When reading the sample questions and following discussions, try to come up with a sample answer yourself. Think of how you would respond to such a question and what points you would want to emphasize in different situations. It’s much easier to think of an answer now than when you’re in front of an interviewer. Don’t be afraid to refine your response if you find that it isn’t effective. Finally, make sure that every response positions you as a valuable employee.
Always pay attention to who is asking this question. If it’s a human-resource representative scheduling interviews, be honest and tell him what you want to do. The HR rep will generally use this information to set up interviews with appropriate groups.
If you’re asked this question by a more-technical interviewer, watch out! If you answer this question poorly, you won’t get an offer. These interviewers ask this question partly because they want to find out your goals and ambitions. If you want to do something different from the job that is available, your interviewer will probably decide that you should look for a different job. If you want the job, make sure you indicate that you’re interested in doing it, sound sincere, and give a reason. For example, you could say, “I’ve always been interested in systems-level programming and really enjoy it, so I’m hoping to join a large company and do systems-level work.” Or, you could say, “I want to do Web programming so I can show my work to my friends. I’m hoping to do this at a start-up where I can use my Web server experience and watch the company grow.”
Sometimes, you may not be sure what specific kind of job you’re interviewing for. In these cases, you can always fall back on describing the company you’re applying to as the ideal company for you. Mention that you’re hoping to do development that’s exciting and provides a lot of opportunity to contribute and learn. You can say that you see the work as just one part of the package; other important parts are the team and the company. This sort of response shows that you have your act together and prevents you from talking your way out of a job.
There is a fine line between sounding enthusiastic and seeming dateless and desperate. No one wants an employee who has been rejected by everyone else. Make sure your answer never sounds like you’d be happy to take any sort of job the company would be willing to offer. This sort of response virtually guarantees nothing more than a “thank you for coming in” letter.
It’s also possible that you know exactly what you want to do and wouldn’t accept any other kind of job. If so, don’t talk yourself up for a job you’d never accept anyway. This approach may prevent you from getting some job offers, but they aren’t jobs that you want anyway. One advantage to expressing exactly what you want to do is that even if you don’t begin the day interviewing with an interesting group, you may end the day interviewing with such a group.
One final note on answering this question: It’s a good opportunity to mention that you want to work with a great team - don’t pass it up. Make sure that being a member of a great team comes across as one of your priorities.
This may seem like a technical question, and there are certainly technical aspects to it. You want to give specific, technical reasons why you like any language that you mention, but there is also a hidden non-technical agenda in this question. Many people develop almost religious attachment to certain languages, computers, or operating systems. These people can be difficult to work with because they often insist on using their favorites even when they are ill-suited to the problem at hand. You should be careful to avoid coming across as such a person. Acknowledge that there are some tasks for which your favorite language is a poor choice. Mention that you are familiar with a range of languages and that you believe that no one language is a universal solution. It’s important to pick the best tool for the job.
This advice holds for other “favorites” questions, such as “What is your favorite kind of computer?” or “What is your favorite operating system?”
This question usually indicates that the company you’re interviewing with has an unorthodox work style. For example, it may be a start-up requiring long hours in cramped conditions or a larger company that’s just beginning a new project. Or perhaps they’re fervent believers in the two-person team programming model. In any case, know what your work style is and make sure it’s compatible with the company.
This question is one that everyone should practice and have an answer for. We cannot overemphasize this! Make sure your answer highlights specific achievements and be enthusiastic as you talk about your projects. Enthusiasm is extremely important!
Talk not only about the factual aspects of your previous assignments, but also about what you learned. Talk about what went right, but also what went wrong. Describe positive and negative experiences and what you learned from each of them. Keep your response to around 30–60 seconds, depending on your experience. Again, be sure to practice this ahead of time.
This question gives you a chance to explain why you want this job (apart from the money) and how you see it fitting into your overall career. This is similar to the question about what you want to do. The employer is concerned that you may not want to do the job. In this case, it is because the job may not fit into your career goals. It’s certainly okay to be confused about what you want to do - many people are. Try to have at least a general idea of where you see yourself going. Your answer might be as simple as, “I’m hoping to work in development for a while and work on some great projects. Then, I’m looking to go into project management. Beyond that, it’s hard to say.” This answer shows motivation and convinces the employer that you’ll succeed on the job.
