How to Give
Job-Winning Answers at Interviews
Resources personnel, professional recruiters and various other career
experts all agree: one of the best ways to prepare yourself for a job
interview is to anticipate questions, develop your answers, and
practice, practice, practice.
There are plenty of websites that offer lists of popular job interview
questions, and knowing the types of questions to expect can be very
useful. But knowing how to answer those questions can mean the
difference between getting the job and getting the "reject letter."
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HOW TO ANSWER QUESTIONS
First, know these important facts:
1. There is no way to predict every question you will be asked during a
job interview. In other words, expect unexpected questions--they'll
come up no matter how much preparation you do.
2. Treat any sample answers you find, such as in discussion forums,
books or on Internet job sites, as GUIDES only. Do not use any sample
answers word for word! Interviewers can spot "canned" answers a mile
away, and if they suspect you are regurgitating answers that are not
your own, you can kiss that job goodbye. You must apply your own
experiences, personality and style to answer the questions in your own
way. This is crucial, and it will give you a big advantage over
candidates who simply recite sample answers.
3. Job interview questions are not things to fear, they are
OPPORTUNITIES TO EXCEL. They allow you to show why you are the best
person for the job, so instead of dreading them, look forward to them!
The key is to give better answers than anyone else, and that's where
your preparation comes in.
Now, take these actions:
1. Make a list of your best "selling points" for the position. What
qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge, background, personality
traits do you possess that would apply to this particular job? Write
them down and look for opportunities to work them into your answers.
2. In addition to any sample job interview questions you find through
various resources, you absolutely must develop your OWN list of
probable questions based specifically on the job for which you are
applying. Put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes… what kinds
of questions would you ask to find the best person for this job?
3. Write down your answers to likely questions. Study the job
announcement carefully. (If you don't have one, get one!) Note the
phrases they use when describing the desired qualifications. You'll
want to target these as much as possible when developing your answers.
For example, if the announcement says they want someone with "strong
customer service skills," make sure you include "strong customer
service skills" in at least one of your answers. That will make a
better impression than saying "I helped customers."
4. Review and edit your answers until you feel they are "just right."
Read them over and over until you are comfortable that you know them
fairly well. Don't try to memorize them; don't worry about remembering
every word. Practice saying them out loud. If possible, have a friend
help you rehearse for the interview.
Be A (Short) Story Teller
Make use of this old marketing tip: "Facts tell but stories sell."
During a job interview, you are selling yourself. Whenever possible,
answer questions with a short story that gives specific examples of
your experiences. Notice I said "short." You don't want to ramble or
take up too much time; you want to be brief but still make your point.
For example, imagine two people interviewing for a job as a dog groomer
are asked, "Have you ever dealt with aggressive dogs?" Candidate Joe
answers, "Yes, about 10% of the dogs I've groomed had aggressive
tendencies." Candidate Mary answers, "Oh yes, quite often. I remember
one situation where a client brought in his Pit Bull, Chomper. He
started growling at me the moment his owner left, and I could tell from
his stance he wasn't about to let me get near his nails with my
clippers. I think he would've torn my arm off if I hadn't used the
Schweitzer Maneuver on him. That calmed him down right away and I
didn't have any problems after that." (NOTE: I know nothing about dog
grooming; I made the Schweitzer Maneuver up for illustrative purposes.)
Don't you agree that Mary's answer is better? Sure, Joe answered the
question, but Mary did more than that--she gave a specific example and
told a quick story that will be remembered by the interviewers.
In today's job market where there are dozens of highly qualified
candidates for each opening, anything you do that will make you stand
out and be remembered will greatly increase your odds of getting hired.
Keep the Interviewer's Perspective in Mind; Answer His "What's in it
for Me?" Question
While many questions asked during job interviews appear to focus on
your past accomplishments, here's an important tip: they may be asking
about what you did in the past, but what they really want to know is
what you can do NOW, for THEM.
The key is to talk about your past accomplishments in a way that shows
how they are RELEVANT to the specific job for which you are
interviewing. Doing advance research about the company (such as at
their website or at www.hoovers.com)
and the position will be extremely helpful.
Here's another example with Joe and Mary. The interviewer asks, "What
is the most difficult challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome
it?" Joe answers with, "In one job I was delivering pizzas and I kept
getting lost. By the time I'd find the address, the pizza would be
cold, the customer would be unhappy, and my boss was ready to fire me.
I overcame this problem by purchasing a GPS navigation device and
installing it in my car. Now I never get lost!" Mary answers, "In my
current job at Stylish Hounds, management ran a special promotion to
increase the number of customers who use the dog-grooming service. It
was a bit too successful because we suddenly had more customers than we
could handle. Management would not hire additional groomers to help
with the workload. Instead of turning customers away or significantly
delaying their appointments, I devised a new grooming method that was
twice as fast. Then I developed a new work schedule. Both efforts
maximized productivity and we were able to handle the increased
workload effectively without upsetting our customers."
Joe's answer shows initiative and commitment (he bought that GPS gadget
with his own money, after all). But Mary's answer relates specifically
to the job they are applying for (dog groomer). And Mary had done
research about the company and discovered it was about to significantly
expand it's dog-grooming operations. So she picked an example from her
past that addressed an issue the interviewer was likely to apply to a
future situation in his company. See the difference?
Here's one more example. Joe and Mary are asked, "What's your greatest
accomplishment?" Joe answers, "I won two Olympic Gold Medals during the
2000 Olympics in the high-jump competition." Mary answers, "I was named
Stylish Hounds's Dog Groomer of the Year in 2003 for increasing
productivity in my section by 47%."
Joe's accomplishment is pretty spectacular. But remember the
interviewer's perspective. He might be impressed, but he's thinking
"What's in it for me? What does being a world-class high-jumper four
years ago have to do with helping me to increase sales in my
dog-grooming department?" Mary's answer is much less spectacular than
Joe's, but it's relevant to the position and indicates that she has
what it takes to be successful in this particular job. It tells the
interviewer, "I have what you're looking for; I can help you with your
Looks like Mary has a new job!
Do Not Lie
Last but not least, tell the truth. It's sometimes very tempting to
"alter" the truth a bit during a job interview. For instance, say you
quit instead of being fired. But the risk of being discovered as a liar
far outweighs the potential benefit of hiding the truth.
If you are thinking about telling a lie during the interview, ask
yourself these questions (this technique has helped me make many major
decisions): "What is the BEST thing that could happen? What is the
WORST thing that could happen? Is the best thing WORTH RISKING the
worst thing?" In this instance, the best thing would be getting the
job. The worst thing would be getting discovered as a liar, which could
lead to getting fired, which could lead to unemployment, which could
lead to more job searching, which could lead to another interview,
which could lead to the stress of deciding whether to lie about just
getting fired, and so on… a cycle that can go on indefinitely.
Is all that worth getting the one job, perhaps on a temporary basis?
Always consider the consequences of your actions.
In Summary, Here's What You Need To Do When Preparing To Answer Job
1. Study the job announcement.
2. Research the company.
3. Anticipate likely questions.
4. Prepare answers to those questions that are relevant to the position
and the company.
5. Promote your best "selling points" (relevant qualifications,
capabilities, experience, personality traits, etc.) by working them
into your answers.
6. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Lowe is author of the popular "Job Interview Success System" and free
information-packed ezine, "Career-Life Times." Find those and other
powerful career resources at her website: www.best-interview-strategies.com
Written by: Bonnie Lowe
Online Resume Builder Tool: Use this tool to build a high quality
resume in about ten minutes.
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