Tip #324: Tricks to Answering Interview Questions

“We wanted a responsible man for this job,” said the employer to the applicant. “Well, I guess I’m just your man,” said the young fellow. “No matter where I worked, whenever anything went wrong, they told me I was responsible.” Bill Adler

There are tricks to answering interview questions so that the interviewers hear what they need to hear to know that you are the best candidate for the job.

When you hear an interview question, always answer the question behind the question. Think about what the interviewer really wants to know.

For example, a common interview question is “Why do you want this job?” The question behind the question is “Why would we want you in this job?”

Don’t explain how you expect the job will benefit you: “It will give me a desired challenge or promotion or opportunity to use my skills.”

Instead, tell the interviewer how you will benefit the job and the organization: “I’ve worked in organizations with similar services and challenges and feel that my experience will help this company anticipate and respond more quickly and effectively when faced with similar challenges. For example,….”

Another common interview question is: “What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?” The question behind the question is “What have you done to recognize and address this weakness?”

Don’t hand the interviewer a very good reason to dismiss you as a viable candidate: “Well, my greatest weakness is how long it takes me to get things done.”

Instead, show the interviewer what you have done to constructively address this weakness: “My greatest weakness is my need to do work as deliberately and perfectly as possible. However, I have realized that my standard of quality has frequently limited my work performance. As a result, I find out the level of quality expected by my supervisor or my client and work to that standard. This way, my work product meets everyone’s expectations and is always on schedule.”

There are some questions we worry about because we’re not sure we have an acceptable answer. For example, “Why did you leave your last job after just one month?” If you were fired from that job, this can be a frightening question. Before you plan your answer, keep in mind what the interviewer will not want to hear: answers that blame others, especially the prior employer.

This is NOT the place to respond: “Well, my supervisor at that company was completely incompetent and always blamed me for his mistakes. I couldn’t take that kind of harassment, so I left.”

If an interviewer hears this response, it immediately raises concerns about what you might say about the supervisor here when you leave the job- and also that you might have a chip on your shoulder that could end up in a harassment complaint against the company.

This is also NOT the place to respond: “Well, I made some terrible mistakes that cost the company a lot of money, so they had to let me go.”

If an interviewer hears this response, you know what concerns it will raise!

Instead, be diplomatic and gracious: “After I started the job, I discovered that it was not what I had expected.”

There is nothing in this response that would raise unnecessary red flags. Interviewers are human and know that some jobs just aren’t the right fit.

There are other questions that are commonly asked for which you need a clear strategy for answering.

For example, “Tell me about yourself.” The question behind the question may be, “What are all the things I can’t legally ask that you can now tell me about?”

Do NOT provide personal information: “Well, I was born in South Carolina and have twelve brothers and sisters. I’m now a single parent with three children, so I really need this job.”

Instead, keep your answer professional and work-related: “I’ve always been interested in teaching at the elementary school level and made sure that I could practice teach in that environment. I got my degree at….”

Another example, “Where do you expect to be in five years?” The question behind the question is: “Do you plan to use the training and experience you get in this job as a springboard to a job in a different company?”

Since no one really knows what they will be doing in five years, it’s not a very fair or useful question. But please don’t tell the interviewer that!! Instead, provide an honest and diplomatic answer: “I would plan to stay with this company as long as there is a good fit with my skills and abilities.”

Most interviewers are interested in screening out unacceptable job applicants, so they choose questions that will accomplish that. However, if you follow these guidelines for answering interview questions, they will know that you are the best person for the job.

To help those of us who facing a job interview, I have posted a white paper on Typical Interview Questions (and how to answer them when they are intended to screen you out) my website at https://laurelandassociates.com.

In next week’s Tip, we will look at how to make a good impression during an interview.

May your learning be sweet.

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