Landing a job interview is already a feat in itself, but actually getting through it feeling like you've won is a whole other issue. Whether it's a dream job that you want in order to take your career to the next level or that promotion at your current job, it's likely you'll be thrown a few curve balls by way of tough questions. They're often common and a tad basic, but they can bring about feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, or confusion.
It's okay, sis. We've got you covered. Here's how to answer tough but common job interview questions confidently and win. (And don't be afraid to practice answering these with a trusted friend, mentor, coach, or even in the mirror with yourself, if that's what will really ensure you stay on ready.)
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1. "Can you tell us more about yourself?"
As someone with almost 20 years of experience in my industry and who has worked for businesses large and small, I've always had to fight the urge to say, "Well, didn't you read my resume?" (And I've felt this way even when I was just starting out. You definitely don't want to say that though! Ha!)
While the person interviewing might have read your resume (or, in my experience being both an interviewee and interviewer for a job, might have just gotten your resume 10 minutes before the interview), this question often serves as your opportunity to put your resume in your own words. Talk about the things you're most passionate about when it comes to your job (working with teams, corresponding with customers, being a problem-solver), mention your educational and training background, and include one or two key roles you're proud of having shined in.
This is actually a great first question in an interview because, for me, it allows me to control the vibe and energy of the conversation. I always find the most confidence in remembering my "why" when answering, and I know that just being myself is key. Also, as my faith denotes, if a job is for me, it's for me. If not, God always has something else that is.
Add a bit of personality and elaborate on not only the key points of who you are professionally, but who you are personally as well. (Just be sure that what you say related to your personal life reflects professionalism and is actually relevant to the job you're interviewing for.)
Don't ramble. Take a breath between sentences and remember to smile. Imagine if you were in an elevator and you only had a minute to tell someone about yourself in a way that lets them know who you are, what you offer, and things you love about your career experience.
A big tip for answering this question: Do a bit of research on the professionals who will be interviewing you. Look up the HR department or the person's email on LinkedIn or Google. Don't focus on befriending them online or making them a Facebook friend. Simply take note of a few things that might be relevant to the position or relate to them on a professional level.
And you don't want to get too personal or thirsty (Think, creepy blind date who tells you what you were last doing based on your IG story or keeps asking you about a mom they never really met but saw in one of your posts). Again, be sure to only talk about things super-relevant to the role you're applying to or the skills required for it.
2. "What's your biggest weakness?"
Again, it's like "What??? Why?" But, again, don't respond in that way. (I swear these are my immediate reactions to these sorts of "common" interview questions.) The key to answering this one is this: Oftentimes this is asked to see how honest you will be, if you're a leader in self-correction, and if you have skills that include self-awareness and self-reflection.
This is not a time to bash yourself or tell them what you think they want to hear. Think about areas of leadership, communication, or strategic thinking that you either are actively working on or plan to actively work on.
For me, for example, I've always had a weakness for perfection, and I'll often do something at least two different ways just to make sure I have a plan B if plan A doesn't work or isn't enough. I'd also over-edit my work or re-write something several times, trying to make it "perfect," until my previous editors would have to say, "Enough Janell. We've gotta file this. Give us what you've got." This is indeed something I'd been working on (and I've since gotten better at not doing). So I've said in an interview or two: "I've learned from my previous managers that, as a leader, you have to trust your instincts and experience and go with plan A." I'd then add in details on an example of this from a previous project I'd worked on that was successful when I didn't second-guess myself so much and went with my gut.
If you have a self-perceived weakness of, for example, overexplaining things, challenges communicating criticism to those on your team (i.e. being too nice), or find it difficult being an introvert among extroverts, this is the time to mention it. Definitely don't just say, "Well, I'm great. I have no weaknesses," or offer up insights that will totally get your resume thrown in the garbage ("Oh, I'm always late, even if I leave my house on time," or "I just can't seem to get organized, and I often find myself being scatterbrained." Trust me, I've heard these before and the team always wondered, "Did this person intend to waste our time today?")
A big tip for answering this question: You don't have to do too much oversharing here. You'd hate to be that person who was a tad bit too transparent about weaknesses in a job interview but had very little to say when it came to talking about accomplishments or impact. It's a clear red flag, so just be as concise and direct with this one as possible and allow the interviewer to probe for more (or not).
