- The Classic Question
Tell me about yourself? or What are you passionate about? or Where do you see yourself in five years?
Even though each of these questions seems quite different, it’s actually the same question. It means, “Okay. Let’s get started. You first. I want you to do the talking.”
The right answer to all those questions is a story. There is a story of your life that tells people how you got to where you are. There are a million stories within each person’s life. Each story is a true story with a different focus or theme. The focus of the story you tell to answer the question is how everything you did leading up to now has made you a great candidate for this particular job.
Additionally, Herminia Ibarra’s research shows that when we tell stories about ourselves, we look more pulled together -we feel more confident inside and people understand us better. Chip Heath’s research shows that people connect with us best under those conditions. Remember: the point of an interview is to make a personal connection with each person you talk to.
Telling a cohesive story about yourself takes time and talent, and your resume story should match your interview story. (Yes. Every resume tells a story. If you don’t know how to make a cohesive story with your resume, you should get help.)
2. The Brainteaser
How many telephones are in the US? or How heavy is the Statue of Liberty? or What’s a good product for Pepsi to launch next?
Technical candidates often have to take a skills test. Maybe you take something home and write code, or you write code in the office as a timed test. Finance candidates might create a spreadsheet. There are right answers to those tests. Brainteasers are not asking for a right answer per se.
A brainteaser aims to discover out how you think, or maybe whether you can think in situations where you don’t know everything you need to know to reach a simple answer. But the answer you give is not so important as your approach to getting the answer. Your tactic to finding the answer should match the personality type that will succeed in the particular job you’re applying for. The brainteaser question reveals if you are applying for the type of job that will best leverage your natural gifts. (Not sure about your natural gifts? Take a personality test to find out.)
So, for example, if you are interviewing to be CEO you would probably think in terms of who you’d need to hire to solve the problem. If you’re interviewing for a statistics position you would want to lay out the exact problem and you might even assign some numbers to variables and start solving.
Neither approach is right or wrong, as long as you are doing the type of thinking in the interview that you want to do in the job. If you are interviewing for a job that is a good match for you, it’s likely that you’ll give an answer that is appropriate for the type of thinking the interviewer needs to see.
Think out loud as you work through the problem. This is the consummate “show your work” moment! Also, approach this question, like all other interview questions, as a conversation. Each question in an interview is a way for the hiring manager to decide if he or she wants to spend eight hours a day with you.
3. The Behavioral Question
Can you tell me about a time you had a fight with a co-worker? or What would happen if you disagreed with your boss’s direction? or What is your weakness?
These questions might sound wildly differently, but they all ask for pretty much the same thing: Tell me a story. And if you have a resume that is written to make you shine, then each bullet on your resume is a tiny story.
Each question in a behavioral interview asks for a description of a moment in time. For example, if you tell someone your weakness is math, that’s not nearly as informative as how your weakness came up in a single situation in the context of work.
Each good story has a beginning, middle, and end, and this is true in a behavioral interview as well. So tell about the situation, and the conflict you faced, and how you overcame it. The story should take about a minute to tell.
Your ending will have a quantified achievement as the kicker (delivered ahead of schedule, increased revenue 10%, etc.) And you’ll have them fresh in your head because on a well-written resume every bullet is a quantified achievement. (Don’t tell me you have a career that does not lend itself to this sort of achievement. Every career can be framed as quantified achievements. You hire me to show you how to do that if you don’t already know.)
This means that every behavioral question is an opportunity for you to tell a good story that will make you stand out.
The only questions are asking what you want (the first questions) how you think (the second question) and how behave (the third). If you have good self-knowledge, the answers to all three of those questions make sense together. And that, really, is what makes you likable.
Now that you realize how few questions there really are in an interview, you can memorize your answers. Make them perfect. It will feel calculated, yes, but people who have great careers got them by being calculating.