- David McClelland developed a managerial picture of motivation, suggesting that all of us, and importantly potential leaders, are driven by three basic motivators: a need for achievement, a need for power (both personal power and institutional power), and a need for affiliation. These are learned needs, and manifest themselves at different levels among individuals. Thus, we can contemplate a person’s drive (need for achievement), their propensity to want to influence others (personal power) and organize/control others (institutional power), and their need to belong, collaborate, and be liked by others need for affiliation). For each individual, one of these three needs will dominate their actions.
See: McClelland, D. C. (1967). The Achieving Society. New York:, NY: The Free Press.
- Machiavellianism is a personality trait evidenced by your willingness to deceive and use others to accomplish your own goals. We describe a “high Mach” individual as one who will sacrifice the interests of others through deceit and manipulation to accomplish personal goals. A “low Mach” would tend to not manipulate and deceive others simply to accomplish personal outcomes. An interesting study has shown that high Machs (low measures on a scale of Honesty-Humility) are more likely to cheat in order to win games. Read most succinctly: high Machs may be more prone to unethical behavior.
Crafting the Best Answers to Those Pesky Interview Questions
But that pattern … they question/you answer … seems a bit passive to us. We think that questions are a great opportunity to do two things … exert some control over the structure of the interview and, most importantly, sell the Holy Trinity (repeat after me: I can do the job, I can do it better than any other candidate, and I can fit in). Remember, you’ll never get hired if you can’t do the job, you might get hired even if you’re not the best at the job, but they won’t want to hire you if they don’t think you’ll fit in with the others at work. But if you can hit all three, the job should be yours.
The good news is that since many interview questions are somewhat generic, you can prepare most of your answers ahead of the interview. Here’s how you do it. You want to compose an answer that is succinct and to the point, but it should also address all points of the Holy Trinity whenever possible. You want to hi-lite the key skills or abilities that show you can do the job, differentiate yourself in terms of those skills (you’re really good at it), and close with a work culture comment, i.e. hint at the fact that you work well with others (“I’ll fit in”). So, when asked to say something about yourself, open with a descriptor of what helps you get jobs done (“I am a results-oriented individual”) better than other candidates (“I have a track record of outstanding achievement”) while working with others (“And have always enjoyed solid working relationships with my teammates and colleagues”).
The simple fact is, you will play the game the way you practice. So, with that in mind, we’ve provided some sample questions and answers below to offer you a chance to “practice” answering standard questions. Remember, though, that while the questions may be generic, the answers have to be personal … they have to sell you as the solution to their need. So, they must reflect your knowledge, skills and abilities framed in a response to their generic question.
Have an interview question that stumped you? Want some advice on how to answer a question you don’t see here? Heard a tricky one lately? Send us a note with some of the questions you’ve faced and we’ll try to add them to the list.
Key Questions You Must be Prepared to Answer
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why should I hire you?
- What is your biggest weakness?
- Trick Question # 1: “Why are manhole covers round?
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- What is the one thing you would change about your current or last job?
- Trick Question # 2: How many piano tuners are needed in Chicago?
Let’s Practice Crafting Some Winning Answers
“Tell me about yourself.”
Purpose of the QuestionThis is perhaps the most common interview question you’ll run up against. Contrary to popular opinion, the interviewer is not looking for your life story. Rather, the interviewer is looking to see how well you sort through a lot of potential information, if you can condense and organize that information into a succinct and relevant message, and whether or not you can communicate that message clearly.
What Not to Answer
- Don’t narrate your life history here; the interviewer probably doesn’t need to know where you went to elementary school or what your first car was.
- Don’t summarize your resume; they’ve already read it.
- Don’t exaggerate … keep it clean and simple.
- Don’t ramble … you only have 30 minutes or so, so keep this answer between 1-2 minutes.
- “I’ll tell you about me if you tell me about you!” A bit too cheeky. Even worse if you wink at the interviewer when you say it.
Building Your Best AnswerThe interviewer has basically given you a chance to give your elevator speech, i.e. the key pitch to a wealthy investor (or in this case an interviewer with a job!). So, it needs to hi-lite your strongest attributes, it needs to address all points of the Holy Trinity, and it needs to be completed within two minutes.
