At a practice interview session we staged some years ago, the young woman being interviewed was asked 'What do you do in your spare time?' She answered - with great enthusiasm - "I breed rats". With the years that have passed we doubt that the interview panel can remember anything of the woman in question - but we bet they remember that she bred rats!
The Way You Answer Job Interview Questions
In later blog posts, I provide a lot of guidance and examples of the best ways of answering questions, but it is worth making some general points here. A good interviewer will give you a lot of guidance about their expectations _ particularly in the context of a competency-based interview, where they will have a clear structure that they want to follow.
From your point of view, you are likely to leave the best impression if you are focused, professional but conversational in your style of answering. You will get a lot of guidance on this later, but here are some specific 'dos' and 'don'ts'.
- Listen carefully to the questions you are asked. As well as noting whether the interviewer is expecting an answer about task, thought or people. You should pay particular attention to phrases like 'can you give me an example?' This means that the interviewer wants you to describe something that really happened.
- Make it clear what your role was in any situation you are describing. Try to find a balance between using inclusive terms like 'we' did something (shows team orientation and modesty) and 'I' did something (shows much more clearly what your personal role was). Overuse of 'we' will leave the interviewer unsure about your personal involvement.
- Avoid using too much jargon in your answers. Don't assume that the interviewer will be impressed - or indeed will know what you are talking about - if you pepper your answers with too many technical terms or business acronyms.
- Aim to be thorough but concise in the answers you give. Interviewers' hearts tend to sink when they hear phrases like 'OK I need to give you some background first', followed by a 1O.minute description of the history of ABC Ltd. Aim to produce answers that are no more than 2 minutes in length - as you practice this you will realize that 2 minutes is quite a long time to keep talking. (Two minutes is about the time it would take you to read a closely typed A4 page out loud.) If the interviewer wants more information, they will ask for it.
- Be aware of the speed at which you talk. It is hard to monitor this in 'real time' during the interview, so it needs to be part of your preparation. Get some feedback, or listen to a recording of yourself. Talking too quickly when under pressure and when the adrenalin is flowing is a common fault which needs to be remedied before the interview.
- Be long winded. Try to assess in the early stages of the interview how much detail the interviewer is after. Are they interrupting you and trying to move you on, or are they pausing and asking you to 'say a bit more'. Be alert to this and try to modify your answers accordingly.
- If you are asked a specific 'closed' question such as 'how many people were in your team at that point?', then a short answer is fine, but most of the interviewer's questions will be 'open', asking you to describe or explain something, and one-sentence answers to these questions will make it hard work for the interviewer.
- Focus on negatives during your answers. 'Difficult' situations tend to stick in our minds and are often easier to recall. While they will show that you can overcome obstacles and persevere, too many will start to make your working life sound like a horror story! This is why we recommend recalling examples of things you have done well, projects that had a good result, as part of your preparation.
The Parting Shot
How you close the conversation is nearly as important as how you start it. It is your final chance to leave a good impression in the mind of the interviewer. Here are some final tips:
- Leave on a positive note. Signal that you have found the conversation really interesting or very informative, or that you have really valued the chance to learn a bit more about the business.
- Encourage continued contact. Depending on the nature of the interview, it may be appropriate for you to ask if there is any more information they need, to check that they have your contact details or to ask if it would be appropriate for you to seek some general feedback on the interview at some future date. Asking for feedback in this way is a final signal that you are developmentally orientated and keen to build your self-awareness.
- Leave purposefully. Don't bolt from the room, but don't shuffle out either!