When we think about a job interview we often forget the simple principle that basically it is all about answering questions.

The interviewers wants to find out as much about you in the time frame allowed and so they will ask a number of pointed questions designed to get you to expound your knowledge or your information. 

We have recommended that you keep your answers short and to the point; rambling all around the subject wastes time and doesn’t give the interviewer the information he needs to properly assess your capabilities.

But there is one other thing you need to be aware of, to ensure that you can answer the questions clearly and competently … and that is the types of questions used in an interview –  The Good; The Bad and The Ugly!  Understanding this puts you in a good position to address the precise issue that the interviewer is seeking to explore.

So let’s consider the Question of Questions: The first and most common type is the ‘Closed Question’ – where the interviewer wants to get a precise piece of information.  They don’t want a rigmarole about the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ – they merely want the ‘What’ – ‘it’s the facts, ma’am just the facts’ as someone else once said.

So they might ask “Where did you go to school?”  which is simple to answer “I went to Townsville High School” or “St Joseph’s College” – and you could add some simple extra information to pre-empt a further closed question, such as : “I went to Townsville High School between 1991and 1996”  or “St Joseph’s College in Brisbane.”

Somehow or other we have begun to believe that these simple straightforward answers sound terse and a little rude, and we should elaborate and add supporting information that may or may not be relevant to this interview.  Do please try to resist the temptation to add life and colour to your responses with anecdotes and witticisms about your school days.  Keep it terse, it saves time which you can use later to expand when required.

Because the next type of question we come across in the interview is the ‘Open Question’.  When the interviewer uses an Open question, they are seeking to find out your opinions or justification for a closed question answer.

For instance you may be asked the closed question “What was your favourite subject at school?” to which you might have replied “Chemistry”.  The interviewer now might ask “Why was that your favourite subject?” –so, they are prompting you to give your reasons, and now you can expand and wax lyrical about the fascination of chemistry.

The trick is to know how to do that without losing the plot or including unnecessary information which will, again, waste precious time.  Here at Trischel,  we teach our people “The Formula” – a simple and quick way to ensure that your response ticks all the boxes and doesn’t waste time.

First take a moment to think about what you are going to say; it will only take a second or two, and then when you have your answer ready, create a concise and accurate reply to your question.

Start with the simple answer to the question; In this case the trigger word was ‘Why” and to answer a ‘why’ question you need a reason.  So you start off by saying “I liked Chemistry best because ….”-  well, why did you like chemistry best; that’s your reason’. 

And because you have been asked an open-ended question; you can take it one step further by giving examples of what you have done, projects you have completed or participated in that you think might be relevant to this interview.

Then your response starts to build like this “I like Chemistry best because I am really fascinated by the interactions created in experimentation.  For instance, as part of my Grade 12 Practical Project, I decided to find out what the effect of excess CO2 would have on plants. I found that  ……..     And that’s why I like Chemistry, it is practical and relevant in today’s society.”   

Notice that the last statement is a return to the answer you first gave.  This clearly rounds off your response and indicates to the listener you have completed your answer.  It is a simple trick, and allows you to stay in control, respond to the questions and use your time wisely.

Understanding the value of the open-ended question can also come in handy when you are faced with an interviewer who only asks ‘Closed questions’.  Too many of these will not allow you to develop your responses to show what you can do.  So if you realise that you are getting a majority of closed questions, take the bull by the horns and next time you get one, pre-suppose that the question “Why” was added. 

This way you answer the question like this, “I attended The University of Oxford” which answers the simple question of what university you attended … and then presuppose the question ‘WHY”  and continue “It offered the exact courses I needed to obtain the necessary degrees to enter this profession.”

This is, of course, only permitted when it is obvious that the interviewer is only asking closed questions which limit your ability to explain responses that might be of benefit for you to explore. Otherwise stick to the short sharp snappy responses and move the interview ahead.

Now, these are the good questions.  One of what I think is a ‘bad’ question is the ‘Hypothetical’ one; when the interview sets the scene and then asks you “What would you do?” or “How would you handle that?”

These types of question seem to be beloved of some interviewers who are looking for leadership or management qualities.  Unfortunately they are of little real benefit because there does not have to be a connection between what a person says they will do, with what that person actually would do. 

And remember that the time frame doesn’t allow for you to ask the questions yourself that will determine the details, which will be sketchy to say the least.  Without the full information being available you will not be able to answer the question in detail, only in general terms.  So in this case the following response is about all it deserves“Without the full details available I am unable to be specific about how I would handle this situation; but in general terms I would …..” and here you can give the stock responses we have all learned from our uni or business school days!

And the downright ugly usually comes from the inexperienced interviewer.  Here they start off with one question, then add another to it, and another and when they finally come to a halt you have a bewildering array of questions to choose from.  What do you do?  Well, here’s what you don’t do – don’t try and answer all of them, even if you can remember what all of them were!    Either answer the first or answer the last question. However, since you can choose which question to answer, if you can remember them, choose the one that you think is going to do the most good for you.

So a slightly nervous interviewer on the panel poses this type of question ‘Now, you mentioned that you play sport, so can you tell us what sport you prefer and if you have a preferred sports team why do you like that team specifically?  And do you believe that playing sport has anything to teach us, and if so what?”

After listening to that you can be forgiven for feeling slightly confused; so you could choose to go with what sport you prefer and ignore the rest.  Or you could explain why your devotion to the Brisbane Broncos is a perfect reason for you to be hired as a research chemist.  Or, if the job requires leadership skills, you could pick and choose from this mess the two things that would do you the most good.

“I prefer play rugby union, which is a team sport.  And playing team sports teaches us the value of cooperation and pooling of resources; values I have found essential in leadership positions“

You see, it isn’t hard if you understand the nature of questions before going into the interview.  

So when asked a closed question, remember this is not the time to enthuse about the reasons and outcomes.  
Leave that for the Open ended questions.  When faced with a hypothetical question, make sure that interviewer knows that you are not fooled and can only answer in general terms.  And finally, when you realise there could be more than one question here that you can use to enhance your chances, listen for the one you want to answer – then answer it.

Interviews are all about questions; and we will be assessed on how we answer them. But it is only by understanding what these question are designed to do can we take advantage of the opportunity to sell our ideas, opinions and indeed, ourselves, as the most likely candidate for this job.

It’s a question of answers really.
Michele @ Trischel

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