Help me be a better interviewee
June 25, 2013 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I am generally a good interviewee when I'm asked about anything other than me, but I struggle with the personal questions. One kind that often gets me is the "tell me about a time when you were X." Another would be"list three things your friends would find surprising/annoying/etc about you" or "what is a particularly stressful situation that you encountered in the last x months". My problem with these questions is in responding quickly. Once I think of a relevant example/answer I am pretty articulate, but the timing is an issue.

I am hoping that there is a workbook, youtube series, or general advice that would help me work on these kinds of questions. Obviously I can't anticipate them all, so very general wisdom that could be applied across the board would be appreciated. Mock interviews are not an option at the moment, unfortunately.
posted by tomtheblackbear to Work & Money (9 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Obviously I can't anticipate them all...

No, but you should try to anticipate as many as possible, or at least the major groupings. For example in every interview you should be prepared to talk about:
- Every single item on your resume,
- Why you (specifically) are interested in this new company (specifically), and
- What you have to offer the new company if hired.

There are also some categories of questions that are likely to come up where you can prepare a response template and then customize for the exact question asked. For example if you think about a difficult challenge in your past that you overcame successfully, you can use different facets of that experience for a variety of questions like "tell us a challenging situation in your past," "tell us about a stressful situation," "tell us about a major success in your life," "tell us about a moment you're proud of," etc. I guess that is one good general approach - prepare to talk about a few topics (events in your past, skills you have, whatever) well, and then brainstorm how to interpret those topics so that you can rely on them for as many questions as possible.

Also try googling "interview questions to anticipate" and similar phrases. The most popular ones will appear over and over again on a lot of lists.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:53 PM on June 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

My problem with these questions is in responding quickly. Once I think of a relevant example/answer I am pretty articulate, but the timing is an issue

Allow me to challenge the underlying assumption. I'm really good at this sort of thing in interviews, but I don't think "responding quickly" is important. You're better off working on how to comfortably stall while you search the memory banks for a good match rather than clutching onto the first response that's at all applicable. If you come up with a good response, the little bit of dead air will be quickly forgotten and you'll be able to spend a lot more time talking about the example so it winds up seeming like there was less dead air than when you latch onto the first thing that comes to mind and wind up answering in 20 seconds total and can't expand on your answer.
posted by yerfatma at 6:46 PM on June 25, 2013

I can't claim to have mastered this technique, but after doing a few interviews where this kind of question came up, I figured that this should be the solution: instead of trying to prepare for a variety of different questions, just prepare a half-dozen or so good anecdotes, mostly from your work life, that you can talk about fluently and confidently, with a sense of having learned something from the incident. Then re-purpose the anecdotes on the fly; give them a spin to match the question. The same anecdote can probably be re-framed as "a time you were challenged," "a time you dealt with something stressful," "a moment when you solved a problem," "an accomplishment you were proud of," etc. If you have a small assortment of anecdotes at your fingertips, then you don't have to search your complete life history to come up with answers to this type of interview question; you just flip through the anecdotes you've prepared and pick one that can be framed as matching the question.
posted by Orinda at 6:53 PM on June 25, 2013 [12 favorites]

Hiring Manager who loves behavior-based interviewing here!

"Tell me about a time" questions help me understand how you apply the general things you're discussing in specific situations. I don't care if there are a few beats of silence as you work to recall. I recognize that I may be putting you on the spot (and that's kind of the point, right?). Ultimately, it's the quality of your answer I care about, so as long as you have something solid to talk about once you're done taking a moment, you're good.

As far as prep goes: brainstorm some scenarios from your past that are things you want me to hear about. Think of your biggest successes, or maybe even situations where you overcame obstacles or mistakes and are better for it. You'll find that if you have a solid library to pull from, lots of situations will work for multiple types of questions.

Good luck!
posted by marmago at 6:57 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you do we'll when you get around to answering, learn to look incredibly comfortable while thinking about it. There's a way to considering a question that projects confidence and ownership of the situation. When I think of my best interviews on either side of the table, they all have a sense of owning the moment.
posted by advicepig at 7:29 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't remember how long it took anyone to think of their answers, I remember their answers.
posted by Jairus at 7:36 PM on June 25, 2013

The key to this is lots and lots of practice and drill. Get yourself a long list of behavioral interview type questions -- something like this -- and take the time to note down a couple things you could say for each question. Read through this several times until you feel you could respond to any question on the list. Then give a friend the list of questions and get them to drill you on them. Not only do you have to come up with something convincing, you have to do it as if this were a real interview. Obviously, in the real interview there's no guarantee that you'll only be asked the questions you've prepared, but I think you'll find that practicing like this will have dredged up enough material to handle any question thrown at you.
posted by peacheater at 7:39 PM on June 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I keep a stable of four or five 'incidents' or stories that exemplify several aspects of myself and my work. Each one can answer multiple types of questions and can show various aspects of my skill set and work ethic, and between them they cover just about any interview question I get asked. Working with coworkers, interfacing with the public, problem-solving and troubleshooting—these are the sort of general things that maybe one story could be adapted to in order to answer the question and show me at my best. I keep several rehearsed and one time before a big interview I even broke down which kinds of questions each story could answer and wrote it all out (useful, but sort of excessive).
posted by carsonb at 8:24 PM on June 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My problem with these questions is in responding quickly.

I've interviewed a decent number of folks, and I'd rather someone take a few moments to compose their thoughts than have someone rush out an answer that (usually) turns out to be a bad example for the question posed. Don't be afraid to take your time; that just makes you seem thoughtful.
posted by davejay at 8:35 PM on June 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

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