This month, we’ll examine the best strategies for answering interview questions. To introduce this topic, it can be quite educational (and very amusing) to look at some wrong approaches. Here are various actual reasons interviewers have heard when asking applicants why they wanted the job:
- he could be an asset to the company softball team
- he had a great smile
- she was a redhead, and the company had no redheads
- he had just won big at the casino and was on a roll
- he was tired of living with his parents
- he had been rejected by all the good agencies
- he wanted to be able to ride his bike to work
- she had always wanted to work in our building
- he was the sole source of support for his puppy
Aside from being hilarious, these answers have one thing in common: they all reflect the fact that the applicant is only thinking about their needs and what they want the company to do for them. Although most people are intelligent enough not to give answers like these, these anecdotes reflect a common problem people have during interviews: they are so focused on themselves they forget or ignore the fact that they should be equally focused on the company’s needs. However, it can also be a problem if you focus too much on what the company wants and not enough on your needs. A successful interview, therefore, is one in which both parties:
- know themselves and what it is they want
- recognize they are equal partners in a potential business proposition
- know what the job entails
- recognize if there is a good “fit” or not
- do about the same amount of talking
Interviewing is very similar to dating. In both activities, you and the other party are trying to learn as much about each other as possible in a relatively short amount of time, and often under pressure, with the goal of a potential long-term relationship. Neither side wants to appear too anxious or too aloof, and this can be a very difficult balance to maintain. The attitude you want to subtly reflect during an interview (if the job interests you) is that you would like this job, but that you don’t need it.
Recognize that behind every question an interviewer asks, there is fear. Fear that you will not fit in. Fear that you are lying or overstating your accomplishments. Fear that you will not get along with the interviewer or with the other workers. In other words, fear that you are not the right person for the job. The interviewer is often just as scared as you are – scared that they will select the wrong person and cost the company time and money.
Your task, therefore, is not only to destroy this fear by showing that you are a professional who is genuinely interested in the job, but to replace it with another fear: the fear of what will happen if they do not hire you. That is why you must solidly know your accomplishments and be able to list them strongly and succinctly. For example, by showing how you have improved processes and contributed to the quality of a product, you are planting a seed of fear that if the interviewer does not select you, their company’s products and documentation will continue to contain hidden problems and will not be as effective as they could be. Presenting “before and after” samples from your portfolio that graphically illustrate how you improved the documentation or the product itself can be tremendously effective.
Over the next few issues, we will begin reviewing various questions that you may be asked. However, all interview questions are really different variations of the same, basic question: Why should I hire you?
You may not be asked this question directly, but you still must know the answer to it. You have to be able to explicitly state your strengths and what distinguishes you from all the other applicants in order to win the job.