A comedian once spoke of a chance meeting he had with a certain movie star known for his rather eccentric ways and unique speech pattern. According to the comic, the exchange went something like this:
Comic: Hey, I haven't seen you in awhile. How's it goin'?
Star: Frankenstein never scared me!
It's a great bit and a great reminder of how important it is to be connected to the conversation you're having with the other person—not the one you may be having in your head.
There are certain times you should never be unprepared to properly respond. A job interview is definitely one of those times.
Always be mindful of the fact that the interviewer is looking to fill a position in which you have expressed an interest. This person is concerned with how the person across the desk (you) will benefit the company if hired.
If you were asked the following typical interview questions, consider what your answer would be:
Question: What motivates you to perform and excel?
Wrong Answer: Believe it or not, some people have been known to answer with a reference to their family, i.e., "My kids are my greatest motivation," or, "I am motivated to perform so I don't lose my job," or even, "My spouse and I are looking for a larger home, and the only way we can afford it is if I start making more money."
When answering the above question, it's important to remember, this is a Job interview, not Good Morning America!
The point is the answer should relay specifically how your motivation will be beneficial to the company.
Better Answer: Say something like, "Knowing that doing my part to increase our customer base will eventually lead to bigger and better things going forward with this organization," or, "I'm motivated by challenges I'm certain will be a part of my tenure here, such as [insert related challenges here]."
Most hiring managers are far more interested in a potential employee whose motivation is company-centric versus the "feel good" answers some are compelled to give.
Let's try another one.
Question: Why do you want to leave your present position?
Wrong answer: My boss is a total jerk, and if I have to spend one more minute in that office, I may commit Harry Carry!
(While this may be true, degrading your current employer will only serve to make you look small and petty.)
Better answer: I've heard great things about this company and was excited for the opportunity to be a part of the team when I learned of this opening.
Here's another one.
Question: What are your salary expectations?
Note: While the proper time to openly disclose your salary preferences varies, the bottom line is when you are ready to answer that question, there are right and wrong ways to do so.
Wrong answer: What ever ya'll think I'm worth will be fine by me.
Better answer: Based on the research I've done on others in similar positions and my own experience level, I believe my salary range should fall somewhere between (blank) and (blank).
(Answering this question should be tactful and concise. This is no time to be timid or bashful. You should always be well armed with this information prior to the interview)
And, one more.
Question: Why don't you tell me about yourself?
Wrong answer: I like sleeping late and getting off work early enough to get home so I can watch my favorite television program. I'm a staunch (insert political affiliation here) and I'm proud of it! I love the outdoors (unless you're applying for a job where "loving" the outdoors is essential to your position), and I'm an avid croquet player (unless this skill is required to fulfill the position you're applying for).
It's important to bear in mind that this question isn't being posed by someone you just met at a social gathering. This person wants to know how you and your skills are going to fit in this environment.
Better answer: I studied (subject apropos to the job) at (school where you studied said subject). My interest concerning this subject is how I can use those skills in order to be instrumental in producing the best widget known to man (assuming this is a widget manufacturer).
The point here is to make certain your response speaks directly to what the interviewer hopes to achieve.
The above question and answer session is just the tip of the iceberg. But it should provide you with enough fodder to realize the importance of being prepared, and the devastating outcomes that are possible if you're not.
So, do yourself a favor and spend some time preparing your answers before they are asked. Practice with a mate or friend prior to the event. Doing so will help you feel more at ease during the interview process, and will make you appear polished and professional when the time comes.