Job Interviews: What employers really want to know (Part 2)
Last month I covered some fairly straightforward questions an interviewer may ask in Job Interviews: What employers really want to know (Part 1). This month I’ll cover why they ask questions that might catch you off guard.
Sometimes interviewers ask questions that catch you off guard. You may even doubt what you heard or wonder why they’re asking about something that seems off point. The following insights will help put this problem into perspective and understand what employers really want to know. When you’re faced with a question that seems unclear, take a breath, slowly exhale and ask them to repeat it. Don’t freeze up or act out because you think a question is ridiculous. Remember to pause and think about what the employer really wants to know. It usually can be boiled down to three things. They want to know that you are able to do the job, you want to do the job and you are a fit with the team.
Provide an answer that demonstrates what it is they really want to know.
Listen for clues that would indicate if the question is skill-related or one that will reveal something about your attitude. Then calmly provide an answer that demonstrates what it is the employer really wants to know. Describe a time when you faced a situation that was similar to the scenario they described. Provide the details of how you solved a similar problem. Tell them how you took charge of finding a solution and what was involved. You can also include how you used a specific technical skill in the process. The point is to focus on the solution to the problem. Don’t get caught up in how miserable the situation might have been.
Employers don’t care how you feel. They care about what you will do.
Along the same line as a vague question, you may be asked how you “think” or “feel” about something. This may seem harsh, but generally speaking, employers don’t care how you feel. They care about what you will do. The problem with sharing your thoughts or feelings is that your answers will typically omit facts about what you will actually do about whatever the issue is. The minute you start down the path of describing how you think or feel, you open yourself up to interpretation. Taking off on an emotional tangent about anything is only going to turn out badly.
But allowing them to predict what you may end up doing in a new scenario can also be a big problem. Their imagination is not going to be as effective as you telling them exactly what you’ve done in the past or what you intend to do if faced with a similar issue in the future. Don’t let them guess how you will approach a tough situation or imagine what you will do. Provide factual information that will allow the employer to make a good decision instead of leaving your thoughts open for interpretation. Your answer will tell the interviewer what they want to know, and really, all they need to know.
Don’t let a trigger question take you off course.
Another way an interview can go sideways is when asked how you feel about a topic that was an issue in the past. As an example, they ask “How do you feel about working overtime?” You’re caught off guard because the job description stated 40 hours per week. Consider why this triggers you. If you just left a job that demanded excessive overtime, it’s understandable to feel strongly about it. Answering too literally with “I don’t like working overtime” can be heard or interpreted as “I don’t want to work any overtime.” Instead, pause long enough to collect yourself and get the facts. Do they really want to know how you feel about overtime or are they digging to see if you’ll cooperate when overtime is required? You can’t give an appropriate answer until you know how much overtime to expect. Don’t let a trigger question take you off course.
Ask for more information.
Even if you’re feeling anxious, don’t react too quickly. It won’t go well for you if you start an argument by claiming overtime wasn’t included in the job description or demanding to know how much. Instead, you can ask them for more information: “Please describe the amount of overtime people have been working in the past few months? Please tell me what is anticipated going forward?” Their response might be “Our crew has worked an average of five hours of overtime each week for the past month, but that will taper off over the next 30 days. This will happen again from October to November.” If this sounds reasonable, you’ll be glad you didn’t react too quickly.
Skip how you feel about it and jump straight to what you will do.
In this example, five hours of overtime per week, a few times a year could be decidedly less than what you had been doing. If you are really only opposed to excessive overtime but would work overtime on rare occasions, then this information is helpful. You can now answer their real question, which is “Will you work overtime when we need it?” You can skip how you feel about it and jump straight to what you will do. Your newly thought-out, positive response can be “Oh, okay. That’s doable.”
Please note that you still haven’t taken a stand one way or the other. Your answer is still fairly neutral and doesn’t leave much to interpretation. You have told them what they need to know. If it turns out the amount of overtime is less, you win. You will not have walked away from or been passed over for an opportunity only because of an assumption. If it turns out to be more overtime than described and it is no longer doable, then you can come back to this conversation and remind them of what you were told.
Refrain from reacting or overthinking the question.
The preceding example was a fairly simple question that could potentially trigger a negative response. Tougher hypothetical questions can also really throw you if you take them too literally. Employers may ask hypothetical questions to learn how you will approach problems or difficult situations. The scenarios might even seem unlikely or farfetched. Refrain from overthinking the question.
The interviewer may describe a situation that is hard for you to imagine, such as “You’re out of town on vacation. You learn a rocket ship crashed into your building and destroyed your office. What would you do?” Don’t take the conversation off course by asking an irrelevant question, like “Where did the rocket ship come from?” or “Who was on it?” It will be up to you to keep the conversation on track. Instead, consider what it is they really want to know. Recognize that their question is designed to explore how you handle adversity, problem solve, prioritize and ultimately get things done.
Don’t get caught up in a story that is belabored with irrelevant details.
The points to remember are: there has been an unusual event and your office has been destroyed. Think about what it is they really want to know. What will you do? How will you do it? Who else is involved? What are the desired outcomes? If you actually have been involved with a tragic event or disaster of some kind, you certainly can use that experience to compare the two circumstances. Otherwise, describe how you would approach the situation, the actions you would take and the outcome you are shooting for. Be thorough and concise. Don’t get caught up in telling a story that is belabored with irrelevant details (e.g. the color you would repaint your office or the kind of carpet you would choose).
Demonstrate a relatable fit to the job and the team.
Problem solving and prioritizing may be key components to skillfully executing the job you are interviewing for. If that is the case, then it is even more important that you provide a thorough answer. In addition to being skill-based, your composure and general reaction to the question could be interpreted to determine whether your temperament will fit with the team. Describe what you will do and demonstrate a relatable fit to the job and the team.
Give the employer what they need to know.
Interviewing can feel stressful. If you find yourself feeling stressed, then remember the point. The employer needs you and you need them. If you have done your homework and prepared yourself well, an interview can be a very comfortable conversation. Remember: you and the employer are there to make sure it is a fit. Whether you think a question is irrelevant or not, the point is to tell them what they need to know as it relates to the job, your attitude and fit with the team. Don’t allow them to wrongly interpret your answers or let yourself go so far off course that they end up making a decision to pass you over. Give the employer what they need to know to make a decision that works in your favor.