Interviewers generally want to know what you don’t like to do. Clearly, you don’t like your last job or you would probably still be there. In addition, there’s a fear that you may be trying to cover a weakness that caused you to leave your last job. Therefore, try to answer this question by citing either a change in environment, a factor out of your control, or a weakness that the interviewer already knows. For example, to cite a change in environment you could say, “I’ve worked in a large company for five years and experienced the software development process for a mature product. I no longer want to be a number in a large company. I want to join a start-up and be a key person from the ground up and watch something grow.” Or, you could answer, “I worked at a start-up that didn’t have its act together. Now I want to work at a company that does.”
To cite a factor out of your control, you could say, “My current company has given up on the project I’ve been working on and they’re trying to relocate me to something that I don’t find interesting.” Or, you could respond, “My company was acquired and the whole atmosphere has changed since then.”
It’s also generally acceptable to cite a weakness that the interviewer already knows. You could say, “My last job required extensive systems-level programming. I was way behind everyone else on that topic, and I don’t find that sort of work very exciting. I’m much more interested in doing Web programming, which I do have experience in.”
One final note: Even though money is often a good reason to change jobs, be careful about citing it as a prime reason. This raises the possibility that your current employer doesn’t offer you more money because you’re not that valuable and you’re hoping someone else won’t notice this fact.
This question may appear in any context. It’s most common, though, either at the initial screening or when the company has decided to make you an offer. If it’s asked at the beginning, the employer may want to know if it’s even worth talking to you, given your salary expectations, or the employer may genuinely have no idea what the position should pay. It is generally considered wise to put this question off as long as possible. It is not in your interest to discuss numbers until you’ve convinced the potential employer of your value. If you can’t escape this question in the early stages of an interview, try to give a range of salaries with the amount that you want at the low end. This gives you good bargaining room later.
If you’re asked the question near the end of the process, this can only indicate good things. If the interviewer has no interest in hiring you at this point, he won’t bother asking this question. Generally, larger companies have less latitude in compensation packages than smaller companies. If you’re asked this question, it probably indicates the company is willing to negotiate. It’s important to realize companies are often unaware of how to make a competitive offer. This is your chance to tell them how to do exactly that.
First, it’s important to do your homework ahead of time when answering this question. If you find that people with similar jobs in your area are making $40,000–$55,000 a year, you’re probably not going to make $80,000 a year. Second, never undersell yourself. If you’re looking for an annual salary of $70,000, don’t tell an employer that you’re looking for around $60,000 a year with the hope that the employer will, for some reason, offer more. This response makes it almost impossible for the employer to make a good offer. Third, consider carefully what you want in a total compensation package. You may be graduating from college and want a signing bonus to offset the costs of finding an apartment, moving, and placing deposits. Or, you may be looking to join a start-up offering generous stock options and slightly lower salaries. In any case, it’s important to figure out exactly what you’re looking for in terms of bonuses, benefits, stock options, and salary.
In general, try not to tip your hand too early when answering this question. The person with more information generally does better in a negotiation. Instead of answering a question about salary directly, ask what range the interviewer is prepared to offer. There are four possible answers to your question.
First, the range may be about what you expected. In this case, you can usually gain a slightly higher salary by following these rules: First, try not to act too excited - stay cool. Next, say that you had a similar but slightly higher range in mind, setting your minimum at the maximum of the offered range. For example, if the employer says, “We’re expecting to pay $40,000 to $45,000,” you should respond, “That seems about right. I’m looking to make $45,000 to $50,000 and hoping for the high end of that range.” Finally, negotiate in a professional manner until you agree on a number with the interviewer; you’ll probably receive an offer between $43,000 and $48,000.
The second possibility is that the negotiator starts with a range higher than you expected. This is great!
In the third case, the negotiator may not answer your question. He or she may give a response like “We have a wide range of salaries depending on the applicant. What were you expecting?” This response is actually quite favorable because it indicates that he or she probably has the authority to pay you a competitive salary. The response shows that the negotiator is willing to negotiate, but it also indicates that you may be subject to some hardball negotiating skills. Bearing in mind that negotiation will follow, respond with one number, the high end of your range. This gives you room to negotiate and still receive a favorable offer. For example, if you’re expecting between $55,000 and $60,000, say, “I’m expecting $60,000 a year.” Presenting it like this leaves the other negotiator less room to lowball you than if you give a range. Avoid weaker expressions like “I’m hoping for …” or “I’d really like …” The negotiator may accept your number, or may try to negotiate a slightly lower salary. If you remain professional and negotiate carefully, your final salary should fall within your desired range. Alternatively, the negotiator may respond by telling you that the company has a substantially lower range in mind. In this case, your response should be the same as in option four, which is described next.
