How to Give Job-Winning Answers to Interview Questions

By: Bonnie Lowe


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The best way to prepare yourself for a job interview is to anticipate questions, develop your answers, and practice. Here's how...

First, know these important facts:
  1. There is no way to predict every question you will be asked during a job interview. In other words, expect unexpected questions--they'll come up no matter how much preparation you do.

  2. Treat any sample answers you find, such as in discussion forums, books or on Internet job sites, as guides only. Interviewers can spot "canned" answers a mile away, and if they suspect you are regurgitating answers that are not your own, you can kiss that job goodbye.

  3. Job interview questions are not things to fear, they are opportunities to excel. They allow you to show why you are the best person for the job, so instead of dreading them, look forward to them! The key is to give better answers than anyone else.

Now, take these actions:

  1. Make a list of your best "selling points" for the position. What qualifications, skills, experience, knowledge, background, personality traits do you possess that would apply to this particular job?

  2. In addition to any sample job interview questions you find through various resources, you must develop your own list of probable questions based specifically on the job for which you are applying.

  3. Write down your answers to likely questions. Study the job announcement carefully. Note the phrases they use when describing the desired qualifications. You'll want to target these as much as possible when developing your answers.

  4. Review and edit your answers until you feel they are "just right." Read them over and over until you are comfortable that you know them fairly well. Don't try to memorize them; don't worry about remembering every word.

Be a (Short) Story Teller

Make use of this old marketing tip: "Facts tell but stories sell." During a job interview, you are selling yourself. Whenever possible, answer questions with a short story that gives specific examples of your experiences.

For example, imagine two people interviewing for a job as a dog groomer are asked, "Have you ever dealt with aggressive dogs?" Candidate Joe answers, "Yes, about 10% of the dogs I've groomed had aggressive tendencies." Candidate Mary answers, "Oh yes, quite often. I remember one situation where a client brought in his Pit Bull, Chomper. He started growling at me the moment his owner left, and I could tell from his stance he wasn't about to let me get near his nails with my clippers. I think he would've torn my arm off if I hadn't used the Schweitzer Maneuver on him. That calmed him down right away and I didn't have any problems after that."

Don't you agree that Mary's answer is better? Sure, Joe answered the question, but Mary did more than that--she gave a specific example and told a quick story that will be remembered by the interviewers.

Keep the Interviewer's Perspective in Mind; Answer His "What's in it for Me?" Question

While many questions asked during job interviews appear to focus on your past accomplishments, here's an important tip: they may be asking about what you did, but what they really want to know is what you can do now, for them.

The key is to talk about your past accomplishments in a way that shows how they are relevant to the specific job for which you are interviewing. Doing advance research about the company (such as at their website or at www.hoovers.com) and the position will be extremely helpful.

Here's another example with Joe and Mary. The interviewer asks, "What is the most difficult challenge you've faced, and how did you overcome it?" Joe answers with, "In one job I was delivering pizzas and I kept getting lost. By the time I'd find the address, the pizza would be cold, the customer would be unhappy, and my boss was ready to fire me. I overcame this problem by purchasing a GPS navigation device and installing it in my car. Now I never get lost!" Mary answers, "In my current job at Stylish Hounds, management ran a special promotion to increase the number of customers who use the dog-grooming service. It was a bit too successful because we suddenly had more customers than we could handle. Management would not hire additional groomers to help with the workload. Instead of turning customers away or significantly delaying their appointments, I devised a new grooming method that was twice as fast. Then I developed a new work schedule. Both efforts maximized productivity and we were able to handle the increased workload effectively without upsetting our customers."

Joe's answer shows initiative and commitment (he bought that GPS gadget with his own money, after all). But Mary's answer relates specifically to the job they are applying for (dog groomer). And Mary had done research about the company and discovered it was about to significantly expand it's dog-grooming operations. So she picked an example from her past that addressed an issue the interviewer was likely to apply to a future situation in his company.

Here's another example. Joe and Mary are asked, "What's your greatest accomplishment?" Joe answers, "I won two Olympic Gold Medals during the 2000 Olympics in the high-jump competition." Mary answers, "I was named Stylish Hounds's Dog Groomer of the Year in 2003 for increasing productivity in my section by 47%."

Joe's accomplishment is pretty spectacular. But remember the interviewer's perspective. He might be impressed, but he's thinking "What's in it for me? What does being a world-class high-jumper four years ago have to do with helping me to increase sales in my dog-grooming department?" Mary's answer is much less spectacular than Joe's, but it's relevant to the position.

In summary, study the job announcement, research the company, anticipate likely questions, prepare relevant answers to those questions, promote your best "selling points," and practice!


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