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3. "Why should we hire you?"
Here's another question that should show you did your research on the company and the people you might be working for. It's not something to respond to with vague statements like, "I'm a people person, and I'm a go-getter," especially if you're interviewing for the position of a manager, senior leader, or director.
In almost every situation where I've had a hand in hiring someone, the candidates who showed that they'd done their homework and actually applied what they knew about the company in talking about why they'd be a great fit for the position either made it to the next round of interviews or were hired.
It's good to lean on three key things when answering this question: your personal "why," your actual experience (and being confident in how relevant your credentials, unique talents, and skills are to the role), and how those previous two can be woven together in order to be an asset.
I once applied for a job because I knew I wanted to transition into magazines after having worked for newspapers for much of my early career. I thought it was a long shot. I'd only interned at a magazine one time before, and while it was still journalism, working for a magazine publisher would be totally different from working in a newsroom.
I knew I not only had education, experience, and transferable skills but that I'd be great at the job because I'd wanted it for more than a decade. I told the interviewers, "Along with my degree and my love for storytelling and editing, I've dreamt about working here, at this publication, since childhood. The stories you've done highlighting ________ are something I've wanted to work on since reading your articles in my Granny's den. My great uncle, her brother, was a respected entrepreneur as well, so I know how important it is to highlight those stories. He built his businesses during Jim Crow, the Reagan-era recession, and the recession we're in right now. I've always had a passion for telling stories of the voiceless, of leaders and those who overcome, and I've loved the reach of magazines in doing that. It's what I feel called to do, especially for an audience such as yours."
I made it through three whole rounds and got the job. I was so happy because, at the time, I was pretty burnt out from working in newspapers and wanted a change that would not only revive me but place me on a path I'd always wanted to be on.
A big tip for answering this question: If your why is clear and on the up-and-up, answering this question will be a breeze. If not, you might want to reconsider applying for the job altogether. I don't care if it's a job dipping fries at a burger joint or leading a Fortune 500 marketing team, your why matters. Focus on talking about your skills and allow what motivated you to apply in the first place (your kids, financial goals, lifestyle aspirations, or career fulfillment) to be the silent foundation for informing your approach. (In other words, you don't have to say, "I applied for my kids," or "I need the money," but your actions and prep for answering this question should reflect that you mean business and that you must get the job).
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4. "What's led you to look for new employment?"
There are several variations to this question such as, "Why did you leave your last position?" In this case, you definitely want to be truthful, since, depending on some state laws, your former employer can not only be contacted and asked about you but some might even offer specifics on the circumstances of you leaving.
A good way to approach this one is to put positivity at the forefront. If the previous job simply wasn't a good fit, state that. If you're interested in strengthening certain skills and feel that the new position will offer the opportunity to do that, say that. If you've relocated and are looking for a fresh start, say that. (And you don't even have to volunteer details on why you relocated, especially if it's related to health, marriage, or family. In some states, for example, it's illegal for an interviewer to ask questions that might introduce the chance of discrimination, especially those related to the aforementioned.)
Lead with what was positive about the previous experience and how you'd like to further build upon that, even if it was a job you didn't like or one that ended in a way that wasn't the best.
I once decided to move on from a job simply because I'd outgrown the position and really didn't see any chance of me getting promoted (both via title and financially) in the time I wanted to. At the interview for my next job, I simply told them, "I've led teams that did amazing work on projects I'm proud of, and I'd love to continue being an asset to grow and learn in a different capacity at this company." I kept it short and sweet, and the interviewer moved on.
If you've had an employment gap, you can approach answering this question in the same way. When I first began my grad degree studies, I didn't work in the capacity I had previously. I really wanted to focus on being a student and having schedule flexibility, and I worked jobs that were totally unrelated to my core career in order to do so. Later, when I was getting closer to the end of my program and knew I could give more time to a job more closely aligned with my career passions, I simply stated how much I'd learned about myself, about discipline, and about leadership, in pursuing my degree and that I'm now ready for applying what I've learned in my next chapter.
When it comes to tough interview questions, just remember to come to the table knowing who you are and why you're there. Rely on the boldness and greatness of what you offer the world and why you're even applying in the first place. Be strategic, practice answering these questions with someone, and seek out your destiny without hesitation. God's speed to you!