The fourth option is that the offer may be less than you expected. In these cases, here are some tactics to try to increase the offer. First, re-emphasize your skills and state the salary range you were expecting. For example, if you were offered a salary of $35,000 but were expecting $50,000, you may say, “I have to admit I’m a little disappointed with that offer. Given my extensive experience with Web development and the contributions I can make to this company, I’m expecting a salary of $50,000.” The negotiator may need time to get back to you, which is perfectly fine. If the negotiator doesn’t increase the offer after hearing your range, he or she will often cite one of the following three reasons:
That amount wasn’t budgeted.
Similar employees at the company don’t make that much.
Your experience doesn’t warrant such a salary.
None of these is an acceptable reason. First, the budget may be a constraint on the company, but it shouldn’t be a constraint on your salary. If the company really wants you, it will find the money and a way around this artificial barrier. If the company truly can’t find the money, it’s such a cash-strapped, close-to-death organization that you probably don’t want to work there anyway.
Second, it doesn’t matter what the company pays other employees. That’s between the company and those employees. Other employees shouldn’t determine your compensation. You can respond by saying, “I wasn’t aware that my compensation would be tied to other employees’ compensations. I’m looking for a package that is commensurate with my skills of X and believe that $Y is such a package.”
Finally, if you’ve done your homework, you know your experience and skills do warrant such a salary and the company is trying to lowball you. Simply re-emphasize your skills and explain that, after doing your research, you know your desired salary is indeed the competitive market salary. The company may realize it is out of touch with the market and increase its offer.
If the negotiator does not increase the offer but you still want the job, you have two last-ditch tactics. First, you can say that you’re tempted to take the job, but that you’d like a salary review in six months to discuss your performance and compensation. You generally have a much stronger hand before you join a company, so you shouldn’t expect miracles. Most negotiators, however, will grant this request. Make sure you get it in writing if you go this route. Second, try to negotiate other parts of the package. For example, you may be able to get additional vacation days, flex hours, or a sign-on bonus.
Here are a few final thoughts on the salary issue. Some people are embarrassed or shy about talking about salary. You should realize that you’re already looking to engage in a business relationship, and salary is just one more part of the picture. No employer expects you to work for free, and there’s no reason you should act as if compensation isn’t important.
Many negotiators will cite factors such as benefits or work style to draw you to a company. These factors may be important reasons to join a company, and you’d certainly want all of the benefits spelled out. These perks, though, are generally not negotiable. Don’t bother discussing non-negotiable factors in a negotiation, and don’t get sidetracked if your negotiator mentions them.
This is a different question from what you are expecting to make. In this case, the negotiator wants to know your previous salary - most likely to use this as a guide to determine your offer. If this question is raised (unless you were very happy with your previous salary), politely answer that you expect compensation appropriate for the new job and responsibilities and that the compensation that you received for a different set of tasks isn’t relevant. In addition, resist any temptation to inflate your old salary because you may be asked to back up any claim with pay stubs or other proof.
This question is obnoxious, rude, and belittling. It implies that there’s no obvious reason why you’re qualified for the job. Clearly, you have skills and experience that make you qualified; otherwise, the interviewer wouldn’t be talking to you. In these instances, avoid becoming defensive and reciting your résumé to list your qualifications. Instead, keep things positive by talking about why you want to work at the company and why the job is a good match for your skills. This response shows you can handle criticism and may deflect your interviewer.
Conventional wisdom has always said to ask a question because it shows enthusiasm. Nothing spoils a good interview, though, like asking a stupid question right at the end. Asking a contrived question just because you feel you should won’t count in your favor. A thoughtful and articulate question can tell you a lot about the company and impress your interviewer. Often, your interviewer doesn’t tell you what he or she does. This is a good time to ask. It lets you know more about what you would potentially be doing and shows genuine interest in the person. In addition, if the interviewer mentioned anything during the interview that sounded interesting, ask for more detail about it. This can yield further insight into your potential future employer. Finally, if you don’t have questions, you can make a joke of it. You could say, “Gee, I know that I’m supposed to ask a question, but the people I interviewed with this morning answered all my questions. I guess you’re off the hook!”