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Handling unexpected interview questions can be tough. In this episode, I share a simple, 4-step approach to help you deal with the uncertainty.
Hi, and welcome to this episode. Many of my coaching clients have told me that the uncertainty about what questions to expect is one of the main reasons they feel nervous about their upcoming interview. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to handle this uncertainty. Today, I will share a simple, 4- step approach to help you with that.
Step 1: Prepare the obvious.
About 80% of the interviewer’s questions are usually directly connected to the job description and your background. Think of the job description as the employer’s wish list. While they are aware that they most likely won’t find a candidate who meets all the criteria, they still want to gauge how qualified each interviewee is. That might sound obvious, but from my own experience as a hiring manager, many candidates struggle to give convincing answers – not because they don’t fulfill the requirements, but because they haven’t correctly prepared for these questions. To avoid ending up in a similar situation, start by listing all the skills, qualifications and experiences mentioned in the job description and identify examples where you previously demonstrated these. Then, put yourself into the interviewer’s shoes and try to anticipate 2-3 questions they could ask you for each item on your list and prepare your answers.
For example, let’s say you applied as a management consultant, and the job description states that the successful candidate has a proven track record of helping clients achieve business improvements. In that case, you want to add, “help clients achieve business improvements” to your list and prepare an example where you successfully have done this. Then, you want to identify and prepare answers to 2-3 questions that the interviewer could ask to assess your skills in more detail. For instance, they could ask you about a time you came up with an innovative solution to a customer’s problem or a past customer interaction you wish you had done differently. If you find it challenging to identify questions and want to save some time, you can use my digital coaching app. It does the work for you – based on your unique background and the job you applied for. To start your free trial, check out the link in this episode’s description.
Step 2: Dismantle the question.
The secret to handling questions during an interview that you have not prepared an answer for is to understand the reason behind the question before replying. Most likely, the question addresses one of the points you identified in the first step, when analyzing the job description, and often you can even use one of the answers you have already prepared.
For instance, in our previous example, the interviewer might say, “Tell me about a time a customer asked you for something that didn’t address their needs.” Asking yourself, “what part of the job description do they want to address with this?” might help you realize that they probably want to check if “helping clients achieve business improvements” is your priority. Once you know that, you can quickly evaluate if you can use one of the answers you prepared during step 1. In this case, maybe, you can use the example where you came up with an innovative solution to a customer’s problem if the client first suggested something else, but you convinced them that your solution better addressed their needs.
Step 3: Re-focus the question.
If the question you are asked is neither one that you had prepared an answer for in the first step, nor one that can be addressed by the second step’s method, you can use a strategy that I call “re-focus and problem-solve.” It works especially well when asked about your opinion or hypothetical questions on how you would do certain things if you got the job. Instead of trying to make something up that might not be thought-through, you re-phrase the question mentally into a problem-solving one and then develop your answer aloud.
For instance, in our previous example, the interviewer might ask you what your dream customer would be if you got the job. Now, if you haven’t thought about this, you could re-phrase the question mentally towards, “how would I determine who my dream customer is?” and then reply, “That’s a good question. I like solving challenging problems and making an impact with my work. Since many of today’s largest challenges are energy-related, I would probably want to work with one of your firm’s energy clients. I have a long background within innovation management, so a company that recently started innovation initiatives would probably benefit most from my skills. Based on that, I would say my dream client would be company x, since I read in the newspaper that they are about to set up a new innovation-focused business unit.”
Step 4: Practice.
As with all skills, the key to success is practicing. Brief a friend on the job you applied for, the skills, qualifications, experiences needed to succeed in the role and details about the company. Don’t provide them with the questions you already prepared answers for. Then, ask them to prepare 5 – 10 questions they would ask if they were the hiring manager and conduct a 45-minute mock interview with you. Afterward, discuss what went well and what could be improved. If you prefer, you can also book a mock interview with me. Use the link in the episode description to get your 20% discount during November.
These were the four steps to handling unexpected interview questions. I hope this was helpful, and thank you for listening.