Answering interview questions

By May 13, 2011Presentation Skills

A big part of my work is helping people prepare for career-changing interviews. When we start, by far the most common self-criticism is “I have a tendency to waffle”. The instinctive response is to go for safety – to give direct answers and back them up with reasons.

Q: Do you think we should we scrap the Leadership Plus program?

A: Yes. It has turned promotion into a ‘tick-box’ exercise and made us slower at getting talented people through the ranks.

But we can do much, much better.

First, the answer needs illustrating to bring it to life. An example of the company losing someone talented due to bureaucratic delays, and the cost of that loss, from personal experience, has massive impact. Let’s build:

A: Yes. I lost Jane Smith, a superb technician with unique skills, because she transferred from France and her training credits did not carry over. It would have taken her two years to get promotion to a level at which she was already operating. She left. Leadership Plus has turned promotion into a ‘tick-box’ exercise and made us slower at getting talented people through the ranks.

Second, there is an implied follow-up question: what would you replace it with?

A (continued): We need a promotion scheme that is flexible and allows managers greater discretion over entry points, so candidates get training tailored to their needs.

Third, there is an implied counter question: why not just change the current system?

A (continued): Leadership Plus is tainted. Only a new scheme with a new name can build confidence among staff and managers that we are adopting a genuinely novel approach to career planning and promotions.

The whole thing takes 30 seconds to say and it is so much more than an answer and a reason. There is experience and connection with the issue, an idea for something new and an argument against reforming the old.

Wait for follow-up questions at your peril – they may not come. A full answer first time is the best approach. And it doesn’t have to mean waffle.

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