“How badly do you want the job?” Liz Ryan recently posted an article on Forbes.com, outlining “Five Annoying Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2017.” It ties back to her earlier article from January 2016 about how to answer these sometimes annoying questions. “How badly do you want the job,” sounds like either a bad movie line from decades ago or a lawsuit waiting to happen. Here’s a shocker for you, not all hiring managers know what they are doing. They struggle to find the best applicants, and they struggle even more keeping good employees fully engaged, challenged, and productive. I’m sure you have gotten interview questions which seemed repetitive, irrelevant, or outright offensive. Her advice in January was excellent advice for intelligent job-seekers who can afford to be selective in their job hunt, and there were some questions which I agree were totally inappropriate. However, some of the questions from both articles can be very effective in getting the right person into the right job. Here is how you can look at these questions from the opposite side of the table and craft your answers accordingly.
It is important to realize interviewers have selected each question (or at least stolen them from an internet list) with some kind of reasoning behind their choice. Decoding that reasoning and giving an answer that portrays what they are seeking is key to acing the interview. Employers are often looking for more than tangible job skills. Specific skills can easily be taught to the right applicant. Finding the right personality fit, energy, and enthusiasm is difficult to assess. Interviewers have 20 to 60 minutes to make an important decision for their company. Almost anyone can pretend to be professional, articulate, and sane for a short amount of time. For large corporations or government entities, the selection process has to be transparent and defensible if challenged through the legal system. Good interview questions are devised specifically to cut through any façade and see what really makes an applicant a good or bad selection.
One of Ms. Ryan’s examples is, “What are you better at than anyone else in the world?” They are not looking for a job skill like ‘spreadsheets’ or ‘coding.’ In all likelihood, you won’t be the absolute best in the world at any particular task. Interviewers are looking here for communication skills, passions, positive inspiration, logical reasoning, etc. It doesn’t matter if you answer knitting or robotics, what matters is that you talk through it articulately, positively, and with solid reasoning. Choose an answer here that makes you feel motivated and energized. Let your passion dominate the answer, and support it with specific examples and previous successes.
A question that is oft-criticized is, “If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?” This seems like an irrelevant and silly question, but it is wrought with landmines and opportunity. Once again, the employer is not interested in your choice of animal. They are interested in your creativity, depth of personality, logical reasoning, and communication skills. There are obvious choices, such as lion, dolphin, or eagle. If you choose one of the obvious choices, your reasoning and description must be communicated extremely well, or it will just seem bland and uninspired. Likewise if there is an animal poster on the wall or a figurine on the desk, and you choose that animal, the answer needs to be exceptional or it just seems like pandering. As a good example, I once had an applicant answer that question with an animal from her cultural heritage. She described how it represented a cleansing element in its environment, and was a symbol of health and vitality. She reasoned her goal in a work setting was to be a clarifying and cleansing element and improve the overall work environment through her presence. She nailed it.
Let’s combine a series of questions for the next example: “What is your ideal job,” “What makes you the best candidate,” “Why should we hire you,” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Such questions seem too vague to be useful, and don’t have definitively useful answers. You don’t know the qualifications of other candidates or the challenges the employer is attempting to rectify by filling this position. It is impossible to make a substantive comparison. You can’t predict where you will be in five years, because you don’t know if you’ll be in this job or another one. Once again, you have to assume the employer has a purpose for this question. They have a particular type of person whom they think will be the best fit for their unique need. The only ‘right’ answer is one that is honest, articulate, and communicative. Your answer should be unique and memorable; try this out, “If I’m answering honestly, in five years I would like to be a brilliant and eccentric billionaire spending my days solving difficult problems facing the world, sort of a Batman or Iron Man figure. In reality, I would be happy being more financially solvent, feeling more appreciated and productive in my career as part of a high-performing team tasked with solving problems directly impacting my employer, my community, and my family.”
Last, but certainly not least, “What is your greatest weakness,” or “What is your greatest accomplishment?” I’m going to combine those two, because, why not? Some people feel these questions are unfair, but from an employer perspective they can be highly enlightening. I estimate 40-50% of interviewees I’ve faced cannot honestly answer either of those questions. Prepare for them ahead of time, and you are automatically in the top 50%! The questions serve to eliminate applicants who don’t know how to be introspective or honest with themselves. It eliminates those who don’t have a good grasp of what they have to offer. Sometimes it eliminates applicants who just don’t know how to solve problems effectively. Regardless of what your weakness or strength might be, the employer wants to know how you utilize or overcome it. What are you consistently trying to improve about yourself? How are you being proactive to utilize your skills and overcome your challenges? As in all previous questions, there are no right or wrong answers, there are only strong and weak thought-processes and communications skills.
As a final take-away, when preparing for a job interview, preparation and observation are the real skills. Research the company; know their values, mission, strengths and challenges. Realize the interviewer may or may not be experienced in the hiring process, but they do have specific needs, rigid guidelines, and they want to make a successful hire. If questions get repetitive, you have an opportunity to show your creativity and the breadth of your experience. Every applicant should show up prepared with a dozen unique examples of their problem-solving ability and successful projects. If questions seem silly or irrelevant, you have a chance to show reasoning and communication skills. It is important to observe the interviewer(s), ask follow-up or clarifying questions, and project the key elements they are seeking. An interview does not have to be an adversarial situation. Think of yourself as the best solution to the interviewer’s problem, and provide a win-win scenario.
*** Scott Flowers is a leadership coach, speaker, author, and business consultant with 25 years management experience including over 10 years in State Government. Book him by visiting the main website, ScottFlowersConsulting.com, Connect on LinkedIn or Facebook. Follow on Twitter @TheScottFlowers.