Pick two key strengths/skills/abilities from your resume that would relate directly to the job you are interviewing for, and identify one or two successful outcomes that you have experienced as a result of these strengths. Then, craft a story (don’t make it up, it has to be based in truth) about how your outcomes resulted from your strengths and benefitted from interacting with others either at work or, if you are still a student, in school. As an example, a person interviewing for a sales position might say:
“I really enjoy selling. I am a results-oriented sales person with a strong track record of closing. I have found that my best sales have come from working with our engineers and with my customers to ensure that my product best satisfies my customers needs. As just one example, I was selected as the sales person of the month during our most recent product roll-out, thanks in large part to building a close collaboration among our product design group, my customer, and our company’s customer service folks.”
I can do the job: “a strong track record of closing”
I can do it better than others: “selected as sales person of the month”
I’ll fit in: “building a close collaboration”
“Why should I hire you?”
Purpose of the QuestionThis question essentially asks you to justify the firm’s investment in hiring you … they want to know what you will bring in return. You don’t have the job yet, so you can’t offer a numeric return on investment calculation, but you are being offered the chance to articulate what you will deliver to the firm if you are hired. They want to know the key knowledge, skills, and/or abilities they will gain if they hire you.
What Not to Answer
- Don’t say “Because you’d be a fool not to!” Never cool to insult the interviewer, even hypothetically.
- Don’t act like Robert Redford in The Natural; as much as you might like to think it, you’re not “the best that ever was.”
- Don’t be too timid, though, and don’t undersell … you want to make them understand that you have strengths and that they will generate a return.
- Don’t over-answer … you’re not Superman with unlimited powers. Pick one or two, not a laundry list of all the good things you bring.
- Don’t make it up: lying in an interview or on your resume is your Kryptonite.
Building Your Best AnswerYou’ll need to do some research for this one. You’ll be best able to answer this question appropriately if you know more about the type of position you are interviewing for. For example, selling yourself as a salesperson who lives for “the close” and loves new clients may be a good thing, but not for a firm oriented more toward a gatherer approach, i.e. more consultative, relationship driven sales. So, do your research, know what the firm will expect of its new hire, and craft an answer that illustrates how your knowledge, skills, and/or abilities will reward the company for hiring you.
Let’s assume you are interviewing for a job at a medium sized manufacturing facility. You know that they maintain tight/lean staffing and expect their workers to be flexible in terms of skills since they are essentially a job shop. You’ll want to focus on the skills that you think will help the firm, and you want to keep it succinct. And, as always, you want to address the Holy Trinity of Job Seekers: I can do the job, I can do it better than your other candidates, and I can fit in. You might say something like:
“If you hire me, you’re going to get a very reliable worker who brings a variety of skills to the shop. I rarely miss work; in fact, I’ve had a perfect attendance record the last two years. And, I’ve got experience with a number of different machines and set-ups. I take great pride in being able to jump in and help out when there’s a new job on the floor.”
I can do the job: this shop runs with a lean staff and you’re a “reliable worker.”
I can do it better than others: “perfect attendance record the last two years”
I’ll fit in: “take pride in being able to jump in and help out”
“What is your biggest weakness?”
Purpose of the QuestionContrary to popular opinion, this question is not meant to get you to bare your soul to the interviewer. Rather, this question is designed to determine if 1) you have the ability to self-critique, and 2) you can demonstrate a history of, or the intent to, improve upon your weaknesses. In a sense … “Candidate … heal thyself!”
What Not to Answer
- Don’t say something like, “I work too much.” This question isn’t about trying to sell a strength as a weakness. Too many candidates try to finesse this point; don’t be a follower.
- Don’t say “I have no weaknesses.’ Even if you don’t, you don’t want to humiliate the interviewer
- Don’t offer a laundry list here … a key weakness and a plan to correct it is good, listing 25 weaknesses probably ends the show.
- Don’t forget the fix. The interviewer is looking for the commitment to improvement, so be sure to hi-lite your effort to correct an identified weakness.
- Don’t make your weakness a “kiss of death.” Struggling with Excel or PowerPoint is one thing, hating everybody you ever worked with is another thing entirely.
Building Your Best AnswerPart of the question’s intent is to determine if you have a rational sense of your self. So, take an honest inventory of things that you wish you were better at. But be rational about the process as well … don’t pick a weakness so egregious that the interviewer will run from the room in horror when he or she hears about it. Secondly, be sure you can offer an attempt to correct the weakness. An intent to correct the weakness (“I plan to go back to school”) is good, an actual effort to correct the weakness is better (“I went back to school to get my degree.”). Finally, and best of all, if you had a weakness in an area that is important to the job you are interviewing for, and you took steps to improve, make sure you lead with that.
