Job seekers often worry about what specific questions they will be asked in an interview. It’s easy to imagine worst case scenarios:
- What’s your biggest weakness?
- What would you change about your last boss?
- Why did you leave your last job?
What if I told you the actual answer you give in an interview isn’t nearly as important as how you give the answer?
Interviewers ask these sorts of questions to figure out how you handle stress, if you can think on your feet, and if you are creative. These traits are much more in demand than being a perfectionist (a common answer to the “biggest weakness” question). They are also trying to gauge how you would fit in with their team and what you would be like to work with. These things are all “softer” than the technical correctness of your answer.
It boils down to this: good interviews sound like a conversation. So, how to you accomplish that? There are four things that will help your answers stand out to a hiring manager:
They aren’t canned or rehearsed. To be clear, you need to give solid answers. They have to make sense and be relevant. However, they need to sound natural. Brainstorm potential questions relevant to the position and then create high level bullet points for each one. In my experience an interview isn’t a closed book test, so have those bullet points written down on your note pad (you are taking notes, aren’t you?). This way you have a safety net, but wont’ be tempted to repeat back a memorized answer.
They’re specific. The situations you describe don’t have to be huge. Sometimes a simple example is actually better. Maybe you noticed the rugs in the office were creating a tripping hazard and leading to injuries. So you worked out a creative solution with the company that provided the rugs, which decreased tripping accidents by 30% and saved your company $100k in lost time. The key is to bring things back to dollars or time saved whenever possible. Interviewers will latch on to the information you provide, so unless you actually have cured cancer keep it simple.
They’re honest. The quickest way to have an interviewer tune out is to sound like you’re just saying what they want to hear. It’s far better to tell how you will apply the things you do best to the role, than to say something is a strength when it isn’t. Maintain your integrity in the process.
They’re two way. You don’t have to wait until the end of an interview to ask questions. There will likely be times during the interview that naturally lend themselves to a question back to the interviewer. This shows you are thinking and engaged in the process. Also, most hiring managers are like me and love to talk – so give them a chance.
Practicing before an interview is a great way to prepare and make your interviews sound more conversational. Setup a mock-interview with a colleague, mentor, or someone in your network ahead of time. I also offer interview help here.
Question: What’s the most conversational interview you’ve had? What made it that way? What are your go to interview tips?