The ability to answer questions properly during job interviews is a skill that needs to be mastered. Answering questions in an interview setting is especially difficult because candidates are on the spot and are scrutinized. The fear of giving the wrong answer too often prevents interviewees from being themselves and answering to the best of their abilities.
The first step to improving your job interview skills is to undertake interviews as a two-way exchange. Both sides are looking for a fit and, believe it or not, interviewers do care about choosing the right candidate. In that regard, they want to know about you as much as you want to know about them. If “answering questions” is difficult for you, look at the process from another angle… like a conversation. Don’t look at job interviews as interrogations. This will only have the effect of increasing your stress level. Keep in mind that there are no “right answers,” although there are clearly wrong ones. Therefore, don’t look for that perfect answer. Try to answer questions the best you can and to make the best overall impression as possible. At the end of the day, all you can do is try your best and interviewers will decide if you are a good fit or not.
That being said, there are few basic things you need to know about how to answer questions properly. Answering questions is about “form” and “substance.” Form refers to the way a message is conveyed:
- Do you speak loud enough?
- Is your pronunciation clear enough?
- Are you pleasant to speak with?
- How is your facial expression when you answer questions?
- Do you look confident when you answer questions?
The way you answer questions can be improved with practice. Put yourself in front of the mirror and look at how you look when you speak. Do a mock interview with a family member or a friend. Ask for their feedback on how you answer questions. What is their perception of you as you answer questions that are posed to you? What do they suggest that you should improve? The idea here is not to “copy” another person’s style or way of speaking. It is to improve your own way to do so. Authenticity is important. For instance, if you are a naturally shy person, don’t try to act like an extrovert. It won’t work. Instead, try to work on your shyness without going to the other extreme.
A mistake that many job seekers make is to memorize their answers. That is a bad practice for three main reasons:
- You will not look natural as you answer questions.
- You will worry about “remembering” instead of focusing on making a good impression.
- You will not connect with your interlocutor.
Connecting with your interlocutor means “being in tune with him or her.” Look at the interviewer’s facial expression, reactions or movements as you speak. That way, you will be able to sense his or her hesitation. He or she might not follow you sometimes and you might need to clarify what you said. Being focused on yourself will not allow you to notice these things. That is why it was suggested earlier that you undertake interviews like conversations; to allow for a two-way exchange of ideas.
Also consider this: what if you are asked a question that you did not prepare an answer for? Memorizing answers is a bad idea because it shows a lack of confidence and will never cover all the possible questions that you may be asked. As part of the process of improving your interviewing skills, you need to let go of that insecurity. Prepare and practice in advance, not at the last minute. “Know” what to say as opposed to “memorizing” what to say. The ability to think on your feet on Interview Day is key to securing a job offer.
Substance refers to what is conveyed. Substance has two components: structure and idea. “Structure” goes to the clarity of your thought process. A message is only effective to the extent that it is understood properly. Speakers that have the most impact are the ones that can convey their ideas clearly in a way that reaches their audience. “Idea” refers to the fundamentals of what you are trying to articulate. Do you put forward good arguments to back up your assertions? Do you cite good examples to show your skills?
A way to improve the substance of your answers is to limit yourself to two or three propositions. This will allow you to elaborate and put more focus on each. Sometimes less is better. Consider this situation: the interviewer asks you “what are your strengths?” You can choose to enumerate your strengths at length or you can choose to focus on your three main and most relevant strengths. By focusing on less, you actually get the chance to elaborate on each of them. Emphasizing your strengths is key to differentiating yourself from other candidates.
This brings us to the next critical topic: “relevancy.” Whatever your answer is, it has to be relevant to the job you are applying to. Always keep that in the back of your mind, although when formulating your answers, try to be subtle about it. In order to give answers that are relevant, you need to do proper research and know your background inside out. You cannot start thinking “what can I say that will be relevant” as you sit across the table from the interviewer. This does not mean that you should not take time to reflect before answering questions. It simply means that answers should come more spontaneously to you through diligent preparation. That is why careful preparation is key to succeeding at job interviews.
Coming back to the earlier example, if an interviewer asks you “what are your strengths,” what do you think he or she really wants to know? All your strengths? Definitely not. Interviewers can be clumsy sometimes and can formulate questions that are unclear. That being said, you have to use your judgment. In the above example, you should have realized that what the interviewer really wanted to know was “what are your main strengths as they relate to this opening.” If you approach the question as rephrased, it makes more sense. Based on that underlying understanding, you can then go forward to give a proper and relevant answer. A word of caution, however, on trying to read between the lines. Be careful about it and use your judgment.
Overall, try to keep your answers short and to the point. Talking too much can make you lose your thought process and look clumsy. Also, try to stay positive and avoid saying bad things about your previous employer or job. Be diplomatic about it.
To conclude, remember that self-confidence is key to making a good impression. Self-confidence comes with careful preparation and positive thinking.
by John Sylo