Let’s assume you are interviewing for a job at a company that hopes to use a lot of social media in their marketing efforts. Perhaps you’ve been away from school for a while, and you have had limited experience with social media in your current work environment. You might say something like:
“The more I work in marketing, the more I see social media grow as a key element of modern customer outreach. When I got my degree, social media was really in its infancy, and my current employer doesn’t really use it. I sensed my knowledge was lacking and I was behind the curve in this area. But, I really believed that social media was important going forward. So, I enrolled in a social media in marketing course at the local college to develop skills in this area. I have really enjoyed learning how to best use these tools in marketing and hope to continue developing these skills in this position. ”
This is a tough question with which to addressThe Trinity:
I can do the job: while it is/was a weakness, I’ve developed “skills in this area.”
I can do it better than others: Maybe not yet, but I’ve committed to“learning how to best use these tools”
I’ll fit in: I’ll contribute to the cause because I “hope to continue to developing these skills in this position
Controlling the interview:
This is great question to help you take control of the interview, though. It’s a perfect opportunity for a follow-on question such as, “Can you tell me about the training and development programs at your firm?”, or “Does your employee review process help identify skills needed for promotion?” In this way, you turn a question about your weakness to an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in professional improvement, and you begin to control the question process (Take back some of the power imbalance, baby!).
Trick Question #1: “Why are manhole covers round?”
Purpose of the QuestionMicrosoft is roundly (no pun intended) credited with devising this question to test the creativity and problem-solving skills of wanna-be software engineers. Microsoft and companies like Google and McKinsey continue to use questions like this to hone in on problem solving skills.
This question has been asked and answered so often, though, that one wonders if it is less a test of your problem-solving skills than a test of your preparation for an interview … this question should never surprise a well-prepared interviewee … that is to say, you.
What Not to Answer
- “Who cares!” is probably not an answer that carries the day.
- “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever been asked.” probably gets some points for assertiveness, but loses the day even faster than the answer above.
- “I don’t know” doesn’t win you any points, but it does end your suffering a bit more quickly.
- “I have no idea. Do you?” A nice rhetorical flourish, and challenging the interviewer maybe gets you some points for being a risk taker. Not enough points, though.
- “How should I know?” Well, the truth is, you should know. You don’t even need to be an engineer or a problem solver to have looked this horribly over-used interview question up before your interview. Even worse, if you are an engineer that can’t come up with an answer, and you didn’t look it up ahead of time … to the end of the line goeth you.
Building Your Best AnswerThis question begs an objective answer, so it’s best to get right to the point. Some answers that fit the bill:
“The circular shape of the cover means it has a constant diameter. That won’t allow it to fall through the opening no matter which way the cover is turned. ”
“ The circler shape makes it easier for a worker to move it because it can be rolled on its edge.”
“Since it’s a circle, you don’t have to line up any edges to put it back in its place.”
This is a tough question with which to addressThe Trinity, so we’ll focus on just the first:
I can do the job: Any of the above will demonstrate your problem solving skills
Controlling the interview:
By the way, be careful not to rattle off every potential answer as soon as the question is asked. Best to say, “Well, I can think of a few reasons. I guess the most basic is that the constant diameter of the circle keeps it from falling through a circular hole.” That invites the interviewer to ask what other reasons there might be, and you get to sound like a contemplative problem solver as opposed to a know-it-all rattling off a list of looked up facts at the first opportunity. Establishing a give and take with the interviewer helps with the social aspect of fitting in.
“Why do you want to leave your current job?”
Purpose of the QuestionGenerally, this is an informational question for the interviewer. If there is any intent beyond the basic question, it is 1) to see if you have problems at work, or more hopefuly 2) you are looking for more opportunity or advancement.
What Not to AnswerIn simple terms, this is an avoid the negative and accentuate the positive question. Badmouthing your current firm, your current boss, or your coworkers are paths to interview disaster.
- “I didn’t … they fired me.” Sharing a bit too much here. And, did I say, “avoid the negative?”
- Don’t say something like, “My boss is a jerk and I can’t wait to get away from her.” This sends up a red flag for the third part of the Trinity … can you really fit in?
- Not the time to say, “I’m not very good at what they have me doing.” This calls into question your skill set and your willingness to try to improve.
