Spot the difference: interview edition
January 4, 2009 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I have to answer 2 questions in a forthcoming interview and they sound the same to me! Need help to spot the difference?

The 2 questions are:

(a) How could you apply the skills and knowledge gained in your life so far to a placement at Company X?

(b) How could your knowledge and experience be used to help Company X?

What 2 things are they getting at here? Also, any quick pointers for this kinda thing?
posted by dragontail to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are there other questions as well? They might be trying to catch you up and get you to give a different answer using the same question worded differently.

That said, "skills and knowledge gained in your life so far" sounds somewhat wider, whereas with "knowledge and experience" it sounds like they're talking about within your field.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:50 AM on January 4, 2009

Hmm, they want a mini presentation on those 2 questions, with about 5 minutes on each, so I'm thinking they're looking for different answers.
posted by dragontail at 8:55 AM on January 4, 2009

It sounds like the first question is just trying to find out what skills you have that make you a good candidate for the job, whereas the second question is specifically interested in seeing how your skills can help the company improve.

It's the difference between, say, "How good of a chef are you?" and "Yeah, but can you cook MY favorite dinner?"

At least, that's how I read it.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:58 AM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]

I agree with Ms. Saint.

I'd approach the first question by laying out your qualifications for the position. I'd then use the second question to be a bit more free on some ideas on how you can help Company X improve or more directly how your skills could be applied..
posted by bitdamaged at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2009

Like dunkadunc, I'd interpret "skills and knowledge gained in your life" to mean things you've learned outside a professional / school setting.

Here are a couple of imagined examples of "life" experience: the time you were a camp counselor and got really good at mediating between emotional adolescents, or the compassion you learned while volunteering as a candy striper.

So then, question 'B' would be more focused on things that were more obviously work or education related, such as using your knowledge of open-source server architecture to lower costs without having a bumpy transition time (you could then also refer back to the informal, but important, mediation skills you mentioned in the first presentation - great opportunity for laughs).
posted by amtho at 9:04 AM on January 4, 2009

They're obviously the same question, regardless of what the intention was. Gently point that out and move on with the interview. You don't want to work for a company that would hold that against you.
posted by mpls2 at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2009

they may have been looking up interview questions on the internet, and accidentally included 2 similar questions from different lists.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:27 AM on January 4, 2009

To me it sounds like:

(a) Technical: given your skills, where do you fit in the company; what would your role be; what can you do. Let's say you're a specialist in the X technology which they use in the production of their Y product.
(b) Managerial: looking at your achievements in the past and past positions, how can you make a difference. Let's say in company W you implemented a quality assessment process that got them a certification which the present company is looking into getting.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 9:44 AM on January 4, 2009

It definitely seems like there was some sort of screw-up on the company's part. If there's a material difference between the two questions, they don't make it clear in the way they phrase it.

I agree that you need to "gently point it out," but I think the way to go about it would be to answer the first question as well as you could, then when the second question rolls around, begin your answer with something like "well, as I said before..." And then, at the end, say something like, "Did that answer your question? Is there anything more specific I can tell you?"
posted by PlusDistance at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2009

It's possible you may be giving each mini-presentation to a slightly or entirely different audience at different times, depending upon the specialization of your job-description.

It's also possible the interviewer setting the questions isn't particularly experienced and simply slipped up in giving similar questions, as suggested.

I'd use the first question to give an overview of your technical skills and overall knowledge and life-skills (including significant goals/projects achieved outside of work that would show you as a problem-fixer and general go-to guy) as roughly relevent to the position. I'd use the second question to give more detail on specific work you've done in the past that applies well to the company and job specifically, showing you've done your research on the company and the sort of role you'll be doing.

In other words, what Ms. Saint said.
posted by ArkhanJG at 10:15 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

The questions are not the same. Note the passive voice in the second question.

Question #1 is, as others pointed out, broader, addressing professional as well as life skills. But the main point is that it asks how you yourself would go about using these skills. [Random examples: Do you think that your good social skills will be important for your company? Do you believe that doing your tasks suffices? Has your recent separation made you especially skilled in conflict solving matters, or, conversely, totally closed you up in this respect? That kind of stuff.]

Question #2 is about how someone (your boss, team leader, whatever) should (in your view) approach you with tasks that match your professional skills.
posted by Namlit at 10:46 AM on January 4, 2009

The questions are very close in meaning. I take question 1 as meaning "How will you apply your skills, experience, talent?" and question 2 as "What general characteristics do you have that will be good for our company?"

I would try to answer the gist of both, but I would also do what politicians do. Use every question as a platform to talk about what you want to say - your strengths and achievements and why you should be hired.
posted by theora55 at 11:25 AM on January 4, 2009

Ms. Saint's got it. First question is asking about you, second question is about them.

Interview questions are often clunky and badly-worded. Worse, once you ask one set of applicants the stupidly-worded questions, you have to ask everyone those questions to be treating everyone equally (or so goes the thinking.) I don't think that pointing this out is going to help you at this point.
posted by desuetude at 8:02 PM on January 4, 2009

Sounds like questions pulled from one of those '999 Classy Interview Questions!' books. Or those '9999 Performance Evaluation Phrases' books. If you can't think of your own phrases, perhaps you shouldn't be in a management position. Or, reconsider the possibility of employing good old candor.

So, that said, I am of no help to you or anyone. As usual. Perhaps I should ask myself how my knowledge and skills can contribute to the answering of your question.

Not at all.

Is 8am to early to start drinking?
posted by Darth Fedor at 6:05 AM on January 5, 2009

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