Whether you’re going for a promotion, entering a new field, applying for a startup or pitching a idea, you’ll face numerous interviews in your life. It could be at end of a panel, at a coffee catch up, in a co-working space or through a Skype call. With emerging industries, your responses in interviews need to go beyond preprepared answers and reflect new needs in the market. Your goal is to influence, while the other party’s job to be persuaded by you.

Caveat: The key is to be authentic and genuine. Just like you wouldn’t lie on your resume or on a date (of course you wouldn’t!) success is achieved by being yourself. My intent is to get you thinking, not provide a definitive framework.  The objective is to adopt the right mindset rather than asking anything technical or industry specific. Skills can be learned, the wrong attitude is almost impossible to unlearn.

1. What is your Story?

Synonymous with: Tell us about yourself?

This question is an open stage for bringing the best version of you. According to Jennifer Aaker, stories are recalled 22 times more than facts.  Unravelling this question should focus on two points:

  1. What quality(ies) do you want to relay?
  2. How are these quality(ies) demonstrated?

A good story should contain 3 basic elements: an opening – where the story is set, a body; a situation or conflict and a closing: an outcome achieved or situation resolved, often with a twist. Expanding these steps, Oren Klaff’s Pitch Anything suggests that storytelling is a vital component within a STRONG pitch:

  1. S – Set the frame
  2. T – Tell the story
  3. R – Release the intrigue
  4. O – Offer the prize
  5. N – Negotiate the terms
  6. G – Get a decision

Furthermore, in Paul Smith’s ‘Sell With a Story‘, he explains through the example of a painting with swimming pigs, how stories can be used to pique interest, build trust and close a deal.

swimming pig

2. Why Do You Want to Work for Us?

Synonymous with: Why do you want this role?

This question is used to determine if you a) understand the company and b) are a good fit by articulating why they should be persuaded.

Rather than reeling off your CV in bullet point form or regurgitating the company’s website, this question has grounds to communicate your why; which should align to the company’s.

Using your response, you can also highlight specific qualities about:

  • Your purpose and passions
  • What has inspired you
  • What you have found most rewarding / greatest accomplishments
  • How your experiences are beneficial to them

coffee question

3. Why Did You Make the Change?

Highlights: Decision Making, Adaptability

Change is inevitable and if you’ve chosen to reinvent yourself down a new career, this question is certainly going to pop up.  Decision making is a critical skill which reveals a lot about a person’s character.

Diverting to something new means you were willing to make a decision and take risk, negotiate terms and often have difficult conversations. It’s evidence of an attitude for exploration, challenging societal norms and even taking a step back in order to advance in a new direction.

In tackling this question:

  • Show gratitude for your previous experiences and what you’ve learned
  • Specify that there was more you wanted to achieve – this could be around the conditions, opportunities or that something was insufficient which provoked change
  • Have a focal point of what you want to achieve – how it can be done with this new role and how it’s a mutual win-win for both parties

4. What’s A Challenging Situation and How Did You Overcome It?

Highlights: Mindset, response to adversity, resilience

Defining a challenging situation depicts your attitude towards adversity, whether you have a growth mindset and if you have the belief to rise to a challenge. Often tackled with the STAR approach, further teasing out this question can tell a lot more about you:

  • How did this situation make you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • Where there other options or alternatives?
  • What were the pros and cons of each choice?
  • What would you have done differently should the situation happen again?

People are misguided to think that overcoming a challenge means rectifying it. Instead growth is not about ‘fixing’ a problem per se but the wisdom to act differently should the situation arise again.


5. Give Examples of 3 People Whose Careers’ You Fundamentally Improved

Highlights: Empathy, leadership, collaboration

You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. – Jim Rohn

You may not get this question directly, yet this question reveals how relational you are. It explores your:

  • Apathy
  • Performance in a team
  • Your level of influence
  • Your contribution

As businessman Harvey Mackay said, “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your relationships”. Each person’s impact should contain a mini story – of when, what and how their career incrementally improved. Likewise the flip of this question is 1-3 people who have dramatically improved your career and why. In hiring the best candidates, organisations seek to cultivate the best leaders with high EQ, who have been mentored and can mentor. 

6. What Do You Want From This Role and Where Do You See Yourself in the Next (12) months?

Highlights: Growth, goal attainment, career alignment and progression

The design of this question is to see within a specific time frame (12 months – 5 years usually):

  • Your goals
  • What you want to learn
  • What you want to achieve
  • If your growth is in alignment with the company

Because “Mental creation always precedes physical creation”, understanding your motivational drivers allows the interviewer visualise your growth. Do you believe you can achieve what you set out and do you perceive these goals to be within your internal locus of control?

LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner stated that his best employees were a coalescence of 3 attributes: dreaming big, getting sh*t done and knowing how to have fun. You’ll be highly favoured if your objectives complement these 3 attributes and align to the organisation’s vision.

What You Should Ask Them

calculus board

Deconstructing your experiences, goals and what makes you tick is only half the equation. In every interview the chance to ask questions will arise. Definitely do so!

Some questions I like to ask:

  • What are of the biggest opportunities/threats to this business in the next year and how can I assist with this role?
  • What has been your journey with the company and what you have learned? I recently asked this in 2 startup interviews and it was taken very positively.  A prime example of the effectiveness of encouraging others to talk about themselves
  • What are the next steps of this process, and is there anything I need to prepare or do?

Depending on the role or situation the questions you can ask can vary significantly. The basic principle is to show: enthusiasm, curiosity and proactiveness.

Why Questions are Important?

Tim Ferriss in his latest  book ‘Tribe of Mentors‘ asks 130 various professionals, athletes and experts 11 specific questions. He suggests that often what we want is in the form of answers, blueprints and knowledge within someone else’s head.  If you seek, ask.

What Makes a Good Question?

Ferriss’ further articulates a few components to a good question:

  • Can the question be answered quickly? The more specific and actionable the better. Broad questions are difficult to answer. While interviewers might ask you broad questions, you should ask more defined questions.
  • Follow a specific sequence – Lead up to more difficult questions. Ease people in.
  • If things can’t be defined quickly, remove it from the question – Vague terms like ‘success’ can vary from person to person. If you have to use it, ask them to define it first, and then ask how/why

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