- Don’t say, “That place is a joke!” If its not public knowledge (announced layoffs, location is closing, supervisor got indicted), badmouthing your organization suggests you won’t be a loyal employee. The interviewer needs to feel they can trust you want them to think you will “fit in.”
- Don’t be too laid back: “I get bored easily; seems like a chill time to move on.” Doesn’t speak too well for your motivational characteristics.
Building Your Best AnswerAgain, this is an avoid the negative and accentuate the positive question. Your best bet here is to suggest while things are good where you currently work, you are seeking a change in order to grow. Growth suggests motivation, and that is almost always a good thing when you are being recruited. Whether you are seeking more responsibility, more chance for skill development, opportunities for travel, more opportunities to work with customers, or more compensation, you are signalling to the interviewer that you are motivated to do more at work. This is also a great opportunity to demonstrate assertiveness: I am doing well right now, but I can do more.
“To be honest, I really enjoy my job right now. The people I work with are great, and the job I have is very interesting, but there really is no room for growth. The firm just brought in two new managers from another company, and they’re both about my age. I was told that while I was doing a great job, promotions would be slow for awhile because they just brought in these two new managers. Like I said, I really do like my job, but I think I’d be a good manager … my coworkers would all agree with that, I’m sure. I’m looking for a job that will allow me a chance to grow as a professional develop my managerial skills.”
This is a good question with which to addressThe Trinity:
I can do the job: I’m “doing a great job” at my current location.
I can do it better than others: This is answered through your motivational statement: “I’m looking for a job that will allow me to grow as a professional…”
I’ll fit in: “… my coworkers would agree with that, I’m sure.”
Controlling the interview:
This is another great question to help you take control of the interview, though. It’s a perfect opportunity for a follow-on question such as, “Can you tell me about any management training programs at your firm,” or “Does your firm promote from within?” Both responses allow you to direct the question toward items that interest you, not just the questions on the interviewer’s list. Once again, take some control of the power balance in the interview setting.
“What is the one thing you would change about your current/last job?”
Purpose of the QuestionThis is a variant of the “why did you leave” question. There are two objectives here. The first, and overriding, objective is to see if you have some critical thinking skills: can you identify a problem and associate it with a negative outcome (even better, with a solution, too). Secondly, are you able to communicate succinct problem statements and , importantly, a relevant solution.
What Not to AnswerThe biggest risk here is answering in a way that casts coworkers or supervisors in a negative light. You don’t want to come off as a malcontent or someone who can’t work effectively with others. This will immediately violate the 3rd tenet of the Holy Trinity and suggest that you can’t fit in.
- “My boss never told me what to do.” That may be true, but one is left wondering why you didn’t change the situation by asking for clarification.
- “I’d hire more talented workers.” Again, it may be true that your coworkers weren’t too talented, but it’s never good form to throw them under the bus in public.
- “I’d increase bonuses because then we would have worked harder.” Oh, there are so many things wrong with this … if it’s all about pay, what’s to say you won’t be just as unmotivated here?
- “Not a thing. It’s a great place to work.” Well, no place is perfect, so having no suggestion leads the interviewer to question your level of critical thinking, to say nothing of your naivete.
- “Learn a foreign language. Then, I could tell my boss to **** off without him knowing it!” Top marks for building your cultural fluency, out the door for so many other reasons.
Building Your Best AnswerIf the biggest risk here is the appearance of criticizing other people at work, then the safe bet is to focus on more inanimate aspects of your current workplace: processes, facilities, technology, or location. Craft an answer that leads with a potential improvement (“We could have been more productive”) linked to a specific problem (“if we had access to newer computers”), closing with what that would have meant to the firm (“That would have allowed us to save a significant amount of time in our marketing analyses and resulted in much faster customer fulfillment”). Or, focus on an organizational process, like communication:
“I really think we could do a better job in our department if we were more in the information loop, so to speak. My company generally does a good job of communicating corporate stuff internally, but communication within our sales area is not as fluid as it could be. Our sales contact system is dated, so we don’t get feedback from our customers until a week or so after an order is being processed. That means that we may not catch up to special requests for a few days, and sometimes our customer has to wait longer than they should. If our system kept us in closer contact with our customer, more in the loop, we’d be able to ship them the product they need a few days sooner.”
