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Three Ways to Take Your Job Interview Answer to the Next Level

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 0

I’ve said before in my other articles here that job interviews aren’t really about facts; they are about chemistry. For better or for worse, most interviewers aren’t as obsessed about the specific details about what you’ve done in the past; they care about whether you’d fit into the organization culturally. I remember traveling with a law firm partner years ago, and during a dinner with lots of wine, he sort of let down his guard a bit. And he told me that when he interviews people to join the law firm, he likes someone who’s smart and can do the work obviously. But he said: “What matters most to me is whether you’re the kind of person who I want to be stuck with in some awful warehouse looking at documents at three in the morning on a Friday night.” So remember that interviews are about chemistry, and here are three ways in which you can make your answer stand out during your job interview.

Number One: Raise the Stakes

People miss this opportunity all the time: When you’re asked a factual question, don’t just answer it back with facts. That’s only half the answer, and it gets you nowhere. For example, most people do the following:

  • Question: Tell me about what you did in your last job.
  • Answer: I worked as a paralegal at a plaintiff’s law firm, filing documents, organizing discovery, and putting witness files together.

That is a terrible answer. You have to realize that they are really asking about what the experience meant to you, not what you did as a factual matter. So this is better:

  • Question: Tell me about what you did in your last job.
  • Answer: I worked at a paralegal at a plaintiff’s law firm, filing documents, organizing discovery, and putting witness files together. And I really enjoyed that experience because I got to understand the cases the firm handled along with what our clients had to go through to get to that point. I learned how to take a big case and organize it in a way that’s efficient, and that was very rewarding for me, to be able to be the go-to person on a specific case.

What you did in that last answer was raising the stakes – it’s not just about shuffling paper; it’s about representing victims, and it’s about the technical aspects of the job. So don’t stop with just the facts. Tell us what the experience showed you! In many ways, this is how you build chemistry. When people ask you what you do for a living, and you say something like I’m a consultant – that’s a boring factual answer. Instead, you want to say something like: I’m a consultant for green energy companies. And at first I thought it was boring, but really, what I do is help green energy companies use the sun, and the wind, and the sky to power our lives and save the earth for future generations. Maybe a bit corny, I know. But at least in the second answer, you’ve not only factually stated what you do, but elaborated and hinted at what it all means to you. And that’s what we care about as humans.

Job Interview Questions and How to Ace Them

Number Two: Tell a Story

I’m a trial lawyer, so story-telling is pretty much second nature. Many interview questions invite you to tell a story, so grab it with something colorful, and not something that’s trite or boring. Questions such as: Tell me about yourself. Or, tell me about a difficult boss you’ve had and how you dealt with him or her. When you formulate these answers in your head, remember what makes a good job interview story. It turns out that this is basically what makes any story good. Good characters who want something, a conflict or some sort, a resolution, and in your case, what you took away from the experience. Color your story with funny or graphic details, and make it count. We can work with you more on this in future articles, but essentially, think of these stories in advance. The reason these stories are so important is because they stick in the listener’s mind. After you’re done with the interview, we interviewers are still discussing your application and refer to you as the guy who told this story, or the woman who had this adventure.

Number Three: Help People Out

Most of the time, I interview people not because I want to, but because I have to. I get a resume emailed to me about half an hour before I meet you. Sometimes I’ve had the chance to skim the resume and cover letter; most of the time, I’m looking down on the piece of paper as you’re telling me why you want a specific job. Frankly, sometimes I have no clue what I ask you next. If you see this happening, here’s how you go beyond the call of duty. You can, diplomatically, make your answers longer and end it with a question about the company. This saves the interviewer from the pressure of coming up with questions himself, and allows you to show your interest in the company. Countless psychological studies have shown that people like the other person better when they are asked about themselves in conversation. It’s bizarre, but it works at a subconscious level. At a conscious level, I recognize people who help me out during the interview by keeping the conversation going that they are go-getters and take initiative, but also that they are tactful and will be helpful. And that’s the kind of person I want to hire. Good luck!



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