn’t a trick question; your employer wants to know what you’ve taken from the interview and what you need to know to get started. Bottom line: the answer to this question should never be “no.” Instead, look back over notes you’ve taken during your interview and think about the research you’ve done before you came in for the interview.
Ask questions about the company, about the team you’d be working with, about standard projects and deadlines. Ask when you can expect to be informed about next steps. Stay away from questions about salaries – the company will let you know the answer when they are ready. Once you’ve aced your interview, don’t forget to follow up with a thank you note – email is acceptable – that mentions key talking points and what you took from the interview, reaffirming your position as a solid candidate for the position.
This demonstrates interest and may be what puts you over the top. An interview doesn’t have to be an intimidating mystery. Instead, it’s your chance to stand out and to show that you have what it takes to take your career to the next level. Think about the questions listed above, what they really mean and how you’ll answer them. Then, go out and put your preparation to work. There’s no reason you can’t ace your next interview.