With respect to the Trinity:
I can do the job: We’re looking for critical thinking here, so “we could do a better job … if we were more in the information loop” gets the job done here
I can do it better than others: Many can find a problem, fewer can link it to a solution/outcome: “… we’d be able to ship them the product they need a few days sooner.” Better customer satisfaction and shorter cycle time will win the day every time.
I’ll fit in: Nobody got bad-mouthed here … you’re on solid ground.
Trick Question #2: “How many piano tuners are needed in Chicago?”
Purpose of the QuestionKnown as a Fermi question, this is another question designed to test your problem-solving abilities. In particular, the interviewer is attempting to determine your ability to use estimation to arrive at an approximate solution to a puzzle, and is gauging your ability to think on your feet (of course, if you’ve done your homework, you did your thinking on this puzzle well before you arrived for the interview). Fermi problems solicit your ability to demonstrate “dimensional analysis, approximation, and the importance of clearly identifying one’s assumptions.” Remember, there is no actual answer to the puzzle, what matters is the approach you take to estimate an answer.
What Not to Answer
- “Really … piano tuners?” isn’t a great opening.
- “As far as I’m concerned there’s no need for piano tuners at all. I hate music.” Music lovers are as sensitive to music haters as dog lovers are to people who like cats. No need to risk offending the questioner here.
- “Got a Chicago phone book handy?” It does show a sense of humor, but anyone who would seriously ask this question probably doesn’t have one. Stow the snark.
- “I have no idea. Do you?” Again, a nice rhetorical flourish, and challenging the interviewer maybe gets you some points for being a risk taker. Not enough points, though.
- “How should I know?” As is the case with Trick Question #1, the truth is, you should know. Be prepared; the answer’s in Wikipedia for goodness sake.
Building Your Best AnswerWikipedia offers a great structure to answering this question. If you are going to just let this answer rip, it’s probably best to open by saying something like: “I know this one.” If you are going to try and fake an analysis and then repeat this answer verbatim, you’re better off letting the interviewer know that you researched the answer … you’ll get high marks for preparation.
“We might make the following assumptions:
- There are approximately 9,000,000 people living in Chicago.
- On average, there are two persons in each household in Chicago.
- Roughly one household in twenty has a piano that is tuned regularly.
- Pianos that are tuned regularly are tuned on average about once per year.
- It takes a piano tuner about two hours to tune a piano, including travel time.
- Each piano tuner works eight hours in a day, five days in a week, and 50 weeks in a year.
(9,000,000 persons in Chicago) / (2 persons/household) × (1 piano/20 households) × (1 piano tuning per piano per year) = 225,000 piano tunings per year in Chicago.
We can similarly calculate that the average piano tuner performs
(50 weeks/year)×(5 days/week)×(8 hours/day)/(2 hours to tune a piano) = 1000 piano tunings per year per piano tuner.
(225,000 piano tunings per year in Chicago) / (1000 piano tunings per year per piano tuner) = 225 piano tuners in Chicago.
The actual number of piano tuners in Chicago is about 290.”
Recognize that this is only one example of a Fermi problem, so be prepared. How about the number of jelly beans in a one-liter bottle, or piano tuners in New York City? I’ll let you research the one about the number of golf balls you could put in a school bus.
This is another tough question with which to addressThe Trinity:
I can do the job: Demonstrate your problem solving skills by making and defining broad assumptions, then drill down with reasonable approximations. Or, just admit that you prepared for the interview and lay the analysis out.
I can do it better than others: Preparation sets you apart from 90% of the other interviewers, so let them know that you prepared.
I can fit in: A sense of humor when you are broadsided by these types of trick questions goes a long way toward marking you as a likable person. Smile, make a joke about being stumped, and then try to attack the problem.
“Tell me about an issue you’ve had in the past with a supervisor.”
Purpose of the QuestionNobody has issues with supervisors, right Dilbert? The interviewer is playing two games with this question. First, she wants to find out if you are a team player/trustworthy, or will you badmouth another worker when their back is turned. Secondly, and more constructively, if you’ve had an issue with a supervisory situation, were you able to work it out in a professional manner?
What Not to Answer“Full disclosure” is rarely your friend with this question. Never, ever fall for the bait here and badmouth a current or previous supervisor. Even if you worked for Atilla the Hun, it would be far better to describe him as an highly motivated manager than a pillaging maniac. The safest approach here is to avoid, at all costs, criticizing your supervisor.
- “Yeah, I had an issue with him every day. The guy was a jerk.” No points for truthfulness here, a failing grade for badmouthing a coworker outside of the shop.