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- The Top 10 Questions You Should Ask At A Job Interview ›
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Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Better Off Braless: The Benefits Of Not Wearing A Bra More Often
Somewhere between the start of the pandemic and entering the late stages of my 20s, bras become less and less of a priority.
Within that span of time, I, like most of the world, spent my days inhabiting my small bubble, staying in the house with loose-fitting loungewear, and being on Zoom calls that only required me to be presentable from the neck up. So as the demand to have my breasts at their perkiest form, so did my commitment to wearing bras.
The relationship that most women have with their bras is… well, complicated. While society has led us to believe that they’re required for us to be deemed as “ladylike” and “neat,” many of us find the garment to be a bothersome (and optional) accessory at best.
From underwires that poke and dig at our sides to push-ups that spill over, the argument in support of bras has begun to wane over the last few decades, with women of all cup sizes asking themselves if it’s better to just go braless.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
“Many years ago, I ditched wired bras and opted for going braless out of a desire for freedom and celebrating natural human form,” multi-hyphenate Alyson Stoner tells xoNecole. The movement activist best known for their fly dance moves with the likes of Missy Elliott and on Step Up 2: The Streets, shares that when it comes to their bra selection, comfort is key. “As someone who enjoys moving their body, I found that I do want an underlayer that provides some support without interfering with comfort and mobility.”
A source of concern when choosing to go braless is whether or not the lack of support from a bra will, in turn, affect the firmness of one’s breast, resulting in early sagging. However, Sabrina Sahni, M.D., an oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Florida, shares that breast sagging is a result of age, not whether you’ve ditched your bras.
“Sagging breasts – also called ptosis – generally occurs due to chronic aging,” she tells xoNecole. “The breast is made up of a combination of glandular and fibrous tissue and fat tissue. Over time, the glandular tissue may become replaced with fattier tissue, and that can lead to more sagging. Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that.”
"Wearing a bra or not wearing a bra ultimately does not change that."
Women with heavier breasts may find that going braless may have its set of drawbacks, but Dr. Sahni says that you should always pay attention to your comfort levels since bras are a garment designed to support your back and correct your posture. “Those with heavier or larger breasts who choose to go braless may actually have worsening back/neck/shoulder pain,” she says. “Wearing a bra may allow them to correct their posture and help alleviate tension on those muscle groups.”
“Women with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra as it may alleviate things like upper back pain or neck pain,” she shares.
Listening to your body is key when choosing whether you want to toss out your bras forever or just for a day. The beauty in a woman’s body is that it will tell us what we need to know before we even have to ask. There are common misconceptions about tighter bras being linked to causing health issues like breast cancer.
And while studies do show that Black women are “twice as likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer early when compared with Caucasian women,” the manifestation of this disease is predetermined by other varying factors.
“There are a lot of myths out there about going braless being better for breast cancer risk. It is completely false,” Dr. Sahni explains. “Whether or not you wear a bra does not have any bearing on your overall breast cancer risk. Ultimately, your risk is dependent on a variety of factors, including family history, your breast density, your lifestyle, and your reproductive history.”
If you’re looking for classic, weightless comfort that’s close to going braless, Alyson Stoner recommends Harper Wilde, a body-inclusive intimates brand on a mission to create a more comfortable world for womankind. They currently have a capsule collection with the intimates brand in partnership with their company, Movement Genius.
“Harper Wilde has been my go-to for years now because the materials are truly soothing on my sensitive skin, the amount of support feels like you're being gently hugged (not squeezed), and the styles are flattering and beautiful enough to wear as shirts or visible layers,” they say.
Courtesy of Harper Wilde
The brand offers super soft, breathable cotton fabric in their Triangle and Scoop Bralettes ($40 each) that will put the bliss and comfort back in your bosom.
Dr. Sahni says that choosing to opt out of bras or keep them close to your chest “truly depends on the individual” but it should be understood that “wearing or not wearing a bra won't significantly impact your overall health.”
“Ultimately, it comes down to comfort. There are some women with chronic breast pain where perhaps changing their bras to something more supportive and well-fitted may help,” she says. “Alternatively, some women find that going bra-less will alleviate their breast pain. I tell women that they should choose a bra that is comfortable for them, feels supportive, and one that they can wear regularly.”
So whether you choose to free the tatas or wear a bra that feels like it’s barely there, remember to listen to your body because ultimately, the choice is yours.
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