Throw Those Job Interview Questions in the Trash!

by | April 01, 2009

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They're designed to scare every job seeker to death! You've probably seen them: web sites and interview books promoting endless lists of job interview questions you absolutely MUST have answers for. The fear is that if you don't memorize the "correct" answer to each one, you'll probably blow the interview.

Well, you can throw all those job interview questions in the trash! Here's why:

These authors and "experts" don't want you to know the reality: An interview is just an opportunity for a company to get the answers to five simple interview questions.

1. Why are you here?
Before you walk into any interview or take any phone screen, you absolutely MUST learn something about the company. Do your research. Check out the company's web site, especially the PR or Recent News sections, where you'll find interesting info on your target. Interviewers want to be flattered that you picked their company. So tell them what you like or what impresses you about this company.

2. What can you do for us?
On the surface, this seems pretty simple. The job requires certain skills. You either have them or you don't. Just because you have the skills, don't think you're done. This company is probably interviewing at least 20 other candidates who have the same skill sets as you. Why would your interviewer choose or even remember YOU when the day is done?

Here's how: give the interviewer a USP. That's a "unique selling proposition." Sometimes called "value added proposition," this is a short sentence that sums up what you are and what benefit you bring to the company. You can also think of this as your "elevator pitch." Here is an example of a USP for Carol, an administrative assistant:

"I'm a seasoned admin assistant whose specialty is client-phone relationship-building that helps cement a solid bond with our clients and helps bring new business to my company."

You may want to start thinking of a strong USP that you can use and smoothly tell anyone. Long after the interviewing is done, your USP is what they remember.

3. Will you fit in?

They already have a process and a team. They want to know how you'll fit with that team. They also want to know whether you can be managed. No company wants to hire a maverick, a loner or a prima donna. So, let them know that you're a team player. Do this by developing a few stories from your past work experience. Describe a successful project or a team you've been a part of, the goal that was met and your role in that team's success. In fact, many of your answers should be couched in terms like "my company," "our team" and "our role."

4. What makes you unique?
In a nutshell, they want to know whether you'll go that extra mile for them. And here's a great way to do that - tell them some "stories." These are short personal narratives that you can tell, taking no more than 30 to 90 seconds each. You can start by developing your stories around areas like these:

  • Instances where you either made money or saved money for your previous company.
  • A crisis in your life or job and how you responded to or recovered from it.
  • A time when you functioned as part of a team and made some unique contribution as a result.
  • A time in your career when you had to deal with stress and what the outcome was.
  • A time in your job when you provided successful leadership or a sense of direction.

You provide "stories" as answers to questions because they are unique and memorable, and make you stand out over other candidates. They also make the interview more of a conversation and less of a Q&A interrogation. They also take the onus off memorizing answers to all those job interview questions.

5. How much will you cost?
Generally salary doesn't come up in the initial interviews. While there are ways of specifically handling this, don't get into a discussion about salary here. You only need to demonstrate a willingness to work with them within the confines of their compensation structure at this point. Keep it general. If they really want you, they'll find a way to pay you what you're worth at closing.

Your objective in an interview is to stand out and be remembered positively compared to all the other job applicants. By answering with your USP and your own easily remembered "stories," you won't pin your hopes on memorizing a "correct" answer to some "trick" interview question. Most importantly, you'll separate yourself from the pack and win a callback or a job offer.

As a recruiter, Joe Turner has spent the past 15 years finding and placing top candidates in some of the best jobs of their careers. Known on the Internet as "The Job Search Guy," Joe has also authored how-to books on interviewing and job search. He's been interviewed on several radio talk shows. Discover more insider job search secrets by visiting:

Filed Under: Interviewing

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