- “We disagreed on how to approach a lot of jobs. Basically, he didn’t know what he was doing, so I just did what I wanted anyhow.” Two strikes here. Once again, badmouthing your supervisor is a no go. Secondly, piling on by saying you didn’t listen to him condemns you forever to the dungeon of “not a team player.”
- “Once or twice. But, I just complained to her manager, and I was off the hook.” If there is a sin worse than going over your supervisor’s head, I’m not sure what it is. An answer like this makes the interviewer feel he can’t trust you. If he thinks he can’t trust you, he’ll think his coworkers won’t be able to trust you either … you won’t fit with him or the other members of the firm.
Building Your Best AnswerThe trick in answering this question is to acknowledge an “issue,” but place the issue in the context of a work situation. Now, it’s not you that had the issue, the issue arose from the structure of the work. Bonus points if you can make it a team context: you weren’t alone in the issue with the supervisor, and it implies the ability to work well with others. Next, always describe how the two of you worked it out. We all recognize that workers and supervisors have issues from time to time; what counts is your ability to find a productive solution to the issue.
“Well, one time our work team was really scrambling to finish a customer order. Danny, the team lead, kept asking us why changes he wanted weren’t being made. It was clear that he was frustrated, and we were getting frustrated, too, because we were confused about the direction of the work. So, when Danny got upset about a change he thought we should have made, I took him aside and asked him why he was so upset. He said that he left a phone message with one of the other team members about a change that was needed, and it wasn’t done. Here, the whole time, we were monitoring emails for job order changes. It ends up the whole thing was a big communication error … once we all got on the same page, we were right back on track.”
With respect to the Trinity:
I can do the job: You provided a productive approach to addressing issues: “I asked him why he was upset” … “The whole thing was a communication error” shows you can work out issues with coworkers
I’ll fit in: 1) You didn’t stab your supervisor in the back, 2) you were working for a team solution, and 3) you asked to take him aside to solve the issue in private
Semi-trick Question #3: “If you could compare yourself to any inanimate object in the room, which object would you be?”
Purpose of the QuestionUnless you are applying for an acting job, the good news is that you generally won’t have to act out the inanimate object. The interviewer really doesn’t care which object you choose. They’re interested in seeing how you react to an off-beat stressful situation, and with judging your creativity. They’ll expect you to take the question seriously and construct a reasonably metaphorical statement of you as embodied by … well, take your pick of the items in the room. Creativity, handling of stress, and ability to communicate a complex concept … those are the winning cards with this question.
What Not to Answer
- “You.” Unless it’s the end of a bad interview, or you really don’t want the job, best not to compare the interviewer to a desk chair, or worse yet, an ash tray.
- “What’s an inanimate … one of those things without a backbone?” Vocabulary skills are a strong predictor of intelligence, so don’t even go there.
- “The light switch, because you really turn me on!” Danger, Will Robinson … a sexual harassment law suit waiting to happen!
- “The carpet … everyone is always stepping on me at work.” Sorry, no room for whiners at this Inn.
- “That refrigerator over there, ‘cause, man, I could really use a drink right about now.” Uhhh, no, just … no.
Building Your Best AnswerBuild your answer in a way that addresses the three keys of the interviewer … handling surprise/stress, being creative, and communication. In one sense, you shouldn’t stress out about this if you’ve prepared ahead of time, because the question won’t surprise you. On the other hand, don’t prepare an answer for an object that might not be in the interview room. The antique map of Shipwrecks of the Great Lakes hanging in your room might be a good metaphor for your inquisitive mind, but it probably won’t show up in an office in Miami. Pick a basic object with which to prepare … a window, a lamp, a book, etc. Think of your key skill or ability that differentiates you from other candidates, and tie it to that object. Finally. deliver your answer thoughtfully, and keep it to three or four sentences at most.
For a more senior planning job, you might suggest: “Maybe the window. In my current job, I do a lot of outreach work with our strategic stakeholders. I’ve been recognized by my supervisors for taking a broader view to problems. I guess I like to be sure that what I’m doing fits the bigger picture, and I want to be sure that I bring all relevant data from outside in to my planning. The window is kind of like that; it allows the views from outside to find their way in to the company and its plans.”
More generally: “I’ll compare myself to the books on the shelf. Whenever I take on a task, I’m known for my preparation; you know, taking the time to learn all I can about the task before hand. So, maybe the books represent my research. More importantly, I suppose, is the fact that I want a job in which I’ll always be learning … sort of like writing my own notes or chapters in those books.”
