There must be thousands of articles on typical interview questions and how to prepare for them. Mostly, the advice tends to center around “be specific!” or “do your research!” or “make eye contact!” All good stuff. But we haven’t seen anything yet that shares the secret to interviewing, and the number one trick you can use to knock it out of the park, every time.
So here’s the secret:
How many questions does the typical interview include? 6 questions, maybe 7?
Wrong. No matter how long the interview is, or who it’s with, there’s always the same number of questions: 1. And that question is “Why should I hire you?”
When someone says “Tell me about yourself,” what she’s really doing is asking “Why should I hire you?”
When someone asks:
“Tell me about your strengths.”
“Tell me about your management style.”
“What has been your most significant accomplishment to-date?”
“What was your favorite course in college?”
“How many bricks would it take to scale Trump Tower in Chicago?”
What she really wants to know is why she should hire you, or why she shouldn’t--she’s searching for answers that tell her you either are or are not that ideal person she’s laid out in the job description. And although she may be able to take your responses and connect the dots, there’s absolutely no reason to leave her conclusion up to chance.
So here’s the trick: There’s a simple formula you can use to respond to just about any interview question, to help you make it easy for your interviewer to say “He’s right, I should hire him.”
Keep reading for a "before and after" example of using this technique, and a concrete breakdown of how to craft these responses on your own. Think you’ve found an interview question that can’t be tackled in this way? Insert it into the comments; we’d love to try and prove you wrong.
The safe-but-subpar response:
Interviewer: “So, Danny, tell me about yourself.”
Danny: “Well, I graduated from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2010 and got my first job selling widgets (Note: I’m using widgets here as a nondescript example - go with it!). I was promoted to manage a small sales team, and three years ago I landed a new job managing a team of ten at a company that makes bigger, better widgets. I’m now very interested in the next step of managing your sales team to help sell the best widgets in the world.”
Interviewer (thinking): Alright, so he’s got some sales experience, management experience, and he’s worked at other companies selling widgets. He could be a good fit for this role.
The dynamite response:
Interviewer: “So, Danny, tell me about yourself.”
Danny: “My entire career has been about building the best possible sales processes and teams to bring widgets to the homes of people who need them. Since graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have pushed myself to grow from an entry-level salesperson to leading small and large widget sales teams that have consistently exceeded targets. From my experience, I’ve learned what I believe to be the best possible approach to widget sales, and what it takes to train and support diverse teams to put this approach into action. I’m happy to go further into my specific management style and results to-date, but the bottom line is I feel my career has led me to this precise opportunity with your company, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
Interviewer (thinking): Wow. I think I should to hire him.
The formula, or what I like to call your high school term paper, shortened to an executive summary with a heavy dose of inspiration:
1. Your thesis statement: Tell your interviewer a statement of consistency about why your career has been building to this exact opportunity. Even if your career is a winding game of Twister (most people’s are!), you can still do this. Get over it, and find an inspiring common-denominator that aligns directly with the job type or purpose you’re applying for.
My entire career has been about... building the best possible sales processes and teams to bring widgets to the homes of people who need them.
Or you can try these alternative introductions:
I have always had an intense passion for…
One of my core values has always been…
I have always enjoyed roles where I can contribute my skills in…
2. Your background: Share your experiences that are most relevant to this opportunity, in an arc that shows how you’ve grown to a place that positions you perfectly for this next step.
Since graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison, I have pushed myself to grow from an entry-level salesperson to leading small and large widget sales teams that have consistently exceeded targets.
3. Your proof points: Spell out exactly which learnings and skills your experience helped you develop -- and make sure you choose those that align with the job description requirements.
From my experience, I’ve learned what I believe to be the best possible approach to widget sales, and what it takes to train and support diverse teams to put this approach into action.
Under-qualified for the position? Remind yourself you’ve already made it to the interview, which means they’re willing to take a chance on you despite your lack of experience. Applying this same #3 principle, you need to point to the learnings and skills that do make you qualified, even if one of those is “I have always dedicated myself to learning new skills on the job in order to be successful, and I know I can learn what it takes to do that again here for your organization.”
4. Your conclusion: By stating aloud that this is the perfect opportunity for you (and having backed it up along the way in your response), you dramatically increase the chances of your interviewer coming to the same conclusion.
I’m happy to go further into my specific management style and results to-date, but the bottom line is I feel my career has led me to this precise opportunity with your company, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
One of the greatest outcomes of using this technique is not only its effect on your interviewer’s likelihood to move you to the next level of the hiring process, but also the way in which it shifts you from reactive responses to proactively and positively framing who you are and what you’ve accomplished.
The point is, it’s not a trick. This isn’t fluff or shiftiness. It’s connecting the dots between your experiences, skills, passions and values, so that you and your prospective employer both know how valuable you are.