Interview Strategies: Understanding the Question Behind the Question

Interview Strategies: Understanding the Question Behind the Question

Matthew Purdey | Manitoba Start

While many organizations use a standard set of interview questions with every candidate, how you respond to these questions should be anything but standard.
To capitalize on the interview opportunity, ask yourself: What is the question behind the question? This strategy focuses on understanding why the employer is asking each question and what they really want to know so that you can respond appropriately. Consider these commonly asked interview questions, and review the question behind the question.

Tell me about yourself = Tell me about yourself as a professional.

Provide the employer with an overview of your experience, education and training as well as examples of a few skills or accomplishments that are relevant to the position you have applied for.

Avoid discussing personal information such as age, marital status, birthplace, hobbies, etc.; this is of little interest to the employer in the interview context.

What are your strengths? = How do your skills meet this job’s requirements?
Identify a few key qualification requirements or core responsibilities of the position. Then discuss where, when and how you have performed these tasks in the past. Support your statements with examples that demonstrate your strengths in action and the results you achieved.

Avoid giving long lists of strengths, especially those that could be considered standard hiring requirements; for example: “I’m hardworking, punctual, friendly,” etc.

What are your weaknesses? = What skill would you like to learn or develop?
Identify a work-related topic or knowledge requirement you would like to enhance. Select something that won’t take too long to learn, and be sure to outline the steps you are taking (or plan to take) to develop the skill.

Avoid mentioning key job requirements, negative character traits or bad habits.

Describe an accomplishment you are proud of. = Tell us one story about how you made a real impact.

Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) technique to describe how you applied your education and experience to a real work situation. Focus on one story with specific and relevant details. Provide enough information to paint a clear picture for the interviewer.

Avoid settling for generic statements that reveal little about your efforts, such as “I provided good customer service.”

Why should we hire you? = What makes you different from other applicants?
Finally, identify a unique skill, ability or experience that distinguishes you from others. Link your unique quality to the job you’re applying for, and you will stand out for having seriously thought about how you could leverage this skill.

Avoid simply reviewing topics already discussed in the interview, and try not to rely on general education or experience, as other applicants will certainly have this as well.

The next time you’re preparing for an interview, remember to ask yourself: “What is the question behind the question?” and rehearse your answers and examples in advance. Doing this will help you to create more specific and relevant answers during your interview, which will set you apart from other candidates.
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