Some suggest the metaphor of the lamp: “When I’m working on a team, I think it’s important that we all share our ideas and skills with each other. So, like the lamp, I like to shine any skills I have on the task and help the others see better solutions. That way, I’m helping out the rest of the team and helping get the job done at the same time.”
Remember that you are supposed to be surprised by this question, and they want you to be more creative than prepared. So, pause, look around the room, pick an object, take a deep breath, then let ‘er rip.
With respect to The Trinity:
I can do the job: Tie your response to a demonstrable, recognizable skill, particularly one needed by the company: “I’m known for taking the time to learn all I can about the task before hand.”
I can do it better than others: A logical link to a skill that sets you apart, and is communicated well, moves you toward the top of the heap: “… a job in which I’ll always be learning.”
I can fit in: If you can tie your answer to a team success or to a time when you helped others, you’ll bolster the interviewer’s sense that you can fit in to a social setting at work. ”I think it’s important that we all share our ideas and skills”
“What accomplishments are you most proud of?”
Purpose of the QuestionThis question provides the interviewer with a window to see what motivates you. Listen carefully, though … are they asking about work accomplishments or any accomplishment? Be sure to frame your answer to respond directly to the question.
If it is a work accomplishment, always be sure to indicate how the outcome benefitted not just you, but the productivity or bottom line of the company (remember, they will hire people that are motivated to produce for the company). If you can link it to an accomplishment within the frame of a team activity, so much the better. If you received public recognition for it, well that’s just gold. If you choose to hi-lite a non-work accomplishment, try to hi-lite organizational skills, leadership skills, or team skills that led to a positive outcome.
Remember, the question is about motivation … so let your enthusiasm for the accomplishment shine through when you answer the question. Smile, lean forward, bold and bright tone of voice.
What Not to Answer
- “Finding my way here. Could your office be in a more out-of-the-way place?” Unless you are applying for a delivery job, best to not criticize the neighborhood here.
- Don’t go overboard here … “I mean, look at my resume! Hard to single just one or two out in a life as accomplished as mine.” OK, maybe Steve Jobs or Tom Hanks could get away with this line, but probably not you or me.
- “I’m still waiting for one.” Don’t sell short here and don’t try to be humble … be sure to have crafted a narrative of you acting at your best toward a favorable outcome.
- “Well, let’s start with …” Don’t ramble here, and don’t offer the laundry list. One well-crafted litany of what motivates you is OK; two is acceptable; the third one and you’ve initiated the rejection sequence.
Building Your Best AnswerThere is a two-part “get” for the interviewer here: 1) are you a motivated person, and 2) what types of things motivate you, i.e. money, praise, the chase, etc.
The first part to crafting your answer is almost too obvious … pick an accomplishment. But be sure to pick one that really matters to you, as you need to demonstrate enthusiasm when you discuss it. If it was also recognized by others in the firm/group, that’s the best. Secondly, be sure that there is an identifiable product or outcome from the accomplishment. Third, craft two or three sentences that describe what you did, or how you accomplished the feat. Close with a strong statement about why this accomplishment meant so much to you. And remember, try to have two answers prepared, one purely work related, and another that non-work related, just in case.
“I know it sounds silly, but I received an “Employee of the Month” award last year. It’s just a certificate, and the gift certificate was nice, but what really mattered to me was the recognition of my work. I was buried with work that month, and I had some unusual out-of-work responsibilities to deal with then, too. But, we had a tight deadline, so I just kind of sucked it up, made sure I had some organization to my work, and thank goodness my teammates pitched in … and we got a particularly tough job done on time. It really felt good to see us all pull together, and to be recognized by my peers.”
I can do the job: “we got a particularly tough job done on time”
I can do it better than others: “I received an “Employee of the Month” award””
I’ll fit in: “thank goodness my teammates pitched in … we got a tough job done””
“Would you rather be liked or feared at work?”
Purpose of the QuestionYou’re generally not going to get this question at a campus screener. But, it can be standard fare for a management interview. David McClelland’s research into achievement needs brought out an interesting nugget that supervisors who crave affiliation with their co-workers (“I’d rather be liked”) may not make great leaders. On the other hand, are you the type of manager willing to invoke coercive power to get workers to do things (I’m OK being feared)? So, there actually is a method to the madness of finding out just how much a potential manager likes to be liked, or is comfortable being disliked. Bu the interviewer doesn’t want to hear “liked” or “feared,” the secret word here is respected.
