Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Most Important Job Interview Question... and How to Answer It!

Greetings job seekers!  Hope you're finding luck out there in the job market and hopefully you're on your way to your first job interview.  Here's some advice on how to get ready.

There are literally hundreds maybe even thousands of interview questions floating about in the ether.  It's hard to know where to even start to prepare.  Every so often a recruiter or hiring manager might give you the hint that you're in for a behavioral interview.  Maybe you freak out a bit at this prospect, but you wouldn't dare let on that you aren't sure what a behavioral interview is.

So you start doing your research and preparing for your interview still with no clue as to what questions will be asked.  Maybe they'll ask you about your strengths and weaknesses or maybe they'll ask you what book you would like to have if you're stranded on a deserted island (mine would be Ishmael!) but who knows.  They could literally ask you just about anything with the exception of legally prohibited questions such as if you own a car or if you're planning on having kids (if a potential employer asks you questions like these, beware!).

So where do you start?  My advice, start with the question hiring managers ask 99.9999999% of the time in an interview and most often times is the question they ask first.   What's that question you ask?   Survey says "Tell me a little bit about yourself."

Now i'm sure all of you are smacking your heads right now "like duh" but how many of you actually knew the answer?  My guess is all of you once you thought about it because you've all been asked it before more than once i'm sure.

So knowing this, why do so many people fumble over it when they're answering it?  It's simple, right?  All you have to do is ramble off a bunch of words that vaguely resemble your life and then you get to move on to the more important questions (like "Tell me about a time when you had too much work to do?").  So you half @ss it a bit and figure the interviewer is just getting mandatory questions out of the way and not really paying attention to your answer.

Truth is though, this is the toughest question you'll likely be asked the entire interview and can make or break the interview from the get go.  Why?  Two reasons: 1)because you think it's easy and 2) because it's the first question!

Think about it.  If you're old enough to be interviewing for jobs, you probably have at least 16 years of your life to summarize in 5 minutes or less.  Not really an easy task when you think about it.  This is one of the reasons why so many people flunk this question and for all intents and purposes eliminate themselves from contention almost right off the bat.  And to think, you worked so hard to get an interview and it's over even before the second question!

So how DO you answer this question then?  Follow these 3 simple rules:

1. Be brief: so many job candidates talk for way too long in responding to this question.  Keep it to between 30 and 60 seconds.  This is basically the elevator pitch of the interview.
2. Keep it focused on your professional career and primarily the parts of it that coincide with the job you're interviewing for.  Interviewers don't need to hear about your dog or your favorite sports team.
3. Rehearse it.  Yeah i know everyone probably tells you "you don't want to sound too rehearsed for an interview. You want to be natural and relaxed".

Truth is that it's hard to relax and be natural in an interview because it is an inherently high pressure situation.  And this is the first question after all so your nerves are most likely off the charts.  So you're best bet is to have an answer ready to go that you can practically say in your sleep.  This will get your interview off on the right foot and will calm your nerves...a bit.

So go ahead and have a general outline for how you're going to answer this question.  You don't need to have a scripted response, just one where you know where you're starting, the middle and most importantly how you're going to end.  You definitely don't want to find yourself in no-man's land not knowing where to stop and then end up trailing off.  Know where you're going to land and it will go much MUCH smoother.

Did i hear you say you want an example response?  Here's how i would answer this question at the moment in my life if I were interviewing for an HR Director position:

"I'm originally from Memphis.  I came to Knoxville for college, graduated with a degree in business management and decided to stay in Knoxville because of the relationships I've built here.  My first real job after college was as an HR manager for a Target store.  That is where my HR career began and I've been in HR now for 15+ years.  I really enjoy HR because it gives me a chance to build relationships with employees and help them find their right career path.  That is one of the reasons why I decided to put my resume in for this position with ABC Corp. because you have a reputation for taking care of your employees and developing your team.  I'm really glad to have the opportunity to interview for this position and looking forward to our discussion today."

Did anyone time that?  That was approximately 1 minute long give or take.  Maybe a smidge long for my tastes, but it'll due.  It's short, sweet, to the point and focused on the job.  I also explain my reasons for wanting the job while showing i've done my research and also stroked my interviewer's ego just tad for good measure.  A home run response if I do say so myself!

So there you have it.  The most important job interview question and how to answer it.  If you pass this first test, you're well on your way to landing that all important second interview where the REAL fun begins! :-))

Good luck job seekers and thank you for stopping by the BoP!


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