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Beware These Job Interview Questions. Then Nail Your Answers.

Man and woman at job interview in conference room

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The conventional wisdom around what questions to expect during a job interview hasn’t changed in a very, very long time. How often have you been advised to expect job interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, or your five-year plan, or reasons for leaving your job? Of course, one of the main reasons advice like this is so common is that it is, in fact, good advice – as are other tips like writing a thank-you letter after an interview. But if these are the only questions you expect going into an interview, you might end up getting a curveball that throws you off your game. SaaS companies are full of outside-the-box thinkers, and this extends to the way they approach interviews. Don’t just expect the expected – expect the unexpected. 

 

Here are some types of job interview questions you might get the next time you enter a tech office in search of a sales, marketing, or customer success role – and tips for how to answer them.

1. The open-ended hypothetical job interview question

Anyone can cherry pick real examples of prior success and highlight them during an interview. It’s much harder to answer a job interview question about how you’d react in a situation that you haven’t actually been in before. In interviews for sales roles, this is likely to occur during a role-play exercise, in which your interviewer acts as a resistant sales prospect during a demo or cold call in order to test your objection handling skills. In this scenario, it’s crucial to educate yourself ahead of time not just on the value props of the product you’re applying to sell, but the common misunderstandings or resistance around it, so you can be ready with an answer when that resistance is expressed.

 

For other roles, these hypotheticals may take other, more straightforward forms. In a marketing role, for example, your interviewer may ask how you’d react if a campaign you’d put together had failed to generate a good volume or quality of leads. Before your interview, try to mine your actual experience for examples of role-specific challenges you’ve successfully overcome – if your interviewer gives you a hypothetical that’s not actually hypothetical, that makes things that much easier. Beyond that, do some reflection ahead of time. What are some common, and uncommon, things that can go wrong for someone in your role, and how would you react? You can’t anticipate every possible question, but the closer you can come, the better.

2. The “salary expectations” question – earlier than you expect it

The conventional wisdom around job interview questions is that you probably won’t be asked about your salary expectations until the later stages of the process. But now, more and more, we’re seeing this question come up as early as the first round. After all, each open role typically has a budget allocated to it, and it makes sense to find out early if a candidate’s salary expectations fall within that budget.

 

It’s crucial to have a number ready when this question comes. And in deciding on that number, it’s crucial to know your worth. Do your research – what’s the standard pay range for someone in the role you’re applying for in the region where you live? Don’t be afraid to high-ball this number a bit, expecting a counter-offer. Do some thinking as well: consider how the benefits package may affect your salary expectations, and don’t be afraid to respond to the salary question with a benefits question of your own.

3. What do you know about this role, and why do you want it?

Among the many job interview questions everyone tells you to expect is: “Why are you leaving your current company?” Less common: “Why do you want this job?” It should arguably be the easiest question of the interview. But you may find yourself thrown off by it. After all, you can’t simply offer “I want more money” or “my current job is a nightmare and I’ll take any chance I get to leave” as an answer.

 

A better approach is to tie this to the classic job interview question of where you see yourself a few years down the line. What are your short-, medium-, and long-term career ambitions, and how will this role help you get there? What is it about the company’s mission that you find compelling and inspiring, and that connects with the kind of impact you want your career to have on the world? Put some thought into this one – a truly solid answer here can kick you up a level or two as a candidate.

4. Digging into your cross-functional skills

Don’t be surprised if your interviewer asks how skilled you are in a separate, but related, job function. This is particularly common in early-stage startups or on teams that aren’t fully built out yet. People who work on these teams often have to wear several different hats. Hybrid roles are common. A content marketer, for example, may be asked not just to write the copy for a case study, but to design the PDF as well. CSMs may need to bring some sales skills to their role if there’s been recent attrition on an already small Account Management team. Think outside the box: To what extent can you go beyond the skills that are necessary for your specific role?

5. The three-word self description

No serious hiring manager or V.P. can reasonably expect you to give a comprehensive description of yourself in three words. Instead, this job interview question is often a test to see if you reveal anything notable about yourself: How quickly you react, how self-reflective you can be, or a little about your sense of humor. Don’t laugh it off, but don’t get too deep either – your interviewer doesn’t want to sit there while you stare at your hands for five minutes trying to think of three adjectives. Avoid the painfully obvious route of offering nothing but buzzwords like “hardworking”, “problem solver”, or (shudder) “perfectionist.” But don’t be afraid of a little wit, either – an answer like “eager to start” can turn the activity on its head and show you’re a quick, outside-the-box thinker.

 

As industries and roles evolve, job interview questions do too. Before your next interview, think about how you’ll handle questions like the ones outlined here. Then, when it’s all over, don’t forget to send that thank-you letter.