What Not to Answer
- “I get all my management ideas from Management by Fear.” High marks for reading managerial self-improvement books. Poor marks when the interviewer realizes it’s actually a cartoon on Youtube.
- “Kwan, man … that’s my path at work.” Good Jerry Maguire reference, love and community and all. He even refers to the secret word, respect. But it’s Rod Tidwell’s word, not yours.
- “It depends. If my coworkers are weak, I just put the fear of God into them.” Good ability to adapt … might need to be promoted out of his department rapidly for his own safety.
- “I want them to like me …. to really, really like me.” Just a bit too gushy for an interview, Sally.
Building Your Best AnswerChoosing either of the two options conveys a message to the interviewer. “I want to be liked” … OK, but might not make the tough decisions. “I like my workers to fear disappointing me” … will make tough decisions, but may burn everyone out. Craft your answer around a productive work climate, where you hope workers are comfortable with your approach, but respect your role as a manager. And in today’s work climate, always a good thing, if possible, to place your response in a teamwork context.
A great way to approach this answer is to bracket your approach between “tough but fair.” “I don’t know that I need to be liked or feared. I think I’d rather be thought of as tough but fair. As managers, we all recognize that the job is bottom-line oriented. So, I expect my co-workers to produce. If they don’t, or worse yet won’t, then I need to find out why not and try to help them be more productive. If they don’t want the help, or choose not to work hard, well then we may have to have a tough conversation or make some hard choices. My track record shows that I am capable of doing that. I think that’s why my coworkers respect my management style. I think my promotions reflect the fact that I respect my coworkers’ hard work and professionalism, and they respect my role as supervisor.”
With respect to The Trinity:
I can do the job: Your response speaks to a demonstrable background: “My track record shows that I am capable of” … “hard choices.”
I can do it better than others: Show that your achievements stand out and have been recognized: “I think my promotions reflect the fact …”
I can fit in: Show some ‘kwan’: “I think that’s why my coworkers respect my management style.”
“How do you judge success?”
Purpose of the QuestionThis question helps an interviewer get a sense of what motivates you, and a sense of your drive to succeed. To the extent that a candidate describes their confidence in their ability to get things done (self efficacy, internal locus of control) or their willingness to manipulate others to help themselves succeed (Machiavellianism), the interviewer may also draw out some personality factors. Most interviewers will not be skilled enough to search here for personality traits, so the safe bet is that this is a motivation question. Secondarily, the interviewer will be interested to see if you judge success as an individual outcome (you), a group outcome (the team), or an organizational outcome (company success).
What Not to Answer
- “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!” Well, Enron no longer exists, so unless you’re interviewing for a sales or trading job on Wall Street … maybe a bit too strong.
- Motivation is important, but, “I like to work hard, and I like to party hard. If I can get up and go to work after partying hard, that’s a successful day for me” isn’t quite what they’re looking for. Kudos on the work hard part, though.
- “When I got everyone else in my rearview mirror.” Much of a team player?
Building Your Best AnswerRemember, the purpose of a question like this is to determine what motivates you. Your best answer should show you as a motivated person, but motivated in the context of meeting both your and the organization’s goals. Being goal oriented is a good thing for the interviewer, but only if you recognize that your goals need to be balanced with the goals of the firm.
As usual, you should be able to describe a situation in your past that evidences a successful outcome or a strong measure of productivity. You’ll want to show why you think this was a success (what motivates you), tie it to an organizational outcome, and in the best of worlds, show how you worked with others (not used others) to accomplish the goal.
You might attack this question along the following lines: “I like challenges at work, and I don’t like to fail. Much of my work at my current employer comes with tight deadlines for delivering product to our customers, and our customers often place orders with unique requirements. I pride myself on meeting those deadlines. In many cases, I am able to work with other teammates, and we always find a way to work together to meet customer needs and accomplish the goals our department. That makes it a win/win/win … we do the job that our department needs done, my team gets to notch another timely delivery, and I get the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to help get the work done. That’s how I judge success … getting tough work done on a timely basis.”
With respect to The Trinity:
I am motivated to do the job: “I don’t like to fail.”
I can do it better than others: “we always find a way … to accomplish the goals”
I can fit in: Team players rule: “I am able to work with other teammates”